My Best Squat Cycles

A lot of people don’t know where to start in their own training.  I have been fortunate to have my workouts written as I go.  When I started working at Penn, I lifted a few times a week and would ask Coach Steel for workouts, follow whatever lift he would write and do any other cardio I felt like doing.

My favorite lift is the squat.  The movement itself is natural, and having a bar on my back just feels right.  In 2010 when I was really looking to up my squat, I asked Steel what I should do.  He put me on Smolov’s program because I planned to compete in a squat only meet.  I followed the 4-day a week squat workouts for almost a month..  Then I thought, If I’m going to compete, why not do a full meet?

It was the beginning of the fall semester and Steel had me switch to a Sheiko program.  I got through a couple weeks then Steel offered to write my workouts.  It was a great switch from Sheiko; the workouts didn’t take nearly as long but there was still a lot of volume and my numbers went up fast.


My goal was to squat 405 in a meet, so I trained to compete equipped—I wore a suit, but never a bench shirt.  My week would start with squats on Monday, then bench Wednesday and deadlift Friday.  After squats or deads I would push the prowler or run stadiums but I did minimal cardio while training for this meet.

Steel would write my workouts by picking weights, sets and reps for the day.  He told me what I had either the day before or the day of my workout.  I wore a belt for anything 225 and up, a suit and sleeves for all sets starting at 275, and knee wraps for work sets or whatever my last 2 sets were.  Here is what I did for 8 weeks:

Week 1 255×5, 285×4, 305 6×1, 255 3×5
Week 2 275 5×5 suit & knee sleeves, then 185 2×12-no suit
Week 3 275 5×6 suit & knee sleeves, then 200 2×10-no suit
Week 4 255×4, 285×2, 305×2, 315×2, 285×6, 285×10
Week 5 275 2×2, 315×2, 225×6, 305×6, 305×10
Week 6 275×3, 305×2, 335×2, 350×2, 315×8, 225×12
Week 7 315×5, 345×2, 365×2, 275×12
Week 8 315×2, 345×2, 365×1, 380×1, 295×10

The Tuesday before the meet I squatted (and benched and deadlifted) 60% 4×3.  Meet Results:

2010 USAPL American Open

















In February 2012 I wasn’t training for anything in particular.  Steel wrote my workouts from week to week and every now and then I would say I’m going to squat 425 or 450.  One day I said that and Steel said, “I bet you could squat 415 right now.”  So he wrote my workout for the day (week 7) to squat with wraps since I was only using knee sleeves.  The following week I hit 415×1.

Week 1 345×5 then 250 for reps
Week 2 315×2, 335×1, 355×4+1forced rep

Paused squats 275x10No rest striped to 225×10, no pause

Week 3 305×1, 330x12Front squats 185 2×12, 1:30 rest
Week 4 315×2, 275 9×3, 1 min rest

Then 275 3×5 with more rest

Week 5 315 4×5, 1×8
Week 6 315×2, 340×6+1forced rep

Paused squats 275×3, 255×5

Week 7 315×2, 355×1 (wraps) 385×4 (missed 5th rep)
Week 8 315×2, 365×1, 395×1 (wraps), 415×1, 350×6 (sleeves)

325 for Reps

In October 2011 I squatted 325×14.  In September 2012 I beat it by one.  The training cycles were both random and the rep records were not exactly planned.

When I talked about squatting 405 with just a belt and wraps for some reps, Coach Steel wrote workouts based on that, so my workouts didn’t have a ton of volume.  When I squatted 405×2, I attempted but missed the 3rd rep.  The following week, Steel said, “Let’s see how many you can do with 325.”

14 Reps

Week 1 Paused Squats 225 10×5, no belt or sleeves
Week 2 225×6, 275×6, 315×6, 365×1 (knee wraps), 405×1, 315×6, 315×8
Week 3 225×3, 275×3, 315×2, 350×1 (knee wraps), 375×1, 405×1, 275×10, 225×10-paused squats
Week 4 225×3, 275×2, 315×1, 340 3×5 (knee sleeves)
Week 5 225×5, 275×3, 315×3, 350×2, 380×1 (wraps), 405×2, 330×8, 225 w/ chains-no belt 2×10 then 185 1/ chains 1×20
Week 6 225×3, 275×2, 300×2, 325×14 (sleeves)

15 Reps

Week 1 135×5, 185×3, 225×15, 240×15, 255×15, 275×15
Week 2 315xAMAP (12 reps)
Week 3 330xAMAP (8 reps)
Week 4 325×15

Recently I was training to beat 415.  I had some great workouts, but was training through a back injury.  Steel wrote my workouts for 12 weeks with once a week squat and deadlift on the same day.  What I like about this is it gives you the whole week to recover.  One week I would squat heavy and deadlift would be constant.  The next week, squat would be constant and the deadlift was heavy.  Squat workouts had a lot of volume (5×5, 5×6…).  The volume on deads was a lot less—I was working up to a max single every other week.  The constant day on squats feels like nothing and is a good warm up for the heavy deadlift.  The last solid workout I had during this cycle, I squatted 350 for 5×5.  I plan to get back to lifting heavy.  There’s really nothing else that compares.

Training is a process and has always been a little more exciting if I something to work towards.  Since I started out with powerlifting, I had a good foundation of strength before I switched to bodybuilding.  The intensity of the bodybuiding style workouts and high reps gave me a different challenge.  I always like beating personal bests for rep records, especially on squats.

I have had to do very little thinking or planning of my own workouts.  It’s a huge advantage having Steel pick my weights from workout to workout.  If you want to follow a similar progression for any of these cycles, you could approximate the percentages of my workouts based on a 415 max.

Squats are the best.  If you squat heavy or lift one all out set, you’ve got your legs covered.  Lift and leave.


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