High Frequency Training for Strength and Power, Part 3: Building the Squat

High Frequency Training for Strength and Power, Part Three
Building the Squat

     A few months ago, I began to write a series of articles on high-frequency training specifically aimed at building strength and power.  It really began even before that, with a post I did on Anthony Ditillo-inspired training, and then before that a post written by Ditillo himself (from an old issue of the once great Iron Man magazine from the ‘70s).  Before you continue reading this article, it would probably behoove you to read the first two posts on HFT for strength and power, and the posts on Ditillo training.
     And, now, on with this post:
     Squat training lends itself specifically well to high-frequency training.  Or, as the Russians would say (or, perhaps, this is just a quote from someone who was fond of Russian-style training): “If you want to squat more, you have to squat more!”  Unlike some of the other lifts—bench presses somewhat, deadlifts decidedly more pointedly—you can get great results on your squats through HFT by simply squatting a lot.  However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should simply squat really frequently with heavy weights Bulgarian (or Ditillo) style, but you certainly could.
     Here, for instance, are a couple of HFT programs that are great for those of you who simply want to (whether it’s because you enjoy it more or whether it’s because you decided some time ago—like some kind of wise prodigy of Sheiko and Smolov—that all you need to do build up your squat is squat a lot) use the squat as your sole squat-builder:
Monday: Squats: 8 sets of 5 reps (working up to a max weight of 5 on the last set)
Wednesday: Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps (using the same weight on all 5 sets)
Friday: Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps (working up to a fairly heavy set of 5 on the 5th set), followed by 3 sets of 2 reps (working up over the last 3 sets to a near maximal set of 2)
     And for those of you who would prefer a more Bulgarian-style program, you could always do this:
Monday-Wednesday-Friday: Squats: Work up over several progressively heavier ramps to a “max” set of 1 rep.  Follow this with either 5 sets of 5, 5 sets of 7, 5 sets of 3, or any damn-well crazy thing you can think of doing as a “finisher”!  (For more on this style of training, check out Nick Horton’s “Squat Nemesis” training here: http://weightliftingacademy.com/nemesis/)
     However, let me add something—and it’s a certain “something” that’s important for the rest of this article: I think you will get the best results by incorporating things other than just the good ol’ back squat into your program.
     Now, one more thing needs to be said at this point: The workouts above (and you should already realize this if you’ve read the other posts in this series) are not comprised of just squatting.  If you chose the first option above, for instance, then you would also be doing some type of pulling and/or pushing movement on each day in addition to the squats.  This might include plenty of power cleans, power snatches, and deadlifts, for example.  Another thing to keep in mind is that when training with HFT for strength and power, you will also be training for several consecutive days in a row, which means that the muscles that you squat with will get worked two, three, maybe four days straight in some instances.
     But—and this an important “but”—while deads, power cleans, snatches, et al work the same muscles as the squats (for the most part, or many of the same muscles, at least), it doesn’t mean that they are the best “assistance” exercises for the squat.
     The numbers on your squat are best elevated by (a) squatting a lot and (b) choosing the correct assistance exercises.
     Front squats are an excellent exercise to choose as an “assistance” movement.  They are especially good for lifters who need to bring up the muscles of the their quadriceps.  They are also an excellent choice for powerlifters who train “raw.”  Work front squats in on days when you don’t feel as if you are “recovered” as you should be.  No matter how heavy you train on front squats, you won’t be able to approach the workload you can do on the other squat varieties.  For this reason, the front squat is particularly good as an exercise to use the day after you’ve performed heavy back squats.
     If you’re an equipped lifter—or a competitive lifter who uses gear when you compete—then box squats are a choice a priori that you should consider.  Box squats work well in mimicking the squatting movement you achieve with gear.  They are also a good choice for building reversal strength, as long as you pause long enough to relax the muscle of your hips and hamstrings (but keep your back tight) when sitting on the box before beginning the concentric portion of the movement. 
     One of my favorite exercises for bringing up my numbers in the squat is the bottom-position squat.  About 13 years ago, I was training for a meet and discovered just what a tremendous squat builder this exercise can be when worked hard.  I had been reading the book “Dinosaur Training” at the time—Brooks Kubrik is an almost raving fan of bottom-position squats for those of you who are unaware—and I thought, “what the hell, I’ll give bottom-positions a try.”  I had used the exercise some already, but no so exclusively as this.  For the meet, I lost more weight than usual so that I could compete in the 165-pound class.  And, literally, the only thing I did for my squats was heavy bottom-position squats performed twice per week.  At the meet—weighing only 162—I squatted 510 pounds wearing nothing but a lifting belt.
     Bottom-position squats have several benefits.  For one, they don’t take much of a toll on your nervous system due to the fact that you don’t have to spend time walking the weight out of the rack and getting set up properly.  Two—and this is the most important—they build a lot of power coming out of the hole, as might be expected.
     The final exercise that I’m going to recommend here are Olympic-style pause squats.  My original hero/idol in strength coaching, Bill Starr, always said that Olympic-style squats were the best form of squatting that you could do.  Here’s Starr in his own words:
     “High-bar, or Olympic, squats, are in my opinion, the best of the lot because they work the muscles of the hips, legs and back much more directly – and therefore more completely – than any other version. If you want to do full cleans or compete in Olympic weightlifting, it’s imperative that you do this exercise.

     High-bar squats are so named for the simple reason that you place the bar high on your traps, which helps to keep you from leaning forward and so forces the powerful muscles in your hips and legs to provide the power. You move up and down like a piston, and the strict upright stance carries over to racking cleans and recovering from the deep position.”

     But Olympic-style pause squats aren’t just for Olympic lifters.  I also think they are—or should be—a preferred choice for anyone wishing to aesthetically improve his leg mass.
     Another thing to consider—when specializing in leg training on a HFT program—is that you can (at least occasionally, as in once, maybe twice per week), incorporate two squatting exercises into your program.  Here is what a week of training may look like in this methodology of training:
  1. Squats: 5 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps
  2. Deadlits: 3 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps, 2 progressively heavier triples
  3. Overhead Presses: 5 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps
  1. Front Squats: 5 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps
  2. Power Cleans: 5 sets of 2 reps
  3. Chins: 5 sets of 5 reps
  1. Power Snatches: 5 progressively heavier doubles
  2. One-Arm Overhead Presses: 5 progressively heavier triples
  3. Bench Presses: 5 progressively heavier triples
Thursday: Off
  1. Bottom-Position Squats: 3 progressively heavier sets of 5 reps, 2 progressively heavier triples
  2. Olympic-Style Pause Squats: 4 sets of 5 reps
  3. Deadlift Shrugs: 5 sets of 3 reps
  1. Sled Drags: 8 sets of heavy weight for relatively short distance
  2. Farmer’s Walks: 5 sets of distance
  3. Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Sunday: Off

     I hope this article has shed some light, once again, on how effective high frequency training really can be for strength and power.  In the next installment, I’ll include my thoughts on building massive pressing power using this system.
     Until then, train heavy, train often, and get strong!


  1. I personally don't know how people can do the power lifts (and variations) so frequently each week. Every time I try incorporating multiple heavy sessions a week my strength plateaus rather quickly. I really want to believe in high frequency training but when trying to consistency progress it just doesn't seem to work for me. On the other hand I make great progress when doing bodyweight movements many times a week.

  2. Steve,

    I do think SOME people get good results from less frequent work on the main powerlifts, especially if they are doing other stuff (such as bodyweight training) to compensate for it.

    However, it's been my experience that most lifters WILL get the best results from frequent training on the heavy power movements. Of course, you do need to have the work capacity to do such training, which will come over time.

    My advice would be to perform something such as a H-L-M program for your power lifts, and then incorporate plenty of bodyweight training on other days each week (since that seems to be working). The combination should allow your work capacity to build up to the point where you can transition over into the kind of workouts here.

    1. Well I mean I've always had a good work capacity so I don't think that's the problem (played competitive sports for the longest time and was always the most conditioned on my team). I made good progress doing full body every three days when starting to barbell lift but now it just seems like when I do heavy movements too much I get beat up quickly. I think high frequency vs. low frequency is just one of those personal things lifters have to figure out for themselves (just like low vs. high volume).

      I really enjoy your blog and think you distribute great info but high frequency barbell training for me seems to backfire.

      Thank you for the response I really appreciate your feedback! Keep writing!


    2. Steve,

      A couple of things:

      First, if lower frequency training works well for you, then by all means, stick with it. Lifters shouldn't feel as if they need to switch over to HFT just because trainers/writers such as myself recommend it. There have certainly been some GREAT lifters who got very big and/or very strong on lower frequency work.

      However, if you want to give HFT a "go", then make sure you ease into it (first) by just performing a 3-days-per-week full-body program (such as one of my HLM programs) for a month or two, and then start to ramp up the frequency to 4, then 5 days per week of training. At that point, make sure that you spend enough time on the program - at least 6 weeks - to ascertain whether HFT is really not effective for you.

      Also - and I'll be honest here - it helps to have a trainer that has a working knowledge of this sort of training, and is able to customize it as needed to the lifter he/she works with. I hope my blog provides valuable knowledge, but I doubt any of the guys I have worked with in the past ever read my blog; they simply didn't need to.

      And let me add one more thing: My current workout partner - he trains with me about 50% of my sessions - does not like HFT. He will skip every other session just to give his body a break, even though I often try to convince him that he would be better off by NOT skipping the other workouts.


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