Featured assistance movement of the week: Bodybuilding or Piston squat

By: Brian Carroll

I’ll be covering an obscure or special assistance movement each week that I feel is important and should potentially be considered as an addition to your programming at some capacity.

Bodybuilding aka Piston Squat

The Bodybuilding or ‘piston squat’, as I call it is a great way to work the muscles that lead to a bigger squat and deadlift. By stimulating the quads to grow bigger and stronger will benefit both of those lifts greatly. Of course you may think that is obvious, but you would be surprised how many people neglect direct quad training.

The quads, depending on the style that you squat or pull, can be very important to finishing a big lift. Often times, I’ve missed big squats at the very top as my hips, back and hams are very strong but my quads would let me down.

As I’ve talked about before, when I lean up, my quads seem to shrink first. Kind of like the girl who diets and her ass and boobs disappear. I guess you can, in a way, say that my legs are a girl’s boobs.

I prescribe the bodybuilding squat for those who struggle to grind squats at the top, slow down in transition and need quad development in general.
Let’s take a look at a few simple cues with this movement.

First, you want to keep all your tension on your quads, and not lock your knees at any point. This is a lot harder than it sounds. When you hold a squat at the top, you are locked out and not putting very much emphasis on your muscles more the joint.

Second, you don’t want to go all the way down, that will start to include the hips, glutes, back and hamstrings more. Remember this is not a competition squat, the idea is to directly work the quads with the movement. I will wait for the people to say “ass to grass or shut up” and I will just tell them, you don’t get judged on accessory work, you get judged on how the accessory work makes your big lifts stronger.

Third, you will want to bring your stance in a touch, some wide squatters would bring it in a lot. I even throw on Olympic shoes to really hammer my quads.

Last, the pace is crucial to keep the pressure on the quads. Obviously, you have to find your tempo and pace. Mine is a little slower than some, but with my history of back issue, I don’t want to play around too much.

Programming Considerations
I use these on my squat/deadlift day assistance.
I also enjoy using specialty bars for this exercise to relieve my shoulders from extra stress. If you have a Safety Squat Bar or a Buffalo Bar, those are excellent for this movement.

You can do these on your squat day as an assistance, or even on deadlift day to follow your pulls or you can warmup with these on a squat or deadlift day.

Give them a try!


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Brian Carroll

Owner and Founder at PowerRackStrength.com
Brian is a retired world-class powerlifter with over two decades of world-class powerlifting. From 1999 to 2020, Brian Carroll was a competitive powerlifter, one of the most accomplished lifters in the sport's history. Brian started off competing in bench press competitions 'raw,' then, shortly into the journey, he gravitated toward equipped lifting as there were no "raw" categories then. You only had to choose from single-ply (USPF) and Multi-ply (APF/WPC). Brian went on to total 2730 at 275 and 2651 at 242 with more than ten times his body weight in three different classes (220, 242, 275), and both bench pressed and deadlifted over 800 pounds in two other weight classes. He's totaled 2600 over 20 times in 2 different weight classes in his career. With 60 squats of 1000lbs or more officially, this is the most in powerlifting history, regardless of weight class or federation, by anyone not named David Hoff. Brian realized many ups and downs during his 20+ years competing. After ten years of high-level powerlifting competition and an all-time World Record squat at 220 with 1030, in 2009, Brian was competing for a Police academy scholarship. On a hot and humid July morning, Brian, hurdling over a barricade at 275lbs, landed on, fell, and hurt his back. After years of back pain and failed therapy, Brian met with world-renowned back specialist Prof McGill in 2013, which changed his trajectory more than he could have imagined. In 2017, Brian Carroll and Prof McGill authored the best-selling book about Brian's triumphant comeback to powerlifting in Gift of Injury. Most recently (10.3.20) -Brian set the highest squat of all time (regardless of weight class) with 1306 lbs – being the first man to break the 1300lb squat barrier at a bodyweight of 303 lbs.
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