Prepping for a National Meet: Squats versus Pulls

With the American Open coming up, we get a lot of questions about what an athlete’s training looks like for a high-level competition. In today’s blog, we discuss what our athlete’s training may look like for a competition like the American Open with regards to pulls and squats. We’ll go over:

  1. The benefits of both pulls and squats
  2. Which of the two will better prepare the athlete
  3. How to know which one is best for the athlete
  4. Our recommended loading

Some may say that pulls are more important than squats, or squats are more important than pulls. Arguably, both are just as important. Athletes need to be doing both pulls and squats in their training leading up to a big national meet. Pulls are great because they will prep the athlete for picking heavier weights off the floor. So this will help “overload” the athlete and hopefully make their lifts (snatch and clean) feel “lighter” than they usually would. To get more specific, with our athletes we really try to have them target their glutes, lower back, and a little of hamstrings when performing pulls. Heavier and higher rep pulls we also work on maintaining good positions and posture.

Squats are great because they maintain an athlete’s leg strength so that they stand up their lifts, especially the clean, and hopefully under any circumstances during a meet. In an athlete’s program, it would be ideal to perform both front and back squats. Front squats can help athletes stand up cleans and work on their trunk strength, and with back squats, they help an athlete maintain their overall leg strength.  

In our time with weightlifting, we have learned that a weightlifting program has to be personalized. One exercise or a certain set and rep scheme may work for one athlete, but it may not work for another. A coach must know their athlete.  

With what we have seen in our athletes is that if they have a really strong squat, they have really strong quadriceps and their lower back is relatively weaker and their pulls are not as strong.  In reverse, if an athlete is a better puller they can better recruit posterior chain muscles and not their quadriceps.  Now, obviously if an athlete is weaker at a certain exercise, we should perform that exercise more often. But at the same time, on a mental/psychological aspect, an athlete may perform better or be more confident if they perform heavier pulls or squats. For example, if I needed to squat at least 90% of my back squat to mentally be prepared to lift big weights, and if I didn’t back squat 95%, I would just not be ready, mentally. So again, it all depends and the athlete, and the coach needs to know their athlete.

Now, we also have to look at how an athlete will respond to pulls and squats. Every athlete will respond a bit differently to pulls and squats. Typically, what we like to program for our athletes are pulls at 90-110% of their lifts, and squats at 80-90% of their one rep max squats.  With pulls, we like to program sets of 4-5 of 2-5 reps. If the pulls are heavier, the rep scheme will be lower, and vice versa. Again, the percentages and rep scheme will all depend on the athlete. One athlete may do really well with heavy pulls with proper form and another can pull heavy, but tend to lose form. With this athlete, we will drop the percentage and then perform more reps. And this is the same with squats.

-Coach Chris