Why squats are a superfood to legs, like kale is to greens (although kale won’t grow your legs quite as much).
The humble barbell squat is renowned for being the king of leg exercises, and is championed by numerous athletes and gym goers around the world today. But why?
Put simply, this compound movement will hit a large amount of muscles at once. These include your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, while incorporating a huge amount of core stability. If used as part of your workout routine, with the correct form, the benefits are endless. Still not convinced? Put down the dumbbell, here’s why…
The Benefits of Squats
- Squats will assist in building muscle in your entire body. It’s proven that your body triggers an increase in growth hormone and testosterone when doing this big compound movement. These are vital for muscle growth, and will help in the building of other muscle groups other than legs.
- Squats are functional and will make day-to-day activities easier. With greater power and strength in your core and legs, day-to-day activities such as climbing the stairs or bringing in your monstrous food shop will become a breeze.
- You can burn more fat tissue. If you develop your squat and put on some muscle tissue, your body will in turn burn more calories per day just standing still. For every 1lb of muscle gained you can expect a return of 50-70 calories burned per day, for doing absolutely nothing. Granted, I’m no Rachel Riley, but if you add 10lbs of muscle you can expect to burn an extra 500-700 calories. For free!
- Squats are good for improving mobility, balance and proprioception.
- Squats get a bad rep for doing damage to the knees. Not true. If performed correctly, they can increase strength and stability in the joints and build the muscle structures around them for support.
The Russian Squat Program vs. its Angry Brothers
The Russian Squat Programme.
The Russian Squat Routine is a 6-week long program that gets the individual to complete 9 sessions of progressive overload, incorporating more volume with their 80% 1RM (one rep max). As a result, towards the end of the program you are entering new realms of volume, with either the same weight lifted and/or relatively increasing your 1RM. This routine is a tried and tested 6-week program, one that has put kilos on squats for thousands of lifters around the world. If you complete all of the sessions, you can expect way in excess of 5% on your 1RM.
Westside Barbell Conjugate Method.
This method came from the famous Westside Barbell Gym developed by Louie Simmons, and boasts to be the best for maximal strength gains. The program encourages the user to squat twice per week, at least 72 hours apart. One day is dedicated to maximal effort with working sets to a 1-3 rep max; the second is dynamic effort squatting and deadlifting, whereby the user performs 10-12 sets of 2 reps at 40-60% of your 1RM.
The emphasis here is working on your explosive power throughout the lift. After squatting you will carry out dynamic deadlifting performing, 6-10 sets of 1-3 repetitions, using 60-85% 1 rep max. The goal of these sessions is to improve every week and then reassess every 3 weeks, so your progression reflects your percentages of your 1RM, thus progressively overloading.
20-Rep Squat Routine.
One of the oldest lifting programs around, this routine gets the user to squat three times per week, for six weeks, with one set of 20 squats per workout. The theory is that you add 5lbs to the bar each time you do a set. To work out what weight to start on with this programme, simply take your 5 rep max and subtract 5lbs from every workout you will be doing in the six week period. By the end of the program you will squat your 5 rep max twenty times.
The program as developed by the former University of Arizona Football player Jim Wendler; 5/3/1 is a four-week program in which you perform one session of squats (front and back) and assistance work per week; you also do three other sessions throughout the week that are dedicated to three other core lifts. 5/3/1 is performed in phases.
Week 1 (wave 1) sees you perform 3 sets of 5 repetitions at 75% of your 1RM squat, followed by 80%, then 85%. In week 2 you perform 3 sets of 3 repetitions at 80%, 85% and 90%. Week 3 will be 3 sets of 5 repetitions at 75%, 85% and 95%. The fourth week will be a deload phase of 3 sets at 60%, 65% and 70% of your 1RM. Once this four-week cycle is complete, you can start a new one by just adding 10lbs to your 1RM squat, then re-evaluating the numbers.
When a squat system is planned and named after a ‘Russian Master of Sports’, you can safely assume it will be intense. Created by Sergey Smolov, this project makes the striking claim that a competitor can build their squat “by up to 100 lbs”. The vast majority won’t have the capacity to add 100lbs to their squat in the proposed time span (13 weeks) – this system isn’t for the faint hearted.
The general system is 13 weeks, split into five cycles. Contained inside are more squats (can be utilised for front or back squats) at heavier burdens than some other plans, and it is intended for a transition from intermediate to advanced lifters—individuals that have been lifting for over a year.
The main cycle starts with two weeks of prep before heading into a four-week cycle, which encourages you to squat with heavy loads four times each week. After that comes a two-week “switching phase” before you go again into an additional four-week cycle of heavy lifts, where you just squat three times each week, however will utilize 81-90% of your 1RM. This specific cycle is so devastating that some individuals use it as their sole training regime.
So which squat program is for you?
However you incorporate squats into your exercise routine it’s going to be beneficial. For beginners I would emphasise the importance of perfect technique and building your lifts up from scratch. Your muscles adapt far quicker than your ligaments and tendons so take things slow and progress safely.
I highly recommend seeking an exercise professional to show you the correct technique and check on your progress as you start to increase the weights. All programs discussed have their advantages, however some are more user friendly than others, depending on your goal. I would imagine most people would like to improve other areas of their physique and functionality – rather than just squats – so I am favourable to the “Westside Barbell Conjugate Method”, as it’s fairly low frequency compared to the other programs. It also incorporates a dynamic day, along with a heavier load day, which to me will keep me more interested with the variation. However, progressive overload is the running theme understandably throughout the programs so as long as you are doing this in any program you will improve your lifting and muscle building capability.
The Smolov programme is the most advanced, with the user performing lifts regularly at 81-90% 1RM, which is very intense and taxing on the body for a beginner. This one may be worth a try after a good grounding for at least a year in squatting and progressive overload. The 5-3-1 in my opinion is a good mid-advanced level program for someone with a set goal keen to improve their lifts. You work out what weights you’re going to lift % wise relative to your 1 rep max and you have that set amount of sets and reps to achieve. The only downside I see to this is it’s very sum specific, so if you do not reach the set reps for your 1RM calculation (due to a long day at the office) you may feel this is a failure, and you’ll have to recalculate again to reassess.
The 20-rep routine I like a lot. Why? Because it’s old school. You know where you stand with it – 20 reps, 3 times per week, adding 5lbs every time. Due to the amount of reps it can be suitable for most people from beginner – intermediate level, using correct technique. With the time needed to complete the workouts too you also have the time to incorporate other exercises for other body parts, which some people may find beneficial.
In summary, squatting movements will benefit your training program when done correctly. Just be careful out there, and don’t go top heavy too soon. The iron game is a marathon, not a sprint. And make sure you’ve got your calorie game on track. Anyone who squats regularly needs a healthy supply of calories to promote recovery between sessions. Consider a premium all in one protein like AFTERMATH™ for some post-workout fuel, or something calorie-dense like Peanut Butter which is packed with protein and quality fats.
About the Author
Ben Rowe is the Lead Coach at Team Benbo Body Coaching. Team Benbo have over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry, sharing their in-depth knowledge around Sports Specific Training, Nutrition, Online Coaching and Competition Preparation.