Katie Ball started out as an intern at the Frontline Fit Performance Centre. She has graduated with flying colours and is now delivering an array of services such as personal training, strength camp and assisted programme design. As a strength training enthusiast, she is always looking for new methods to trial to improve her knowledge and experience. Last week, Katie and a training partner took on the incredibly challenging “Squat One Day Cure”. Here’s what happened, over to you Katie…
‘Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect’ Vince Lombardi
The squat day is designed to give the trainee a high exposure to a movement pattern, in this case the back squat, and a high exposure to the weak point of that lift. This concept originates from the work of Charles Poliquin to develop lagging body parts. Wolfgang Unsoeld then adapted the programme for strength training. Wolfgang wanted to improve his long-distance client’s Squat technique efficiently and sustainably in terms of technique and mobility, a dedicated an entire day to coaching and improving the squat. Enter the Squat Day.
Below is a summary of how I found the squat day and my take on why specific protocols were used within the program. The full program breakdown can be found here.
Essentially Squatting all day. 50 sets of squats, broken down into approximately 20 min workouts over the course of the day allowing for 15 mins of recovery, mobility and re-fuelling in between. The day factors in squat variations (Narrow stance, wide stance, cyclist squat), exercise tempos and techniques for improving technique and strength such as X reps, pauses and 1 and ¼ reps which I will cover in more detail. Each workout has 4-6 working sets. Sounds fun right?
Exposure to that kind of volume to a movement pattern is only going to improve it (if performed correctly) and force the body to adapt neurally and physiologically grow stronger.
Why did I do it?
Honestly, I’m crap at squatting. I’ve avoided the back-squat years and favoured machine squats (because I could move more weight on them) prior to becoming a personal trainer myself. It’s a movement I’ve always been uncomfortable with because I’m not naturally good at it. My squat depth and technique has always been sub-optimal due to mobility issues and muscular imbalances I was unaware of at the time, but I won’t bore you with my problems. All I will say is It is not as simple as sticking a barbell on your back and moving up and down with the weight. It really does take perfect practice if you want to get better at it. If you want to read more about strength and skill Chris has written an article here.
Tempo, tempo, tempo…
That’s 4-digit code your trainer programmes for each exercise and is not one to be ignored. It has its purpose. During squat day a lot of intention was placed on the eccentric portion of the squat (descent of the exercise, load coming down) ranging from 3-7 seconds. This is to teach proper exercise execution, control and stability of a movement. Try doing an exercise slowly, you will soon discover where you are weak.
This brings me to the second reason for the slow tempos, weak points or sticking points. Having an increased Time Under Tension (TUT) forced me to spend more time in portions of the back squat I am weakest in. Quite an uncomfortable feeling. This allowed me to get more comfortable and stronger in these parts. Or at least get used to feeling uncomfortable.
Although TUT is more associated with body building spending a greater TUT by increasing lean muscle growth, increasing motor units and thus increase your overall strength.
An example of a tempo on the squat day is as follows –
4 sets of 5 repetitions @ 4210 tempo = 140 seconds
This tempo teaches me to squat with control, it exposes me to a 2 second pause in the bottom of the squat a weak point, and due to an increased TUT will increase hypertrophy. This brings me on to my next point. Pauses.
Throughout the squat day time spent in the bottom position of the squat ranged from 0-2 seconds. Placing a 1-2 second pause in the bottom position of the squat inhibits the use of the elastic energy our muscles and tissues generate when placed under stretch to assist us out of the bottom of the squat. This is the most common place for the squat to fail. If you’ve never tried pausing even if just for a moment at the bottom of a squat, it’s a very humbling exercise, give it a go. I can almost guarantee after a few reps of doing this you will reduce the load. It really does break the momentum of the lift and force you to use your strength and strength alone to get back out of the hole! This brings me to another challenging component of the day…
1 and a ¼ reps
If you think pauses are tough then you are going to enjoy 1 and ¼ squats, popularised by Charles Poliquin to address the bottom portion of the squat, again the place where you are likely to fail. You can programme 1 and ¼ reps either to promote strength and control in that position or to develop rebound capacities to improve speed to breakthrough said sticking or weak points. The programmed tempo meant that I had to maintain full muscular tension in the most difficult part of the lift, coming up just above parallel back to bottom and up! Furthermore, increasing TUT particularly in the bottom part of the lift increased the metabolic demand on the lower body, to increase hypertrophy and strength.
Back squat jumps
To develop maximal strength then a lot of time should be spent under considerable loads. However, squat jumps can be incorporated to a training phase to fire up the nervous system and develop power. By training the back squat explosively you’ll prepare yourself for subsequent heavier loads. The back squats were expertly timed in the program. I felt particularly shaky and jittery after the first 3 workouts of the program, spending considerable TUT with long eccentrics. After performing 4-6 sets of back squat jumps my Central Nervous System felt primed to again for the afternoon workouts, like I had taken a pre-workout! The focus of this exercise was to ensure full hip extension (how we finish the squat) and land soundly.
There’s nothing like squatting all day to
1) Highlight the weak point of your squat and,
2) Give you a great volume of exposure to said weak point
I found weakness in the pauses and the 1 and ¼ reps extremely challenging from a strength and stability perspective and found my core wanting to give in, and would often lose tension there.
I’m not alone with this, getting out of the bottom position of the squat is the least advantageous biomechanically for most. At the bottom of the squat your glutes, and adductors are in fully stretched positions meaning they can produce the most force. Once the sticking point is broken, these muscles are again returning to resting length so the amount of force production increases again to complete the lift.
I learnt a lot about my technique here. Much of my training experience comes from hypertrophy training, spending a lot of TUT and focussing muscular contractions as opposed to generating power. I am not well practiced in using elastic energy to my advantage in the bottom of the squat to power myself through the sticking point, both styles of training have a time and a place, and can be used interchangeably across disciplines.
Take home points
I probably don’t train the squat hard enough. I was able to maintain the same load for 50 sets of squats which is the equivalent load I would use in training for around 3-4 sets. Quite an eye opener.
Vince Lombardi is in fact correct. Perfect practice does make perfect (well almost, I’m still crap at squatting). What was great is that although my sticking point was there all day, by the end of the day the transition through this point was much ‘smoother’ and the squat for me felt more comfortable but still uncomfortable. Examining video footage post Squat Day, my bar path is also more efficient, and I’m slightly more upright in the squat.
You need a training buddy to keep you humble with your sets, reps, form and tempos and to keep you sane throughout the day. It is also useful, to compare emotions, DOMs and hunger levels for the days ahead. Word of warning you will be very hungry! Thank-you Stella!
Statistics from the day
Reps x 230
Sets x 50
Weight lifted 12,650kg