There are few things worse than hitting some heavy back or front squats, only to unrack the bar and feel overwhelmingly depleted even before you begin your descent. I know because I have been there, plenty of times. No matter the squat variation (front/back/low bar), all strength and power athletes can benefit from doing squat walkouts. Here’s why (and how).
Why Do Squat Walkouts?
There are a few key aspects as to why coaches, high level athletes, powerlifters, strongman, and weightlifters all can be seen unracking supramaximal loads, stepping back as if they were going to squat the weight, and stand strong while bracing. Here’s why they do it.
The idea of squatting your 85-90% for reps can be daunting at times, let alone going for a large personal record. The mind can be your biggest ally or your greatest foe. Sometimes, the lift is mentally made up before one even approaches the barbell, and that train of thought needs to be developed so that you may remain fearless, focused, and not get overwhelmed when you unrack that 3x bodyweight squat on your back.
The central nervous system (CNS) is the command center for all human movement. Regardless of how strong your muscle, tendons, ligaments, and connective tissues are, if your CNS overshoots under heavy loads, your body will stop you even before you begin. Research found that with loads 10% over maximal, muscle activation increased in surrounding stabilizing muscles that did not directly contribute to force production. The increased spread of neural activation in the surrounding muscles may lead to increased potential for further activation of neural elements that may interfere with optimal task performance.
Solidify Your Squat Approach
Squatting is a skill, which begins the moment you step into the rack. The ability to set up, create tension, perform the valsalva maneuver, unrack, step back, brace, and squat must be trained. The squat walk out allows lifters to overload the entire process of squatting leading up to the actual squat, which will help lifters understand the importance of a solid shelf positioning, breathing, bracing, grip widths, and systemic tension under the bar.
Create Maximal Tension
Learning to brace, breathe, and create maximal tension in the upper back, erectors, abdominals, obliques, and lower extremity is vital to squatting heavy. The ability to isometrically contract those muscle groups simultaneously need to be developed so that muscle firing and synchronization occur rapidly and effectively. Supramaximal squat walkouts allow lifters to train universal tension development that will directly correlate with the task of squatting.
When and How To Do Squat Walkouts
The main purpose of the squat walkout is to acclimate the body to supramaximal loads so that submaximal loading can be trained more effectively. Performing this lift requires a great deal of central nervous system and muscular effort, therefore should not be over trained too frequently. I personally have found doing them once or twice every month has worked well for me, however it all depends on the loads you are using, and the stage you are at in your training. Training these early in a sessions will decrease the likelihood of CNS fatigue. Prior to heavy squat sets, cleans, or personal record attempts, lifters may decide to perform one or two sets of 5-10 seconds holds with supramaximal loads.
It is important to note that both powerlifters and weightlifters employ squat walkouts during their training. In weightlifting, rack holds are performed in a similar fashion to squat walk outs. Both variations stress the CNS, help to overload the body, and help lifters gain confidence and experience under supramaximal loads.
Squat walkouts are a great assistance exercise, meaning they do not replace regular squatting. The key is to do them throughout training cycles, and to not go overboard with them. They are extremely taxing on the body as a whole, and excessive training of the walkouts can lead to excessive CNS fatigue and injury. I recommend exploring squat walkouts once or twice a month to acclimate yourself with them, and focus on identical set up, bar placement, and squatting approach, regardless of the load.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
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