The Squat Exercise, Part 4: Training the Squat

February 20, 2012

To get better at your squat, there are a few things that you need:
1. More muscle mass: The more muscle mass you have, the stronger you have the potential to be. It’s going to be important to increase your muscle mass to lay a foundation for strength gains.
2. Stronger legs and hips: Since they are so important in the squat, you need to make your legs and hips stronger to have any hope of improving your squat.
3. Stronger trunk: Your trunk keeps you upright and even assists with squatting, so it needs to be stronger too.
4. Practice: To get better at the squat, you have to squat.

With the above in mind, the 12-week program for improving your squat focuses on two sessions per week (Monday/Thursday, Tuesday/Friday, etc.). The first session is the heavy day, might as well get the worst workout out of the way at the beginning of the week. This is the one that will develop strength. The second session focuses more on increasing muscle mass and also helps you to practice technique with more repetitions. Because this is being done over twelve weeks, the workouts are going to change a little from week-to-week to keep you from getting stale.

Weeks one through four are to help get you adjusted to training like this without killing you. Weeks one through three see a gradual increase in volume and weight lifted with week four being a back off week. On the first workout of the week, the eccentric squats (literally take ten slow seconds to descend into the bottom position then attempt to explode back up) are designed to help reinforce technique during the descent and to significantly improve trunk strength.

The workouts will appear as follows:

  Week One Week Two Week Three Week Four
Workout One Back Squats, 3×4-8×80%Eccentric Squats, 3×3-6×80%Romanian Deadlifts, 3×4-8

Standing Calf Raises, 3×4-8

Back Squats, 3×4-8×82.5%Eccentric Squats, 3×3-6×82.5%Romanian Deadlifts, 4×4-8

Standing Calf Raises, 3×4-8

Back Squats, 3×4-8×85%Eccentric Squats, 3×3-6×85%Romanian Deadlifts, 5×4-8

Standing Calf Raises, 3×4-8

Back Squats, 4×4-8×80%Eccentric Squats, 3×3-6×80%Romanian Deadlifts, 3×4-8

Standing Calf Raises, 3×4-8

Workout Two Back Squats, 3×12-15×70%Lunges, 3×12-15Good Mornings, 3×8-12

Leg Curls, 3×12-15

Seated Calf Raises, 3×15-20

Back Squats, 4×12-15×70%Lunges, 3×10-12Good Mornings, 3×8-12

Leg Curls, 3×12-15

Seated Calf Raises, 3×15-20

Back Squats, 5×12-15×70%Lunges, 3×8-10Good Mornings, 3×8-12

Leg Curls, 3×12-15

Seated Calf Raises, 3×15-20

Back Squats, 3×12-15×70%Lunges, 3×12-15Good Mornings, 3×8-12

Leg Curls, 3×12-15

Seated Calf Raises, 3×15-20

Weeks five thought eight are heavier than the first four weeks.  Again, the first three weeks of this part involve increasing the weights while the last week is a back-off week for recovery.  Pause squats have replaced the eccentric squats (in a pause squat, squat all the way down to the bottom position and hold the bottom position for a full second before coming up).  These help to enhance strength in the bottom position and also strengthen the trunk.

 

The workouts will appear as follows:

  Week Five Week Six Week Seven Week Eight
Workout One Back Squats, 3×2-6×85%Pause Squats, 3×3-6×80%Deadlifts, 3×4-8

Leg Press Calf Raises, 3×4-8

Back Squats, 3×2-6×87.5%Pause Squats, 3×3-6×82.5%Deadlifts, 4×4-8

Leg Press Calf Raises, 3×4-8

Back Squats, 3×2-6×90%Pause Squats, 3×3-6×85%Deadlifts, 5×4-8

Leg Press Calf Raises, 3×4-8

Back Squats, 4×2-6×85%Pause Squats, 3×3-6×80%Deadlifts, 3×4-8

Leg Press Calf Raises, 3×4-8

Workout Two Back Squats, 5×12-15×70%Lunges, 3×12-15Reverse Hypers, 3×12-15

Leg Curls, 3×12-15

One-Legged Calf Raises, 3×15-20

Back Squats, 5×12-15×72.5%Lunges, 3×10-12Reverse Hypers, 3×8-12

Leg Curls, 3×12-15

One-Legged Calf Raises, 3×15-20

Back Squats, 5×12-15×75%Lunges, 3×8-10Reverse Hypers, 3×8-12

Leg Curls, 3×12-15

One-Legged Calf Raises, 3×15-20

Back Squats, 3×12-15×70%Lunges, 3×12-15Reverse Hypers, 3×8-12

Leg Curls, 3×12-15

One-Legged Calf Raises, 3×15-20

Weeks nine through twelve follow the same approach as the previous eight (i.e. the first three weeks see an increase in weight while the last week is a back-off week).  On the heavy day, the number of exercises have been introduced with the have squats being combined with a plyometric exercise.  The idea being that this helps to cue the nervous system to help make you stronger.  Note all the pre-exhaustion work on the second workout of each week.

 

The workouts will appear as follows:

  Week Nine Week Ten Week Eleven Week Twelve
Workout One Back Squats, 3×1-4×90% + Jumps, 3x10Reverse Hypers, 3×12-15Standing Calf Raises, 3×4-8 Back Squats, 3×1-4×92.5% + Jumps, 3x10Reverse Hypers, 3×12-15Standing Calf Raises, 3×4-8 Back Squats, 3×1-4×95% + Jumps, 3x10Reverse Hypers, 3×12-15Standing Calf Raises, 3×4-8 Back Squats, 4×2-6×85% + Jumps, 3x10Reverse Hypers, 3×12-15Standing Calf Raises, 3×4-8
Workout Two Leg Extensions, 3×12-15Leg Press, 3×12-15Back Squats, 5×8-12×70%

Leg Curls, 3×12-15

One-Legged Calf Raises, 3×15-20

Leg Extensions, 3×12-15Leg Press, 3×12-15Back Squats, 5×6-10×72.5%

Leg Curls, 3×12-15

One-Legged Calf Raises, 3×15-20

Leg Extensions, 3×12-15Leg Press, 3×12-15Back Squats, 5×4-8×75%

Leg Curls, 3×12-15

One-Legged Calf Raises, 3×15-20

Leg Extensions, 3×12-15Leg Press, 3×12-15Back Squats, 3×8-12×70%

Leg Curls, 3×12-15

One-Legged Calf Raises, 3×15-20

The squat is one of the most effective, albeit misunderstood, exercises in the weight room.  Done correctly it is safe and has a powerful effect on the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and trunk/core muscles.  Done improperly it can (at best) be a waste of time and (at worst) cause injury.  Combining good technique, lots of practice, and a smart program can get you well on your way to a stronger squat and bigger legs!