by Tim Henriques T-Nation

I feel guilty. Although I’m a powerlifter and have written several articles about the bench press and the deadlift, I haven’t written a damn thing about the king of lifts, the squat. It really is a shame, as every powerlifter knows that the squat not only starts the competition off and sets the tone for the day, it separates the men from the boys.

So let me make amends in a big way. Here’s a program designed specifically to bring your squat up to bar-bending levels.

The routine is reasonably simple. You’ll squat two days a week – one day is heavier (similar to a max effort day) and the other day is lighter (like a dynamic effort day). Each day you’ll perform 2-3 exercises per workout.

Max Effort Day Exercises

Drop Set Squats. This is a regular barbell squat. Warm-up as needed and when you’re ready, perform a drop set.

Perform 3 total sets of drop sets. All sets are performed for just one rep, and each drop set is a triple drop set (meaning 4 total reps are completed per drop set). A good guideline is to decrease the weight 10-40 pounds with each drop, or about 5% of your 1RM.

Here’s an example:

Drop Set Squat: 335 x 1, 315 x 1, 295 x 1, 275 x 1. Rest fully, then repeat twice.

The drop set will be performed every other week on weeks 1, 3, 5, and 7. Every week you perform drop set squats add 5-20 pounds to each set. See the video for an example.

Box Squats. This is a standard box squat. My form preference is to squat down (under control, don’t fall onto the box), sit on the box, lean back slightly, lean forward slightly, and blast up. This seems to give the best transfer to the real squat.

Every time you perform box squats you’ll work up to a 1RM. The first time will be to a low box (10-12″ seems to work for almost everyone); the second time it will be to a high box (16-20″ seems to work well).

If your high box squat goes over 130% of your max squat, then stop for the day – you’ve received enough of a training stimulus and you don’t want to get hurt handling weight that your frame isn’t accustomed to.

The box squat will be performed every other week, on weeks 2, 4, 6, and 8. See the video below for an example of a low box squat and a high box squat.

Front Squats. Classic front squats, hold the bar as you see fit. As an aside, I’ve been using the front squat harness a lot lately. Granted, it doesn’t do much good if you’re an Olympic lifter, but if you’re just front squatting to help your regular squat and/or deadlift, or need a way to blast the quads, it’s a viable tool.

The front squat is performed after the drop set squat. The first two times you perform it (weeks 1 and 3) you’ll do 3 sets of 8, the next two times (weeks 5 and 7) you’ll do it for 3 sets of 5.

They’re not straight sets – complete one very heavy set, one quite heavy, and one medium. You can do descending sets (useful if you’re already comfortable with fronts and are getting tired) or ascending sets (useful if fronts are new to you and you need to get better at them). Ten to thirty pound jumps in between sets usually works well. Increase the weight each week you perform this exercise.

Negative Squats. This is a back squat with a nice slow descent followed by a distinct pause at the bottom, then coming up at normal speed (not explosive, just normal).

For the descent I usually use a five-count, which isn’t necessarily five full seconds but enough to count to five slowly in my head as I descend.

There should be no point during the descent where you lose control of the bar.

These are paired with the box squat. The first two times you do them (weeks 2 and 4) do 3 sets of 5, the next two times (weeks 6 and 8) do 3 sets of 3. Go up in weight each week you perform this exercise.

Dynamic Effort Day Exercises

Squat. This is the classic squat. Practice and perfect your setup, walkout, and general squatting technique during this session.

It’s also fine to be explosive with these sets – I often tell people to visualize another 50 pounds on the bar.

Squats will be performed on weeks 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, and 10. Generally you’ll be completing 10-12 sets of two exercises followed by a medium-weight single.

Box Squat with Bands. Set up a low box and perform box squats, using bands to help build strength and explosiveness. The form is the same as the regular box squat. Shoot for 8-10 sets of 2 reps, followed by a medium-weight single.

Box squats with bands will be performed on weeks 3, 4, 7, and 8. If for some reason you’d rather just perform regular squats with bands, fine. The bands don’t need to be super tight – use the following guideline when selecting the bands:

Squat < 400 pound 1RM = use mini bands

Squat 401-600 pounds = use light bands

Squat > 600 pounds = use average bands

Here’s a video of how to set up the bands for box squats:

Speed Deadlifts. These are optional but it’s a good time to include them if you wish.

Reverse Hyperextension. The machine Louie Simmons made famous. Do 2 sets of 10 with the same weight. Perform this each week, adding 10 pounds weekly. Try to use minimal swing.

The Program

Below is a sample training program that uses this outline. The first line is the program with general percentages, the second line is exactly what one of my teammates did. It led him to a 364 squat – not earth shattering, but a PR for him and something many T Nation readers should be able to relate to.

Max Effort Day

Note: Pay attention to the specific week number on each chart as it may vary.

Exercise Week 1 Week 3 Week 5 Week 7 Week 9

Drop Set Squat 85% x 1

80% x 1

75% x 1

70% x 1 89% x 1

84% x 1

79% x 1

74% x 1 93% x 1

88% x 1

83% x 1

78% x 1 97% x 1

92% x 1

87% x 1

82% x 1 Optional

Actual 290 x 1

270 x 1

250 x 1

230 x 1 305 x 1

285 x 1

265 x 1

245 x 1 320 x 1

300 x 1

280 x 1

260 x 1 335 x 1

315 x 1

295 x 1

275 x 1 1st – 325

2nd – 350

Front Squat 3 sets of 8 3 sets of 8 (+~10) 3 sets of 5 3 sets of 5 (+~10) 3 sets of 3

Actual 145 x 8

165 x 8

185 x 8 160 x 8

180 x 8

200 x 8 185 x 5

205 x 5

225 x 5 195 x 5

215 x 5

235 x 5 245 x 3

225 x 3

205 x 3

Exercise Week 2 Week 4 Week 6 Week 8

Box Squat Low Box 1RM High Box 1RM Low Box 1RM +10 High Box 1RM +10

Actual 335 x 1 385 x 1

415 x 1 345 x 1

Fail on 350 425 x 1

435 x 1

Negative Squat 3 sets of 5 3 sets of 5 (+~10) 3 sets of 3 3 sets of 3 (+10)

Actual 205 x 5

185 x 5

165 x 5 220 x 5

200 x 5

180 x 5 245 x 3

225 x 3

205 x 3 255 x 3

235 x 3

215 x 3

Dynamic Effort Day

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 5 Week 6 Week 9 Week 10

Squat 60% x 2

12 sets

80% x 1 70% x 2

10 sets

87.5% x 1 65% x 2

12 sets

85% x 1 75% x 2

10 sets

91.5% x 1 72.5% x2

10 sets

90% x 1 67.5% x 2

8 sets

87.5% x 1

Actual 210 x 2

12 sets

280 x 1 245 x 2

10 sets

305 x 1 225 x 2

12 sets

295 x 1 260 x 2

10 sets

320 x 1 255 x 2

10 sets

315 x 1 235 x 2

8 sets

305 x 1

Reverse Hyper 2 x 10 2 x 10 2 x 10 2 x 10 2 x 10 N/A

Actual 270 x 10 x 2 280 x 10 x 2 310 x 10 x 2 320 x 10 x 2 350 x 10 x 2 270 x 8 x 2

Exercise Week 3 Week 4 Week 7 Week 8

Box Squat with Bands 60% x 2

10 sets

80% x 1 70% x 2

8 sets

87.5% x1 65% x 2

10 sets

85% x 1 75% x 2

8 sets

91.5% x 1

Actual 210 x 2

12 sets

280 x 1 245 x 2

10 sets

305 x 1 225 x 2

12 sets

295 x 1 260 x 2

10 sets

320 x 1

Reverse Hyper 2 x 10 2 x 10 2 x 10 2 x 10

Actual 290 x 10 x 2 300 x 10 x 2 330 x 10 x 2 340 x 10 x 2

Note: Only work sets are listed for all exercises, perform warm-up sets as needed.

You’ll notice this is basically an 8-week program that’s slated for 10 weeks. This gives lifters a chance to taper for 1-2 weeks before they max out to ensure that fatigue is minimized while fitness is maximized.

The Last 2 Weeks

Week 9. You can perform another round of drop sets if they’ve been going well, or perform a 1RM on the box squat if you’re aching to do that, or work up to your opener and/or second attempt.

Seasoned lifters and those lifting lots of weight usually need more time to taper; the lifter in this example chose to work up to his second attempt to build some confidence going into the meet. Perform the dynamic day as listed on Week 9.

Week 10. Go light and just squat once this week. Move the dynamic day up and skip the maximal effort day. Squat no later than Wednesday of the week of the competition. (I prefer training lower body on Monday or Tuesday of the competition week.)

The purpose here is to stay loose and in the groove without taking away from all the hard work you’ve done. At the end of week 10 it’s go time – test your max and see where you are.

The lifter in this example had a previous max of 347 pounds that was a real grinder, definitely a true max. We chose to set a small PR on his second attempt and then go for a bigger PR on his third. Our attempts were 325, 352, 364. He smoked his third and probably had another 10-15 pounds in the tank.

Again, it’s not an incredible amount of weight, but any time you can increase individual lifts 15-30 pounds in a little over two months, things are going well.

Not all the lifters on my team followed this routine but several did, and in our last meet as a team we went 20 for 21 on our squat attempts and no one failed to set a PR.

If you want to squat, this is a sure fire plan to help you out. Lace up your Chucks, pack your belt, bring your balls, and get squattin.’