March 30, 2012
April 4, 2012
(Updated with the Max Effort Squat Spreadsheet)

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.

Why we are doing what we’re doing

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!)

How to do what we’re doing

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, 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. 

 If all 6 of your squats, even in set 4, didn’t look this crisp and explosive, 
it’s a good bet you had too much weight on the bar. 

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?)

Squat Cycle 1, Week 1: 
Back Squat 4 x 6 @ 65%

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. 

Walking Good Mornings

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).”

7min Partner AMRAP of 

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).



  1. Arbi says:

    I wasn’t able to make it Sunday, but excellent use of the word rigmarole.

  2. SBV says:

    Great start to the cycle. I performed the working sets at 185#. My legs felt strong, but I was surprised by how difficult a set of six is to perform. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything more than a set of five. Six reps is a long time to remain focused and tight under the bar. I can only imagine what the higher percentages are going to feel like. Then again, nobody said it was going to be easy to add 10% to your back squat.

    Chris invited us to share questions/concerns/thoughts in the comments section. My concern for this week is mobility. I feel like I was able to “get away with” my mobility at 185#. However, as the percentages increase, I’m certain that positional flaws will be magnified. I felt some tightness in the hips flexors, groin, and thoracic spine at the bottom of the squat. I’ll dedicate some time this week to opening up those areas. Bring on 75%!

  3. TomandAmi says:

    I agree with SBV on the 6 reps – what a difference a rep makes. I am looking forward to this an dI really enjoyed the primary functional movement paired with an assistance exercise then a short metcon format. It is a lot but I bet we could do it in an hour if we needed to on Tues and Thurs. I am shooting for being at least as strong in the squat as the CF Girls – such Akinwale (325) or Modecki (310) (at least until Ami, Sara, Erica, Julia Dian, et al. kick my ass)- who weigh a less than I do. I will be good with that and in the upper tier of most Masters.

  4. Katie says:

    My hamstrings, glutes, upper back, and quads are sore today, so I think this was a successful workout. However, I probably went a little too heavy, even though I went 7# below what I thought was 65% of 1 RM. I need to swallow my pride and remember that 6 months ago I couldn’t even do a full AIR squat, so any weight is a major improvement. I’ll adjust my numbers and probably do the same weight (45#) next week for 75%.

    The plus side, however, is that I should be able to add 10% over 16 weeks without much trouble! :o)

  5. Steph says:

    Stayed after class and did my squats. It felt really good to be able to do something after 4 weeks. My 65% is 98lbs and I rounded up to 100. The squats felt good and I’m not as sore as I thought I’d be. Maybe tomorrow will be a different story.

    Glad to see everyone who showed up to the party yesterday afternoon. I had a blast and am still thinking about those cookies Katie made. More please, Katie!! 😀

    Hoping to be able to make it to class tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

  6. Erica says:

    Having a hard time deciphering if squat weight was appropriate for me considering I had come from the race. I felt like I had some spring, but they weren’t easy like Sunday mornings (although Sunday mornings at CFDC are rarely easy…) Am open to thoughts about this.

    Bring it Tom A! And Steph, I’m so excited you’re back lifting!! Sending happy vibes.

    Great party also. I’ll post the rhymes later. 🙂

  7. Ben says:

    Worked at 165 lbs yesterday on the squats. I thought at the time it was a little light, but decided to stick with it. Today, my legs are telling me that the weight was correct.

    I’m excited about the squat cycle, even though squats are nowhere near my favorite. Working on Oly lifts more these days has taught me the value of squats the hard way. So, here’s to work in the rack paying off on the platform!

    See you all tomorrow!

  8. Sara says:

    Along with Steph, Chris & Tom I did my squats after class. I worked at 118 lbs (using my 33 lb bar so I rounded up 3 lbs). The squats felt good. I have been using a high bar back squat since I have been focusing on oly lifts a little more. I think I am still getting use to the high bars as I have been squatting low bar far longer than I have been doing crossfit.

    I used 30lb DBs for the walking good mornings. I didn’t feel them too much while doing them. I am a little tight in the hammies today but not really too bad.

    I teamed up with Chris to do the metcon. For the first 5 minutes chris didn’t slow down on how fast he completed his reps. I think it took him max 10s to finish 2 reps each round. It was crazy. He was so fluid on them too and made me work really hard to keep up.

    looking forward to seeing everyone tomorrow.

  9. SaltyHat says:

    Hey guys and gals, I’ve updated the post with a new version of the max effort squat spreadsheet which was handed out in class. I’ve also added the spreadsheet as a permanent link under the “Links” menu on the left-hand side of the blog.

    just FYI – Some of the numbers have been altered based on observations made by the coaches on Sunday. Please don’t take it personally. This is all in order to get everyone stronger while also helping to dial in the form. Trust me, it will pay off.

    Thanks to SBV for helping me count on my squat reps. Unlike he and Tom, 6 reps felt so good, I kept going for 7. And thanks to Sara for being my partner for the burpees – she paints a much rosier picture than anyone should believe (she says “fluid,” you all should think “puddle of sweat”).

  10. Andraea says:

    I was excited to start the cycle! Since Sunday morning workouts aren’t my thing I do them on Mondays, so today Mackenzie and I did our squats and the rest of the workout. 90lbs were feeling good although the last set I didn’t get as much explosion as I probably should’ve gotten.

    I LOVE doing good mornings so I was happy to see those in the workout! I used 25lb dumbbells for them. I’m sure I’ll feel those tomorrow as I usually do.

    See you all tomorrow!

  11. Katie says:

    Sara and Steph (and Chris), thank you so much for sacrificing your workout time to help the rest of us! Your coaching really helped me out on Sunday, as it always does. We’re so lucky to have FOUR coaches helping out!

  12. SBV says:

    Dude! I love the fact that Andraea and Mackenzie are doing the squat cycle on Monday nights together. I think that’s so awesome. Two girls making time to work heavy back squats on their own. Friggin’ awesome!

  13. Andraea says:

    Hahaha! Thanks SBV for that statement of support! CFDC women are going to bring it this squat cycle!

  14. edgy reggie says:

    I used 205# for my first cycle, and it felt pretty good…considering that I squatted the previous day (but with much lighter weight, fewer sets, and fewer reps).

    I have the echo the comments others have made about the sixteen-week squat cycle. I am really looking forward to it.

    I did yoga on Sunday evening; therefore, I don’t feel any latent soreness.

  15. Steph says:

    Aww, thanks Katie! Helping Chris, Tom and Sara coach is very rewarding, especially with members like you who work hard to make every rep legit and focuses on form before numbers.

  16. Steph says:

    I like how I can see if the squat cycle document is also opened by others when I’m looking at it. Who else’s looking at it? SBV?

  17. SBV says:

    Yeah, you caught me. I’m trying to figure out how on earth I’m supposed to jump from 185# for sets of six to 214# for sets of six in one week. I better start eating like crazy!

  18. Kenna says:

    The best thing about my 1 rep max number (100) is that I don’t have to do ANY math at all! Soooo. I did 65# for 65%. It felt solid but good. I was focusing on form and depth and may have need to focus more on explosiveness a bit. I’ll have to determine next class if I have the right target weight.

  19. Steph says:

    Haha, Kenna and I are chatting on the squat cycle sheet. Everyone should join!