By Tee Cummins on 6/29/2014 Back to Articles
” How I increased my squat 200lbs in a year”
In 2013, I was able to put 220lbs on my squat, going from 580 in January to 800 in December. I've been asked throughout the past year how I was able to do so and the answer is very simple: consistency. The truth of the matter is that there is no special program. Understanding your training, your goals, and applying yourself to getting better each day through training and expanding your knowledge, is one of the keys to improvement in any sport, not just powerlifting. One great quote I've heard before during a training session is that "Every program generally works, but only if it is understood, and applied." Of course I have also received questions almost weekly as to what "special supplements" I am taking to make such progress and a lot of times people are very surprised. The fact is, that in any sport where you have someone who is competitive enough to become the best that they can be and reach their overall potential, outside opinions will no longer matter and they're gonna do whatever it takes to accomplish their goal. That holds very true to me as well. But at the same time, like I said before, you'd probably be very surprised. With that being said, back to the training aspect and the mentality it took for me to improve my squat.
Going into January of 2013, my best competition squat was around 570 and I'd be lying if I said I was confident at all when it came to squatting. I had failed many times in the gym with sub-max weights that I should have hit easily, and had become very inconsistent to the point where it was becoming a mental barrier every training session and even throughout the competitions. I disliked squatting so much, that when it was time to compete, I was very relieved when the squatting portion of the competition was over. It was bad, and I knew something had to be changed. You've probably heard the expression, "if you hate doing an exercise, its probably because you suck at it and need to do it" and that couldn't have been more true for me. So what did I begin doing? As simple as it sounds, I just began squatting more. Up until that point, I had always performed each lift once per week, and followed a 5/3/1 type training approach. This method of training worked very well for a while but progress began to slow down around the 560-570 range. So beginning in January, I increased my squat frequency. I went from back squatting once a week, to back squatting twice a week, as well as an additional front squat day on it's own. I began to notice that my technique seemed to improve almost immediately and I no longer had the fear of squatting heavy. Squatting became practice and I ended up hitting a 610 squat at the meet the following month. As time went by, following the same training method (basically heavy triples, doubles and singles in the 85-95% range) my squat continued to improve and I had just hit a top 20 ranked (at the time) squat of 640@220 at a meet in March. But this is where progress began to slow down again somewhat. Up until this point, my only training had been in commercial gyms where powerlifting isn't generally accepted and I was usually one of the only members who knew what powerlifting was. Not only did my squat begin to slow down, my deadlift stopped improving all together. When your not allowed to use chalk and straps aren't an option because you are told not to deadlift heavy, it becomes difficult to improve. So one Saturday, a friend of mine and I attended NBS Fitness (Cordova, TN) for a squat/deadlift session and I fell in love with the gym and training environment almost immediately. Sometimes, in any sport and in particular, powerlifting, it's easy for someone to become complacent with where they are as an athlete. They are constantly told how strong they are, that they have achieved something, that they are "special" but in reality, they're not. Once an athlete can open their eyes and see that there is room for improvement, that there are other competitors who are on another level entirely, a new sense of motivation is found, and this is what happened to me. Not only did I begin learning from other power lifters from the gym, but I began paying more attention the top lifters in the world. I'd watch countless videos of my favorite lifters, paying attention to the technique and the intensity they brought to each training session. If your not motivated by a guy putting up 200 more pounds on a lift than you are, in the same weight class for that matter, then something is wrong and powerlifting probably isn't your sport. As time went on, with my new found motivation, I continued to improve my squat. By the summer I was now in the 660-675 range and my squat didn't seem to wanna slow down. I had began incorporating more back squat days, almost dropping front squats entirely, and had really refined my technique. I had also began training almost specifically in the 90-95% range. So for two, sometimes three times a week, I was squatting heavy. Not that this is unheard of in strength sports, but it certainly isn't looked at as the best training method. I don't know how many times Id receive messages saying how my training made no sense, that I would get hurt and that I couldn't become a top lifter training this way. Instead of letting it affect my mindset toward training, I let it motivate me. This is when I truly believe my squat became what it is today. A lot of people don't realize it, but lifting heavy isn't just about being big and strong or having the best training program for that matter, but rather a skill, and at a certain point, it becomes mental. What you'll notice about any of the top lifters today and of the past is there is no fear under the barbell. I had no fear and was completely confident in stepping under heavy weight at any point throughout a training cycle, often times without spotters. Just a couple months after joining NBS, I hit my first 700lb squat in competition. More than any lift Ive ever hit, I'd have to say this meant the most to me at the time. When I began powerlifting, squatting in the low 400s, Id always joke with my friends about me one day squatting 700, with no actually intention of ever doing so. Over the course of the next year or so, as I got stronger, things changed and it became realistic, and eventually a goal I had to achieve. I can't tell you how many times I failed 700 before I hit it in an actual meet. The lift itself wasn't easy either. The whole day felt off. Warm ups was rushed, and I was still trying to catch my breath just before my opener. After hitting both my opener and second attempt, 700 was loaded onto the bar. Even though I had just hit a meet pr on my second attempt, this was the one that counted, the one that mattered. I set up strong, backed out with ease and dropped into the hole only to get folded over midway up. I just knew the spotters were going to grab it, but when they didn't, I gave it everything I had in me. Eventually I grinded the lift out and walked it back in. I ended up going 8/9 and hitting my first 1700+ total @220 that day. The next two months of training, I continued I get stronger on each lift, and mainly the squat. I kept the frequency the same, but added in more front squats again and backing off on how often I back squatted. During that time It seemed I was hitting a pr almost weekly in the form of doubles or triples and occasionally, singles. A lot of people would ask how I wasn't beat up all the time from training, and in reality I was. Even though my body had adapted to the frequency of squatting heavy, I was beginning to notice more and more problems. Some days the weight would feel great and others, very difficult. During this time, I backed off my frequency of three days a week back to two. The first squat day would be a front squat day and the second squat day would be heavy back squats. This helped tremendously. Front squatting the first day not only helped mentally but physically as well. I had less fatigue going into the second day and less elbow pain. (Due to the bar positioning of my back squat, Id always have very bad elbow tendonitis so having a break from that was nice and helped me improve other lifts) As nice as training had been going, I was positive my next meet in August would be a success. I had constantly hit PRs in training so it would obviously happen on the platform right? Wrong. I had a terrible meet and only went 5/9. I ended up with a 715 squat on a second attempt and missed 735 on the third. Every lift I missed at the meet, I had hit in training. However, this is what opened my eyes. It doesn't matter what big lifts or PRs you hit in training, what matters is the lifts you hit on the platform. The next couple of months, my training changed dramatically. Instead of going heavy every training session, I used a periodization approach going into my next meet. I also added in speed/ explosive work to compliment the higher rep days and heavy days. The addition of rep days and explosive days really helped my lifts, especially my squat. It really gave me the break I needed and allowed me to focus on explosiveness, technique and overall volume per training session as opposed to overall volume per week. I began incorporating more pause squats, (with and without wraps) on my explosive days and Id always notice a carryover on my heavy day. I hit PRs consistently throughout training, but instead of 1rm, they usually came in the form of pr doubles, triples and sometimes 5 rep maxes. As in any periodization based program, I backed off my volume as the meet approached, dropping rep days all together. I was squatting twice a week with the first day being an paused squat day and the second being a heavy day. I ended up competing twice in November, hitting PR squats and totals each meet (1835@220--755 squat and 1875@220--770 squat). Unlike most competitions where I would generally feel physically and mentally exhausted, I felt fine. I knew it was just a matter of time before I was able to squat 800. I continued to train hard throughout the next month and each training session had a maximal level of intensity and on Christmas Day, I completed my first 800lb squat. Looking back and to wrap things up a bit, I realized there is no special program. I improved only because I was very consistent in my training. I never missed training sessions or took time off, even when I may have actually needed it. I was very persistent to improve as a powerlifter so I increased my squat frequency, changed my training environment and continued to reevaluate my goals/ training methods. I developed a mentality that I believe any lifter aspiring to be great must have: fearlessness and a mindset that there are no limitations.