This past Sunday marked the first day of CFDC’s 16-week squat cycle. This cycle will see a lot of people jump in strength and power, but also in control, as well as understanding about how the squat carries over into all other aspects of sport and fitness.
So, why focus on the squat? Honestly, I could go through all the rigamarole about explosive strength, hip extension, transfer to other exercises, etc., etc., but I think Coach Mark Rippetoe said it best when he said:
There is simply no other exercise (and certainly no machine) that produces the level of central nervous system activity, improved balance and coordination, skeletal loading and bone density enhancement, muscular stimulation and growth, connective tissue stress and strength, psychological demand and toughness, and overall systemic conditioning than the correctly performed full squat.
Indeed. As to why we’re following a 3-On, 3-Off template, this will allow for better technical proficiency in the squat while also allowing the CNS (central nervous system) to fully adapt to the loading. Of course, it will also help avoid the boredom of monotony. Each week’s squat work will be coupled with an accessory targeting another muscle in the posterior chain, usually the hamstrings or glutes. The “Off” weeks of the wave will be dedicated to complimentary exercises, such as Deadlifts, with accessory work which targets the quads. All told, this workout cycle will take us into the month of July, and will be coupled with Tuesday’s focus on upper body strength and Thursday’s focus on explosive movements. Anyone looking for additional structure is roundly encouraged to speak with Tom or Chris about filling in the gaps (*be sure to come armed with specific goals!)
The most basic need for this program is some idea of your 1RM (click the link below to see the spreadsheet of max effort squat weights). Most of you were asked for your last back squat max, and although it didn’t have to be a 1RM, ideally it should have been a max effort and it should have been somewhat recent. Using a 1RM calculator (similar to this one from ExRx.net), everyone was assigned a max back squat weight, from which various percentage weights were calculated. We are also able to come up with a theoretical weight from max box squats, and most box squats (if done to parallel) are roughly 10% less than a max raw squat weight (in the same rep range of course). All of the workouts during this squat cycle will be based on percentages of your 1RM (theoretical or actual). Without that number, preparing and executing the workouts will be a little more difficult (not impossible, but definitely difficult – it’s also likely that you won’t recognize the gains that someone using the calculated percentages will).
NOTE: Calculated weights are rarely ever nice round numbers. Sometimes we will need to round a percentage-calculated weight up or down to the next integer of 5. Let me re-emphasize the last part of that statement: we are rounding, and sometimes we will round up, but ONLY to the next integer of 5! Rounding up 7, 12, or 14 pounds to assuage your ego or seem stronger than you really are will only hurt your growth (or worse, hurt you) in the end. Yes, that may mean you have to change plates every time you step up to the bar. So be it. This is about getting YOU stronger; either stow the insecurities or learn to be selfish, and change the weights so that you are as close as possible to your calculated percentage.
Weight will be relatively light at the beginning, as things start out nice and easy. However, this is the most important time to really focus. Use this time to really dial in the form and technique for the squat, working to be explosive while maintaining maximum body tension through-out the lift. This is also the time to really concentrate on getting proper depth; if you’re unable to achieve proper depth with relatively light weight, it sure as hell won’t happen with heavy weight. Proper depth ensures that you achieve maximum benefit from the movement by developing balance across your musculature all while keeping your joints safe (no more of the ridiculous notion that squatting to-and-beyond parallel isn’t good for you). It also serves as a quantifiable point of reference – either you can or can’t squat to parallel with the weight on your back.
With some 16 weeks in the cycle, 10 of which will directly include measured back squats, we’ll be sure to do lots of review on technique. However, for now, here’s a great checklist put together by Dave Tate of Westside/Elitefts fame for what you should look like in the bottom of the squat:
1. Your knees should be pushed out.
2. Your back should be arched.
3. Your chest should be up.
4. Your head should be back into the bar (not looking up, but pressed back into the bar).
5. Your upper back should be pulled together.
6. Your elbows should be under or slightly behind the bar.
7. You should be pushing out on the sides of your shoes.
8. Your torso (belly and chest) should be full of air and abs tight.
9. You should have a tight grip on the bar.
10. Your knees should be in line with your ankles (or slightly in front)
(slightly-paraphrased from Dave’s article entitled “Are You Normal Down There?“)
The programming for first day of the first wave of the squat cycle was for 4 sets of 6 reps performed at 65% of your 1RM. See the video above for what squats done at 65% should look like. There will be plenty of time for heavy squats, but now is not the time. Instead, use the first wave to go through the above check list and make sure you’re compliant on each and every one of those points in the bottom of your squat.
A great dynamic movement for targeting the hamstrings, the walking DB Good Morning also delivers core strength, isometric work in the lats and rear delts, and a ton of grip work. The key to the movement is short steps, and only going as far as flexibility allows while maintaining a tight arched spine. Think of the same points as an RDL or GM, but with only one leg at a time. I really like this quote from Tom about the lingering effects of walking good mornings: “Adds up! this also falls under the ‘it feels like a nice stretch’ as you do it category. Those illusions are likely now shattered (if not, tomorrow AM).”
The Baboon Burpee is a CFDC original, dredged of from the depth of Tom’s mind back in 2008 (here’s the blog-post to prove it too!). Essentially, each Baboon Burpee is 3 burpees in 1. Begin with the first half of a burpee (from the push-up position jumping into the bottom of the squat), follow with one complete burpee (from the squat back into the push-up and then right into a jump-squat) and then another complete burpee followed immediately by the second half of a burpee (a floor-touch-into-a-jump-squat, basically the remainder from the first half-burpee you performed). For Sunday’s version, partner’s switched back and forth, completing two reps at time each, for 7 minutes, for as many as total reps as possible.
Nice work. Please be sure to leave any questions/concerns/thoughts in the comments section. If you’d like an electronic .pdf version of the squat numbers spreadsheet, feel free to ask and we’ll send one to you (including the notes section from Sunday’s intro).