Squats are a foundational workout, and one of the most popular lifts out there. The squat works every muscle in your legs, your core, and even some of your upper body for stabilizing the load on your back.
Most people look at the squat as being simple and easy to perform. While this is true on the surface, if we dig a little deeper we can see the many intricacies that come together to make this lift happen.
With all of the different muscle groups recruited to perform a squat, there are a lot of areas that could stand for some improvement.
Some of these muscle groups are easy to target, such as the hamstrings, glutes and quadriceps.
Other muscles, like the hip flexors, may require a bit of specialization to develop to their maximum efficiency.
Still others, like the muscles in the lower back, can suffer from strains from improper form and would likely benefit from using an accessory.
These are just a few examples of muscle groups that can be targeted with specific accessories, so continue reading to get a comprehensive understanding of the 4 best accessories, and their accompanying exercises, to improve your squats.
Mobility Bands/Hip Circles/Glute Bands
The first accessory in this list is a set of mobility bands, and for good reason: they have a ton of different uses and they work.
Mobility Bands are great for working the ancillary muscles in your legs. These are all muscles that are recruited for stabilization during the squat.
Mobility Bands can be wrapped around the ankles, feet or knees for a wide variety of movements.
One of the most common uses is to put the mobility bands around the knees and do side-steps, with or without weight.
Even if you can squat twice your body weight, if you perform side-steps with mobility bands, you’re guaranteed to work your glutes and hip flexors.
This exercise targets these muscles in ways that squats can’t, and these muscles being properly developed will help the next time you put a barbell on your back.
Mobility Bands are also useful while squatting. One of the biggest issues people have with squats is letting their knees drift inwards. If you put a mobility band around your knees and focus on keeping the tension between your legs, you’ll keep your knees in the proper position as well.
Barbell Squat Pads
Barbell Squat Pads are exactly what they sound like: usually a piece of foam that wraps around the barbell to protect your neck and upper shoulders from the harsh metal of the barbell.
Some people despise the barbell squat pad, and will go to great lengths to avoid using one.
Still others prefer something more simple, like wrapping a towel around the barbell prior to squatting.
These are both valid options, but many weightlifters prefer using a barbell squat pad. Depending on the shape of your neck and the size of your traps, you may not have a lot of natural protection (i.e. fat) between you and the barbell.
If this is the case, you could probably use the barbell squat pad to reduce the pain felt from the barbell on your neck, allowing you to focus 100% on the squat.
The Gunsmith Fitness Next-Gen Barbell Squat Pad is the most comfortable squat pad on the market, made with high quality foam which is contoured to take the weight off of your neck and spread it evenly across your shoulders.
Knee Sleeves are one of the newer accessories on this list, but still incredibly popular.
When worn properly, knee sleeves provide excellent support, protection and compression to your knees, while still allowing impressive flexibility and range of motion.
Wearing knee sleeves while squatting can reduce the amount of wear and tear experienced by the knee. Knee sleeves also provide the right amount of compression to the knee joint, which keeps the knee and all other ligaments in place.
The compression provided by knee sleeves can also aid in reducing pain felt during squats. Some people feel a small amount of pain in their knees when squatting or lunging, and have said that compression helps to relieve the pain.
The weightlifting belt is the most foundational accessory out there. It’s been around nearly as long as the barbell itself, and nearly every serious lifter has a weightlifting belt stashed in their gym bag.
While one of the most simple accessories out there, the benefits of the weightlifting belt are wide and well-known.
A good weightlifting belt not only protects your back by promoting a neutral spine, it can also increase intra-abdominal pressure if used correctly.
An increase in intra-abdominal pressure can mean a tighter, stronger core, which translates to heavier lifts.
Whether leather or nylon, a premium weightlifting belt is a necessity if you want to max out your squats.
While the squat may appear simple at first glance, it is anything but.
If done right, the squat can add slabs of muscle to your legs and core. But if done wrong or with improper form, it can lead to injury and time out of the gym.
One of the best ways to perfect the squat is to use accessories, both during the squat and in ancillary lifts. Using accessories during ancillary lifts, such as performing side steps with mobility bands, will recruit stabilizing muscles that will be beneficial in maxing out your squat.