The Big 3: The Squat

Everyone has fun building up their deadlift or the bench but the squat is often overlooked. There are tons of reasons for this (limited mobility, weak core, imbalances, funky leg:hip ratios, etc…), each of which is an article in itself but the common truth I find in people that avoid squats is simple: they aren’t good at them.

Goblet Squat

Goblet Squat

If you’re new to the squat then check out our introductory article here. Before you get going on having a heavy barbell squat make sure that you have a solid goblet squat (pictured) and can keep your back flat throughout the movement.  

Squats are a technical lift and there is a large difference between performing a decent squat and a great squat. If you want to get to the point that you have a great squat then you need to do a lot squats. With this in mind the program we are going to use to bring up our squat poundage will necessitate squatting twice per week. Additionally the legs respond very well to high volume work and some of these days will have you working in a variety of rep ranges.

Your new Squat Program

To start off we need to calculate your bench press 1 rep max (1RM), this is the maximal amount you can lift for one rep. You can test for your 1RM directly but I only recommend this if you have at least 8 months of experience and a training partner. Alternatively you can use a weight you are more comfortable with and perform reps until failure and estimate your 1RM with a calculator.

Each legs day you will perform:

  • 3 Warm up sets of Squats
  • Assigned Working Sets of Squats
  • 3 Sets of Lunges (Optional)

While this may not sound like a lot of volume we are actually going to be performing two leg days per week.  Space them out however works best for you but I suggest putting at least 72 hours between sessions (e.g. Monday and Thursday).

One total cycle of this program will take 7 weeks in total. It breaks down like this:

Note: Layout is “(Weight as a % of 1RM) x # of Sets x # of Reps per set”

Microcycle 1 (2 weeks)

Day 1 Day 2
Week 1 (70%) x 4 x 9 (75%) x 5 x 7
Week 2 (80%) x 7 x 5 (85%) x 9 x 3

Microcycle 2 (2 weeks)

Day 1 Day 2
Week 1 (72.5%) x 4 x 9 (77.5%) x 5 x 7
Week 2 (82.5%) x 7 x 5 (87.5%) x 9 x 3

Microcycle 3 (2 weeks)

Day 1 Day 2
Week 1 (75%) x 4 x 9 (80%) x 5 x 7
Week 2 (85%) x 7 x 5 (90%) x 9 x 3

Deload (1 week)

Week 1 (50%) x 4 x 7 (40%) x 5 x 9

Optional Sets: Lunges

Lunges are an excellent isolate real exercise to perform after squats. They can really highlight imbalances between the left and right sides. The reason they are optional is because the amount of working sets for squats regularly varies and there may be instances in which lunges as the end of your workout will not be feasible.

Lunges (4-6 Reps each side)

Start with a weight that you are certain you can perform for 8 reps on each side.  Aim for performing 4-6 reps. If you can perform 6 reps for 2 consecutive sets then increase the weight for the next set by 10 lbs.  If you cannot perform at least 4 reps for a single set them drop the weight to 80% for the next set.  This will be your new starting point for the next legs day.  Rest 2.5 minutes between sets

If you’re new to performing lunges start by using dumbbells to add resistance, this is less likely to offset your balance.  Advanced trainees should use a barbell loaded on their back, similar to a squat set up.

Photos courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.

Putting it to use

What I like about this set up is the freedom it gives. At the end of 7 weeks you’re free to try another program, give this one another go, or even modify it for your purposes. I’ve completed a number of rounds of this program and each time my squat has gotten deeper, cleaner, and stronger. And that’s why I am sharing it with you.

Tell me your thoughts on this squat program on Facebook (, Instagram, and Twitter (@brawnforbrains).