The Anderson Squat

The Anderson Squat

The development of absolute strength is critical to an athlete's success. No matter the sport, athletes who can generate significant amounts of brute strength explosively have a tremendous advantage over their opponents. At Westside, we utilize the maximal effort method to develop an athlete's absolute strength. 

The maximal effort method uses training weights greater than 90% of the current one rep max, performed for a top set of 1-3 repetitions. The intent is to recruit the largest motor units, significantly improving absolute strength. This training will not only improve the amount of force an athlete can generate but also enhance their durability and resilience. 

Lower body absolute strength is vital for athletes who use their legs to play their sport. Whether the goal is to run faster, jump higher, or shoot a more powerful takedown, developing lower body absolute strength will help build a better athlete. Athletes who can generate significant amounts of force with their hips and legs have an instant advantage over opponents who lack similar training. 

Max effort lower body training involves variations of the squat, deadlift, and good morning exercises. Athletes will select one of these exercises to perform as a max effort lower main exercise each week. These variations include specialty bars, accommodating resistance, and joint angle-specific training. 

One exercise that we have found to be beneficial for athletes is the Anderson squat. This exercise is a squat variation that builds tremendous amounts of absolute strength, leading to a stronger back, trunk, and lower body. 

Here's how the Anderson squat can help you become a better athlete.

What is an Anderson Squat?

The Anderson squat is a variation created by the late great Paul Anderson, a world-renowned Olympic weightlifter and strongman. Paul was an Olympic gold medal winner and is known as possibly the strongest man ever to walk the earth. The Anderson squat was one of his preferred ways to develop lower body strength. 

This exercise focuses specifically on the concentric portion of the squat, forcing an athlete to use brute strength to move the barbell. The Anderson squat forces an athlete to exert more effort and work at a disadvantageous joint angle position by removing the eccentric loading associated with a conventional squat. 

With the hips and knees in deep flexion with no benefit of eccentric loading, athletes are placed in a demanding position that requires all lower body muscles to complete the exercise. In terms of demand, the Anderson squat is one of the most demanding lower-body exercise variations. However, their benefit cannot be denied. The career of Paul Anderson is a testament to the effectiveness of the Anderson squat. 

How to Set Up an Anderson Squat

The Anderson squat aims to train the glutes, hips, hamstrings, trunk, and back to become stronger and more stable near full hip and knee flexion. As an athlete, most sports are played with the knees, typically at 90 degrees or above. However, training to improve strength and stability throughout the entire range of motion will only lead to a better-prepared athlete. 

When setting up the Anderson squat, the barbell is placed in a position that puts the athlete in hip and knee flexion at or below 90 degrees. The best way to do this is to use a squat rack and safety pins, providing the most stable surface to begin the lift. However, athletes can also use safety straps or chains to suspend the barbell at the appropriate starting position. 

The key to setting up for Anderson squats is ensuring that the starting position allows the athlete to brace the trunk and apply force to the barbell properly. The starting depth should be at or below 90 degrees but not so low that the athlete cannot brace and exert force as they would during a typical squat performed to depth. 

Regarding specialty barbells used, we often use the giant cambered bar, safety squat bar, and squat bar when performing Anderson squats. 

How to Perform an Anderson Squat

Proper execution of the Anderson squat is crucial to attaining the benefits associated with this great exercise. Considering this exercise variation intentionally places the athlete at a disadvantage from the start, athletes must find optimal squat positioning underneath the barbell to allow for ideal technical execution

The optimal Anderson squat starting position should mimic torso and pelvis positioning like a typical squat. The goal is for the athlete to complete the Anderson squat following their specific squat eccentric movement pattern. It is essential to avoid starting positions that cause the athlete to perform a good morning instead of a squat. 

To perform a proper Anderson squat, we first must ensure that the barbell is in the correct starting position. This means that the barbell is elevated so that the hips and knees are in deep flexion; however, the athlete can still achieve a starting position similar to their end position during the eccentric phase of the squat. 

Once the barbell is properly elevated, we will then position ourselves underneath the barbell. First, we want to get the hands and upper back set into the barbell. Given the demand Anderson squats place on the upper torso at the start, it is vital to correctly set the hands and upper back to allow the torso to remain elevated throughout the movement. 

Next, we want to bring the trunk and pelvis under the barbell. With the upper back and hands set, we will "scoop" ourselves under the barbell into our initial position. Once we are underneath the barbell, we will move our feet around to find a position that allows lateral and vertical force to be effectively applied to move the barbell. 

Now that we have established a working starting position for the Anderson squat, we will reset and prepare to lift the barbell. It is important to check and test the Anderson squat stance before beginning max effort work to ensure that the form is optimal. With our form established, we will repeat the steps, get underneath the barbell, and start moving the weight. 

To get the barbell moving, athletes must focus on generating force using the trunk, hips, glutes, and hamstrings. As the barbell begins to leave the pins, we will continue using these muscles while also engaging the mid and upper back along with the quadriceps. The goal is to keep the torso properly elevated while the hips and knees move toward full extension. Keeping the torso elevated is important, especially during the Anderson squat. 

Failure to keep the torso elevated during an Anderson squat will result in an Anderson good morning being performed. This can be dangerous when the barbell is loaded with squat-relevant weight, considering the discrepancy between squat and good morning strength experienced by most athletes. If the starting position is improper or the barbell is overloaded, the hips will rise, resulting in excessive demand being placed on the lumbar spine. 

Once lockout has been achieved, we will perform an eccentric lowering of the barbell back to the starting position. This eccentric lower should be controlled to protect the athlete from injury and the barbell from damage. 

Benefits of the Anderson Squat

The Anderson squat helps athletes develop tremendous amounts of lower body absolute strength. This is the primary reason we include this exercise in our lower body main exercise rotation at Westside Barbell. Additionally, the Anderson squat is a great trunk, glute, hamstring, and low back strength developer. 

Aside from being used as a max effort lower exercise variation, Anderson squats can also be used as a primary accessory exercise. In this case, the focus would be more on further trunk, glute, hamstring, and lower back development without emphasizing absolute strength development. However, further improving the strength of these muscles will lead to enhanced max effort squat strength, so in the end one hand washes the other regardless. 

When using the Anderson squat as an accessory exercise, we recommend performing 3-5 sets of 3-5 repetitions using a challenging weight that allows all prescribed sets and reps to be performed using the proper technique. While performing the Anderson squat for multiple sets and repetitions, it is important to focus on controlling the barbell when lowering to the starting position to reset. 

Good resets call for the barbell to consistently start in an advantageous position. Failure to control the lowering of the barbell will result in suboptimal starting positions, resulting in missed repetitions and potential injury. 

No matter how you choose to use the Anderson squat as a main or accessory exercise, you can expect to improve your lower body's absolute strength and work capacity. This exercise makes athletes stronger in disadvantageous positions, improves absolute strength, and improves individual muscle groups' muscular strength and work capacity. A valuable exercise, no doubt. 

How to Program Anderson Squats

Rotating Anderson squats into your current Conjugate-based training program is easy. At Westside, we perform a squat, deadlift, or good morning variation each week during max effort lower. To begin using Anderson squats in your program, you will rotate the exercise into the mix the next time your training calls for a max-effort squat. 

Once you have begun using this exercise as a regular squat variation, you can return to it every 6-8 weeks and choose to either perform the Anderson squat with a setup similar to last time or use a new one. This means using a different specialty barbell, accommodating resistance setup, or adjusting the starting position of the lift. 

We can also change the starting position of the lift, allowing athletes to start with the knees in an advantageous position above 90 degrees, providing further exercise variation to help avoid accommodation when using this exercise. No matter how you decide to go about it, there is a way to program Anderson squats to benefit practically any athlete. 

If you struggle with Anderson squats, you can perform additional accessory exercises to develop trunk, glute, hip, low back, and hamstring strength. We recommend using exercises such as glute ham raise, belt squat, back attack, hamstring curl, GHR sit-up, standing abs, Reverse Hyper, and the Inverse Curl. These exercises should be performed for 3-5 sets of 10-15 or 15-25 repetitions. 

Common Mistakes and Tips

The most common mistake experienced by most athletes when utilizing Anderson squats is an improper starting position. As mentioned above, you want to establish a starting position that resembles the position your torso and pelvis would be in at the end of the eccentric phase during a conventional squat. It is essential to take time to establish both the ideal barbell elevation and your ideal starting position. This will lead to safe, high-quality repetitions. 

Just as initial positioning is important, it is also important to understand how to properly brace the torso when performing an Anderson squat. As we mentioned above, after the hands and upper back are set, we will "scoop" ourselves underneath the barbell. As we do this, we want to breathe in and create intra-abdominal pressure to help stabilize the lower back and pelvis. 

A proper brace during Anderson squats is crucial, considering it helps create the force necessary to move the barbell and protects the spine from injury. 

Another common mistake is turning an Anderson squat into a good morning. This usually occurs when the barbell starting position is improper or when the barbell is overloaded compared to the athlete's strength. If you find yourself constantly performing a partial good morning during your Anderson squats, consider adjusting the starting position of the barbell or lowering the training weight. 

When performing the Anderson squat, focus on maintaining a properly elevated torso supported by a braced trunk. This will allow the hips, glutes, and legs to do their job so that the barbell is lifted efficiently. You can expect to perform clean, optimal Anderson squat repetitions as long as there are no weak links in the chain. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I'm new to Anderson squats. Should I start using them as a max effort or accessory exercise first?

A: We recommend using the exercise as an accessory for athletes new to Anderson squats. This will allow you to practice proper form using submaximal weights, lowering the difficulty of the exercise and the risk of injury. 

Q: Which specialty bars are recommended to use when performing Anderson squats?

A: At Westside, we prefer the safety squat bar, giant cambered bar, and regular squat bar when performing Anderson squats. 

Q: Can bands and chains be used when performing Anderson squats?

A: Yes, athletes can choose to use bands or chains when performing Anderson squats. 

Q: Can Anderson squats be performed with the knees and hips above 90 degrees?

A: Yes, this is not an issue and can benefit most athletes. 

Q: Should you wear a belt when performing Anderson squats?

A: Yes, we recommend wearing a belt when performing Anderson squats, particularly when performing max-effort Anderson squats. 

The Benefits of Brute Strength

As an athlete, one of the most important aspects of athletic performance you can choose to develop is your absolute strength. For many years, coaches have solely focused on speed development, failing to realize the many benefits max effort training provides to an athlete. The development of brute strength is something all athletes should be concerned about. 

Whether you want to hit the ball farther, sprint faster, throw a more devastating punch, or slam your opponent to the ground, brute strength is the athletic attribute that will make that possible. Speed and agility are undoubtedly important, but the development of absolute strength and explosive power are equally important. 

Developing high levels of absolute strength is the key to improving your overall athletic performance and durability. A properly developed athlete is stronger, faster, less likely to be injured, and capable of healing more quickly if injury occurs. Improvements in absolute strength will also raise the capacity for all other strengths to be improved. Simply put, a stronger athlete is a better athlete. 


Simmons, L. (2007). Westside Barbell Book of Methods. Westside Barbell.

Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. Verkhoshansky.

Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training. Human Kinetics

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