Squatting still hasn’t killed me.

For those of you that were concerned, no, I’m not dead. I haven’t even hurt myself again, wonder of wonders. I know, I’m surprised too – for a guy who couldn’t look at a barbell without something tearing, lifting more often was the last thing that I thought would be helpful.

It turns out that putting muscles and connective tissues through a full range of motion on a regular basis is actually helpful in recovering from injuries, or not getting them in the first place. Who knew, right? Besides just about every athlete ever, anyway.

I’ve cut back to “low frequency” of just squatting three times a week. I’ve been taking the more Chaos & Pain approach to things, with my heavy workouts on M/W/F and then just doing whatever for body parts or conditioning (lol) on Tues/Thurs and the occasional Sat.

And yes, I have a few things to chime in, more lessons and wisdoms and such, so feel free to follow along.

Squatting 5-6 days a week is still valid. Nothing about that has changed from my earlier posts, as far as I see it. I also think that anybody who has a problem working hard, or has an irrational fear of overtraining, should do one of these outrageous routines just for the mental perspective.

You don’t die. You don’t explode. If you keep showing up and fighting through the unpleasantries, you get stronger. If nothing else, that’s a hard lesson for most people to learn, and a lesson that frequent heavy squats teach you very well. If there’s one thing that’s becoming clear to me, these programs are indeed hard and stressful, and that’s the entire point. You get out of your training what you put into it, simple as that. I think people interested in being strong should spend at least part of their training year doing something that is highly unpleasant. If you start to like it, then you’re on the right track (provided your numbers are actually going up; assistance work doesn’t count).

Now to spin it to a complete 180. I think that once said beast has been unleashed, you have to find some way to put the chains on. Not being a slackass is the first step; then you have to figure out how to stop your newfound enthusiasm from burning you right the hell out. In one of my earlier posts on this topic, I suggested that you’d probably do well to take light weeks every so often. Well, now I’m talking from experience: you’ll want to take light weeks every so often, and as a step further, you’re probably going to want (if not need) lighter training cycles sprinkled in with the heavy stuff.

While I think the idea of autoregulating rest is solid, I also think you’d do best with a coach there running it. I’d do it with a client, sure. I don’t trust myself to be able to manage my own training to that degree. If nothing else, the old fall-back ratio of one easy week to every 2-3 hard weeks is a good place to start.

These points are why I’m squatting three times weekly for now. This is a practical implementation of that old concentrated loading idea in Supertraining that we all talk about but nobody really seems to do. You first spend a few weeks or months working the hell out of yourself with lots of volume and conservative weights, then you taper back and start working more on pushing out heavier weights.

In my mind, that’s what I’m doing here. The workload is down slightly, and there’s slightly more emphasis on letting myself hit grinders in each session. I don’t mind letting the adrenaline slip a little to hit a weight, because I’ve got a little more time to rest before the next workout. I’m still not going crazy and doing a legit psych-up, mind you. Consider this my “light” cycle.

I don’t want to get all evangelical, because I still hate that, but man this is working really well. I hit a 170kg no-no-no squat just this Friday and was about 90% sure I’d have hit a 180 if I’d gone for it. Unfortunately I’m only about 60% sure the right quad would hold up so I took the safe bet. Point being, despite peaks and valleys, the trend-line has been steadily upwards and more importantly, I feel more mobile and less injury-prone than any time I can recall in the last four years. It’s nice to know I still have the strength to raw-squat 400+ lbs even if I’m not confident enough injury-wise to do it just yet.

I’m trying a slightly different approach now. I’m still using the same daily-max strategy, but I’ve been using box squats and squats to pins as backoff sets. I work up to a daily max, then drop back around 20kg and do singles with the back-off weight. If those are easy, I gradually increase the weight a little until I get tired or bored.

I’ve also been toying around with high-rep backoff work, bodybuilder style. Same as above, hit the daily max – then for backoffs, drop to 50-60% and crank out sets of 10. Or as another option, switch to the dumbbell version and do the same thing. You don’t want to get too crazy with the volume here; 2-3 sets is plenty. But it is a nice change of pace and I think the upper body responds to that kind of thing. At least mine does, I dunno about yours. I’m pretty opposite from most people since my upper body lags a lot due to shoulder injuries and I’ve never been a big pump ‘n tone type, so it could just be me.

The deadlift is still the x-factor that I’m trying to sort out. One thing I have learned is that any heavy/max RPE deadlift work is going to have to take a back-seat, maybe a once-a-month kind of thing. I mean, I kinda knew that, but I’m stubborn sometimes and have to learn the hard way. Keeping deadlift work in will almost surely have to boil down to doing lots of singles in the 60-80% range, focusing on speed and rep-quality over heavy weight. I’ve started trying these out more like a clean pull with a pause at the knee – pull to the knee, hold for a 2-3 count, then explode through with a shrug at the top. They feel nice, so why not? Real power cleans and clean pulls would be another option for a deadlift day.

Every third workout (once per month) or maybe alternate weeks, you could work up to a couple of pretty heavy singles from the floor or standing on a block. This might even take the place of one of the squat workouts if need be.

The Tuesday/Thursday workouts are either back/arms stuff or some sled pulling, maybe some abs or low back work. Nothing crazy, just go in and do a little accessory or conditioning work and call it a day. For now I’ve been putting deadlift training on Tuesdays and Thursdays as well.

There are lots and lots of options to explore, and this is one of many permutations. More to the point, I really enjoy being in the gym more often and not being so Serious(TM) about the whole process. There’s no worrying about overtraining, and no stupid rules about things I Must or Must Not do at the gym. I like that most of all.

16 thoughts on “Squatting still hasn’t killed me.”

  1. Have you ever toyed with the idea to use heart rate variability for autoregulation?

    I discovered the other week that my polar heart rate monitor has a function where it checks pulse and heart rate variability when seated and compares it to when standing and claims it can gauge how well one is recovered from training by that. Seems to be some interesting studies that back up the heart rate variability claims, but can’t access most of them since I am not at uni anymore.

    Gonna give that a run for a few weeks, if my polar tells me I am fully recovered I’ll go nuts, if it tells me I’m not I am gonna take it a bit easier. Just to see how well that reading matches my own perception.

  2. Good follow up!

    Lately, I've been doing a little reading research on high frequency training from you, Broz and Choas & Pain. It seems pretty interesting and I want to do it.

    Previously I was running a bill starr/madcow 5×5, with some body building accessory work thrown in and 531 programming for my standing press. This is on MWF. I had to reset most of my #'s after dropping about 20lbs, but im still progressing back up.

    I am thinking about adding T/TH and doing some lightish dynamic lifts like power cleans and push presses followed by general conditioning (Rower, Farmers walks, Circuit/Intervals, Complexes.) I have to say I am a little nervous about botching up my program and injuring myself…

    I injured my low back getting too greedy on the dead lift several months ago and I am worried high frequency is going to wear it back out.

    Any tips? I guess forcing myself to back off a week after every 3 should help, but its so damn hard to take it light sometimes. Maybe I should just auto-regulate and if im not feeling it, take a light day?


  3. Great post again Matt.

    Two quick questions :

    1. In your opinion, how many weeks, or months, should a "high-frequency" block last, roughly? And conversely, a "high intensity" one? Or did you just go "by feel"?

    2. What rep range do you use on Tuesday/Thursady workout?

  4. @ Johan – I've seen the HRV research. So far, there's two reasons I'm in no hurry to spend a few hundred on a monitor:

    1. Overtraining from endurance work is probably not the same issue or type as strength work and

    2. I'm not all that convinced that the "overtraining symptoms", HRV inclusive, are indicative of real overtraining. Performance is the indicator to watch, as far as I see it, and it's pretty obvious when that is affected.

  5. @ Matt M – You definitely have to be on the ball, as far as watching for signs of genuine fatigue, and you have to be willing to call the game early if you're having a crappy session. The more sessions you're doing, the more conservative you should be as far as taking attempts, IME. Doing 3x/week, I can be a little more aggressive than when I was doing five.

    As far as the DL and low-back, be careful. DLing heavy on the regular doesn't fit with me on this kind of training. Again, don't be afraid to back off either. Preventing an injury might lead to a bad session or two. Getting an injury will lead to months or years of bad sessions. Pretty easy calculation.

  6. @ Frank – Mainly just go by feel, but I think a range of 4-8 weeks would be about right depending on how well you tolerate monotony and how well you can manage daily fatigue.

    The Tues/Thurs workout just goes by feel. I like singles, triples, and 5s for pullup/chinup work. Everything else is just whatever I feel like.

  7. Re autoregulation: 'the movement guys' (Adam T. Glass, etc.) suggest that when your body is stressed EVERYTHING will get worse – grip strength, flexibility, heartrate, etc. All one has to do is choose the most convenient and most objective method and keep testing between sets. As soon as performance goes down on that measure, quit. (i.e. lower the weight, do another exercise, go home).

  8. Does C&P have it's ideas in a post? Just reading through but no luck so far.

    Volume, leading to weight, 3 times a week sounds like that 6 week russian cycle. I did really well on that (10% increase in squat in 6 weeks, think it was 180 to 210, with a previous life pb 190, all kg).

    How would you extend this sort of set up longer than 6 weeks or such?

  9. @ Steve – I've read some of that and it seems like needless complexity to me. All of these peripheral measures everyone keeps suggesting have never once told me anything I couldn't tell myself, i.e., that I've reached my daily max, that I've reached my limit for work, etc.

    It's more marketing than necessity, IMO. Maybe if you don't have the awareness to tell when you're cooked for the day it would be more useful.

  10. @ Callum – He's got them around somewhere. It's not terribly different from what Ditillo would have suggested: train the big lifts with lots of low-rep sets, come in often, and take rest only when you need it (and your body will let you know when it needs it).

  11. 1. Matt, I'm not so sure that body awareness is enough. The testing method can tell one precisely which movement to do today – chins, pull-ups, dips; what rep-range, etc. No sticking to a programme. Anyhoo.

    2. It is really interesting following your progress re training frequency given your logical way of thinking about things. Will you go all the way with C & P and train twice a day?

    3. I wonder what your thoughts are re the idea of both Broz and C & P that overtraining doesn't exist – in fact the symptoms usually described indicate UNDERtraining and undereating? Go through the 'dark times' and condition oneself to it, they say. I mean, if one keeps having deloading periods then that's what one is conditioned to.

  12. @ Steve –

    1. If there were any evidence that a. these indicators were useful in exercise prescription (there's not) and b. that stress indicators reflect performance (they don't), then I might agree. As it stands, physiological indicators are at best a case of wishful thinking, and I'm not on board with the Z-Health school of woo-woo unless they can show me something more concrete.

    2. Two a days probably won't happen mainly because of time and scheduling. But it's possible.

    3. Overtraining exists. It's just that the limits are far past what most people assume. And I do think you can adapt to some of what we've classically called "overtraining" if you push through it. There are obviously limits.

  13. "There are lots and lots of options to explore, and this is one of many permutations. More to the point, I really enjoy being in the gym more often and not being so Serious(TM) about the whole process. There’s no worrying about overtraining, and no stupid rules about things I Must or Must Not do at the gym. I like that most of all."

    This just made me think of something. I`ve been having litle time to spend in the gym lately, and I often digress from my program because of time or lack or energy if I`m having a bad day. No day is the same, and that goes for my energylevels too.

    So.. How much consitency is actually needed for wight traning? All i want to acheave is a mean deadlift and military press. And to actually look like I can lift something.

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