Why is the squat the super food to the leg world like kale is to the greens arena; although kale won’t grow your legs quite as much?
The Squat is renowned for being the king of leg exercises and still is championed by numerous athletes and gym goers around the world today, but why? The squat has its variations but the compound movement will hit a large amount of muscles including your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and incorporates a huge amount of core stability. If used as part of your workout routine with the correct form the benefits are endless - here are the main ones for me:
-Squats will assist in building muscle in your entire body; it's proven that your body triggers an increase in growth hormone and testosterone when doing this big compound movement, which are vital for muscle growth - this will help in the muscle building of other muscle groups other than legs.
-Squats are functional and will make day-to-day activities easier in the long term. With greater power and strength in your core and legs day-to-day activities such as climbing the stairs or bringing in your monstrous food shop will become a breeze.
-You can burn more fat tissue. If you develop your squat and put on some muscle tissue your body will then in turn burn more calories per day just standing still. For every 1lb of muscle gained you can expect a return of 50-70 calories burned per day for doing nothing. I’m not Carol Vorderman but if you add 10lbs of muscle you can expect to burn an extra 500-700 calories.
-Squats are good for improving mobility, balance and proprioception.
-Squats get a bad rep for being bad for the knees, however if performed correctly they can increase strength and stability in the joints and build the muscle structures around them for support.
THE RUSSIAN SQUAT PROGRAMME vs. IT’S ANGRY BROTHERS
The Russian Squat Programme
The Russian squat routine is a 6-week long programme that gets the individual to complete 9 sessions of progressive overload incorporating more volume with their 80% 1RM; (one rep max) subsequently towards the end of the programme you are entering new realms of volume with either the same weight lifted and or relatively increasing your 1RM. This routine is a tried and tested 6 week programme that has put kilos on squats for thousands of lifters around the world and it boasts that If you complete all of the sessions you can expect way in excess of 5% on your 1RM.
Westside Barbell Conjugate Method
This method came from the famous Westside Barbell Gym developed by Louie Simmons and boasts to be the best for maximal strength gains. The programme encourages the user to squat twice per week at least 72 hours apart; one day is dedicated to maximal effort with working sets to a 1-3 rep max. The second day is dynamic effort squatting and deadlifting whereby the user will perform 10-12sets of 2 reps at 40-60% of your 1 rep max. The emphasis here is working on your explosive power throughout the lift with correct form; after squatting you will carry out dynamic deadlifting performing 6-10 sets of 1-3 repetitions using 60-85% 1 rep max. The goal of these sessions is to improve every week and then re-assess every 3 weeks so that your progression reflects your percentages of your 1 rep max, thus progressively overloading.
20-Rep Squat Routine
One of the oldest lifting programmes around, this routine gets the user to squat three times per week for six weeks with one set of 20 squats per workout.The theory is that you add 5lbs to the bar every time you do a set. To workout what weight to start on with this programme simply take your 5 rep max and subtract 5lbs from every workout you will be doing in the six week period; the idea is by the end of the programme you will squat your 5 rep max twenty times.
The programme as developed by the former University of Arizona Football player Jim Wendler; 5/3/1 is a four-week program in which you perform one session of squats (front and back) and assistance work per week; you also do three other sessions throughout the week that are dedicated to three other core lifts. 5/3/1 is performed in phases. This is how it works- Week 1 (wave 1), you will perform 3 sets of 5 repetitions at 75% of your 1RM squat, then 80%, then 85%. In week 2, you perform 3 sets of 3 repetitions at 80%, 85% and 90%. Week 3 will be 3 sets of 5 repetitions at 75%, 85% and 95%. The fourth week will be a de load phase of 3 sets at 60%, 65% and 70% of your 1RM. When you are done with this four-week cycle you can start a new one by just adding 10lbs to your 1RM squat and then re-evaluating the numbers.
You realise that when a squat system is planned and named after a 'Russian Master of Sports' that it will be truly intense. Created by Sergey Smolov, this specific project makes the striking claim that a competitor can build their squat "by up to 100 lbs". The vast majority won't have the capacity to add 100lbs to their squat in the proposed time span (13 weeks), however this system isn’t for the faint hearted. The general system is 13 weeks, split into five cycles. Contained inside are more squats (can be utilized for front or back squats) at heavier burdens than some other plans, and it is intended for a transition from intermediate to advanced lifters—individuals who have been lifting for over a year. The main cycle starts with two weeks of prep before heading into a four-week cycle, which encourages you to squat with heavy loads four times each week. Taking after that comes a two-week "switching phase" before you go again into an additional four-week cycle of heavy lifts, where you just squat three times each week, however will utilize 81-90% of your 1RM. This specific cycle is so devastating that some individuals use it as their sole training regime!
So which Squat programme is for you?
However you incorporate squats into your exercise routine it’s going to be beneficial. For beginners though I would emphasise the importance of perfect technique and building your lifts up from scratch. Your muscles adapt far quicker than your ligaments and tendons so take things slow and progress safely. I highly recommend seeking an exercise professional to show you the correct technique and check on your progress as you start to increase the weights. All of programmes discussed have their advantages however some are more user friendly than others in my opinion, depending on what your goal is. I would imagine that most people would like to improve other areas of their physique and functionality rather than just squats so to incorporate more movements I am favourable to the “Westside Barbell Conjugate Method” as its fairly low frequency compared to the other programmes and incorporates a dynamic day along with a heavier load day which to me will keep me more interested with the variation and seeing my progression over the weeks as I overload with new poundage’s. However progressive overload is the running theme understandably throughout the programmes so as long as you are doing this in any programme you will improve your lifting and muscle building capability. For me the Smolov programme is the most advanced with the user performing lifts regularly at 81-90% 1 rep max, which is very intense and taxing on the body for a beginner for example. This one may be worth a try after a good grounding for at least a year in squatting and progressive overload. The 5-3-1 in my opinion is a good mid-advanced level programme for someone keen to improve their lifts with a set goal when you enter the gym; you workout what weights your going to lift % wise relative to your 1 rep max and you have that set amount of sets and reps to achieve. The only down side I see to this is it’s very sum specific so if for example you do not reach the set reps for your 1RM calculation due to a long day at the office you may feel this is a failure and you’ll have to recalculate again to re-assess. Finally the 20-rep routine! I like this one a lot because it’s old school! You know where you stand with it, 20 reps - 3 times per week adding 5lbs every time. Knuckle down and get it done focussing on progressing your lifts! Due to the amount of reps it can be suitable for most people from beginner – intermediate level using correct technique. With the time needed to complete the workouts too you also have the time to incorporate other exercises for other body parts, which some people may find beneficial. In summary, squatting movements will benefit your training programme when done correctly, just be careful out there & don't go to heavy too soon. The iron game is a marathon not a sprint!