Squat Descent Difficulty

Hey everyone,

My question isn’t really 5/3/1 specific, so my apologies if this should have been posted in another forum. I normally post here and I trust the opinions of Jim and other 5/3/1 users so I thought I’d give it ago.

My question/concern relates to the squat. Here’s my situation:

Early in 2016 I injured myself squatting. I had a sports medicine professional check me out and he concluded that I had (and may still have) a muscular imbalance where by my glutes don’t carry enough of the load during the squat, placing more pressure on my quad. In sum, I have IT Band syndrome. Basically for most of that year I walked around with my knee popping and cracking as a result. I have since corrected it and can now squat without injury (knock on wood).

However, I’m noticing that it takes a great deal of time to get warmed up to squat (even the empty bar). I spend the first half hour or more of my squat days doing fire hydrants, banded walks, glute bridges, and hip opener stretches, and even then getting to even parallel is hard.

I feel stupid saying “hey I can’t get down” when the real fight in the squat should be ascending or “getting back up”. Depending on the day, this issue can cause a four exercise workout to turn into a 1.5 hour stay in the gym - that’s excessive time imo.

I also notice that my squat strength can vary greatly day to day. For example, I’ve had a day where squatting 5x5 at 275 feels great and the bar goes up like butter to then do then have the exact same weight be a struggle to get 1 later in the week. This morning I did 295 for 3 and 305 for 2 with little difficulty - who knows what my next session will bring.

Was just curious if I could get some thoughts/advice.


Since you’re cleared to squat, my thoughts are that you should just keep squatting. I’m fairly confident that over time, as your body becomes more acclimated to performing squats, and you’re able to form a groove, that range of motion will be more easier to replicate and your sessions will be more consistent.

I’ve had problems like you had with 275 for 5x5; I’ve squatted 320x9, and come back for my next session and I only got 295x10. I think it is mostly due to your routine and how you prepare for each session. When I squatted 320, it was at school at night with a familiar routine and equipment that I had been using for a few months. When I squatted 295, it was about 5 hours earlier than my normal time, in a different weight room with different equipment. Those variables usually don’t change, but your hydration, food intake, sleep, mental focus, etc are all day-to-day variables. My advice is to control and experiment with those as much as you can: do you perform better on an empty stomach? Big meal 3 hours before lifting? Small meal 30 minutes before lifting? How much water do you need, at a minimum, to perform at a high level? If I’m not well-rested, that usually causes problems for me. Take a nap (20-40 minutes) to get a boost of energy.

My final piece of advice is backed purely by anecdotal evidence. I have no scientific research to support this, but I have always found that keeping your warmup routine identical for every workout is the way to go. I always feel more comfortable psychologically when I can take the 10-15 minutes I need to foam roll my quads, stretch my hip flexors, loosen my shoulders and low back, and open up my hips. Doesn’t matter what I’m training, those are always my starting points. If I feel like something else needs a little more attention, I’ll oblige, but I believe that repeating the same warmup routine consistently creates a mental comfort zone from which you can launch your attack on the weights.

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While squatting is a great exercise, I wonder if you should consider omitting it altogether for the indefinite future. You have to listen to your body, and if it’s having this much of a difficulty performing that movement, then don’t do it. There are other lower body exercises you can do that, while perhaps none are as effective as the squat on their own, can get the job done.


  1. Why do you think you need to squat? What is motivating you to keep it in your workouts despite this pain?
  2. How old are you? How much do you weigh? Losing weight can solve a myriad of issues, if you happen to be substantially overweight.

Thanks for the advice!

Definitely agree with your comments about being consistent - I always aim to work out at the same time and I usually do while under the same conditions. Gonna try to be a bit more consistent with diet as my calorie intake has dropped at times in an effort to drop weight.

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  1. I like powerlifting and am slowly getting in to the sport. Competed in my first meet just over a month ago. So squats are obligatory. Lol

  2. I’m 6ft 235lbs on most days right now. Aiming to drop some weight (would like to be around 220 again) but every time I drop in the scale my strength takes a drop too so I usually end up going back up to recover my performance in the bench and dl - squats seem to fluctuate regardless of my weight (or at least more so than bench and dls).

You probably need to squat more frequently, or at least go through the motions to improve mobility. On off days, do bodyweight squats where you go to parallel for each rep. Do 100 reps a day. On your heavy squat days, try to keep the warmups more squat-focused (empty bar, low weight) and less accessory-based.

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The key to activating your glutes is to make depth (parallel, minimally).
I’m not sure if you have a depth issue but quad utilization is more dependent on width then depth.

Fantastic. I know you ain’t bitchin because that’s the precise symptoms. IT Bands are fatigued when you:

  1. Make depth
  2. Go heavy
  3. Abuse your knees by not varying width

Myofasical release doesn’t do sh!t either. Getting them checked out at professionals just make you a pig ready for the slaughter.

  1. Vary your squat stance
  2. Experiment with partial overloads
  3. Run (1 to 2KM thrice a week)
  4. Do some SMFR
  5. Sleep without air-conditioning

Those are activation exercises. IT bands cannot be activated through stretching or dynamic warm-ups, they are only called into action when the patellar tendon is used in frames of motion when it is crossing the patellofemoral joint. (i.e running and jumping).

To relieve them you mean, do cross-legged stretches and foam-rolling.

The rigor of the descent is contingent on

  1. lower back strength (not the arching of the back but rather the strength of the core, has it been overworked not HOW strong is it — it always feels easier when it’s the first squat session)
  2. upper-body strength (in unracking the weight and thereafter stabilizing it)

Trying doing +60KG partials for fixed reps and sets for 3 weeks and backing off for a week. Then retry your old weights. Should feel pretty groovy.

That’s because you value it as a primary exercise so your goal is to tackle that weight as a highlight of your workout.

When you subjugate it as a secondary exercise in favour of something harder, it will become easier trust me.

It has to do with CNS, dopamine levels and physical health too. Always program in such a way that you have sufficient rest before the PBs. Don’t just go 5/3/1, go by feeling.

A 5 should be harder than a one.
3 should be your favourites.

Meaning before your workouts, you should already understand how heavy a weight should feel. Absolute blank state of mind is death. Never let your workouts master you, I expect you to command each rep like it’s yours.

Lots to consider there and I’ll write back with a more detailed response later tonight/tomorrow. But for now, and for the record: I loves 3s! Lol

Some good advice right here.

I can’t say I have the same issues with hitting depth without warming up as you but there are days that I’m a bit stiff or tight. Usually I just start squatting with the bar for a few and then 1 plate for a few. When all the things are a bit warmer I’ll squat down with 135 and hang out at the bottom position for a while to loosen up.

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Try the lazy lifter warm up… kind of every day, together with the tip of 100 body weight squats.

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That’s a lot of great info there!

I think the problem is I’m treating myself like I have a glute activation problem when I’m likely just suffering from a tight quad/IT band - is that a fair distinction to make. The sports medicine specialist I saw made the comment about glute activation so I’ve always treated as if my glutes causing my IT band problem which isn’t the case?

The take away from this is release the quad/IT band not specifically focus activation for the Glutes?

Thanks everyone!

General take away I’m getting from the posts:

  • more exposure to the squat movement
  • work on releasing IT Band/quad and less on glute activation exercises.