5 Assistance lifts to PR your squat

When it comes to building up your squat I’ve spent many years learning the ropes, I’ve followed nearly every program out there in the last 10 years.

Wendler 5/3/1, yep.
Juggernaut Method, yep.
Conjugate, yep.
5×5, yep.
Squat Everyday, yep.

Over that time one of the commonalities I figured out is that it requires effort

Combine that with our list of the top assistance lifts and you will be on your way to squatting a lifetime Personal Best



Front Squats

When it comes to challenging the quads, core and upper back all at once, you can’t get much better than the front squat. These will expose your weak points and give you a base to work from.

One of the common problems we find is people shifting away from their quads coming out of the hole in the back squat. When training the front squat you can’t get away with this pattern as it becomes extremely hard to keep the bar on your shoulders. Therefore it promotes you to stay balanced between quads and hip drive throughout the movement.

Want to make these even harder, try manipulating the tempo of the movement like a 3 second eccentric and 3 second pause in the hole.



Stiff Leg Deadlift

When it comes to squatting one of the big limiters for lifters can be stopping themselves from shifting forward on the way up. Aside from the technical corrections needing to be made, building up the posterior chain strength is necessary to help keep the bar back or recover a lift that’s shifted forward.

The Stiff Leg Deadlift is perfect for building up the posterior chain, particularly building eccentric strength which will help assist in controlling the squat on the way down. Focus on pulling through the glutes and hammies rather than the lower back and finishing with a strong hip drive at the end of the movement.


Lunges and Split Squats

Although these include multiple exercise variations I’m cheating the list to include them all in as one. Most of us will have one dominant side and one weaker side. So even when our squat may look symmetrical we may be relying on our dominant side to produce more than 50% of the force required for the lift. This can lead to a few things, over time us developing a compensating pattern in the squat itself and more than likely an injury.

Training split stance work allows us to build the stabilising musculature around the hip, core and feet while also isolating the weaker leg to even out the imbalance. As an added bonus, lunges will build up huge quads and glutes strength that will carry over to bigger squats while also giving you an awesome metabolic effect that will help strip body fat.



Ab Rollouts

Now there’s no doubt a strong core goes a long way to a strong squat and there’s plenty of ways to develop midline strength but one of the simplest and most effective movements has to be the ab rollout. I used to be of the belief that all you needed to do to train the core was heavy squats and deadlifts, soon I found myself struggling to hold position in heavy squats. So I decided to include some extra core work, the first thing was ab rollouts and side planks and in 4 weeks I added 10kg onto my 1RM.

The problem is most people perform it in a way that trains the wrong muscles for it to carry over to performance. The correct way to perform a rollout requires a solid hollow body position with the only movement occurring through the shoulder while staying solid at the hip. Check out the video below to see how to perform these properly.

If your gym hasn’t got a ab wheel (or whatever fancy name they give them) just set up a barbell with small plates on it and use that instead.




So we have already spoken of the importance of many assistance exercises but mastering the skill itself is the real key here. If you want to squat more you need to get better at squatting more.





Belt Squats

Find yourself using your back in your squats all the time? The belt squat can be a useful way to strengthen the legs without loading the back further to help them catch up. You can set these up with a dip belt and some jerk blocks or plyo boxes. Check out Nathan in the video below taking you through the belt squat.

Try to stick to higher volume on these like 3-4 sets of 8-20 reps.

Glute Ham Raise

These require a GHD or a buddy (the buddy version is significantly harder by the way) and will build massive hammy strength. Unfortunately most anytime fitness style gyms don’t have GHD’s but if you train at an awesome gym, chances are they will have one (if not maybe your gym’s not as awesome as you think :P).

The GHR I’ve found to be a great developer of strength for mainly the deadlift however it allows me to build strength on stiff leg deadlifts faster and therefore also the squat. These can be very hard to start off with so make sure you follow the correct progressions to work your way up to these first.

Leg Press / Hack Squat

Now I haven’t personally used either machine in a few years but I’ve seen plenty of people benefit from using these to build up the squat. The main problem I see is people trying to go way too heavy on these lifts at the expense of range of motion and increasing the risk of injury.

I like seeing them used as a means of building volume in the legs without loading the back (similar to how we use the belt squat).

Wrapping Up

So there’s a bunch of exercises to help you build up the squat. All can be useful at the right time in your training journey.

Most importantly

If you want to squat more

You need to squat more


More effectively both technically and from a load management perspective.