Monday, December 22, 2014

Three Squat Routines From Hell - Shawn Phillips

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We learned early on that intensity and variety were the keys to building the kind of legs people might sell their souls to the devil for. Remember that scene in Forrest Gump where Bubba starts telling Forrest all the different ways he knew how to prepare shrimp? "Well, Forrest, there's shrimp gumbo, shrimp pasta, shrimp Creole, shrimp cocktail, shrimp soup, shrimp meat loaf," blah, blah, blah, etc., etc., etc. 

Well, all you Gumps out there, we know ten times more ways to squat than Bubba knew how to cook shrimp. We did high-rep squats, low-rep squats, 100-rep squats, high-bar squats, low-bar squats, one-and-a-quarter squats, variable-tempo squats, pre-exhaustion squats, descending-set squats, you-name-it squats. Sometimes we did so many squats we'd leave the gym in a hunched-over, ass-to-the-ground squat position. Baby ducks would follow us home.

We did a lot of other leg exercises, but as far as I'm concerned all other leg exercises are just footnotes to the squat. if you refuse to squat, then take a look at your bony-ass legs, and accept the fact that they're not ever, ever going to look much different than they do right now, unless you start wearing nylons and high heels. A lot of people tell me that for one reason or another they can't squat. Leg injuries, back injuries, it just doesn't feel right, squats chafe my groin -- I've heard 'em all. Paul Chek, one of the most innovative physical therapists in the world, makes a living treating patients with back injuries. If they can walk into his office, Paul makes them squat. Consider that the next time you want to tell someone you can't squat.

Following are some squat routines that Bill and I have used over the years with great success. The key isn't necessarily which one you choose to do, but that you do many or all of them. One thing we've learned, and which strength guru Charles Poliquin preaches again and again, is that you should change your routines more often.

"Increasing the Effectiveness of Your Strength Training Program - Charles Poliquin

The body is enormously adaptive. If you're an advanced lifter, doing a routine more than three weeks might lead to stagnation. Recent research has even shown that the amount of motor units recruited during a particular movement decreases each time you do the movement. The body's nervous system learns to do the exercise more efficiently each time. In other words, you might be recruiting 75% of the muscle fibers in the quads during the first week of a squat routine, but by the time 3 or 4 weeks have gone by you might be using only 40-50% of the muscle fibers. You might be using more weight by the third or fourth week yet actually be using fewer muscle fibers. That means the rest of the fibers are taking a vacation! You've got to keep the nervous system 'off-balance' to prevent this type of adaptation from happening.

Here's what I suggest: do each of the following routines for three weeks, one after another. I promise you'll experience leg growth like you've never experienced it before. If I'm lying, I'll take a sitz bath in some holy water and exorcise the demon from my pants. Let me make one distinction before I lay out some routines, though. Although the position of the squat bar -- high on the shoulders, at the base of the neck, versus low on the shoulders -- has generally been regarded as purely a matter of preference, there is a difference. Low-bar squats are generally used by powerlifters. This bar position will allow you to squat heavier poundages, but it isn't necessarily the best for emphasizing the quads. Don't get me wrong, these squats will work the quads all right, but they'll also distribute a lot of the stress on the glutes and the back, whereas high-bar squats will emphasize the quads more -- when you fail, it will be because your legs gave out, not your back or glutes. Of course, this is just another variable that you might want to experiment with: do a few three-week workout cycles using a high-bar squat, and then switch to a couple of cycles of low-bar squats.

Squat Workout Number One:
The Devil's Curse

Before trying this workout, you have to change the way you count. Squatting down and then returning to the starting position is no longer "one." Instead, "one" involves squatting down to below parallel, coming up a quarter of the way, slowly returning to rock bottom, and then coming up all the way: that's one. Quite obviously, these are called one-and-a-quarter squats. 

Before starting your work reps, do three warmup sets of 4 to 6 reps, using slightly heavier weights with each successive set. I recommend keeping the number of warmup reps low, so you won't generate too much lactic acid before you start the actual work sets -- this workout is plenty hard enough -- no need to make it even harder.

After a thorough warmup, start your work sets. Do 5 sets of 6-8 reps, taking approximately 2 seconds to lower the weight, and second to do your quarter rep, and a full 3 seconds to come up. If you need to pause momentarily between reps, go ahead -- this is a tough workout, and you'll be breathing like a steam engine soon enough.

Don't just go through the motions. You must be training to muscular failure on each set. In other words, you shouldn't be able to do another rep. Adjust the weight between reps to enable you to complete your rep goal.

From a functional standpoint, this type of squat will give you damn sore glutes and make you much stronger at the bottom of the squat movement.

1 x 6
1 x 6
1 x 4

Work Sets:
6 x 6 - 
Remember, there are 1 and 1/4 squats. Rest three minutes between each set.

Squat Workout Number Two:
And His Number Shall Be 666

Most of us, ever since we started working out, have done fairly conventional reps - going down in about one-and-a-half seconds and powering up as fast as we possibly can. However, if we periodically change the tempo of the movement (how fast or slow we do it), we accomplish two things: we change the time the muscle is under tension (and tension is the key to muscle growth), and we introduce another training variable to keep the nervous system off balance.

I call this squat workout the "666" workout because, first of all, it involves 6 sets of 6 reps. Here's where the hellish part comes in, though. Take 6 seconds to reach rock bottom, and take 6 seconds to come back to the starting position. Additionally, take a 2-second pause at the bottom of the squat - this will build strength and confidence in the lower part of the squat, which many people lack.

1 x 6
1 x 6
1 x 4

Work Sets:
6 x 6. Take 6 seconds to go down, pause for 2 seconds in the bottom, take 6 seconds to come up.
Rest 2 minutes between each set.

Squat Workout Number Three:
The Ring of Fire Squat Routine

This squat workout involves doing two warmup sets and four conventional sets of squats, but the fourth work set will show you what it's like to set your pants on fire. It burns.

On the 5th set, go to failure, but instead of hiking up your pants, collecting your log book and going home . . . strip some weight off and continue to do squats. After that set is done, strip some more weight off, and continue squatting. How many you can do depends on your age, endurance, and ratio of slow-twitch to fast twitch muscle fibers. Some people may be able to pump out 8 reps on the successive drop sets, while others will have to work hard to get 2 reps on each drop set. Each successive drop set should be done with no more rest than it takes to strip some weight off the bar. 

1 x 6
1 x 6

Work Sets:
10, 8, 6, 4, 2

Triple Drop:
Remove weight and do as many reps as possible at the 3 poundages.

Other Squat Training Tricks

As I mentioned earlier, I know all kinds of ways to squat, and none of them are necessarily better than any other. The secret, if it can be called a secret, is doing all of them over an extended period of time. For instance, if you liked the three squat methods I just laid out, you might want to try any or all of the following methods.

Pre-Exhaustion Squat -- Most of us do squats when our minds and bodies are fresh. Consequently, it takes a little longer to recruit some otherwise stubborn muscle fibers. But what if you did squats when you weren't so fresh? What if your legs were already screaming by the time you saddled up to the squat rack? You might very well tap into some shy muscle fibers. Try this: set up your bar with a formidable weight, but instead of plunging straight into your squats, do a set of 10-12 leg extensions, then, without resting, hit your squats. 

Incline Squat -- Rarely does the position of your feet on the floor change, unless you live in California and have tried squatting during an earthquake. If you were to somehow shift you foot position so you were leaning forward, you would expose your quads to all kinds of different stresses. You'd also know what some of those strippers who dance on five-inch heels feel like after a night of work. Try putting your feet on an incline of about 30 degrees while squatting (so your heels are really elevated). Do the squat as you normally would, but don't lock your knees at the top. Many gyms have platforms for this lying around, and they're usually used to stretch the calves. 

 German Volume Training -- This is the method Charles Poliquin popularized in America. In a nutshell, your goal is to do 10 sets of 10 reps using a constant weight, with only 60 seconds rest between sets. You want to begin with a weight you could lift for 20 reps if you had to. For most people, that would equal about 60% of their 1-rep max. On the surface, it doesn't sound hard, but by the time you get to the sixth or seventh set of 10 reps you'll be howling. Definitely use a timer, because as you get more and more tired you'll find ways to lie to yourself about the rest breaks.


These squat workouts are definitely brutal and may not be something you want to do all the time, but they're just my way of introducing you to different ways to squat, and as mentioned, training variety is one of the secrets to continued progress. Regardless of which squat workout you try, remember to increase the work load each successive workout. This may involve either increasing the weight, or doing more reps per set than you did the previous workout.

Remember, you don't have to make a pact with the devil to get great legs. Hell, you don't even have to sacrifice a chicken. All you have to do is keep squatting and accept the fact that they're never going to get any easier.


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