I have never used box squats in my training. I have never used good mornings either. Nor I have I ever used the reverse hyper. I tinkered with using chains and bands for a brief period but did not find them as beneficial as purported. I have never even done the Westside or Smolov programs! It would seem that I have avoided doing all the things the powerlifting world believes is necessary to build a big squat. Nevertheless, I have managed to break multiple All-Time World Record Squats over my powerlifting career, both raw and geared. If you are wondering what the secret is, then listen up. It’s no secret at all.


It has been a while since I was active in the powerlifting scene so many lifters reading this may not be familiar with my name, so let me take just a minute to qualify myself on the subject. I once held five different All-Time Squat Records, both raw and multi-ply geared, at the same time. Using multiply gear I have squatted five times bodyweight in two different weight classes; I was the first and lightest lifter to squat over 1,000 pounds with 1,050 at 198 pound weight class- the only other 198 lifter to squat over 1,000 Shawn Frankle; I am the lightest lifter to squat 1,100 pounds and still the only lifter to do so in the 220 class; I am was the first and lightest lifter to squat over 1,100 pounds in the 242 class with a 1,108 at 227- the only other 242 lifter to squat over 1,100 is Chuck V. In raw lifting I held the All Time World record in the 220 class with knee wraps with an official 777 and an unofficial 825 in exhibition at the Animal Cage. I currently hold the 220 belt only squat record with 783. Currently, my squat is stronger than ever and I hope to display it on the platform very soon. To put it bluntly, I know Squat, and if you will allow me, I’ll introduce you.

Sam Byrd 1

How I train my squat is no secret. I have and will share it with anyone. The problem is, most people don’t listen because they either don’t believe me or because they don’t like what they hear. Fact is, I very rarely squat heavy. The majority of my squat training, I would guess 90% of it, is done with around 420 pounds. That’s right, I built an 800+ belt only raw squat and an 1,100+ geared squat training with only about 420 pounds. Unbelievable? Believe it.


Much of my training philosophy comes from studying the word of Dr. Squat himself, Fred Hatfield. If you are serious about squatting big but you aren’t familiar with this name, you should be. He was a phenomenal squatter who spent his life studying the science behind the movement and how to use the science to excel at the lift- which he did. I adhere to two core precepts of Dr. Squat’s research: the scientific formula for Power and the principle of Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT).

Basic high school science can help you determine the right amount of weight to use on the bar by understanding the relationship between force, mass, and acceleration. Remember, Power equals mass x acceleration x distance, all divided by time. That’s right, those four years weren’t a total waste after all. Ehh, who am I kidding- I hated this crap then and I hate it now so I’ll save you some headache and skip all that crap to tell you how the research breaks down. It basically showed that light weights moved to fast to create much power and heavy weights moved to slow. What this means is that the optimal training weights for power and rate of force development fall somewhere between the ranges of 55-85% of maximum effort.

Compensatory Acceleration Training is the idea of increasing force output by accelerating the weight throughout the entire range of the lift. I often see this idea confused with “speed training,” in which the purpose is to move the weight “fast.” However, the idea of CAT is to continue to move the weights FASTER as your leverages in the lift improve. The traditional Westside Method speed day is not the same, primarily because of its focus on accommodating resistance by adding chains and bands to compensate for the improved leverages and make the lift harder at those points. It is not the same. The increased resistance will force you to remain at a constant speed, or worse, slow down, when the goal of CAT is to accelerate all the way to the top.

Now that you have a basic grasp of the “why” of my training, let’s take a look at the “how.”


Training Poundages

My training poundages are determined by the force curve described above, 55-85% of my max. However, I do not use a percentage of my limit max or contest max. I base my training percentage off my training max. That is, I base the training percentage off a weight I know I can hit on any given day regardless of what else is going on my life- no sleep, sick all week, maxed out on the lift yesterday, or haven’t trained the lift in two months. This is my baseline strength. Brandon Lilly recently termed it his “365 Strength.” Whatever you want to call it, most high-level lifters who are at all tuned in to their body and their training will tell you that this number is about 90% of your most recent contest or limit max. Need further confirmation? A brief glance at three of the top powerlifting programs being utilized today- Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1, Brandon Lilly’s Cube Method, or Chad Wesely Smith’s Juggernaut Method- support my own findings. Each of those programs calculates training poundages based on about 90% of the lifter’s most recent max.

If I have peaked properly for a competition, there is no way I should be able to hit my contest max in the gym. Peaked properly, my contest max should be at or near my absolute limit max. Additionally, my limit max each day or week may change based on what is happening in my life at the time. Some days my actual limit max may be way above my set training max while other days my training max is my limit max. Using a “365 Strong” max allows for those daily and weekly fluctuations.

Sets and Reps

My set and rep schemes are determined using the Prilepin Table. The Prilepin Table is the result of a lot of Russian research done with Olympic weightlifters. It depicts the optimum number and range of reps given a certain percentage to increase strength. The researchers looked at bar speed, technique, and the lifter’s next competition max and developed the following numbers:


The “Percent” column indicates the percent of the lifter’s 1RM. The “Reps/sets” column represents the range of reps that can occur for a single set. The “Optimal” column shows the optimum number of total reps at this percent range to implement a correct dose of stress (fewer reps would be too low a stress, more reps would cause too much stress). The “Total Range” column indicates the lower and higher extremes a lifter could use when lifting in the indicated percent range. For example, the 55-65% row says that a lifter would use three to six reps per set, the optimal rep total is 24 reps, and the range of total reps is from 18 to 30. If the lifter used sets of 3, they could perform 8 sets to achieve the optimal 24 rep total.

I personally use a very basic 5×5 program the majority of the time using weights about 60% of my training max (which is about 90% of limit max). My set/reps do vary when I do increase the weight but I keep things pretty simple. Too many variable and it gets difficult to track what’s working and what’s not.

60% x 5×5 = 25

70% x 5×4 = 20

80% x 5×3= 15

Training Percentages

Most of my training is done with about 60% of my training max. This may or may not be 60% of my max that day, there is no real way to tell. However, I do know there are days when that weight is flying off my back and there are days when it feels slower than a turtle running through peanut butter. On days when the weight is flying I push harder by decreasing my rest times. On days when it seems tougher than it should I increase my rest times. Keep in mind the goal is not just to move the weight, it is to move the weight faster- to accelerate through every rep. Some days there is a lot more acceleration than others but the goal is always the same.

I do not increase the training percentage until I feel I am consistently accelerating bar on every rep. My very last rep should accelerate from the hole to lockout just as fast or faster than the very first rep. I also use this period to increase my conditioning. I manipulate rest intervals before I ever think about adding weight to the bar. If I start out doing 5×5 in 30 minutes, my conditioning sucks. My goal is to first get more explosive- to accelerate every rep. Once I have accomplished that, I begin to reduce rest times between sets. I do not add weight until I can perform all sets within 15 minutes and still feel fresh and invigorated after the last one. Sweaty and slightly winded, yes, but still ready to smash the rest of the session.

I consider this my base building phase, and it can last anywhere from 6-12 weeks. No science here, I just listen to my body. Only then do I consider adding weight to the bar. If you rush this phase or skip ahead to soon it will compromise your future gains. Remember, power is generated by the peed at which you are able to accelerate the weight. A lighter weight must be moved faster to generate the same power as a heavier weight moved slower. So if you skip this critical phase and begin adding weight before you are generating sufficient acceleration and power, your gains will suffer because you will not be able to generate the acceleration and power with a heavier weight either. You must resist the temptation to go heavy. Remember- “More training, less testing.” It may not be flashy but it is effective.

When it is finally time to increase the weight there are no hard and fast rules, but I suggest taking it slow. Ideally, you would re-test your max after 16 weeks and start over based on your new training max. I try to do two 10-12 week rounds before changing training percentages. However, I realize just doing 60% for 5×5 for so long does get boring. When I get bored, the progression I use is fairly simple. It is a 3 or 4 week percentage wave based on a new max that looks like this:

Week 1: 60% of training max @ 5×5 reps

Week 2: 70% @ 5×4 reps

Week 3: 80% @ 5×3 reps

Weeks 4: start over or take a recovery day.

There are times when I just do not want to squat. My body is run down and I would rather go home and eat ice cream. On those days I do just that. No squats, no gym, nothing. This is not an OFF day; it is a RECOVERY day. There is a difference. These days should not come often, and you have to really be in tune with your training to know when to suck it up and put in your work verse when to spend the day recovering. Recovery day can come anywhere in the rotation, just pick up the next week where you left off.

Accessory Day

There are many ways to set up a full power routine based on this training, but I wont get into that now. There are no hard and fast rules. I prefer to do both squats and deadlifts on same day. I alos prefer to do them both twice a week. One back squat day as outlined above, and one front squat day. I always squat first and follow that up with some form of deadlift and finish off with GHRs and maybe abs or calves- but usually not.


The goal of this article was to inform you that you can build a big squat without squatting heavy all the time and without the use of conventional special exercises. This is my method. It is scientific and it is simple. It may not be glamorous or revolutionary but it has worked very well for me and I am convinced it will work very well for you too. With more training and less testing, when you do test you will surprise yourself.

Outlining a full routine is beyond the scope of this article. However, I will be releasing a training manual through Juggernaut Training Systems in the Spring of 2014. Until then, mix and match and see what works for you.

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  • Crash

    But i thought there’s nothing better than a wide-stance box squat. And how will i reach Elite status without max effort (goodmornings and high box squats with bars i can only get from one place) and dynamic effort training (using bands i can also only get from the same place)? What about reverse hyperextentions (hmm where could i find one of these)? I also thought that this is the only correct way of training and everything else is bs, easy, old, and just not as hardcore and revolutionary. Btw what a great idea it is to deceive 14-15 year old kids who just look online for info on how to get stronger and know nothing about powerlifting by telling them your numbers in gear knowing they will think its raw, saying olympic weightlifters are weak, and people you look better than us are also weak they just train the wrong muscle groups. Great article Sam.

  • Koren Shemesh

    thats very enlightening.
    is it possible to use this kind of squat training through 5\3\1s ? and I might have missed while reading, but how many days per week do you squat? is it the same as the 1st day of squatting?

    • http://byrdjugg1234 Sam Byrd

      I did not really get into how i lay out the rest of the week, as that varies depending on my training goals. the CAT is the constant. I have squatted 3x/wk; 4xwk for brief stints; but generally twice a week. The other day is a front squat with a different training approach because it is an accessory, not a competition lift, and there is less need for the SAID principle.

      • Koren Shemesh

        so in general, I could just try and fix the CAT method of squatting in the squat day and see what happens?

        also, after how long would you say its appropriate to check if I made progress with heavy squats? (aka, max effort workout – because im not competing soon) once every 8 weeks?

        thanks alot for the input, I’m really looking forward to try this.

        • http://byrdjugg1234 Sam Byrd

          That would probably be ok. I like 5 rep maxes to test rather than 1 rep maxes. i save those for meets. I may only take 3 near max singles a year. I better gauge would be you speed and technique with the training weights. When its flying week after week, you can do another 8 weeks of rotating %’s and then test

          • Koren Shemesh

            awesome. starting this week.
            would you like me to update about whats up with that after 4-6 months?

  • speedpower

    Sam, for a team sport athlete in a speed/power sport wanting to follow the above method what would the first 4-6 weeks of the offseason look like when the athlete is doing (hills, throws, jumps etc)? Normally we would do 3×8-10 for the first 4-8 weeks follow by the work you listed above.

    • http://byrdjugg1234 Sam Byrd

      I am not sure I understand your question. Why would you not squat during offseason? And what is it that you normally do for 3×8-10? hill sprints?

      I would think that the CAT squats would be a great warm up for whatever other drills you have. This training does not leave you with heavy dead legs when done. You should feel fresh. Many sprinters perform squats to warm up for races. I have personally completed the session in 12 minutes and then jumped onto a 58 inch box at a weight of 235. In my opinion this training should prime you for whatever comes next.

      • Koren Shemesh

        holy shit 58″ jump after squats

        • http://byrdjugg1234 Sam Byrd

          Yes, i was going to hit it again last week after my sets and video but i injured my hip repping out 705. Give me a few weeks to recover and ill put it on video. Ive jumped on top of BFI dumpster before

  • Scott

    Your article has inspired me. I have been out of the lifting game for about 6 years. Injuries and life situations have made me a putz! But I have been training for the past 7 weeks to get ready for a comeback. Reading this article made me realize that i can do this……52 with a lot of strength still in me! Thanks!

    • http://byrdjugg1234 Sam Byrd


      thanks for the comments. This method of training is great for comebacks, and i have had to do it several times due to injuries. When coming back there is no reason to max out or go heavy. You know you arent as strong as you were or should, whats the point of reminding yourself and damaging your ego even more? I personally like to avoid any lift where i know i should be strong and do other things instead so i dont have any preconceived notions of what i “should” be using or what i used to be able to do. Then after i start gaining a little back its not such a blow to my ego when i get back to main lifts.

      • Scott

        Thanks for your encouraging words again! Does the Prilepin chart also work for bench and deads? I know they are different lifts, but what are your thoughts? I used to do Westside and we had a speed bench day, etc.. I rarely pulled because I was doing good mornings and other goodies.

  • Lenard Lieber

    I lift at a commercial gym, so GHRs, goodmornings then? I feel like I’ve been doing too much now. This morning I did 3×4 back squat, 3×8 front squat, deadlifts up to a max (felt like it today), leg curls 3×12, barbell rows, side bends and standing ab bend-overs (?). I just started this, and have seen about a 20 lb. increase in my squat. So 5×5 with deadlifts (rep and set scheme?) and posterior work (1 exercise) and abs 2 days a week that’s it?

    Does this translate well into pressing? Thanks for the article, I feel afraid to try something so limited in volume, but come July I will give this a go.

    • Lenard Lieber

      Um, that should be “no GHRs”.

    • http://byrdjugg1234 Sam Byrd

      That is a lot of work for one session. If you are well conditioned for it you may be ok. But think of it this way, lifting weights is like chopping wood or digging a hole. If you jump right in and do it all day, u are gonna get a big ass blister and not be able to do anything productive for a while. If you work up to it and do a little work more frequently you will not blister and will begin to develop a callus. This is what you want, to break the tissue down just enough so that is comes back stronger for the next session. You wont grow in a day, why do all that work. You grow when you recover. Any trainer can kick the shit out of an athlete, it takes a coach to work them just enough to stimulate and bring them back better for the next session.

      My suggestion is 1 main lift, i compound accessory lift, and 2 maybe three less taxing accessories.

      No ghr do lying leg curls. i would never advise any one to do GM. I think its a stupid and dangerous movement.

      • http://byrdjugg1234 Sam Byrd

        Also instead of GHR, do hyper=extentions with the feet elevated

        • Lenard Lieber

          Thanks for the responses.

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    • http://byrdjugg1234 Sam Byrd

      Such as?

  • Jerad

    This is almost exactly what I did to take my squat from 550 – 630lbs in 6-7ish months.

  • speedpower

    Sam, sorry for the confusion. For example – let’s look at a track and field sprinter in a “GPP” block we normally perform 3×8-10 before moving on to a max strength block. If I wanted to use “CAT” and the setup you outline above in “SPP” would you recommend 8-10 in “GPP” or 5x5x60% while decreasing the rest intervals btw sets?

  • speedpower

    Sam, our “GPP” is 8 weeks long before moving to a 12 week “SPP” block which includes a 3-1-3 max strength block. Everything is based around Charlie Francis Training Systems (Speed/Tempo/Jumps/Throws) and hi/lo setup.

    • http://byrdjugg1234 Sam Byrd

      I am not familiar with Charlie Francis, sorry. I would recommend the 5×5 with short rest times as long as the weight is moving well. If performance is the goal i think its more useful than creating heavy dead legs from high rep training and pumps. Couplets could also be used after 5×5 for more general conditioning- dead lifts with sit ups (as one idea)- either max rounds in a fixed time or a fixed number of rounds for fastest time.

  • David G

    GREAT article Sam ! I’m 53, NEW to lifting heavy via crossfit. Was a very good HS wrestler but that was LONG ago. At 50; I started getting FAT, pants didn’t fit, muscles turning into soft mush in winter 2011, joints hurt. Looked in mirror and saw middle age UGLY me !
    Elizabeth Akinwale, 7th in world championships Crossfit advised me to join. I did and CAUGHT FIRE. Never squated before in my life, never deadlifted. Never knew how to Olympic lift. I may be a middle aged weakling but now I SQUAT, deadlift, snatch and clean > LOVE IT ! LOVE IT ! LOVE IT !
    My dream > to qualify for the world championships crossfit in summer 2014 in 50 -54 age group. I finished 45th this past year. Top 20 qualifies. I was doing an Olympic power clean recently with 225 and ‘coach’ told me I need to work on FRONT SQUAT ! ! ! IRONICALLY, somewhere, long long ago, perhaps at a garage sale I aquired a HATFIELD book about building power. Thick, full of technical math & science. But I recall he wrote > “The squat is the foundation for all power” I never forgot it, NOW I’m squatting > finally I’m weak, middle age, graying hair, but up to a mere 300 lb B squat, and newly inspired to continue.
    Now reading your short, CONCISE simple article, I’m hooked, I’ll be squatting YOUR program twice a week.
    YOU did a 58″ box jump ? ! That’s insane. Mine is 36″ LoL. FOR LAUGHS > there is an 19 yr old kid at our crossfit gym, he is a computer / video game geek, 6′ tall, skinniest kid imaginable, weighs 135, 140. He recently was celebrating his first 200 lb squat. He’s a computer/ video game geek. But being so light, he did a 54″ box jump recently. We were all in awe, he is virtually weightless when he jumps. I will be showing him YOUR articule, he is so young and inspite of having zero visible muscles, he LOVES to lift. Being so young, he will get very strong someday as he has the passion to stick with it. I’ll let you know when he hits a 300 and then a 400 squat in a few years.

  • Kenny Andreason

    Sam would these percentages work well for training your bench and dead as well?

  • Bennett

    Would the same general idea apply to deadlifts, benches, and presses? Or is this technique most effective in increasing the squat?

  • Ron Dykstra

    Hey Sam – I look forward to purchasing your training manual.

    I have, as you say, “mixed and matched”, by doing the CAT 5×5 on the squat on day 1, and making day 2 a front squat day.

    Have done a couple of the 5×5 days (at 60% of last contest max). First one was slow, but I zipped through yesterday’s 5×5 in 11 minutes – do I need to add weight, or concentrate on accelerating for at least another session? I may have lowballed my training max – it is based on 90% of my only powerlifting comp, which was done in a depleted state a few weeks back.

    Thanks a bunch! Stay awesome! And thanks for reminding me how awesome Dr. Squat Fred Hatfield is!


  • Sean

    Sam, I feel rejuvenated after reading this article. I was wondering about using this method for bench and Deadlift. Would it work?

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  • Rob B

    Sam, do you approach the bench and deadlift in the same manor? It would seem intuitive to do so, but was wondering.

  • Rob B

    oops meant “manner”

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