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Hack the Squat Rack: An 8 week squat program for busting plateaus

A Brief History of the Squat’s reputation

There is no getting around it, the squat is one of the best exercises you can engage in.  “How much can you squat?” is starting to replace “How much ya bench?” among athletes and weightlifters.  But the squat is still regarded by some as a dangerous exercise with claims that it puts too much stress on the knees and lower back.  Back in 1961 a study analyzed knee structure of weightlifters performing deep squats concluded that deep squats compromise knee joint stability (1).  This can be seen as the beginning of the negative view on squats.  In 1989 another study found results directly contradicting this thesis, they found that weightlifters that performed deep squats actually developed tighter joint capsules around the knee during squats (2).   These are just two examples of the wide array of contradictory information in the scientific community regarding squatting as an exercise.

Squatting may seem like an extremely simple exercise but it is actually very technical.  Learning to squat with weight correctly is a skill that needs to be honed.  Most avid exercisers squat once a week if they squat at all.  This is not the optimal way to master the squat.

Full range of motion squats are associated with large muscle development and increased athletic performance (3).  So let us consider another aspect of athletic performance: a football quarterback.  A quarterback that has made it to the elite level of performance, the NFL, doesn’t practice by going to the field once a week and throwing the ball until their arm has “the burn” and wait til next week to do it again.  He practices often (probably 6-7 days a week) but he does not go to the point of burning out his shoulder.  So, if we wish to master the squat, we must also practice consistently but not to exhaustion.

8 Weeks of Squats

I’m just as guilty as many in that for a very long time I would only squat once a week and I’d typically do a heavy weight each week for a low number of reps, or I’d lower the amount of weight and do high reps.  But I was never consistent and I began to see that no matter what I did my endurance started to drop and it became harder to stay in rep ranges I previously could perform.  My problem is that I was trying to just keep moving upward without ever taking a step back and eventually I hit a ceiling.  The solution was a periodized training program.

Since I’ve incorporated this squat program into my training my flexibility and mobility has greatly increased, my leg endurance has returned and improved and my legs are getting noticeably larger (and fast!). I don’t use this program constantly, typically I will use it for 8 weeks and then switch to another set up for 8 weeks to give my legs some time to recuperate.  If you’re a beginner and looking at this program don’t be intimidated; you can begin with air squats or extremely light weights and progress the same.  The strength of this program is that it is based on the principles of motor learning and strength training making it a good option for athletes of all levels of experience.

The following table is the squat progression program.  You will initially need to know your one rep max, you can either find this out in the gym or, if you’re uncomfortable finding it in the gym, you can use online calculators like the one here. You’re main focus on these two days at the gym is to focus on squatting the prescribed amount of weight for the given amount of sets and reps.  The lay out of the table is:

% of 1RM x # of Sets x # of reps per set

The number in parenthesis is an example assuming the 1RM is 300 lbs.

Day 1 Day 2
Week 1 65% x 5 x 9  (195 lbs) 70% x 6 x 7  (210 lbs)
Week 2 75% x 7 x 5  (225 lbs) 80% x 8 x 3  (240 lbs)
Week 3 70% x 5 x 9  (210 lbs) 75% x 6 x 7  (225 lbs)
Week 4 80% x 7 x 5  (240 lbs) 85% x 8 x 3  (255 lbs)
Week 5 75% x 5 x 9  (225 lbs) 80% x 6 x 7  (240 lbs)
Week 6 85% x 7 x5   (255 lbs) 90% x 8 x 3 (270 lbs)
Week 7 65% x 5 x 9 (195 lbs) 55% x 4 x 10  (165 lbs)
Week 8 Rest Set new 1RM

Once you have finished the squats you can perform some leg press/calf work if you so wish, however I’d recommend keep accessory work under 6 sets.

That’s the simple squat program.  Twice a week with consistent increasing over 4 sessions before lowering it.  This program is designed to be inserted into an already existing program or to be the basis of a new program.  Personally I use this program on Mondays and Thursdays while the remainder of my week has a push day, a pull day and a body weight & conditioning day.  Try it out with your program and tell me how it works, hopefully I hear from you in 8 weeks and you’re bragging about your new personal best on the squat rack.

References

  1. Klein K. The deep squat exercise as utilized in weight training for athletes and its effects on the ligaments of the knee. J Assoc Phys Ment Rehabil 15: 6–11, 1961
  2.  Chandler T, Wilson G, Stone M. The effect of the squat exercise on knee stability. Med Sci Sports Exerc 21: 299–303, 1989
  3. Weiss L, Fry A, Wood L, Relyea G, Melton C. Comparative effects of deep versus shallow squat and leg-press training on vertical jumping ability and related factors. J Strength Cond Res 14: 241–247, 2000.
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Kill it with Fire (& Fiber)! Chicken and Egg Noodle Bowl

I wanted to call this: Detox the holiday shame away

Thanksgiving just wrapped up and Christmas is on its way and everywhere on social media I see:

“Oh my god, I ate so much. How do I detox everything I ate?”

– A lot of people in need of hugs

First of all, you don’t detox from food unless you season your turkey with rosemary and cyanide. Food is full of nutrients and if you get too many at once your body will store the excess as fat. You can burn this fat with a good diet and exercise plan.

“Detoxing” is a huge industry built upon the idea that you are full of “toxins” that make you feel icky and gain weight and unless you use some special cleansing tea you will just regain any lost weight because of toxins…. This is taking advantage of the fact that most people gain weight back after losing it and assign it to some terrible theory about “toxins.”

Most times if something is toxic in your body your liver and kidneys will take care of it, or you’ll vomit, or die. Never will your body react with “I better store more fat to thin these toxins out.”

Nevertheless, if you insist on ‘cleansing’ and ‘detoxing’ this holiday season in reaction to a bit of over eating try this meal prep recipe with enough fiber to “cleanse” out all your pipes and enough firepower to “detox” that cupcake you regret eating back in 7th grade.

“Kill it with fire (and fiber)” Chicken And Egg noodle bowl

What you’ll need:

  • 2.5 lbs of chicken breast
  • 3 14oz bags of frozen stir fry veggies
  • 1 14 oz bag of frozen broccoli
  • At least two types of hot peppers (for general coverage use jalapeño and thai peppers, for added heat add habaneros to jalapeños)
  • 2 Tablespoon ancho chili powder
  • Black pepper
  • Salt (use at your own discretion)
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 Teaspoon Sesame seed oil
  • 1.5 oz lime juice
  • 280 g (dry) egg noodles
  • 2 Cloves minced garlic

Chicken Prep

First cut chicken breast into thin strips, ideally 1 inch squares that are 1/4 inch thick.  Put chicken breast into a sealable tupperware, add ancho chili powder, sesame seed oil, soy sauce, lime juice and salt & pepper (season to taste).  Seal the tupperware and shake profusely. Let sit for at least 45 minutes, 90 is better.

Egg Noodle

In a medium pot add water, add a few pinches of salt and minced garlic.  Bring to a boil.  Add noodles, water should just barely cover all noodles. Cook for 7-9 minutes, stirring regularly.  Once the time is up put noodles in a strainer and let cool.

Veggies and Peppers

You may have to do this repeatedly depending on how large of a pan/wok you own, I used my largest pan and got it done in one go but the quality suffered a little bit.

First identify your pepper types, here’s what I used:

IMG_0519.JPG

Clockwise from top-left: Chinese 5-color, Fish Pepper, Habanero, Thai Super Chili, Filius Blue, Lemon Drop and Albino Bullnose

Obviously I went overboard.  If you only use one type I suggest using a Thai or Fish Pepper, they have the best flavor for this dish.

Chop all the peppers in two (length-wise), unless shaped like a habanero (mince those bad boys).  Put in a dish on the side.

Add oil to pan, add about a quarter of your peppers to the oil, cook for about one minute.  Add veggies and stir regularly, stop when veggies are desired crispness.


In the last 2 minutes of cooking the veggies add the rest of the peppers and stir vigorously. Adding the peppers this late ensures they retain a bit of their raw flavor and texture but will still cook into the dish.

Remove the veggies into a large container to cool but leave the oil in the pan.

Cooking the chicken

By now that chicken has been sitting for about 45-90 minutes and is ready to go on the burner.  Use the same pan you used for the veggies and keep any oil left over (it’ll add that resonant heat to the chicken).

Cook the chicken on medium-high stirring regularly until all pieces are uniformly golden-white and no pieces are raw in the middle.  When done move to a large container to cool.

Assembly

Using everything I cooked here I divided it into 5 containers.  The approximate macros for each container were:

  • Fat: 8g
  • Carb: 59g
  • Protein: 56g

 

There were a lot of extra vegetables and a pecan pie.

I actually had a lot more veggies than would fit in my meal-prep containers so I put the extra into 5 smaller containers so that I have all my vegetables for lunch.

So that’s it

This was a fun recipe that I wanted to make after seeing a lot of people recommending spicy and fiber loaded foods as joke recommendations to people asking for advice on how to “clear out” after thanksgiving.

In reality you don’t have to cleanse or detox after thanksgiving.  If you ate more than you planned then own up to it, realize it isn’t what you wanted to do and do better going forward.  Trying to retroactively do something about it is literally wasting your energy on trying to change past decisions, don’t do it, just be better going forward.