Squats are fun and so is this long article... Don't read it if you don't want to grow your Squat.


You're brand new to lifting. Your coach throws you into squatting everyday. It works really great for the first month, and then things start coming to a halt... Why did the gains stop? What will it take to get more gains? Where do you go after squatting daily?


Squats are a vital part of Powerlifting, Weightlifting, and nearly every strength sport. But to better understand how they should be implemented, it's best to understand why they're being done. And shortly put... We squat to get strong. Squats build stronger hips, stronger legs, and a stronger core among many other adaptable qualities like increasing muscle mass, systemic effects etc etc etc. The way we implement them will create changes in how we absorb, redirect, and produce force as well as how we adapt to our entire training plan outside of squats. In Powerlifting, one third of the sport is who's got the biggest squat and, depending on the federation, to a specific depth, so the squat is specifically needed to improve an individual's absolute strength which is to it's core the most specific quality a Powerlifter needs when competing - the biggest daggum squat. In Weightlifting, the squat is less specific and acts as an accessory movement to enhance and, when used properly within the rest of a plan, increase the opportunity for increased weights in the Snatch and Clean & Jerk. Generally, weightlifters NEED squats if they want to get a bigger Total. However, there are cases when maybe squats aren't as needed. If an individual is already insanely strong in comparison to their Snatch and Clean & Jerk, maybe the squat is actually unspecific for their Olympic Weightlifting maturity and they would be better off spending their time and fatigue on competition lifts themselves (by my definition, time in the sport has nothing to do with lifting maturity but rather the efficiency of movement that will yield the best competition lifts in comparison to an individual's strength). But on the other hand, having a bigger reservoir of strength will decrease the impact that the competition lifts will have on a lifter's body - specifically on CNS demand that's connected to athletic qualities like speed and recovery. In other strength sports like Strongman or CrossFit, squats can act similarly by increasing an individual's own personal "work engine" by increasing the total absolute strength that a given athlete can produce - so, by being stronger in the squat, all other tasks become less difficult. (ex. Athlete A weighs 180lb and can squat 500lb vs. Athlete B weighs 180lb and can squat 75lb, who is going to have an easier time picking up a 175lb Atlas stone or doing farmer's carries with 100lb suitcases?). In short, a lifter with the largest absolute strength is going to probably have the easier time doing the tasks of a sport - and the squat is a very reasonable exercise to help improve absolute strength especially in sports where the squat is more sport specific than other exercises that might help produce increases in absolute strength.


Often, you can get some really fast results if you start practicing the task daily. Doing this is a fast way to hug your ego, but where on earth do you go once you've been maxing out your squat daily or running Smolov? Based on volume regulation, once you back off and start doing sustainable amounts of volume - things will probably go backwards temporarily if you're used to maxing out every day or reduce down from 7 days a week to 3. You don't lose the gains you made from Smolov because a long term sustainable approach is worse than running Smolov, you lose the volume gains you made because you lose the training effect once you remove any amount of volume for a length of time (longer than two or three weeks) and for injury mitigation that volume will eventually need to pause. There are so many points we can talk about with respect to high frequency volume and/or high frequency intensity... so let's start with the goliath - high frequency volume.


High Frequency - High Volume

Believe it or not, there are actually people out there that want to squat to a 20 rep max everyday. There are some people back squatting 6 or 7x each week. Some people are squatting once or twice a week. And another group is squatting 3 or 4x per week. All options that within the right scope and long term outlook might work depending on the needs of any given person and their sport. Keeping the focus on the long term is the key to long term progress. Its too easy to put yourself into the mindset of how you feel on a given day or that you need to do something huge daily. So ask yourself - is the frequency you're squatting right now going to allow more gains down the road? Will you be able to grow and then build off of what you're doing now? If you are doing a lot of volume, is there an exit strategy so you don't lose all of the volume strength you've built up when you go back to prioritizing the specific comp lifts?


I've seen some information put out by different Weightlifting coaches regarding what lifters best adapt to and that some athletes are just "hard gainers" that won't get stronger unless you crush them with volume... uhhh this is logically incorrect. If you crush someone with volume, THEY WILL ALWAYS BE HARD GAINERS. In a perfect world, progress would be linear and everyday you would get stronger - but that's not how the world works because we take literally days to recover from a task. And if we don't get that recovery? It takes even longer. And if we don't get that recovery for 3 weeks? It takes even longer (longer than any standard deload week). So I'm going to let you in on this secret... what if... what if I've been running Smolov and I start with a coach, he starts me with 3 days per week with squats and my squat doesn't budge or it goes backwards for a month? So then he takes me to 4 days per week with squats and after 6 more weeks (10 weeks) I finally get my "best" back squat back... and then I'm deemed a hard gainer... but there's been no attention drawn to the fact that in reality I'm just used to doing HIGH AS HECK amounts of volume - my volume got taken away and now it looks like I'm spinning my wheels in the mud... and now that I've gotten back to that original high volume number, what are the chances that my body is still trained up from the Smolov cycle I finished 2 and a half months ago? These gains too are going to probably take a back step after the next deload cycle for the simple fact that my body has had no time to catch up to the excess in volume and accumulated fatigue THAT I'M STILL FEELING MONTHS LATER...... is it that I'm a hard gainer or is it that my body is in a state of de-training because all of the gains I made were based on the over reaching volume I had gotten and now I'm detrained from no longer doing said volume... Overtraining is a real bitch but this is how it happens and will stay hidden residually within the broader scope of long term training.

The ego is hilarious in that we want to come up with excuses and little fine points that define us as different - that our own special muscle has to adapt to something that's unique and only a select group will adapt to. Yeah, I hope you see how this is physiologically and fundamentally incorrect... Are our muscles different? Like are they really that different? Nope. But our special little egos like choosing what we like to do. And what we like to do is probably what we're going to do and so what we're going to do is what we adapt to. *ugh* back to the topic...


Truly, sometimes we need to figure out how to best diversify what I would call "errors in programming" by finding ways to adjust volume and differing levels of intensity when new lifters come in with an astoundingly high level of volume that doesn't translate to their capabilities and how the rest of their body has adapted. Technical errors are one clue. One way to attack the issue is to turn the focus to another point of emphasis within strength like increasing the pull, prioritizing specialization phases of the comp lifts, turning the focus to upper body strength, or examining weak points that seemingly won't get stronger (shocking... it could be overtrained, give it a break and it might, by some recovery magic, come up!). Then, in the background of their programming, the squat volume will immediately be adjusted for and gains for the long haul will begin - often using rep max sequences or tough eccentrics/isometrics. Then when volume and intensity has reached a point break, we'll go up and take a new max single. And then by some degree of magic, the lifter is no longer a hard gainer.


Another somewhat difficult situation to navigate is when an athlete comes out of a long training period that led up to an event goal where they want to take a few weeks off following competition and we bring back their volume only to have aches and pains pop up. Your body is going to communicate with you when it doesn't like something - and often the quick answer here is to bring in variation to maintain volume/intensity and/or volume accessory work as you bring back up the working volume to their absolute strength. But we still haven't even made mention of speed work and the benefits there for navigating these waters! Truthfully, there are an infinite number of ways to tackle any one single problem and it's typically athlete specific in how we address these things.


High Frequency - High Intensity


Athletes sometimes go the route of maxing daily or nearly daily... I understand why, it's fun and you see quick gains on the front end. I mean hey, the SAID principle right? Plus if you practice heavy, you get better at heavy. But again, this route only addresses a daily or weekly approach that will leave you "plateauing" in the long run if you don't have an exit strategy. And also, here comes that 3 letter word yet again - EGO. Your true max only needs to be present at the right times and maxing daily for too long is going to lead you into the land of overtraining and all of your lifting will probably suffer - but there's also a chance that you're part of the 0.001% that will make gains and come out totally fine on the other side. But then where do you go from there? Is it worth the risk? Is it worth not getting to see another squat PR for potentially 3 or 4 months?


So now you've found yourself reading this article and thinking like - "dammit... I've been maxing out daily and literally I'm stuck in this plateau NOW... where do I go from here?" Well, my first suggestion is to set your ego aside and bring in a mid-range volume style squat cycle. This looks like percentages in the 70-80% range with 3x5's, 3x6's, 4x4's, etc on 3 or 4 days per week based on a REAL number you've actually moved. Start developing the volume on the underside using your own strategies focused on bringing up your individual weak points that have shown up when weights are heavy. Follow a more standard linear progression for a few weeks before you run a few autoregulation testing weeks that will most likely show changes in the rep ranges you've been focused on. I would give you ranges of volume to think about reaching but 1. it's very dependent on the individual athlete and what they've done over the last several months, and 2. I want you to go do your homework and learn. This is where individualization plays a key role. Everyone is at a very different point in their journey in the totality of volume and intensity. Linear periodization is not the answer, constant autoregulation is not the answer, undulated "varied" work outs is not the answer. It's probably a touch of all of the above and adapting it to an individual's needs.


Okay, cool but now that you've established that maxing daily isn't the right thing - are there any examples of anyone who should? It's unnecessary and there probably would never be a good situation for it. Unless the only goal is fun and YOLOing your way to gains based off of guesswork. You're not suddenly going to wake up one day able to squat 500lb. It's going to take work and practice and long term consistency doing the right things.


Intensity is very interesting because this is where individual's may be able to handle things differently and serves as another means to providing an individualized specific approach. You'll often see my lifters go for rep maxes in their squat on instagram but that's not always the best approach and I don't post failures, I post highlights! There's a lot of planning that goes behind periods and weeks of weekly max outs or weekly rep maxes to ensure that the lifter is going to be able to handle it all. And truthbetold, excess stress (lack of recovering, poor nutrition, drinking, etc.) in their lives could be detrimental in screwing up our whole process of volume/intensity regulation, which happens on occasion when a lifter decides to be a little party animal and then PRs the next day, only to find themselves in hellishly hard work outs for weeks following. There are other weird circumstances where I feel that an athlete just needs to learn to take attempts at maximal weights and in those circumstances they might get weekly attempts at heavy weights in the squat. But typically if a Weightlifter is taking a max squat attempt its because we're trying to briefly catch a dose of power to maximize some athletic quality or to maintain intensity during a volume back off period where weights and reps ease up for the sake of improving comp lift efficiency. This might be in the weeks leading up to a competition where we're setting them up for the opportunity to be in their best physical condition, peaked and ready for comp and physiologically prepared to exhibit their strength within the confines of the Snatch and Clean & Jerk. The name of the game is maximizing strength with technical efficiency here. But rarely to never will high frequency & high intensity squats be the answer and is a quick way to shatter your power and make everything suffer.


Mid-Volume and Mid-Intensity


Mid-Volume and Mid-Intensity is generally where most training needs to happen for most people, most of the time. And YOU are probably most people. The bulk of your practice should be just that - PRACTICE. Every rep, move it as fast as you can. Pretend like its a ton of weight so that when there is a ton of weight, you'll be prepared and ready to attack. When you practice in this mid-range it will leave you room to produce gains in your other lifts without turning you into an imbalanced squat specialist. Yeah, the gains won't come in a week - but they also won't be gone by two months from now. Slow and steady wins the race in the squat. If you try to crush yourself with volume or intensity, you will crush yourself and find yourself having to start over what feels like every 2 or 3 months. Doing what you can do CONSISTENTLY is the answer. Working hard will only get you so far. Its a learning process to trust development, but if you stay consistent the gains will never stop. Its when your consistency stops is when things fall apart. High Volume plans and High Intensity plans I would argue almost 95% of the time lead to inconsistency so they fall apart in the long run. It doesn't matter where you're at today - it matters where you're at in 6 months. Almost always you can ask people who ran true High Volume squat cycles or true High Intensity squat cycles and they'll tell you how banged up they got and how they probably had to take time off so everything in their training suffered. Train right and you won't be old, beat up, and fat by 30.


In summary - Train smart by adding little by little (accumulate volume over time), ALWAYS have a plan, take small wins from week to week like doing 4x6 two weeks after you did the same weight for 3x5, and be patient! Trust the process and your future you will thank you!


- Jonathan


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