Increasing your Back Squat – How much and how often to Squat
Have you ever tried to get stronger in the back squat? If so, you know that it’s difficult and that’s the reason why most people are frustrated because they simply just don’t see the results they want to see.
How To Get A Stronger Back Squat
One day one of my athletes came to me and asked me ‘How do I get stronger in the back squat?’ and he already had the ready-made answer ‘Shall I add some extra Split Squats or Leg Press? Or just add a few isolated exercises for the legs, such as leg curls or leg extensions?’
I replied to him, that there is a fundamental principle in sport and training which is called ‘SAID’ and this abbreviation stands for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. It’s a very simple principle, but often forgotten or not applied and it basically says, you will get better at what you train (remember the story of Milo).
In practice, if you want to get stronger in the back squat, you need to back squat. Considering we are squatting in almost every session, whether it’s back squats, front squats or a single legged variation of the squats, he wasn’t very satisfied with the answer.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple and easy to just squat and everything is fine, there needs to be a purpose and a plan of attack; and the first step is to detect which is the weakest point in the whole movement that prevents you from lifting more weight?
How to detect weak areas in the back squat and how to attack them
The easiest way for a skilled-coaches eye is to look at the movement and the weak spot becomes evident towards the end of a set, when exhaustion kicks in or during maximal lifts or near maximal lifts, because then you will see where the biggest struggle is, the so-called sticking point.
If we are talking about a full back squat, which is at a knee angle of 60 degrees in the bottom position and the crease of the hip being lower than the knee, we can divide the back squat movement into three parts. The bottom position, when you are in the full squat, the mid position and the end position, when you are fully extended.
If your sticking point is in the lowest position, you will realize that through, that you either are not able to get up at all or you start the accent by shooting the hips. A possible training intervention for this scenario is to add paused back squats, where the bottom position is held for 2 to 3 seconds. Another possible training intervention is 1,5 (one and a half) repetitions, where you decent into the full squat, come half way up, decent back into the full squat and then get back up fully. This is counted as one repetition, but you are effectively two times in the bottom position. For the majority of athletes the sticking point is in the lowest position, simply because the body is in a mechanically weak position.
If your sticking point is in the mid position, you will realize that it takes you a lot of effort to get through the mid part. A possible training intervention for this scenario is to train or add back squats with accommodated resistance to the strength training program. This can be done with chains or resistance bands. The idea of accommodated resistance is that it accommodates to the natural strength curve (of exercises with an ascending strength curve like the squat or bench press), where strength increases throughout the movement (weakest in bottom position, strongest in top position). To see accommodating resistance in action, have a look here. By trend, a few athletes have their sticking point in the mid position.
If your sticking point is in the top position, you will just not be able to lock out the movement. A possible training intervention for this scenario is to train or add heavy half back squats or quarter back squats. Half back squats are referred to a knee angle of 90 – 100 degrees in the bottom position and quarter back squats to a knee angle of 120 or more degrees in the bottom position. Rarely athletes have their sticking point in the top position, even though there are always exceptions to the rule.
How Many Reps in a Back Squat
First and foremost, it’s worth mentioning that the back squat is a pretty robust exercise when it comes to repetition schemes as opposed to the front Squat or Overhead Squat.
As an applied example the Overhead Squat just doesn’t allow for higher repetitions, because the upper body is the weakest link and it becomes difficult for the arms and wrists to keep the bar over your head. The same applies to the Front Squat, where the bar tends to slide down the shoulders the more repetitions you do.
The Back Squat on the other hand allows you to do high repetitions, as demonstrated in this video
How many reps you should do in the back squat depends on your goal, whether you want to build and develop strength, power, size (more muscular) or endurance.
As a simple guideline for developing maximum strength, power, hypertrophy or strength endurance, have a look at the details broken down by training goal, intensity ranges and repetition ranges.
Intensity: 85 – 100% 1RM
Repetitions: 3 – 1
Intensity: 75 – 85% 1RM (even better to stick to 80 – 85% 1RM)
Repetitions: 8 – 4 (6 – 4 for 80 – 85% 1RM)
Intensity: 65 – 75% 1RM
Repetitions: 12 – 8
Intensity: below 60% 1RM
Repetitions: more than 15
If the goal is to develop Power, a more in-depth look in what kind of power quality is required. More information about power and different training intensities to train Power in this article.
Concluding, the amount of repetitions in the back squat is dependent on your training goal. Choose your training goal first and then select the appropriate training intensity and repetitions.
How Often Should I Back Squat
The training frequency (amount of training sessions per week) is as important as the training intensity (based on the 1RM or a predicted 1RM) and the repetition ranges.
The training frequency is dependent primarily on the training goal, but secondary also on the responsibilities next to the strength training.
In my world, training Olympians, the athletes compete in a sport and the strength training is a means to make them better in their sport. Therefore we need to balance the strength training around the main responsibilities, the sport-specific training. Have a look at this table talk from EliteFTS talking about responsibilities, priorities and scheduling.
When it comes to strength training there is also an optimum of training and more is not always better. Exceptions to the rule are athletes, where lifting weights is the sport, such as Olympic Weightlifting or Powerlifting.
Therefore, if you chose for 2 – 3 strength training sessions per week and focus on what is important (a structured approach and balanced training plan, progression over time and good technical execution), you will have better results than training every day and not having a clear focus on what is important.
If you chose to train 2 times a week, you can do back squat in both sessions and vary the volume (set and rep scheme) and intensity, so that you are not doing the same thing twice. Another option, if you train 2 times a week is to do Back Squats in one session and Front Squats in the next session or you add the variation that targets your sticking point, as we discussed in the second session, and vary the volume and intensity throughout the week.
If you chose to train 3 times a week, you can do Back Squats in session 1 and 3 and add a variation of the squat (Front Squat, a single-legged variation or the variation that targets your sticking point) in the second session. Also here vary the volume and intensity throughout the week. A very good and straightforward way to cycle squatting throughout the week can be found in this short Q & A with Mart Seim, where he simply explains he squats 3 times a week.
Monday: Front Squats
Wednesday: Back Squat
Friday: some higher rep sets
A final word to training frequency, consistency is key! It is better to choose 2 training sessions a week and stick to it for at least 48 weeks in a year, than chose a higher training frequency and not being able to stick to it on a regular and consistent basis. My advice is better be on the careful side and select a lesser training frequency, than you think you can manage and stick to it, than selecting a higher training frequency and then have to drop a session here and there.
The How To Get A Stronger Back Squat Conclusion
If you want to become stronger in the Back Squat, then you need to
– Back Squat, remember the SAID principle, that states, we get better at what we are doing.
– Detect the weakest point / sticking point in the Back Squat and find the applicable exercises targeted to improve and become stronger at the sticking point
– Select the appropriate training intensity and repetition scheme, based on your training goal.
– Be consistent in your training and training frequency, choose the right training frequency that works for you and you will be able to comply.