3 Accessory Exercises For The Barbell Back Squat

I was not able to train barbell back squats for three months because we did not have a squat rack, squat stand, or rig set up in our home garage gym for back squats. We finally ordered a squat stand and set it up last week, so for the first time in three months I was able to back squat.

Surprisingly, my strength was still there, and I was able to pick up where I left off three months ago, AND I was not sore in the days following this training day.

Third set of 5 reps at 150lbs (70% 1RM)

During the three months that I was not able to barbell back squat, I regularly trained three accessory exercises in order to keep up with strength in this movement so that it would be easy for me to pick back up once I was able to start training back squats again.

These three exercises were:

  1. The Double Kettlebell Front Squat
  2. The Kettlebell Overhead Drop Step Lunge
  3. The Kettlebell Overhead Step-up

Why these three exercises?

The Double Kettlebell Front Squat

The double kettlebell front squat allows you to train a decreased load for the same physiological effect. So even though you are not squatting as much weight, because of the asymmetrical shape of the kettlebell, and the placement of the kettlebells in the rack position, you are able to maintain squat strength by training the double kettlebell front squat regularly.

In addition, the double kettlebell front squat teaches you how to use your abdominals to manage the load throughout the movement, and due to the placement of the load in the rack position in front of your body, it forces you to keep your torso upright.

Finally, for me personally, one challenge I have with barbell back squats is that I like to hang out at the bottom of the squat, and often I do not explode fast enough out of the hole. I think it comes from my kettlebell training background where I tend to pause at the bottom of a squat, and maybe even hang out there for too long, before I ascend from the bottom of the squat.

When I trained kettlebell front squats in my training over the past three months, I practiced coming out of the hole quickly from the bottom of my squat. My goal was to hit depth and then ascend with explosive speed as my primary focus. I know the weight distribution of a kettlebell front squat is different from a barbell back squat, but the pattern of hitting depth and then having explosive speed to come up from that depth can be applied to both variations regardless of the difference in weight distribution.

I trained the double kettlebell front squat two times per week for 5 sets of 5 reps with double 20kgs (88lbs) kettlebells. Towards the end of the 3 months I switched out one of the days with slightly heavier weight with double 22kg (100lbs) kettlebells.

Now that I am training barbell back squats regularly again, I will train double kettlebell front squats only one time per week, versus two times per week.

The Kettlebell Overhead Drop Step Lunge

When I started to train kettlebell drop step lunges, I played with the placement of the weight to find out which placement was most effective for me. First I positioned two 18kg kettlebells (total 80lbs) in a suitcase carry position, one 18kg kettlebell in each hand, and completed my sets accordingly.

This brought my heart rate up, but my legs were not challenged.

The next week I positioned a single 18kg (40lbs) kettlebell overhead the non-stepping leg (i.e. I would drop step lunge back with the leg opposite the loaded side) and completed my sets accordingly.

Holy quadriceps! My legs sore for days afterwards!

Even though it was half the weight, somehow the placement of the single kettlebell weight overhead was the exact weight and load placement that I needed to build strength in my quadriceps where it was lacking. I felt most of the soreness in both the vastus lateralis and rectus femoris, which are the quadriceps muscles that run along the side and center of the anterior part of the thigh (see picture below). Building strength in all four muscles of the quadriceps is essential, as all four quadriceps muscles are knee extensors and therefore critical to squatting.

This soreness was an alert to me that this is a movement that I needed to train regularly until I was no longer having such a dramatic reaction of soreness for two to three days afterwards.

I trained these kettlebell overhead drop step lunges one time per week for 5 sets of 5 right and 5 left until I no longer felt sore for days afterwards. This took about 3 weeks, and then I added on one more set for a total of 6 sets. Once the 6 sets became easy, I raised the weight to 20kg (44lbs) and initiated my lunges from a raised platform, or deficit. Still for 6 sets of 5 right 5 left. See video below…

The Kettlebell Overhead Step-up

After a few weeks of training the kettlebell overhead drop step lunge, I decided to add a second day of overhead lunges, but to change it up slightly so that I was stepping up rather than stepping back.

I used 18kg (40lbs) and placement of the weight was the same as the kettlebell overhead drop step lunge, except this time I would step up with the leg of the loaded side.

The next day, as afternoon arrived, holy soreness settled in! I felt soreness in my adductor magnus for three straight days. The adductor magnus is the big meaty part of your inner thigh, towards the posterior part of your thigh that you can grab a chunk of with your hands. Its function is adduction, lateral rotation, and hip extension.

“The adductor magnus supports stability throughout both eccentric and concentric phases of the squat. It has two insertions, one helping with flexion of the hip and the other with extension from the posterior (part of the hamstring group). It bridges the gap between your quads and hamstrings and acts almost as the stirrup that supports their movement.” ~John Clark, “3 Reasons You Don’t Squat More (And What To Do About It)”, Breakinging Muscle UK

(Also read “Construction By Adduction”, T-Nation, By Eric Cressey HERE.)

If this muscle is sore, you will feel it as you hit the bottom of your squat and when you press your feet into the ground to push up to ascend from your squat. You will also feel it every time you go to sit down on the toilet and you will likely have to grab hold of something as you slowly lower yourself down through the soreness to take a seat 😉

Again, this soreness was an alert to me that this is a movement that I needed to train regularly until I was no longer having such a dramatic reaction of soreness for three days afterwards.

I trained these kettlebell overhead step-ups one time per week for 6 sets of 5 right and 5 left. See video below…

If you are new to barbell back squats, hopefully this post will give you a few ideas about exercises to train to help you to build strength in the muscles that support the barbell back squat.


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