Based on some of the forum posts that I see, and questions I have been asked, it seems that there are a ton of people who want advice on how to balance training for weightlifting or training specific to some other strength related sport, and getting their squat up.
In strength sports other than powerlifting, the squat is not a competitive event. But even in the role of an assistance exercise squats are so effective at building strength that they are very important, maybe even absolutely necessary to success. So, most of us MUST include them in our training. Yet the squat is a very taxing exercise, and including it can interfere with sports specific training. And sports specific training can definitely interfere with your success in building the squat and raising your basic strength levels.
So, how to balance the two? I am sure there are as many ways as there are successful coaches and athletes. There are certainly many ways to skin a cat. Daily maximums in the front squat with very low volume work for some. Squatting 4-5 days a week with sub-maximal weight that is slowly titrated up works for some. I will outline one method that I use in the sport of weightlifting that I have had success with. This method is mostly geared mostly toward those that are past the quick initial gains that come in the first 6 to 12 months of training, but are not yet at the point in training where PR’s come very, very slowly if at all, for instance someone who has trained 8 to 10 years in a sport and for all practical purposes is at the height of their athletic potential.
Training is done 5 to 9 times per week. For someone doing 5 workouts, we train Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, one time per day. To get to 9 sessions we add Monday morning, Wednesday morning, Thursday and Friday morning sessions. Ideally, this should happen gradually, 1 extra workout added at a time. But, no matter if the workout count is 5 or 9, the basic plan and principles remain the same.
Squatting happens 3 times per week. And it is structured to interfere as little as possible with training on the competition exercises, and to let the competition exercises interfere as little as possible with increasing the squat.
On Monday, we have 1 or 2 training sessions on snatch and clean and jerk or related exercises. They are hard training sessions, and the athletes are tired after they are done. And they squat AFTER these two sessions. They are too tired to produce maximal effort, and they are not asked to. They do, usually, 3-5 working sets of 3-5 reps on the back squat. Three sets of 5 reps is common, at a sub-maximal weight. If your best set of 5 is 240kg, 210 to 220kg for multiple sets of 5 would not be unusual. The one or two training sessions consisting of the snatch and clean and jerk related exercises definitely lower the weight used in the squat. But it is still produces a powerful training effect.
On Tuesday the training is easier, and we don’t squat. It consists of exercises which reinforce good technique in the competitive lifts, but also exercises where less weight can be used than on the competitive lifts. We still go to a daily maximum, but the exercises themselves are easier. Think power snatch, or snatch with no hook grip and no foot movement. And power cleans. Push press or push jerk, or presses and jerks from the split position. In general, an easier day than Monday.
Wednesday is another hard day. One or two sessions depending on the lifter. Hard training on the snatch and clean and jerk, or related exercises where roughly the same weight can be used as the competition lifts. Think clean and jerk, or cleans from a block. Snatches, or snatches from the hang or off a block. And again squatting after, when the lifter is tired. This time, front squats. Usually about three working sets, reps from 1 to 3. Yes, the lifter is tired, but, these front squats are less strenuous than the back squats on Monday and easier to recover from.
Thursday. Either no training, or, a fairly easy session. Like Tuesday, exercises that help reinforce good technique, but let us recover from the beginning of the week so we are as fresh as possible on Friday.
Friday. A light session in the morning, or no session. For the athletes who do Friday morning training, we do the competition lifts, but at lower percentages. It is mostly a tuneup for Friday afternoon. On Friday afternoon we go to maximum on the competition lifts, snatch and clean and jerk. It is the day we are most recovered and able to do he biggest weights, given Thursdays lighter training
On Saturday, we begin our session with squats, and try to make new PR’s. We have fresher legs on Saturday than any other day because it has been two days since we squatted, and Fridays training, although it was high in intensity, was low in volume compared to earlier in the week. After squatting we do overhead strength work, and maybe pulls.
On Sundays we do no formal training, another reason why doing our most difficult squatting on Saturday works well. Doing our hardest squatting prior to a day off helps limit the interference that being sore or tired from heavy squats can have on training the competitive exercises.
One further thing we do in regards to programming for a month or several months is to “cycle” the squat intensity. We do not really plan this, we just let it happen. As an example, maybe a lifter has PR’d his best set of 5 on the back squat for 4 weeks in a row, and the weights on Monday and Wednesday have followed right along, going up each week. It is normal for a lifter to run out of recovery ability simply because they are consistently handling weights that they are not used to. The squatting WILL start to interfere with the training of the competitive lifts. And this is just fine, because you HAVE to get your squat up if you are a weightlifter.
But, when the string of PR’s end, we don’t bash our heads against the wall continuing to challenge maximal weights and new PR’s. We back the weights down a bit. Reset, so to speak. Backing the weights off 8-10 percent is a good rule of thumb. In some cases even more is appropriate. Then of course we start systematically raising the weights week by week again, hoping that in 3-4 weeks we will pass the old PR’s.
After a reset, when less than maximal weight is being used in the squat, is often when the best training in the competitive lifts happens, because the legs are more recovered.
Keep in mind that this is not the only program I use. But it does seem to be reliable and effective, the general principles can be followed while allowing quite a number of tweaks and modification, and I imagine the principles would also work well for strength sports other than weightlifting.
Do most of your high volume and difficult work on competitive lifts or events early in the week, with moderate intensity but higher volume squatting done at the end of the workout. Allow some rest on Thursday, do your highest intensity work on the competitive lifts or events on Friday but keep the volume down, then pound your PR’s in the squat when you are fresh on Saturday.
Hope this helps someone.