Squats, Depth and PR’s
I recently decided to take all my old training and meet VHS videos and put them on DVD’s. While I was watching my old training videos, including my training partners footage, I noticed how deep we were squatting on all the sets and reps.
This started my thinking process for writing this blog.
Almost all of the time in training we squatted 1-2 inches below parallel in all warm-ups and sets. There was no question to our depth from any angle. The reason we did this is because on the platform under meet conditions, the rules say you must go below parallel. When you’re on that platform with a heavy load on your back, most likely you're going to cut your squat high, especially when you get to PR level or heavier.
If in training you usually cut them high or go just to parallel then at powerlifting meet time when the load is heavy and you're under pressure... you're going to cut the squat high just like you did in the gym. Your mind is going to take over and follow the same pattern that you've been training for the past 12-16 weeks while getting ready for this meet. You are in a fight-or-flight situation during a maximum squat, so your body is going to default what it was taught over hundreds and hundreds of reps in training. If that training is all done with your squat depth being 1 plus inches below parallel, then that's what your body is going to revert to under stress.
While scrolling through the hundreds of videos on Instagram and Facebook I see a common theme. Lots of gym PR’s with high squats. Now if that is your goal, to have a new PR at two inches above parallel level, then fantastic you are an Instagram star that disappeared 35 microseconds after you posted it because 10,000 other videos dumped on top of yours.
Shouldn’t you be focusing on getting every single rep, including warm-ups, below parallel as you would on the platform? You need to teach your mind and body the motor path to go that deep all the time. High squats do have their place in training when learning to handle heavier weights... but this is just for a couple weeks here and there, not every training session. You need to be truthful with yourself and your training partners need to be truthful with you and call it high if it's high. Don't say “oh it was almost good” because the judge on that platform at your next meet doesn't have an “almost good light” on his control box. If you train deep all the time, when you get to the meet there won't be any question in your mind and you'll just be picking out new PR attempts or breaking records.
I have competed in over 150 meets over the last 30 plus years. Squatted over 800 pounds in single-ply gear at least 15 times. 150 meets x 3 squat attempts is 450 platform judged squats. I have been called for squat depth less than 10% off the time. Don't misunderstand; I have missed squat attempts for making mistakes, like taking a step, failing because it is too heavy, and racking too soon, but depth was never my problem because I trained deep all the time.
Your training partners and your training team are your friends, but they need to judge the hell out of you when you're training. They need to be brutally honest and not pad your ego with poor lifts. There's no judge out there on the platform that's going to pad your ego. If you need to back down the weight training to hit some depth then do it. It's better than missing an attempt. This all applies whether you're equipped or raw powerlifting.
This ties in to a related rant - What is it with all the Instagram posts of people setting new gym PR singles at the gym 2-3 weeks before a meet. Most of those people try that same weight at the meet a few weeks later and wonder why they didn’t get it. Hm, maybe it’s because you’re tapped out and you peaked 2-3 weeks before the meet. Your body can only take so many max-grind-out singles before you start sliding down hill. The meet is the place to see what your single PR is and not the gym. If you don’t have a meet for several months then go ahead and give it a try, but any time you do max singles you are opening the injury door and leaving it open. My training partners and I always worked towards max triples or max fives. A single max in the gym is a scary animal that can cause injury. I also hear this all the time, “I did my max because I needed to see if I could do it before the meet”. Who cares if you did a gym max really? If you are a competitive powerlifter then take your max on the platform where it matters and is judged. The IG world does not really care if you quarter squatted 800 pounds in the gym, but oh do they care when you get to the meet and get called high with 405 three times in a row.
Stay Tuned for my own USPA Drug Tested Nationals Meet report in my next blog post.