Exercise Progressions: The Squat

Exercise Progressions: The Squat

Anyone who has trained with us at EForce has probably recognized that we utilize many different squat variations. These different variations are set on a spectrum that we use to teach technique, minimize short and long-term plateaus and manage an athlete’s long-term development. In this article we will cover why we have our progression, what our progression is and some case studies of its effectiveness.

Why We Have A Progression & The Assessment

There are many reasons why we utilize our current squat progression and below I will list 3 reasons, along with how we use our assessment to determine which variation an athlete starts with.

Slow Cooking Athletes

If you’ve spent any time with the EForce Performance Staff or read any of our blogs, you probably know by now that we focus on Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD). With that, we leverage our squat progressions, so athletes can continue to progress to higher-order variations/stimuli as they themselves increase in their athletic qualification. By leveraging these variations along with appropriate periodization schemes we rarely see our athletes plateau on their strength gains throughout the training process with us.

Variation Without Change

To us, variation without change is a subcomponent of periodization; allowing us to make subtle changes in exercise selection that fall under the same exercise category. An example of this would be that Air Squats, Goblet Squats and Front Squats are all exercises variations that fall under the same exercise category of “Squat”. From a physiological perspective, these changes are one way of manipulating the stimulus needed to continue developing strength as athletes increase in their athletic qualification. From a psychological perspective, this helps manage the monotony that can come with training and gives athletes landmarks to continue chasing to stay engaged in the long-term process.

Constraint Based Approach to Motor Learning

Simply put, a constraints based approach is a coaching style that is more ‘hands-off’. Through the manipulation of certain constraints the athlete is then challenged to come up with a movement solution. In the example of a squat, having an athlete press a plate out in front of them (constraint) acting as a counter-balance will encourage them to keep their torso more vertical (movement solution). This approach allows athletes to self-organize more efficiently, practice the movement skill actively and has been demonstrated in research to be more effective in teaching movement skills than just verbal cueing.

Constraints-led approach

Assessing An Athlete’s Starting Point

Every athlete that comes in to train with us will go through a thorough evaluation process before starting one of our training programs. Along with getting baseline testing metrics, we also use this time to determine where athletes will start in our squat progression. Below are a list of variables we assess and consider when determining what squat variation an athlete will start with:

  • Training Age (how long they’ve been consistently weight training)
  • Biological Age (where they’re in the maturation process)
  • Chronological Age (how old they’re)
  • General Mobility & Movement Quality
  • Anthropometrics (limb lengths and limb lengths relative to height)
  • Injury History
  • Technical Proficiency in the Specific Movement Skill (Squatting Pattern)
  • Relative Strength (how strong they’re in relation to their body weight)

Our Base Squatting Progression

Goblet Squat:

Man doing goblet squat

Front Squat:

Man with blue shirt doing front squat

Back Squat:

Man with black shirt doing back squat

A Few Case Studies

As I mentioned before, this progression has been extremely successful at EForce. We have done it with hundreds of athletes helping them learn technique, minimize short and long-term plateaus and manage an athlete’s long-term development. Below are examples of two athletes that have gone through this progression and reaped the benefits.

Clay and Thomas both started training at EForce in middle school. Through our assessment process we determined that we’d start them on Goblet Squats. As they finished middle school both of them Goblet Squatted 70lbs for sets of 5. As they progressed through high school and continued to train with us their squat progressed as well… moving from Goblet Squat to Front Squat and now to Back Squat. Fast forward to now, the winter of their senior year and both of them are Back Squatting 425 lbs weighing roughly 185lbs (that’s 2.3x Body Weight)!! Because they both invested in the process long-term, went through our squatting progression and we didn’t change the squat variation until needed; they both eventually ‘earned the right’ to Back Squat. Since Back Squatting is still a relatively novel stimulus for both of them, I strongly suspect that they will be able to continue increasing their strength for the foreseeable future without needing to manipulate exercise selection.

Man with orange jacket holding a paper
Man with white shirt holding a paper

At EForce we utilize exercise progressions for our squatting variations. These different variations are set on a spectrum that we use to teach technique, minimize short and long-term plateaus, and manage an athlete’s long-term development. With appropriate implementation and periodization schemes we’ve seen this progression work time and time again.

Erik Jernstrom

Director of Sports Performance @ EForce

Constraint Based Approach to Motor Learning

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