Two practical tips to make you the master of the King of Lifts!

Strength Sensei CP


The amount of information we are exposed to about the squat exercise is overwhelming, and it can be difficult for the average trainee to determine which is the best workout system for him or her. So, just as Disney World offers “fast passes” to avoid waiting in long lines for their rides, I’d like to share the two tips to get you on the fast track to a big squat.

Tip 1. Avoid Max Singles!

This advice may seem odd, but the best way to train for a heavy single is to rarely perform heavy singles. I attribute this advice to Frank Mantek, a German weightlifting coach who won a bronze medal in the 1980 Olympics and knows how to make the strongest athletes even stronger.

Mantek’s success stories include Ronny Weller, the 1992 Olympic gold medalist in the heavyweight class who broke six world records; Marc Huster, the 1994 World Champion in the 82.5-kilo class who broke two world records; and Matthias Steiner, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist in the super heavyweight division. I should point out that Huster won silver medals in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics but had the bad luck to compete against the phenomenal Pyrros Dimas, a 3x Olympic gold medal winner who broke 11 world records.

In 2010, I attended a seminar Mantek held in Colorado Springs. He said he avoided having his athletes perform max singles in the back squat because the risk of injury was too high (although he was fine with max front squats, as it’s easy to dump the weight in front if you get into trouble). Rather than singles, Mantek said it would be better to focus on performing maximum doubles in the squat and converting those weights into a max single mathematically. For example, Maxim Agapitov won the 1997 World Weightlifting Champion in the 91-kilo class. Agapitov told me he avoided max singles but at 94 kilos bodyweight, had back squatted 300 kilos for a double!

Here are two workout systems that use low reps (but no max singles) to help you squat strong. Consider that these are the working sets — you need to warm up with a few lighter sets before hitting the big weights.

Always warm up before squatting heavy. Even the strongest squatters often start with the empty bar. (This photo by Viviana Podhaiski, lead photo by Linda Brothers;

Patient System #1. Choose a weight that is extremely challenging (but possible) to squat for 8 sets of 2 reps. Try to get 8 sets of 3 reps in every workout. Once you can do 8 sets of 3 for every set, increase the weight.

Max Double, Max Sets of 3 Method. Go for a max double, take off about 7 percent of the load, and perform as many sets of 3 reps as possible with that new load within a 50-minute time frame. The time frame starts as soon as you complete the heavy double.

Tip 2. Squat Infrequently

Again, a seemingly odd piece of advice. I say this because elite weightlifters will often squat as much as 15 times per week. The result of such high-volume training is that these athletes can often full squat between 350 to 380 percent of their bodyweight; Agapitov’s 1-rep squat estimate translates into 351 percent of his bodyweight.The following chart illustrates this relationship between squatting ability and training volume:

Number of monthly squat workouts in relation to relative strength scores in back squats (Poliquin©, 1997)


6               28         36            60

But this discussion is for elite weightlifters. A double bodyweight squat — all the way down! — is plenty to compete at the highest levels in most power sports. You can achieve that standard by squatting hard once every five days. What’s a hard squat workout?

The best squats for athletes are full squats. (Photo by Ryan Palva,

Here are two more of my favorite strength-building squat workouts. To be clear, sets always come before reps, so 2 x 3 means 2 sets of 3 reps, not 3 sets of 2 reps.

Wave-Like Pattern #1. With this protocol, you use more weight during each successive “wave” as the nervous system adapts to the workout. For example, a lifter might squat 150 kilos for 3 reps on the first wave, 160 kilos for 3 on the second, and 170 kilos for 3 on the third.

1 x 7, 1 x 5, 1 x 3, 1 x 7 , 1 x 5, 1 x 3, 1 x 7 , 1 x 5, 1 x 3

Wave-Like Pattern #2

This is variation of the previous workout, but it’s designed for a more advanced athlete striving for maximal strength, especially relative strength (i.e., strength per unit of bodyweight).

1 x 5, 1 x 3, 1 x 2, 1 x 5, 1 x 3, 1 x 2, 1 x 5, 1 x 3, 1 x 2

The squat is unquestionably the King of strength-building exercises. To hoist the heaviest weights, you need to study how the best squatters got that way!

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