The Back Squat for Size and Brute Strength, Part 3

In Part 1 of this article we examined the reasons why we, at Dominate Athletic™, include the back squat in our arsenal of exercises to enhance our athletes’ performance. Then in Part 2 I outlined the basic technique of the back squat as well as some more intricate technical details regarding optimum back squat performance.

In this article we will look at ways of implementing the back squat into your overall athletic performance programme. I will show you a number of different training programmes that are back squat specific.

The Beginner Programme

This is where the beginner lifter or rookie, if you will, should start out. This programme provides enough volume for more technical training and yet also provides some intensity as you progress from Phase 1 to Phase 2.

Phase 1: Start with a general total-body warm up including some skipping or jogging for 3minutes, then do some hip mobility drills to open up those chronically tight hips. Then become a bit more specific and do 20 bodyweight squats. Okay now you are ready to start the Phase 1 Programme for the Back Squat.

It goes like this:

15 reps at a light weight(even starting with just the Olympic bar will do).
12 reps at a slightly heavier weight(5 or 10kg).
10 reps at a heavier weight.
8 reps at a final weight that you can accomplish with little difficulty.

Rest between each set for 60 – 90 seconds. Perform this Phase, 3 days a week for 6 – 8 weeks then take a week off with no lifting whatsoever, then proceed into Phase 2.

Phase 2: Again perform a general and then specific warm-up.

Dan John called this programme(phase of programme) “The first real program I ever did” and it certainly laid the foundation for him to become a really strong and competent Olympic weightlifter, discuss thrower and now also the record-breaking champion highland games competitor in the world between the ages of 45 and 49!

Now we start this more advanced phase:

10 reps at lightest weight today.
8 reps at a heavier weight.
6 reps – Raise the weight again.
4 reps at the heaviest for the day.

This set should be challenging.

Rest for 60 – 90 seconds between each set.

If you are feeling slightly more tired you may neglect the 1st set of 10 reps and just go straight into the 8 rep set, though I would prefer you start with the 10 at a nice comfortable intensity.

This phase should definitely be challenging from an intensity perspective, so warm up thoroughly and then jump into this with a determined and aggressive attitude.

Complete this programme 2 – 3 days a week on the Back Squat in order to lay a really solid and strong foundation of strength in the hips and thighs – do not worry too much about overtraining or fatigue now, just keep hitting away at the back squat 3 or so times a week and you will grow strong, fast!

After another 4 – 6 weeks take a week off and then jump into the next programme.

The 5 x 5 Method

This set and rep scheme is applicable to any compound exercise really, but works really well with the back squat. It is in that rep range that builds “functional mass” which I like to refer to as “athletic mass”, the reps are few enough to use a heavy weight which will build strength, yet the volume is still high enough to induce the muscular microtrauma to illicit appreciable increases in muscle mass.

So, how do we do the 5×5 workout? Well, it is simple.

1. Decide on a starting weight in the 5×5 workout which should be challenging but not impossible to achieve.

2. Then over 3 warm-up sets build up to that starting weight.

3. Next start your 5×5 workout adding weight each set to where the final set will be your heaviest set which will maybe be about 5kg below your 5rep max in the back squat.

4. Remember to have consistent rest in between each set of 1 – 3 minutes.

This is an intense and difficult workout. The rookie lifter should start on the Beginner Programme outlined above and then move onto this programme after developing a command over the lift and technical consistency in repetition. That may take anywhere from 3 – 6 months.

The 20 Rep Squat Programme

I learnt about this programme of squatting about 5 years ago in my early days of reading about strength. I read all that I could about how to get strong and read a lot from this one writer, chiropractor and strength coach, in particular, his name is Dr. Ken Leistner (Dr. Ken). This man has a way of communicating that is very inspiring and so I read all that I could from him. His philosophy of training is essentially to work as hard as possible, yes he does train under the banner of High Intensity Training(HIT) but more than that he just “plain ole” trains HARD!

Dr. Ken was the first to introduce me to 20rep squats. And this is how he described them: “squat two times per week, for one or two sets of 15-20 reps. These are not to be approached as cardiovascular, endurance type sets. The idea is to take a weight you think you can get 10-12 reps with, and force yourself, with the help and encouragement of a good spotter to complete 20 reps. You should be shaking like a Lower-East-Side junkie when you’re done.

Okay, got the picture? Hard work, right there! You may be thinking “Gee, if I can only do 12 reps with this weight how on earth am I supposed to do 20 reps!!!” Yes, you have a valid point; basically the idea is that this is going to be a very long set and that you almost take a break after each rep just without racking the bar. Therefore you do a rep, then breathe in and out a couple of times and then go again. You must resign yourself to the fact that this is going to be one long, very difficult set and then go for it taking one rep at a time!

Needless to say, this programme is not for the beginners amongst us, I would recommend you have at least 6 months of solid back squatting experience under your belt before attempting 20 rep squats.

By the way, if you want to put on some quality muscle mass quickly, this is the way to go, just keep up your speed and agility training, as well as your hip mobility work in order to make sure the extra hip and thigh muscle mass accrued remains athletic and powerful! This is not for the faint-hearted.


These are just 3 of the many options available to increase your squatting prowess and poundage. Use them, don’t use them – your call. Just make sure to learn the lift correctly first, preferably under a qualified athletic performance coach and then start very slowly and very light and lay a SOLID foundation of technical proficiency and strength. Then you can start to build up the poundage as you grow in strength and skill. Remember you want to get hundreds of perfect reps under your belt before going anywhere near limit weights.

My final point to you is that in every lift you perform in the weightroom, do it PERFECTLY! Every single rep should be done with the utmost in concentration and even light weights should be respected to fully. This way, when you do get to the heavy, challenging weights you will do them perfectly because you haven’t got a “built-in technical compromise/backdoor.”

Great stuff, have a great one and get squatting!

Dig Deep!

Graham Dean.


    DOMINATE ATHLETIC™ is a specialised Athletic Performance Coaching Company based in Cape Town, South Africa.