Reaching your next personal record at the squat rack can seem to be out of reach at times. You may feel that your nutrition is on-point and sleep is going great. But when you squat heavy, your numbers do not seem to budge.  It’s time for some squat assistance lifts. 

Whether you need to smash through a plateau or your body is screaming to do more than only back squats, these squat assistance lifts are here to help. 

These supportive lifts are ideal for creating a stronger core and overall balance, which is exactly what you need for reaching new heights in your barbell squats.

Next time you plan to squat, try out some of these squat assistance exercises. You might be surprised how much stronger you become by spicing up the variety in your squat training.

Before trying any of these assistance lifts make sure you know how to squat properly.  Be sure to read my learning squats article.  

Pause Squats

If you already have a grasp on how to perform traditional back squats, pause squats are easy to learn. You do not change anything from a regular barbell squat except when you come down. 

Pause Squats

When you arrive at the bottom of the movement, hold still and pause for at least three seconds.

How low you go depends on how flexible and comfortable with the weight you chose. But your pause at the bottom of the squat can always stay consistent.

The pause squat will add an extra amount of time under tension – optimal for building your squat strength.

Glute Hamstring Raises

You might expect this exercise only to hit your glutes and hamstrings, but it does way more than that. It trains your whole posterior chain including your lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and gastrocnemius.

Aim to finish off your leg day with glute hamstring raises after you perform your main squats.

Most gyms are outfitted with proper GHR equipment. Once you find it, begin facedown, thighs pressing on top of the semi-circle pad, and ankles locked in place with the rear pads.

Keep your back straight and raise yourself up again and again – it may feel like a reverse sit up.

Leg Extensions

Leg Extensions

Most gym goers experience the leg extension early on. It is one of the easiest machines to sit down and start going at it because it is more self-explanatory in nature. 

Find a leg extension machine and sit down. Set an appropriate weight and start out with your legs roughly at a 90-degree angle – just like sitting in any regular chair.

Next, bend your knees upward, so your feet are lifted toward the ceiling. Keep it up, and you will be on your way to formidable quadricep strength.

Box Jumps

Box Jumps

When you throw a power movement into the mix, you are one step closer to the stronger squat. Once again, most gyms have various boxes to jump on for box jumps and step ups.

When you find a suitable height for yourself to jump on, start with both feet about shoulder width apart. Raise your arms above then bring them down quickly as you launch yourself into the air.

Jumping is a great way to build fast-twitch muscle fibers, which lays over into more explosive squatting.

Barbell Lunges

If you have enough room to walk with a barbell on your back, this next exercise is definitely a must-try. Even if you are tight on space, you can lunge with a barbell in the confinement of a power rack or squat rack.

Barbell Lunges

Start with the barbell just as you would perform a back squat. Similar dumbbell or bodyweight lunges, step one leg back and bend your knee and body down. If you have room, go forward with the lunges as well.

Barbell lunges help you build up greater overall leg strength and abdominal balance to assistant with your squats.

Barbell Hip Thrusts

Besides back squatting, barbell hip thrusts are optimal for building glute mass and strength.

Find a bench and sit down on the ground with your back leaning against the side of the bench pad. Place a weighted barbell over your hips with your knees bent and feet.

Thrust your hips upward. You will feel your back become parallel with the bench and ground.

If you have hip pain already, this may not be the best exercise for you.

Weighted Step Ups

Remember the box jumps from above? Use the same boxes and choose your weight to perform step ups. 

Step up with weight just like you would be climbing upstairs or large boulders – depending on the size of the box. Alternatively, if your gym has a stair master machine, carry dumbbells or kettlebells up the revolving stairs.

This simple assistance exercise can be performed with a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, plates, or any weight you can get your hands on.

Pistol Squat

A major help for balance and strength, the pistol squat is an advanced exercise that can help boost your overall back squat.

Pistol Squat

Also known as a single-legged squat, it probably may take you a substantial amount of time to reach the point of completing a full pistol squat. But it is a great, very obtainable goal to have to propel your back squats upward.

Start with both feet shoulder width apart and descend down on one foot into a squat.

Let your glutes go far behind you and your other leg extended out in front to find a steady balance.

At first, you might not be able to go down that much. But that is normal as you can progress over time with diving deeper into the pistol squat.

Farmer’s Walk

Ab Exercises Farmers Carries

Mostly dealing with your overall balance, the farmer’s walk is great for lifting heavy. You can either do this in the gym with dumbbells, a hex bar, or farmer’s walk handles.

Otherwise, if you don’t have access to any equipment, that is okay too. Find the heaviest object you can muster and walk as far as you can outside with it.

Without a doubt, the farmer’s walk is the real deal delivering solid balance and strength.

It develops your entire body if you load up with enough resistance – especially your legs, core, traps, and arms.

Plus, you can really push yourself overtime with this lift because it can be as much as a compound exercise as the deadlift, squat, bench press, and overhead press.

Conclusion

So there you have it, 9 assistance exercises that will boost your numbers.  

Assistance lifts are the icing on the cake that fine tune your squat.  Doing too much of the same thing not only gets boring, but it actually stops working.  

Your body needs variety to mix things up.  The central nervous system actually strengthens it’s neural pathways for these specified movements.  

Just make sure you don’t go too heavy with these.  Keep the weight moderate and the reps high and you will accelerate your progress in no time.  

If you are advanced, then you can actually substitute one of these assistance lifts for the main lift.  

Good luck!  Now get out there and get it!


Tony G
Tony G

Anthony is a fan of all things gym related. Growing up very overweight and out of shape, Anthony whipped himself into shape and stunned his entire community becoming a "fitness guru". Tony then set his sights on strength sports (Weightlifting/Powerlifting/Strongman) and learned all about body mechanics, mobility work and injury prevention. Tony found his true love in the strength sports, particularly Olympic Weightlifting. He earned a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree from Fitchburg State University in Exercise and Sports Science. He is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the NSCA.

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