Got Squat?

One thing I know for sure: Whether you train for powerlifting competitions or use powerlifts to improve your athletic ability, you will get hurt. If you’ve been training for a few years, you have undoubtedly experienced some type of injury. As a powerlifter or serious power athlete, you may have injured your lower back. This can cause problems with the good old back squat, box or no box, and the deadlift.

Some people quit when they get injured and lay in bed until they’ve healed, which can possibly take months. Others find ways to work around injuries while bringing themselves back to full health and strength. I fall in the latter category. When I injure my lower back, I can often find a variation of the squat and/or deadlift to continue training and bring myself back to health. In addition, using a variety of squats and deadlifts can help avoid overuse injuries and mental burnout, and help bring up my numbers in the squat and deadlift.

Variations and tools

Check out these squat and deadlift variations using different tools. Use these movements at your own discretion. I encourage you to become the master of your own body and do as Bruce Lee said: “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.”

Zercher squats—This variation forces you to push the hips back, keep the chest high and force the knees out. Using a thick bar works best, and you can perform them with or without a box.

Trap bar deadlifts—These mimic the squat more than the deadlift and place less strain on the lower back. This is also a great introductory lift for a young powerlifter in the preparation phase. Increase difficulty by standing on 45-lb. plates to extend the range of motion.

Kettlebell squats—This movement minimizes spinal loading and strengthens the abs. As you squat down, keep your knuckles together and elbows pointing downward. A common mistake is elevating the elbows up and out, which takes a lot of pressure off of the abs.

Stone lifting—Lifting stones, especially atlas stones, can put you in a precarious position. But it can also strengthen your back in the round back position and improve hip mobility and flexibility. You can deadlift the stones up and down, squat them up and down or load stones onto platforms, which will help you develop speed from the bottom position as you rip the stones off the ground and onto high objects.

Soft tissue work

To remain healthy, it’s critical to stay open-minded to new movements and try different methods. It’s also critical to include soft tissue work. Use foam rollers, lacrosse balls and hard medicine balls to roll on and break up scar tissue. The body can take quite the beating through powerlifting and athletics, so make sure to utilize soft tissue work during warm-ups, between sets and after workouts.

Zach Even-Esh is the owner of The Underground Strength Gym in Edison, N.J. For more information on his training methods visit www.zacheven-esh.com. ~Reprinted with permission from Power Magazine, January 2010