Following is a base protocol for using Contraption Squats in place of a regular weighted squat program; I’ve included a progression and some key areas of focus. You can adjust as needed with the squat variations you are using, the height of elevation you are using, and/or the angle toe turnout you are using:
Standard Squat Day Protocol
REMINDER: Weightlifting shoes should now be on; they are your base here and you will elevate your heels beyond them.
A. With High Elevation
A1. Feet Straight or Slightly Turned Out (5 degrees) – 2 sets 3 reps @ by feel
A2. Feet Straight or Slightly Turned In (5 degrees) – 2 sets 3 reps @ by feel
B. With Medium Elevation
B1. Feet Straight or Slightly Turned Out (5 degrees) – 2 sets 3 reps @ by feel
B2. Feet Straight or Slightly Turned In (5 degrees) – 2 sets 3 reps @ by feel
C. Level Surface
C1. Feet Straight or Slightly Turned Out (5 degrees) – 2 sets 3 reps @ by feel
C2. Feet Straight or Slightly Turned In (5 degrees) – 2 sets 3 reps @ by feel
● High Elevation = 5 kilogram or 10 pound change plates
● Medium Elevation = Depending on the brand, 1.25-2.5 kilogram or 2.5-5 pound change plates
● Level Surface = No plates under your heels but still WITH your weightlifting shoes on
● By feel = Weight of your choosing, up to 50%; we are looking for something that forces you to be aware that you are holding something but not so much to where you lose quality with reps. (For front, back, or overhead squats with any elevation, anything more than the bar or very light kettlebell counts as a set.)
1. For the 12 prescribed workouts, alternate between front, back, and overhead squat. Aim to finish the 12 workouts in 3 weeks, but up to 4 if needed (3 weeks would be 4 days/week, 4 weeks would be 3 days/week). For example, if able to do 4 days/week your first 2 weeks would look like this:
Day 1 = Front Squat A-C
Day 2 = Back Squat A-C
Day 3 = Overhead Squat A-C
Day 4 = Front Squat A-C
Day 1 = Back Squat A-C
Day 2 = Overhead Squat A-C
Day 3 = Front Squat A-C
Day 4 = Back Squat A-C
After the 12 workouts have been completed, take a couple workouts to test/reevaluate and repeat or adjust as needed.
- Each rep will have a tempo of 3513 (3 seconds down, 5 second pause in the bottom, 1 to stand with control, and 3 seconds standing). When standing after each rep, ensure you are consistently returning to a quality starting point each time. The key points to remember are: squeeze your glutes, crunch abs, grip the floor with big toes, lock knees and twist them out, then push knees out to initiate down.
- Perform one or two individualized mobility drills before each squat set. Focus on the areas of your body that we found were most limited through the bottom position assessment and assignment process. This is an opportunity for extra work in these areas and you can and should mix these up as you go. For example, on any given day, focusing on one area, alternating between both areas, and/or varying between moving mobility drills (like an ankle rock) and smashing drills (ex: calf foam rolling).
- Ensure maintenance of Quality. QUALITY means the back is staying tight/flat (no rounding in the upper, mid, and/or lower back), the pelvis is not tucking under in the bottom of your squat (“butt-wink”), knees are staying outside of the big toes, and big toes are staying glued to the floor. LACK OF QUALITY means that there is an undeniable break or rounding of the back, an undeniable “butt-wink,” knees staying on the inside or moving to the inside of the big toes, or the toes curling or floating.
- Maintain full range of motion. Do not guess; grab a buddy or film yourself as necessary to confirm you are reaching full depth, and you know what that feels like. We should not avoid your mobility or strength issues by cutting the range of motion within the movement you are trying to improve, but rather attack it from within. One of the goals of contraption squats is to help you find and develop core tension (flat back), and the highest quality within your full range of motion depth. This is done through the improved foot positioning, heel elevation, specific stretches, cues, weight, reps, etc, and then progress the aid out over time. For an individual who is unable to maintain quality within their full range of motion with any of the squat variations, we recommend progressing to a lower and lower depth over time with box squats, in addition to an aggressive mobility program (as we’ve previously covered).
- Be open to individual adjustments as needed. If any of these squat variations need to be left out due to insufficient depth and quality, you can replace them with goblet, extended arm plate squats, or any other variation you’re currently able to use in your warm up sequence – or omit them altogether. For example, if overhead squats need to be left out, the athlete could just go back and forth between front and back squats. Another example could alternate between front and goblet squats. With extreme mobility limitations, the individual might ONLY use elevated extended arm plate squats if unable to maintain quality within full ROM on a level surface with any variation. On the other hand, an individual with no mobility issues – but lacks the awareness and strength to maintain the recommended foot position or tension (hyper-mobile athletes) – might do all front, back, and overhead Contraption Squats on a level surface.
- Do not squat snatch or squat clean during this 3-4 week program. This is so one does not reinforce a compensated foot position for any reps. If squat snatches or squat cleans come up in your program in any way, you’ll need to modify them to power snatch or power clean with NO JUMP. Ideally we want you to still extend up onto the toes to complete extension of the “pull”, but the feet are not to leave the floor during the reception portion of the lift (since it’s likely your body will automatically go to the excessive jump out and turnout position we are trying to move away from). This is especially true for heavy power snatches and power cleans, so keep these lighter than you think you should; simply put, whatever weight you can catch at a quarter-squat depth without the feet moving is where you should stay at (or lighter). Of course, if power snatches or power cleans come up in your program then modify them to NO JUMP as well. (Note: If you cannot show consistency with ideal positioning in the squat, you should continue to modify or avoid these movements until progress has been made.)
- Avoid other squat movements during this 3-4 week program. In addition to regular front, back, or overhead squats, this means movements like wall balls or thrusters. If any regular squats come up in your program, then replace them with one of your contraption workouts. If any other squats come up in your program, then simply change the exercise to allow for the specific conditioning the workout is intending to give you (there is a world of other exercises or modifications to choose from). You can reintroduce regular squats sooner than other variations as we have far more control over our feet and the rest of the body while moving slower.
- PAY ATTENTION to what you are doing on a daily basis outside of your Contraption Squat work; revisit “Ground Zero.” For example, are you walking, standing, and/or sitting with your toes out all the time, are you sitting most of the day, etc. If so, find a way to remind yourself to straighten your feet up, walk with straighter feet, get up and move every so often, etc. Also, consider every other movement that you are doing. Are your knees touching when you are on the C2 rower? Are you swinging a kettlebell with your feet unnecessarily wide and/or turned out? Change it! SLOW DOWN, and focus on every single rep to make sure you are doing something different and better – or, just change the exercise altogether to a movement you can control and execute with quality. I challenge you to think about how you are spending your time, and what positions you are unintentionally reinforcing. Let’s not spin our wheels; everything you do is an opportunity to improve movement patterns.
- If this causes you pain, don’t just throw in the towel; simply backtrack a bit, and be less aggressive with the adjustments, and slower to progress. Though pain is possible, in my experience it is very uncommon. On the contrary, most athletes report feeling better overall through the rest of their workouts (and even throughout the day) in a short amount of time. But, some discomfort with any adjusted position is to be expected and is necessary to make change. If the type of pain you are experiencing is beyond discomfort, start fresh with a new set of 12 contraption workouts with the feet in a less exaggerated position (ex: 1 inch more narrow on each side and 5 degrees more turned in than one’s normal stance instead of all the way in to the most difficult end of the gold standard range). Additionally, you may lessen the frequency and volume for these 12 workouts (i.e,. 3 workouts/week instead of 4, and/or cutting the number of sets each day in half) and plan to progress up more gradually through a following round of 12.
With all of this information and recommendations, I want to remind you about keeping any changes to your routine at any given time very minimal. For contraption squats specifically, let me emphasize that this is not about ADDING to your program if you can keep from it. We are just looking for it to be a replacement as suggested above – either with the “single-plate version” inside of your squat warm-up sequence, or with the “multi-piece version” in place of any squats you are already performing. If you only do weighted squats twice a week, we need to think about how we can do a little more without adding too many exercises and/or time to your program. Though squatting two days a week is fine for athletes wanting to strengthen their bottom position and squat as a whole inside of a general program, you’ll need to find 1-2 other exercises through the week that you can replace with squatting in order to make changes. Snatches and/or cleans would be the first to be swapped out since we are trying to limit compensated reps; so, instead of snatches on a given day, you would squat. The idea is to prioritize quality movement without adding in more overall time. (I’ll remind you again of Vince Lombardi’s wise words: “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”)
Rest assured, our goal is to help you reach your potential with the Olympic lifts. You may need more time with base mobility and position work before beginning to accumulate a lot of reps with heavy snatches and clean and jerks, but that’s where we are headed. Next up, it’s time to begin the dissection of these competition lifts (finally!).
Until next time,
2-Time Olympian, USAW
Dr. Aaron Horschig, PT,
DPT, CSCS, USAW