Daily wisdom: power up your squat

How focusing on the lengthening portion of the exercise can boost your speed and power

Every athlete knows that education is a crucial part of performance. Sport and exercise research, insight from top trainers, science, and technology help you to better understand your body so you can craft a healthier lifestyle, workouts, and recovery plan.

In our daily news series, Alex Zimmerman, director of Equinox’s Tier X program, addresses some of the latest fitness research and news stories.


A study out of California State University looked at the effects of eccentric (the lengthening phase of the movement) “overload” on athletes’ performance in the front squat. By adding eccentric hooks to the barbell, they were able to squat up to 120 percent of their one rep max (1RM) on the eccentric portion (the way down) of the squat and 90 percent of their 1RM on the way back up. (Eccentric hooks attach to either end of the barbell and can be loaded with extra weight for the lowering portion of the squat; once your reach the bottom, the hooks hit the ground and detach along with the weight so you’re lifting less on the way up.) “With an increase in the load on the way down prior to the way up, there were considerable increases in speed and ground reaction force (the amount of force applied to the ground),” says Zimmerman. “This is very relevant as ground reaction force is the basis for our ability to develop power.”
“This article demonstrated some solid evidence around the utility of eccentric load for increased power and by extension, strength and hypertrophy gains,” says Zimmerman. Here’s why: During the eccentric phase of a movement our muscles and tendons have the ability to hand loads great than that during the concerti phase (the way up in the squat). By priming the muscles this way first, you get better results in the squat that follows. “With this type of application, an athlete will undoubtedly see continued gains in both speed and power both in the squat but also in transferable skills like running and jumping,” says Zimmerman.
Work eccentric training into your program with caution as it’s an advanced technique. Ensure you’re comfortable squatting eight to 12 reps with perfect form before attempting to lift loads in the range of 120 percent of your one rep max. Even then, Zimmerman recommends working with a partner or a personal trainer. (Though it is possible to rig a squat rack with a safety rack if you set it up high enough. Just lower the weight for three seconds all the way down to the bars and then reset and repeat.) “You can also work on eccentric loading with bodyweight exercises such as the pull-up by jumping up and slowly coming down,” notes Zimmerman. Limit this type of training to eight weeks at a time as it can be extremely taxing on the nervous system and increase the likelihood of over-training, Zimmerman cautions.