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Originally Published in IRONSPORT (Oct '89)
A Squat Program that Works
There was a ten-minute break before the heavyweight class began their Clean and Jerks, so I flopped down into a chair. I was beat from talking to so many of my old associates at the Women's Olympic Nationals in Houston. Some of the people there I hadn't seen in twenty years. Tommy Suggs and I had driven up from the Gulf Coast to watch the women perform.
And we were quite impressed. Not only did the contestants display excellent technique, quickness and athleticism, they were also extremely attractive, which added to our appreciation.
Tom Hirtz sat down beside me and we spent some time assessing our associates. "It's nice to see someone not caught up in the fitness craze," I said, pointing to one of our portly old pals.
"Well," Tom countered, "at least he hasn't put on any weight lately. Check out 'Jake and the Fat Man' over there."
"It does seem as though everyone's been eating regularly."
"There's more official in the snack bar than out here watching the lifting." We laughed because it was true.
"Freddie Lowe looks terrific. Glad he's been put in the Hall of Fame. I conducted the first meet he was ever in in Marion, Indiana. Louie DeMarco and Jim Schmitz look good too."
"So do Tommy Kono and Walter Imahara."
We were interrupted from our amusement when one of the girls who had lifted earlier in the day sat down next to me and asked, "Can I talk to you for a minute."
"Sure," I said agreeably. Tom got up and disappeared into the snack bar. "How can I help you?"
She introduced herself as Michele. She trained alone and picked up training tips at contests. Immediately, I felt a fondness for this young athlete, for this is exactly how I gained information during my first year of competition. I studied her as she expounded on her lifting background. She was built perfectly for the sport; wide, sturdy hips, strong legs, and a fit upper body. When she paused, I asked, "What can I do for you?"
"Don Amini says you might give me a few ideas on squatting. I got pinned on my last Clean today."
"How often do you squat?"
"Three times a week, two back and one front."
"Sets and reps?"
"Always the same. I warm up with 10 reps, then go to 8, 6, 4, and end up with a double."
"Same routine on fronts?"
She nodded and studied me with a serious expression. It made me realize hos intent these young ladies were on Olympic lifting. "And no progress for a time?"
"A long time," she mumbled sourly.
"Where do you put your squats in your program?"
"I do my pulls first every workout. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I squat behind my pulls and on Fridays, I squat last."
I paused to watch Smitty engage in a mock wrestling match with Jim Moser, then I turned to Michele and said, "You need a change. That much is clear. And you need to give your legs priority for a time. Say, eight weeks."
"I'm willing to do whatever you suggest," she said agreeably.
"Here's a program that will jar your legs and move your weekly workload up."
"Weekly workload?" she asked in a tone much as if I'd spoken in a foreign language.
"Your weekly workload is the total amount of weight you lift in a week. Simply multiply the weight times the number of reps and add them together. You should check out your current program before you go on this new one. That will give you some feedback for later."
"I can do that," she returned cheerfully. "I keep good records."
"You'll still squat three times a week. On Mondays, you'll do 5 sets of 10."
"Is that counting my warmups?"
I nodded in the affirmative. "And the last set should be max. Absolutely. Wednesday, do 5 sets of 5, again going to a limit on the final set. Friday, 3 sets of 5, followed by 3 sets of 3 and a back-off set of 8."
"Go to the limit on Friday too?"
"Yep, every workout. The heavy triples will help the tens, in turn the tens will push up the fives and the fives drive up the triples.. These three different workouts work nicely in tandem. The tens are terrific conditioners, the fives are primarily strength builders, and the threes tap into the tendons and ligaments."
"I see," she murmured and I could see that she was trying to digest this new information quickly and thoroughly.
I continued, "For the next month, do all back squats. And move the squat to the beginning of your program. In other words, give it priority."
"You don't think I need to front squat?"
"When is your next contest?"
She thought on my question for a moment, then replied, "John Coffee's having one in about three months."
"Then you don't need to front squat during the next month. You'll still be cleaning so you won't lose your flexibility and positioning. After four weeks, put the fronts back in program on Wednesdays. Do 8 sets of 3, including warmups and keep Mondays and Fridays the same."
"And I should keep the squats first in my program?"
"Until you're satisfied with the gains or until the meet is a month or six weeks away. Then, drop the squats in behind your pulls once again and concentrate more on your lifting form and technique."
"You said my workload should go up. How much?"
"What you're interested in as far as workload is how much it improves in the next two months. For example, if you find that you have been handling 20,000 pounds a week in your squats, you will want to increase that to 30 or 35,000 pounds during the next two months. When you do so, you'll know positively that you have a much stronger strength base and your top-end lifts will reflect the extra work."
She sighed and leaned back in her chair. "I'm ready for a change, that's for sure." She turned to me and said grimly, "It was very embarrassing to be down there with a weight on my chest and not be able to get up."
"I know the feeling," I mumbled knowingly, recalling the helpless sensation. "But one good thing about the squats," I quickly added in an encouraging tone, "if your willing to work them hard, the legs will respond. One other thing for you to remember further down the road - if the tens peak out, which they might after six weeks or so, you can alter your Monday workout. Instead of tens, work up and do a max set of five, then do two more sets with that same weight."
"You better run through that part again."
Do four sets of warmups, all fives, then do a max set of five, followed by two more sets of five with that same top-end weight."
"That sounds rather brutal."
"It is hard, doing a max set and then coming back to do two more, but it's a terrific conditioner. The first couple of times you do the program, you may only get four or perhaps three reps on your second and third sets. That's fine, merely add a rep a week until you reach the 3 sets of 5, then move the weight up the following Monday."
"But what about Wednesdays?"
"When you start doing three heavy sets of fives on Monday, make Wednesday your light day. Remember I said you should bring the front squats back into your program at about this time, so the fronts will in fact serve as a light day. If you should want to do backs on Wednesday for some variety, use some 50 pounds less than you did on Monday and work through sets of five in a rapid pace."
I looked over to see if she was grasping all this. She was smiling slightly, a contented smile, so I figured she had soaked it all in. She snapped out of her daydream, which I felt certain contained a scene of her blasting up with a record Clean and asked mildly, "Anything else?"
"Does all this hard leg work affect flexibility?"
"With all the additional leg work, it's quite easy for your legs to tighten up and they'll stay tight unless you spend some time stretching them out. Especially the hamstrings. The stretching will also alleviate soreness and keep you from injuring them."
"I always do lots of stretching before I start my workouts," she announced proudly.
"That's good, but you'll need to start stretching in between sets and also after you finish your squat program. And I also suggest that you include more stretching at night, while you're watching TV."
"I do some of that now," she provided with a spirited grin. She stood, held out her hand and said, "Thanks for the help, is there someplace I can write you and tell you how it worked out?"
I accepted her proffered hand and said, "Amini always knows where to find me. Good luck." I watched her work her way out of the maze of chairs, admiring her athletic physique and carriage. Strange, I thought, how the girl Olympic lifters have assumed many of their male counterparts mannerisms, most noticeably the walk.
Hirtz moved behind me and said jokingly, "The answer man helping a damsel in distress."
"You ever know me not to have an answer?" I laughed.