Thoughts on this article by Charles Poliquin…
Q: I love squatting, but when I go heavy (5 RM or less), I get freaked out, and I think this fear is somehow inhibiting my success in the movement. Any ideas as to how I can get around it?
A: You can overcome this problem by using the technique called “Heavy Supports.” Chuck Sipes, a Mr. America known for his amazing strength, developed it. He claimed it built tendon strength, but the truth of the matter is that it helps heighten the shutdown threshold of the Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO), which is a tension/stretch receptor located in the tendon. The GTO inhibitory effect can be seen when two people of unequal strength arm wrestle. As the weaker person loses, it looks like he’s suddenly quitting and gets his wrist slammed to the top of the table. What’s really happening is that the GTO perceives a rapid rate of stretch during the eccentric contraction, at which point it yells to the brain, “Shut down, or this pimply-faced goon is going to rip the biceps apart!” The brain then sends a rapid signal to inhibit the contraction in order to prevent a muscle tear.
The same thing is true of your legs when you do squats. However, you can raise the GTO threshold by interspersing 8-second heavy isometric holds, aka supports, in between regular sets. So a squat routine may look like this:
Set 1: Full squats 5 RM at 85% of max (rest for three minutes after each set).
Set 2: A heavy support of 8 seconds at 200 % of max. Basically, it’s 1/16th of a squat. You just unrack the weight and hold an upright position with your knees just short of lock-out. The weight should be heavy enough that your knees will look like they are suffering from a Parkinson’s attack, or how TC’s knees quiver when he finds a new 8-track Barry Manilow tape.
Set 3: Full squats 5 RM at 85% of max.
Set 4: Heavy support 8 seconds at 210 % of max.
Set 5: Full squats 5 RM at 85% of max.
Set 6: Heavy support 8 seconds at 220 % of max.
Don’t be surprised if your heavy support loads climb up dramatically. Don’t be shy to use even greater percentages for the heavy supports than the ones suggested. As a result of doing these, you’ll gain greater confidence and greater control over heavy squat poundages. And, consequently, your rate of development will go up.