1. PR my squat
2. Gain as much [clean] weight as possible in the 3 weeks before my holiday
This is what happened in those 3 weeks:
· I went from 204lbs at the end of the season to 217lbs [a gain of 1 stone]
· I pause squatted 180kg pretty comfortably [A pause squat PR - I will retest my box & regular squats soon)]
· I pulled a 230kg deadlift, a lifetime PR, despite not having deadlifted in 10months
So what did I do? I squatted every day.
This is an idea that I’d heard and read a lot about recently so I was keen to give it a try to get a feel for it myself. Regular followers of The Breed Project will know that I regard the squat as my key exercise and use it as an index lift for seeing where I’m at so the chance to squat everyday was something that piqued my interest. In order to put this programming idea into use I did some research and played around with some different structures, eventually settling on a slightly adapted version of the Nemesis squat program. Using this template you build up to a training 1RM for the day, you then back off around 10-15% for a heavy 2-3, then back down to 50% ish for 2 sets of ‘speed’ squats. I’ve used this structure previously and I feel it’s a really intelligent and user friendly way of programming. One change I made was to use pause squats where you essentially get deep in the hole, pause for a number of breaths and then explode out. I wanted to use this technique as I had spent the entire season box squatting to 90degs and I felt I was lacking depth in my regular squat as a result. Plus if you can pause squat a lot of weight it has huge carry over to a lot of other lifts. I then tacked on some assistance work so my sessions looked like this:
- Pause Squat (as described above)
- RDL – 4x8
- Bulgarians – 3x8
- Pause Squat (as described above)
- Bench – 5x5
- Weighted chins – 5x5
I then simply rotated between these 2 sessions. The temptation was to chuck a load of assistance work in but this is not the point. It’s a mistake I see people make all the time, creating huge session plans full of supersets and assistance lifts. This program gets to the core of successful training. Squat, hinge, push & pull. Do all these things heavy and often. For those worried about ab/core work you’ve clearly never pause squatted before!
In order to reach my gaining goal I needed to make some nutritional changes too. I added a solid breakfast, usually eggs, alongside my morning coffee, got 2 other decent protein and fat hits through the day and then had 2 carb and protein heavy meals in the evening alongside my post workout shake. I stuck to my principles of wholefoods, gluten free etc where possible but out of necessity added in some protein bars on occasion and also relaxed my evenings to include some desserts.
As with any experiment it is important to be aware of the findings you are making, I took plenty of notes and analysed at every turn. These are my observations and reflections:
- This is not a beginners program. I’ve been squatting regularly for around 7years now, I often squatted twice a week through the season and have a 2x bodyweight 1RM. If you have less than 5yrs squatting experience and don’t have at least a 1.5x bodyweight max then programming like this probably isn’t for you. Don’t go from squatting once a week to 5 times, build into it. Be sensible and honest with yourself.
- Squatting every day isn’t as taxing as you’d expect. As you’re never getting above 5 reps you don’t get particularly sore (you’re only likely to get sore from the Bulgarians). Fatigue comes from your nervous system and mentally. Psyching yourself up to lift heavy is the hard part.
- It’s easy to make progress. As you know what you hit the previous day you can walk in with that one number burning bright in your mind. Everything else is assistance so you don’t have to sweat it. You just walk in and squat heavy. I was hitting 150kg throughout my first week, 160kg through the second and then 170-180kg in the third.
- Your legs will grow, expect to split a few seams. You may also want to invest in some anti-chafe cream for the summer…
- Your neck will suffer – if you use a sharply cut bar you will get abrasions on your neck. Wear these with pride –never turn to the bar pad.
- Training max isn’t your full max. At no point during this program did I fail a lift. I always kept 5kg in the tank. If you start hitting the buffers regularly through a program like this you will burn out very quickly.
- You quickly become very comfortable with the weight on your back. By the end of the first week I was sitting in the hole with 140kg on my back for 3 breaths without any dramas as a warm up. This method removes the fear from squatting bigger numbers and it’s that fear which is often an obstacle between you & your next PR.
- You need to look after yourself. Preparation and recovery take a much bigger role when you’re handling big weights every day. As I was travelling a lot I had to spend a lot of time looking after my lower back in warm ups. Don’t neglect this or you will start to risk things. All the other recovery boxes need to be ticked too – rolling, contrast therapy, relaxation etc.
- Mobility becomes crucial. If you want to be able to hit deep pause squats you need ankle and hip mobility. Make these a focus in every warm up.
- Sleep. If you want to gain weight and lift heavy every day you need to sleep. 8hrs a night minimum.
- My knees felt surprisingly good. During the season whenever the volume ramped up I would get some tendinitis in my left knee. I was worried this might flare up on a program like this yet the opposite happened, my knees feel better than ever. This is likely more due to the lack of running but it still shows that deep, heavy squats aren’t as bad as ill-informed docs would have you believe.
- Pause squats have great carry over. I hadn’t deadlifted at all during the rugby season so, out of interest, I added in a deadlift session on each weekend of the 3 weeks. Week 1 I pulled 200kg, week 2 210kg and week 3 a lifetime PR of 230kg.
- Preparation is everything, particularly with diet. It is so much harder to gain weight than lose it. Shifting to the style of eating necessary to gain meant I needed to be so much more prepared, particularly whilst travelling. On a few occasions I didn’t find the time so I ended up blowing £15 on lunch in M&S. The easiest method I found was to just batch cook beef mince. I regularly had 500g at lunch then another 500g at dinner. It’s not pretty but it’s cost effective and it gives you the nutrition you desperately need.
- Finding a squat rack is harder than it should be. I usually train in the private gym at the Tigerdome but when on the road I occasionally had to fit in sessions at the Uni gym in Manchester. Having been out of public gyms for a while I’d forgotten about the level of weapon you encounter in such establishments. All the clichés are there – I regularly had to patiently wait for the squat rack whilst some 120lb kid in a deep cut vest did curls and talked loudly about his latest creatine ‘cycle’. If you’re planning on doing any similar kind of programming then find a quiet gym for the sake of your own sanity.
- People won’t understand. No one understands how you can squat everyday – don’t waste your time explaining to everyone. If they have to ask they probably aren’t in a place where doing such a program would be beneficial.
- Throughout this program I’ve known that I have a holiday at the end of it. I’ve therefore sought to deliberately over reach in the final week. There have been times when I’ve known I’ve travelled more than would be optimum or I’ve not slept brilliantly and have still chased big numbers. I’ve done this consciously – be sensible and listen to your body. The beauty of the nemesis structure is that you hit a training max, so whatever is your max for that day – if you’re tired and beat up that number will be lower, accept that, be sensible and invest in your recovery.
- The above being said don’t decide on your max before you’ve touched a weight. Do a thorough warm up and start working your way up. If the bar speed is slow and you’re sluggish out of the hole then that is a good indicator that you’re going to have to dial it back a bit. Often you’ll find that a couple of light sets will blow the dust off and then you can hit some decent numbers.
I hope the above wittering has given you a taste for the experience. It has really opened my eyes to what volume we are actually capable of. I regularly felt tired through this program but at no point did I feel like death. I will definitely revisit the idea again in the future and will probably stay squatting more than once a week up to the start of the season. When I return from holiday I will likely transition to a Defranco style westside program to start developing some speed and power on the strength base I’ve created. Then as the season starts I’ll probably look at a 5/3/1 template.
I will update on my programming then. In the meantime do let me know any experiences you have had or are having with a squat every day program.