Have you ever asked yourself How often should I Back Squat?

If so, you have probably have heard answers ranging from Squat Every Day to Squat every 10 days.

So what do you do?

There are a few things you should consider before you decide on how often you should Back Squat.

This article discusses

  • How often should I Back Squat based on understanding adaptation
  • How often should I Back Squat to become stronger, gain muscle mass, become more powerful, endure longer or improve your Back Squat technique
  • How often should I Back Squat as an athlete with applied example
  • How often should I Back Squat as an Olympic Weightlifter or Powerlifter

In previous articles, I have written about how many repetitions you should do in the Back Squat to achieve your training goal, whether you want to become stronger, build muscle mass, run faster or jump higher and endure longer

I have also explained how many strength training sessions per week you should do to achieve the different training goals

In this article, I am bridging the gap between the amount of repetitions, sets, and weight you should do in the Back Squat and the right training frequency, or better how often you should Back Squat per week.

How often should I Back Squat? Understanding adaptation first.

A word of caution here, to give a one size fits all answer is literally impossible, as the training frequency depends on various factors, which I will outline in a minute, hang on…

At the core of determining the training frequency or how often you should train, lies the understanding of how adaptations occur. The basic principle is

  1. You set a stimulus (through training)
  2. You need to recover from that stimulus
  3. You adapt to the stimulus
  4. The cycle repeats and you set the next stimulus

There are different models and theories of adaptations out there, such as

If you are interested to read up on them, it will give you great insights into understanding how adaptations occur.

Another great source of understanding the principle of adaptation which also includes applied examples is this lecture from Juggernaut Training Systems the

Principle of SRA | Stimulus Recovery Adaptation | JTSstrength.com

 

However, in my intent to keep things as simple as possible, all theories and models come back to the principle that I have outlined above.

  1. You set a stimulus (through training)
  2. You need to recover from that stimulus
  3. You adapt to the stimulus
  4. The cycle repeats and you set the next stimulus

There are various factors influencing the time it takes to recover and adapt from the stimulus you set. The factors are,

  • Strength levels, the stronger you are the higher the neurological stress and the higher the stress on the connective tissue, which requires longer recovery periods
  • Muscle mass, the more muscle mass you have the higher the damage to the muscle, which requires longer recovery periods
  • The exertion level, the closer you train to muscular failure, the more recovery time you need
  • Total training volume, the higher the training volume, the longer the recovery time
  • Training routines, a split routine or a bro-split needs longer recovery times than a full body split
  • The exercise selection, compound exercises involving more relative muscle mass need longer time to recover

These are just a few points to consider, but they outline how complex the considerations are and why it is not easy to give a one size fits all answer.

Now, here are my recommendations of how often you should Back Squat.

How often should I Back Squat to become stronger?

If you are working on your maximum strength development, recovery times range from 48 – 72 hours.

This means you can do 2 – 3 Back Squat sessions a week, with 1 or 2 days recovery in between the training sessions.

Typically maximum strength training sessions are characterized by high training intensities, above 85% 1RM, medium to high exertion, low training volume and low training density (high work – rest ratios).

As explained in the article How Long Should A Strength Training Session Last the work to rest ratio refers to the work being performed in relation to the rest. As an applied example for maximum strength training, you do a set of Back Squats with 3 repetitions at 90% of your 1RM and rest 5 minutes before you do your next set. Let’s imagine 3 reps take you 15 seconds, then the work to rest ratio is 1 – 20, for every second worked you take 20 seconds of rest. This is a low training density.

How often should I Back Squat to gain muscle mass?

If you want to gain muscle mass and build muscle and engage in a hypertrophy training program, recovery times range from 72 – 96 hours.

This means you can do 1 – 2 Back Squat sessions a week, with 2 to 3 days recovery in between.

Usually, hypertrophy training sessions are characterized by medium to high training intensities, between 60 – 85% 1RM, high exertion, high training volume and high training density (work to rest ratios typically are around 1 – 2).

How often should I Back Squat to jump higher or run faster?

If you want to run faster or jump higher and engage in a strength training program aimed to improve your power output, recovery times (due to high neural activation) range from 48 – 72 hours.

This means you can do 2 – 3 Back Squat sessions a week, with 1 to 2 days recovery in between.

As I have outlined in the articles

Power can be trained with different training intensities depending on the desired adaptations. Typically power training sessions are characterized by low to medium  training intensities, between 0 and  70% 1RM, low to medium exertion, low training volume and low training density (high work – rest ratios).

This means you can do Back Squats or a form of Back Squats (which I explain below) 2 to 3 days a week, with 1 or 2 days recovery in between.

How often should I Back Squat to endure longer?

If you want to endure longer and engage in some form of strength endurance training or power endurance training, recovery times range from 48 – 72 hours. The reason here is less the stress on the nervous system (as during maximum strength training or power training) or structural damage to muscles (as during hypertrophy training), but more due to the high metabolic demand and high accumulations of lactic acid during a strength endurance training or power endurance training.

Typically strength endurance training sessions are characterized by low to medium training intensities, between 30 – 60% 1RM, medium to high exertion, high training volume and high training density (work to rest ratios typically are around 1 – 1 or even 2 – 1, more work than rest).

This means you can do 2 – 3 Back Squat sessions a week, with 1 to 2 days recovery in between.

How often should I Back Squat to improve my Back Squat technique?

What?

On first sight, this question might sound a bit confusing, but if you have read any of my articles before, you know that I can’t stress the importance of proper technical execution enough.

I have also written an article on T-Nation Tip: Do This 3-Squat Drop Set , explaining that even for a lot of advanced athletes technical flaws are the reason why progress stagnates. Not a lack of strength, as commonly believed.

Bottom-line, if you want to improve Back Squat technique, you need to train the Back Squat or derivatives of the Back Squat, that have a high transfer to the Back Squat, such as Front Squat, the Hands-free Front Squat or the Overhead Squat.

Due to low neurological fatigue and less structural damage technique can be trained far more frequently.

This reminds me of the story my colleague Rene Wolff told me, who ended up becoming World Champion Track Cycling Sprint 2005 and Olympic Champion Track Cycling Team Sprint 2004, when he started out as a young track cyclist learning the Back Squat, his coach gave him a broomstick and said ‘Do 15.000 repetitions of Back Squats and you are allowed to start with an unloaded bar.’ So every day he did his repetitions until he reached his required 15.000 repetitions in the Back Squat.

While this approach is probably not the most sophisticated approach, but it is a good application of how technical learning works, high repetitions and high frequency.

As a quick overview, you find all characteristics to compare each training goal and training method in the table below

Training IntensityEffortExertionTraining VolumeTraining Density
Maximum StrengthHighHighMedium – highLowLow
HypertrophyMedium – highMediumHighHighMedium – high
Strength EnduranceLow – mediumLow – mediumMedium – highHighHigh
Power Low – mediumHighLowLowLow
TechniqueLow – mediumMediumLow – mediumMediumMedium

How often should I Back Squat as an athlete?

Before you answer the question of how often should I Back Squat, start with a few other questions.

  • What are the demands of your sport? What are limiting factors in your sport (technical and coordination, metabolic, speed, strength & power)?
  • What is the relative importance of strength for the performance in your sport?
  • Out of all your training sessions, how many sessions do you want to dedicate to strength training?

Once you have answered these questions, it will give you an insight to how many strength training sessions you can do in a week.

I would like to share my perspective on training athletes, with the goal that they get better in their sport and achieve better results in competition.

As an example, the athlete I am working with are competing in BMX and Track Cycling, if you are not familiar with the sports, have a look at the footage from Rio Olympic Games 2016

 

 

As you can see, these sports are quite physically demanding and strength, especially lower body strength is a cornerstone of their sports performance.

Consequently, I use the Back Squat, as well as the Front Squat and Bulgarian Split Squat as a ‘tool’ to increase lower body strength. As I have mentioned before, the strength training and in this case the squatting is a means to an end, not the end in itself.

Generally speaking, we have 2 or 3 strength training sessions in a week and there are different options to plan and schedule the training sessions.

Option 1: Select one squatting variation in each strength training session

That means, that we do a different squatting variation in each strength training session and I select from the Back Squat, the Front Squat, and the Bulgarian Split Squat.

Why not Overhead Squats?

As much as I like the Overhead Squat, it doesn’t allow to set the stimulus I would like to set with athletes that have a certain strength level. I have written about the benefits of the Overhead Squat and the disadvantages of the Overhead Squat in the articles

Back to the scheduling and programming for the Back Squat, Front Squat, and Bulgarian Split Squat.

I plan the Back Squat in the first strength training session, the Bulgarian Split Squat in the second strength training session and the Front Squat in the third strength training session.

That looks like this

Session 1Session 2Session 3
Back SquatBulgarian Split SquatFront Squat

 

Why this order of Back Squat, Bulgarian Split Squat and Front Squat?

It follows the ‘heavy – light – medium approach’, which is an approach that ensures adaptation and progress by structuring strength workouts in an order of a heavy strength workout should be followed by a light strength workout, which should be followed by a medium strength workout. I am not entirely sure, who is the true inventor of that approach, it has been popularized by Bill Starr in the late 1970’s The Strongest Shall Survive: Strength Training for Football and taken over by Mark Rippetoe in his Practical Programming for Strength Training by Mark Rippetoe, Andy Baker (January 14, 2014) Paperback book in 2006 and is nowadays used by Crossfit.

The variation I am using with these athletes is a very advanced variation and relates to the Volume Load (VL), the product reps multiplied by sets multiplied by the load (VL = reps * sets * load). Have a look at the example below, which is the data of one of the training sessions of one of my athletes.

Session 1Session 2Session 3
Back SquatBulgarian Split SquatFront Squat
VL: 3 * 3 @ 190 kg = 1710 kgVL: 3 * 3 @ 155 = 1395 kgVL: 3 * 3 @ 170 = 1530 kg

 

You can see, strength session 1 has the highest VL and is, therefore, heaviest, strength session 2 has the lowest VL and is, therefore, lightest and strength session 3 is classified as medium.

Option 2: Select the Back Squat for each strength training session

When selecting the Back Squat for each of the training sessions, I modulate load, reps, and sets in each session. Hence the athletes won’t do the same repetition, sets, and load scheme in each session.

The strength training sessions structure for a not our not very advanced athletes could look like this.

Session 1Session 2Session 3
Back SquatBack SquatBack Squat
3 * 3 @ 90% 1RM3 * 3 @ 70% 1RM3 * 3 @ 80% 1RM

 

It’s evident, that this structure also follows the ‘heavy – light – medium approach’ approach, due to the changes in intensity in the different strength training sessions.

Depending on the focus of the training phase or training period, I modulate reps, sets, and load.

If the goal of the training period is to increase maximum strength, the structure of the sessions could look like this

Session 1Session 2Session 3
Back SquatBack SquatBack Squat
3 * 2 @ 95% 1RM5 * 3 @ 85% 1RM4 * 2 @ 90% 1RM

 

The smart reader must have figured out, that this programming approach violates against the ‘heavy – light – medium approach’, because if you make your calculations on the Volume Load and for simplicity reasons calculate on a 1RM Back Squat of 100 kg, you will find the following

Session 1Session 2Session 3
Back SquatBack SquatBack Squat
3 * 2 @ 95% 1RM5 * 3 @ 85% 1RM4 * 2 @ 90% 1RM
VL: 570 kgVL: 1275 kgVL: 720 kg

 

It is true if we are looking at the pure Volume Load number, on the other hand, the intensity in relation to the repetitions performed also have an influence on how heavy the strength training is.

One of the best visuals I could find is the load-exertion table on Mladen Jovanovic’s website Complementary Training in the article How to Create Individualized Exercise Profile in Strength Training? Part 4: Velocity/Exertion Profile

The load-exertion table explains the exertion level based on intensity and repetitions performed.

From the pictures, it becomes clear that even though the Volume Load only reflect how heavy a training is if reps and sets are kept constant and intensity is modulated.

Back-Squat-How-ften-should-you-Back-Squat-load-exertion-table

Back Squat : How often should I Back Squat – Load Extertion Table Complementary Training

How do you read the table?

If you look at the second column with the title % 1RM you can see the intensity based on the 1 RM in percent.

If you now look at the 3rd row, where it says 93% and move in the same row column 4 with the title ME (maximum exertion), you can see 3, which refers to the amount of repetition you can do with 93% of your 1 RM. So you are able to do 3 repetitions, 4 wouldn’t be possible, therefore it’s classified as maximum exertion.

If you move 1 column to the right you can see 2 repetitions and the title says ‘Near Maximum Exertion’ and below that you see ‘1 rep short’, which means, if you do 93% of your 1 RM for 2 reps it’s a near maximum exertion and you are 1 rep short of your maximum exertion, which we just discussed being 3 reps.

I guess the concept is clear, if you now move another column to the right you can see 1 repetitions and below the title Near Maximum Exertion you can now see 2 reps short. This means, if you perform a set at 93% of your 1 RM for 1 reps, you are 2 reps away from maximum exertion.

Let’s have a look at the above-mentioned sessions.

Session 1: 3 sets of 2 repetition @ 95% 1 RM Back Squat

Back-Squat-How-ften-should-you-Back-Squat-load-exertion-table-session-1

Back Squat : How often should I Back Squat – Load Exertion Table Session 1 – Complementary Training

From the table, it becomes evident, that this session can be classified as a session with maximum exertion.

Session 2: 5 sets of 3 repetition @ 85% 1 RM Back Squat

Back-Squat-How-ften-should-you-Back-Squat-load-exertion-table-session-1

Back Squat : How often should I Back Squat Load Exertion Table Session 2 – Complementary Training

From the table, this session can be classified as a session with hard exertion and therefore less intens as session 1.

Session 3: 4 sets of 2 repetition @ 90% 1 RM Back Squat

Back-Squat-How-ften-should-you-Back-Squat-load-exertion-table-session-1

Back Squat : How often should I Back Squat Load Exertion Table Session 3 – Complementary Training

From the table, that classifies the session as near maximum exertion, we can conclude, that this session is more intens than session 2 and less intens than session 1.

From the table and the classification based on exertion levels you can see that the session structure follows the ‘heavy – light – medium’ structure.

More examples of training structures

If the goal of the training period is to increase hypertrophy, the structure of the sessions could look like this

Session 1Session 2Session 3
Back SquatBack SquatBack Squat
3 * 6 @ 82.5% 1RM3 * 10 @ 72.5% 1RM3 * 8 @ 77.5% 1RM

 

With this structure you need to be careful, as all training sessions are a ‘maximum exertion’ and considering you are doing 3 sessions a week, there will be only 48 hours of recovery between the sessions.

So, key points for this structure

  • Preferably do a full body program, no bro-split
  • Stick to one lower body exercise
  • Limit the training period to 3 weeks, as it is very taxing

If the goal of the training period is to increase power development, the structure of the sessions could look like this

Session 1Session 2Session 3
Back SquatJump Squat (a jumping Back Squat)Back Squat complexed with Drop Jumps or Hurdle Jumps
5 * 1 @ 95% 1RM5 * 3 @ 30% 1RM5 * 2 @ 85 – 90% 1RM

 

The idea here is, that the first strength training workout trains the recruitment of motor units, the second strength training workout trains the firing frequency and the third strength training workout combines the training of recruitment of motor units and the firing frequency.

These examples are just an excerpt of numerous more example and structures we are using with our athletes and give a good overview of the multiple variations on how often you should Back Squat and the other variables you need to consider.

How often should I Back Squat as a Powerlifter or Olympic Weightlifter?

First and foremost Olympic Weightlifting and Powerlifting are different disciplines and both sports use the Back Squat to achieve different objectives.

For the Powerlifter the Back Squat is a competitive exercise and the Powerlifter gets evaluated / ranked on the amount of weight he or she can lift in the Back Squat in the competition.

The Olympic Weightlifter uses the Back Squat as a training exercise to support their competition lifts the Snatch and Clean & Jerk.

Whilst for the Powerlifter the heavier the load he or she can lift in the Back Squat the better it is, for the Olympic Weightlifter there is a maximum he or she needs to lift to support the competitive lifts.

In practice, that means for the Olympic Weightlifter, that a benchmark for the Back Squat is around 120% of the Clean max for 3 reps. Different schools of thoughts have different numbers, but it boils down to around 120% Clean max for 3 repetitions or around 125 – 130% Clean max.

The practical application of that is, that most Olympic Weightlifters are able to lift more than that, but don’t use more weight than that in their training. Therefore they don’t train maximally with regards to exertion and can perform the Back Squat much more frequently in their training. That is why Olympic Weightlifter do Back Squats (or a variation of Squats) 9 – 12 times a week.

On the other hand, the Powerlifter trains at higher percentages and consequently needs more time to recover from the training and trains the Back Squat somewhere between 2 times a week to once every 10 days.

Please note, that the different philosophies with regards to Powerlifting and Olympic Weightlifting go far beyond the scope of this article and therefore the numbers presented serve more as a compendium of common training methods, rather than a strict guideline.

Concluding How often should I Back Squat?

The Back Squat is a fundamental strength training exercise and can be used for different training goals, such as increasing strength, maximizing muscle mass, improving speed and explosiveness or improving endurance efforts.

Depending on the desired training goals you chose the appropriate training method. Each training method has different recovery and adaptation times, which determines how often you can and should Back Squat.

More information on the Back Squat

The Fundamentals of the Back Squat

Increasing your Back Squat – How much and how often to Squat

Insider Guide reveals How many Reps in the Back Squat you should do

How to get a stronger Back Squat in 7 steps

How much should I Back Squat

How to do a Back Squat

Why Back Squat

What Is A Back Squat

or the Back Squat video library