When people think of leg day the first exercise to pop up is the squat. The squat is the mother of all exercises when it comes to developing leg strength. Strength isn't just developed by performing the same squat over and over again, it's developed by using variations. There are a number of different squat variations you could use, but here are my top 3 variations that will help you develop strength, power, and control.
So what is a pause squat and how do you use them in your workouts? A pause squat is a simple way to add time under tension to your squat. You simply load up your squat ( this could be any type of a squat), go as low as you can (normally at least 90 degrees), hold for 2 to 10 seconds, and drive up quickly back to your starting position. Pause squats are a great way to learn how to drive up after being at a complete stop. This is great for any athlete that needs to drive out of a squat position ( football lineman, sprinters, wrestlers, etc...). Pause squats help you learn to balance which is great for beginners, people learning how to rock back onto their heels so they are not falling forward, or people who simply need to learn how to slow down. Pause squats will improve overall strength by increasing the time under tension at the bottom, which has now become an isometric exercise. The pause at the bottom will make your quadriceps move concentrically, thus taking out the springing you tend to get in a typical squat. Using your muscles differently will increase the size and the strength of your quadricep muscles.
We don't hear about bottom squats much, but they are great for developing power, creating extra mobility, fixing the bottom of your squat, and positional awareness. These squats are very similar to pause squats when it comes to driving out of a low position and placing the quadriceps in a concentric position, but go a step further. While pause squats are great, you generally cannot do 1 rep maxes with them. Bottom squats are loaded heavy and low, Therefore, they will help develop more strength with out extra time under tension.
To set up a bottom squat place your squat bar at the lowest point of your normal squat, step underneath the bar and drive up to a standing position.
Bottom squats will help increase the size and strength of your quadriceps because you can increase the load of your lift. It should be difficult to hold your form under the bar until you understand the changes in the movement. At the bottom you are at your depth limit or close to it. This will increase your shin angle and place a higher degree of mobility on your ankles and hips. This may be an awkward position for some, but start light and high and work your way down. Doing this alongside of your normal ankle and mobility drills will accelerate your range of motion gains.
Box squats are probably the most used of these three squat variations, but is still under utilized. Box squats build strength, work your hamstring and glutes, or a great rehab exercise, help with bar path, can help you blast through a plateau, and works your entire lower body. When performing box squats compared to Bottom or Pause squats you are not trying to go below parallel. You want to make sure that you have a vertical shin angle and that your torso is upright. This will cause you to have better control and to address any form/mobility issues you have (not to the same extent as pause or bottom squats), but will engage more hamstring and glutes than a regular squat.
When performing a box squat get a box the height of your sticking point, where you have trouble or at parallel for your squat. Keep your torso upright and lower down in a controlled fashion. When you hit the box, stop. Stop all momentum and then drive straight up. You can begin with a higher box to observe your balance, bar path or form and then reduce the height of the box.
These three squats should be added to your training cycles every three to four months depending on your programming. They will help you build better quads, strengthen hamstrings, glutes, and your lower back while increasing your leg strength and hip and ankle mobility.