About 6 months ago I joined Urban Kings, a gym near my work, to have a secondary gym to go to during the day, when I’m not training at Bethnal Green WLC. One of the classes there that worked with my schedule was yogalates with Veronique, and I decided to give it a go, mostly because Wednesdays are quiet for me, it was convenient, and hey – after 30+ years of being sedentary, it seemed like a good idea to try to get more flexible.
It turned out that I love the class, and try to go every week as a result – plus it has had an unexpected bonus: I have broken my squat plateau since starting yogalates, and I think that’s down to the class.
Back in November 2012 I set a new squat pb (in competition) of 85kg, then (as so often happens) my squat totally plateaued. Plateaus are pretty much to be expected when you’ve been lifting for a while and your newbie gains are long gone. I of course continued to follow my programming & do all my assistance exercises, but no dice. I attempted a new squat pb in June 2013 at the Greater London Clubs championship, but buckled under 87.5kg. My weak point was my upper body – under 80kg+, my lungs felt crushed and I was bowing down into a “squat morning” at the bottom of the lift, totally unable to keep my head & chest up. Not good.
Back to the yogalates class. I found the first few pretty hard – one of Veronique’s main moves in the class is side planks, lots & lots of side planks. Guess who couldn’t do side planks? I struggled at first to do the side planks on my feet, having to use my knees for most of them. However, on 31st July I managed to do ALL the side planks and then it was onwards & upwards in every class.
And guess what? My squats started to improve in training.
The first thing I noticed was that I gradually stopped doing “squat mornings”. I could keep my chest & head up throughout the lift when squatting more than my bodyweight. Once I realised my form had improved, we decided to push the weight a bit. Being a non-novice lifter, I don’t often up my weights by much during regular training, but I felt able to say “Hey, let’s add another 2.5/5kg” on the last set and know I was going to make it. Eventually, I squatted 90kg in the gym a couple of weeks before the British Classic in October, repeated that at the Classic, then squatted 92.5kg at the Greater Londons in November & 95kg at my club comp last week. That’s 10kg in 6 months, after lifting for 4.5 years.
Adding 10kg (or just over 11%) to my squat might not seem like much, but bear in mind that my newbie gains are long gone, and pbs tend to be few & far between when you’ve been lifting a long time. I’m certainly not going to sniff at it!
So what happened? The short answer is: yogalates helped me find my core. In the past, when my coach said “get tight” before a lift, and people talked about tightening their core, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I did ab exercises, sure, but I didn’t know how to brace my core well. After doing yogalates for a few months, I can now tighten my core effectively when I need to, and I have the confidence to know I won’t (or, am not as likely to) buckle under a big weight on my shoulders.
Here’s how I set myself up for a squat now: I take the bar quite low on my back & step out of the rack. When the referee gives the command, I empty my lungs of air, then breathe a really deep breath right into my stomach & against my belt. Then I tighten my upper & lower core: the upper core feels like shutting a pair of doors around my ribcage; the lower core feels like I’m drawing my navel into my spine & holding it there. Then I squat, and blow all the air out of my lungs on the ascent, keeping the core tight. I only let go once I’ve been given the rack command & can replace the bar.
I’m now feeling really confident that a 100kg squat isn’t far away. I’m hoping to replicate that 95kg squat at my next competition in June, and (hopefully) add a little more at the same time. 3 numbers, baby!