Powerlifting

Training the Squat For Weightlifting


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As the Juggernaut Squatapalooza rolls on, check out the first seven parts of this series if you’re just tuning in:
Part 1:  Setting up for a Huge Squat
Part 2:  Dont Get Stapled – How to Make it Through Your Sticking Point
Part 3:  10 Steps to Great Squatting Technique
Part 4:  Squatting Specifics – What Technique is Best for Your Sport?
Part 5:  Squatting to Build the Wheels – How Bodybuilders Should Train the Squat
Part 6:  The Best Accessory Lifts for a Bigger Squat
Part 7:  How to Train the Squat for CrossFit
Part 8:  The Best Damn Squat Mobility Article.  Period.
Part 9:  How to Build a Big Meet Squat  
 

I was honored when Greg Nuckols, Chief Content Manager at Juggernaut Training Systems, asked me to write an article about squat programming for weightlifting.  The ironic thing is that Greg has been a major influence on my squat programming.  I met Greg when he was a fourteen year old rookie.  He also worked with me at Mash Elite Performance for the last three years, and he is my friend.  Greg is about twenty years younger than me, and that is where this tale of ‘melting pot’ begins.  Most coaches my age feel like they know pretty much everything that there is to know about the strength world.  I take a much different approach.

    My biggest fear as a coach is that there is another coach out there that knows more than I do.  I have learned over the years to keep my pride in check.  Therefore when Greg and I had the chance to spend quality time together, I took every opportunity to learn from him.  Twenty-two years old or not, the guy has already been a multi-world record holder in powerlifting, so he is obviously onto something.  I have taken the same opportunity with all the strength wizards that I have had the honor of spending time with like: Louie Simmons, Chad Smith, Charles Poliquin, Joe Kenn, Glenn Pendlay, Don McCauley, and Jim Wendler.  These are just a few of the people that have influenced that way that I train.

    Here is the key!  When you have the chance to meet other coaches, spend your time asking questions and listening.  Too many young and old coaches spend way too much time trying to prove why they are right and the rest of the world is wrong.  Who cares?  I care about improving as a coach, so that I can provide my athletes with the best coaching in the world.  If people want to learn from me, great.  If they don’t, great.  I say all of this to teach the young coaches out there the way that I have grown my melting pot.  I recommend allowing your life to be one big research study.

    Therefore, my weightlifting squat programming looks somewhat different from other programs.  There are influences from several genres of strength.  My powerlifting background plays a role as does my strength and conditioning background.  However, all weightlifting coaches should take two things into consideration when programming squats:  efficiency and meet time.

    By efficiency, I mean how an athlete’s front squat compares to their clean.  If an athlete cleans 90% or more than they front squat, that athlete is very efficient.  That athlete needs a major squat program because he can basically clean whatever he is front squatting.  If the athlete’s clean is 89% or less than their best front squat, that athlete needs more time with technique and position work.  It’s really that simple.

    A coach has to know when the next big meet is to properly program the squat.  I call this ‘meet time’.  Five weeks away or more from a meet is quality squat time.  During this phase, the squat volume is high, and the volume of the snatch and clean & jerk is slightly less.  When the athlete is inside of that five week marker, the squat volume decreases and a shift to the competition lifts increases.  That doesn’t mean that we are going light.  We will shift into an absolute strength phase with low volume. For example, just 3-4 sets of 1-3 reps.  A max squat takes very little out of a lifter whose work capacity is used to nine or more training sessions per week.  It’s the 5-10 rep sets that gives them a beating.  Once the athlete is two weeks out, I will keep the percentages around 85-90% for 1-2 reps and 2-3 sets simply to keep the strength that we have built.

    Within my squat program, I use several principles that have made the cut of my own personal tryouts.  That means that I have not only read the research, talked to the person that conducted the research, but I have used the principles on myself.  I used the same principles to squat over 1000lbs, and I still use these principles to squat over 700lbs raw at 41 years old.  The reason that I mention this is to make the point that coaches should lead by example.  I learned this from the legend Louie Simmons.  I don’t agree with everything he says, but you can’t argue that he stays in the trenches with his athletes.  Here are my principles:

  1. Rep Maxes– I was introduced to this principle by the LSU Shreveport Crew.  It totally makes sense because we are all on an endocrine system cycle.  This means that some days are better than others.  The way this works is the athlete will work up to a rep max of a given rep scheme (for example a 5 rep max), and then perform prescribed down sets based on the rep max of the day.  Basing percentages off of a max performed at the start of a program is less than optimal for two reasons:  1. This doesn’t take in to consideration that the athlete is getting stronger, and 2. It doesn’t take into consideration when the athlete is having a less than optimal day with their endocrine system.

  2. Daily Undulating Periodization– The research on this was brought to my attention by Greg Nuckols.  Traditional Linear Periodization starts with all exercises around 10 reps or a hypertrophy phase, and as the workout progresses that reps end somewhere around 1-3 reps or absolute strength.  This is a basic explanation, but you can get the point.

DUP alternates those reps every day.  For example, you could set it up like this:

Day 1: Back Squats 10RM, then down sets

Day 2: Front Squats 5RM and down sets

Day 3: Back Squats 3RM and down sets

 This allows the athlete to increase hypertrophy while working on strength during the whole cycle.  The studies are clear that DUP produces far greater results than traditional Liner Periodization.

  1. Conjugate Method– Even though I took this method from Louie Simmons, I use it more like Glenn Pendlay or Chad Smith.  Conjugate Method is defined as having similar characteristics to a movement, but with distinct changes.  Louie Simmons takes it to the extreme with different bars, box squats, chain squats, etc.  I tend to keep it more specific, and normally I use pauses of different variations.  I watched Greg Nuckols use paused squats, just varying belt usage and the length of the pause, to squat more than 750 pounds.

I use pauses in a few different ways.  I normally start with incredibly long pauses of 5 seconds or more, and then work it down to 1 sec.  This is a great way to manipulate volume while keeping the intensity in check.  I even use breathing pauses with advanced athletes causing extreme stabilization, and once again I learned this from Greg Nuckols.  I also have my athletes pause in different sections of the lift.  A great way to strengthen a sticking spot is to pause in that very section of the lift.

  1. PAP- Post Activation Potentiation I just read an article from Bret Contreras about this very topic.  A lot of inconclusive and contradictory research exists out there, but in my experience, it can work really well.  In simple terms, an athlete uses supra-maximal loads before attempting maxes or near maxes.  The theory states that the heavy load excites the CNS leading to more explosiveness.

I have used this technique in two different ways.  First, I have used supramaximal holds by loading the bar to 10% above the athletes max.  The athlete will then walk the bar out and hold it for 15-30 seconds, and then rack the weight.  After a 1-2 minute rest, the athlete will then decrease the weight to a maximal load and perform the rep.  I watched my wife use this technique all the way to her first 315 pound squat.

Another way to use this principle is with jump stretch bands.  I don’t use the typical Louie Simmons dynamic squat program anymore, but I definitely use the bands to warm up for heavy weight.  An online client of mine recently sent me research on using bands to warm up leading to great results.  I was using PAP the whole time that I competed in powerlifting without even knowing it.  I would perform the Westside Dynamic Squats, but then I would always work up heavy with the bands.  Then I would take the bands off, and work up heavy with straight weight.  I pushed my max into the record books with this style of training.  To use the bands for a max attempt, I would work up to about 85% bar weight, and 20-25% band weight that completely deloads in the bottom of the squat.  The body will have already felt 105-110% of your max, so the CNS will be primed for that max attempt without bands.

Travis squatted over 1000 in gear and over 800 raw at 220. He knows a thing or two about building a big squat.
Travis squatted over 1000 in gear and over 800 raw at 220. He knows a thing or two about building a big squat.

    I have used these main principles to increase my weightlifter’s squats to all new heights.  Most recently, I have increased Jon North, Adee Zukier, and Rebecca Gerdon’s squats to all new lifetime PRs.  It’s easy to increase Rookie lifter’s squats, but it takes science and a well thought out plan to increase seasoned veteran’s squats.  Right now, I am focusing on Rebecca Gerdon’s squat because she just had surgery on her wrist.  Her last training cycle has gone like this:

Here is the way it looks:

[NOTE: the notation like “-5&-10% for 10” means take the rep max established that day, take 5% off the bar for a set of 10, and then take another 5% (10% total) off the bar for another set of 10.  This is based on the rep max for the day, not the athlete’s all-time 1rm PR.  Also, the zercher work was to work around a wrist injury.  Usually the athlete would be doing some sort of pulls instead.]

Weeks 1-2 Hypertrophy Time

Day 1
Back Squat 10RM, then -5&-10% for 10
Goodmornings 3×10
Planks weighted 3 sets of 1-2 minutes

Day 2
Rear Leg Elevated BB Squats 3×10 per leg
Blackburns 20 sec ea position x 3

Day 3
Front Squats 5RM with 5 sec pause, then -5&-10% for 5
Zercher Deadlifts with weight elevated 4 inches off ground 5RM, then -5&-10% for 5
GHDs 3 x 10 reps

Day 4
Zercher Squats 5 RM, then -5&-10% for 5
BB Step Ups 10 reps ea leg x 3 sets

Day 5
Back Squat pause 3 seconds in bottom 3RM, then -5&-10% for 3
Squats weight starts on Pins from bottom position 5RM, then -10% for 5
Zercher RDLs 3x8reps

Weeks 3-4 More Hypertrophy but a little heavier

Day 1
Back Squat 8RM, then -5&-10% for 8
Goodmornings 3×8
Planks weighted 3 sets of 1-2 minutes

Day 2
Rear Leg Elevated BB Squats 8 reps x 3 sets
Blackburns 20 sec ea. position x 3
Elbow Dips 10 reps x 3

Day 3
Front Squats 4RM with 3 sec pause, then -5&-10% for 4
Zercher Deadlifts with weight elevated 4 inches off ground 4RM, then -5&-10% for 4
GHDs 3 x 10 reps

Day 4
Zercher Squats 4 RM, then -5&-10% for 4
BB Step Ups 8 reps ea leg x 3 sets

Day 5
Back Squat pause 3 seconds in bottom 3RM, then -5&-10% for 3
Squats weight starts on Pins from bottom position 4RM, then -10% for 4
Zercher RDLs 3x8reps

Weeks 5-8 Time to Get Strong

Day 1
a.m.Back Squat up to 80%/2reps x 3 sets

p.m.

Back Squat (first after warming up, work up to 10% more than max set for walkout holds for 15 sec) wait 90 sec then  5RM, then -5&-10% for 5
Goodmornings 3×5
Planks weighted 3 sets of 1-2 minutes

Day 2
Rear Leg Elevated BB Squats 5 reps x 3 sets
Blackburns 20 sec ea position x 3
Elbow Dips 10 reps x 3

Day 3
Front Squats 3RM with 3 sec pause, then -5&-10% for 3 (Drop 1 sec each week)
Zercher Deadlifts with weight elevated 4 inches off ground 3RM, then -5&-10% for 3
GHDs 3 x 10 reps (continue to increase difficulty either with weight or tempo)

Day 4
Zercher Squats 3 RM, then -5&-10% for 3
BB Lunges 8 reps x 3 sets

Day 5
Back Squat pause 5 seconds in bottom 1RM, then -15% for 3×3 all paused (Drop a second each week).  Superset Box Jumps/ 3reps each set

***use a box that is about 80% of your max height, but focus on getting maximal height on jumps, so over-jump rather than just trying to land in a full squat!

Squats weight starts on Pins from bottom position 3RM, then -10% for 3
Zercher RDLs 3x5reps

Weeks 9-11 Absolute Strength

Day 1

a.m.

Back Squats work up to 85%/1 rep x 3 sets

p.m.
Back Squat (Warm Up using bands) 3RM, then -5&-10% for 3

***Use Strong Bands if Squat is over 600lbs, Average Bands if Squat is between 400-600lbs, Light Bands if squat is between 200-400lbs.  With the bands, you should do doubles, and stop at one set away from maximal.  Then take bands off and continue.
Goodmorning/Squat Combo 3×8
Planks weighted 3 sets of 1-2 minutes

Day 2
Elevated Split Squats 8 reps ea leg x 3 sets
Blackburns 20 sec ea position x 3
Elbow Dips 10 reps x 3

Day 3
Front Squats 1RM with 3 sec pause, then -15% for 3×3 (Drop 1 sec each week)
Zercher DLs Elevated 4 Inches off Floor 8RM, then -10% for 8
GHDs 3 x 10 reps (continue to increase difficulty either with weight or tempo)

Day 4
Zercher BB Lunges from Rack 8 reps ea leg x 3 sets
BB Step Ups 8 reps ea leg x 3 sets

Day 5
Back Squat pause 3 seconds in bottom 5RM, then -5 and -10% for 5 all paused (Drop a second each week). Superset each set with Maximal Prisoner Squat Jumps/3 reps

***Wait 90 seconds after the squats to perform the jumps!  Focus on height!

Zercher RDLs with 25 lbs of chains 3x5reps

Weeks 12 Taper Week

Day 1
Back Squat -10% of best 3RM for 3×3
Goodmorning/Squat Combo off
Planks weighted 3 sets of 1-2 minutes

Day 2
Elevated Split Squats 5 reps ea leg x 3 sets

Day 3
Front Squats 1RM
GHDs 3 x 5 reps Bodyweight

Day 4
off

Day 5 Squat Max Out

Work up to 1RM with bands but no misses, then take bands off and work up to 1RM without bands.

Use Strong Bands if Squat is over 600lbs, Average Bands if Squat is between 400-600lbs, Light Bands if squat is between 200-400lbs

Editor’s note:  I’m sure some people are scratching their heads at this point.  Bands?  For weightlifting?  From speaking with Travis, I know he’s not of the opinion that bands should be used for actually training the clean and snatch.  He’s simply found them to be a useful tool for improving the squats of advanced weightlifters who have reached a point of diminishing returns with their typical squat training, coming from a background (powerlifting) where a huge squat is a virtue in and of itself.  Give it a shot.  It may just surprise you.

Warning: NSFW language after the set.  Apparently Travis’s squat program not only netted Jon a lifetime PR, but also convinced him that he was Maximus from Gladiator.

Related Article: Squat Development for Weightlifting by Jacob Tsypkin

Enjoying what you’re learning, but wish you could take it one step deeper?  Whether you’re a bodybuilder, powerlifter, CrossFitter, weightlifter, or athlete – the Juggernaut coaches and athletes, and the other members of Juggernaut Nation, can help you out on Strong360.

Strong360

Travis Mash has been strength training for over 21 years and has been working with athletes on their strength, speed, and athletic performance for over 15 years.  Currently he is a coach for Team MuscleDriverUSA. Travis has worked with athletes and non-athletes of all levels from NFL and Olympic hopefuls, to 7-year-olds just starting out, to a 70-year-old senior seeking increased mobility. Travis is a published author for several strength and conditioning journals and continues to work with several colleges such as University of North Carolina, Wake Forest University, Appalachian State University, and Wofford University. Travis is a current world champion in powerlifting and has held the all-time pound-for-pound world record. He was also an Olympic hopeful in weightlifting and was recruited for the U.S. men’s bobsled team. Having been a world champion, Travis is able to share his champion mentality with his athletes and non-athletes alike.
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