Four Weeks to a Squat PR: Week 4
One of the most critical aspects of designing sound Conjugate Method programming is to ensure the athlete is being set up for success as much as possible. There are many ways to do this; we can adjust training intensity, volume, or exercise selection. Over the last few weeks, we have adjusted all three of these fundamental aspects of training to set an athlete up to obtain a PR in the squat.
In the first week, we selected the 2" mat deadlift and performed the exercise for a max effort single. We used the first week as a max effort deadlift week to ensure limited residual fatigue is present this week as we attempt the squat PR.
Additionally, the 2" mat helps to alleviate some of the fatigue caused by a typical deadlift, considering the mat provides the athlete with a slight joint angle advantage.
In the second week, we performed an SSB box squat for a top set of three repetitions. This exercise was selected to test and evaluate squat strength and technique. With the SSB added, the barbell is placed in a high bar position, which obligates an athlete to establish a proper brace and execute the squat with strict posture. Using the box also brings static overcome by dynamic action and relaxed overcome by dynamic action into the mix.
In the third week, we went with giant cambered bar good mornings for a top set of five repetitions. The strategy behind this week of training was to maximize recovery, considering the giant cambered bar for a top set of five considerably reduces the overall training intensity. Instead of working above or around 90% as we had in the previous two weeks, this week of training limited the overall training intensity to approximately 80%.
As you can see, we began the four weeks of training at max intensity, lowered the intensity slightly the second week, lowered it even more the third week, and now we will test our max effort squat in the fourth week. This demonstrates a simple way to wave training intensity and manipulate exercise selection to give an athlete as much advantage as possible before a max effort attempt in a competition-relevant lift.
Now, we move on to the main exercise of the fourth week of our four-week squat PR plan: the max effort competition squat.
It is the fourth week and time for a PR in the barbell squat. Our approach with this training day will be the same as the last three weeks: set the athlete up for success by providing as much advantage as possible. Keeping this in mind, we want to manage warm-ups to ensure the athlete is ready for maximum effort without wasting additional energy performing unnecessary sets and reps.
Any time the goal of the training day is to establish a new PR, energy management is critical. First, we want to ensure we are not wasting energy performing unnecessary warm-up exercises. Typically, we will perform a few sets of abs, then a few sets of Reverse Hypers, and then move on to the day's movement.
As we move on to the main exercise, the strategy remains the same: we will only take as many attempts as needed to feel prepared for the top set, not a set more.
Here is how an athlete aiming for a 900lb squat would warm up leading to a PR attempt:
Set 1 - 135lbs x 8 reps
Set 2 - 225lbs x 5 reps
Set 4 - 315lbs x 5 reps
Set 5 - 405lbs x 3 reps
Set 6 - 495lbs x 1 rep
Set 7 - 600lbs x 1 rep
Set 8 - 700lbs x 1 rep
Set 9 - 780lbs x 1 rep
Set 10 - 850lbs x 1 rep
Set 11 - 900lbs x 1 rep (PR)
Notice that once we near the 500lb bar weight mark, we only perform single reps. This is to ensure as much energy is available as possible to allow for the heaviest sets to be performed successfully.
On days when a PR is not in the cards or not part of the plan, increasing the overall training volume during warm-up sets is not an issue. However, on a day when we plan for a PR, we cannot let warm-up volume negatively affect the outcome of the training day.
When we plan a PR on a specific training day, our accessory exercise selection, volume, and intensity can vary significantly. What it all depends on is how much fatigue was caused by the max effort squat attempt. If fatigue is not much of an issue or is only slightly noticeable, we will program an average amount of accessory training. If fatigue is high, we will do the basics and get on to recovery.
Ultimately, we make the best decision for the athlete, allowing for proper recovery before we move on to our next week of training. We want to avoid making poor programming decisions that could cause excess fatigue capable of lingering and hindering the training process over the next few weeks.
Here are the accessory exercises we would recommend to an athlete who reports feeling only mildly fatigued after the PR squat attempt:
Exercise 1 - Romanian Deadlift - 4 x 5-8
Exercise 2 - Hack Squat - 3 x 10-12
Exercise 3 - Reverse Hyper, 4 x 15-20
Exercise 4 - GHR Sit-Ups, 4 x 15-20
Here are the accessory exercises we would recommend to an athlete who reports feeling moderately or severely fatigued after a PR squat attempt:
Exercise 1 - Reverse Hyper, 4 x 15-20.
Exercise 2 - GHR Sit-Ups, 4 x 15-20
As you can see, when athletes report feeling fatigued after the max effort attempt, we will strictly regulate their accessory exercise training volume. Considering we accomplished our goal of obtaining a new PR in the squat, we do not want to do anything to place an athlete at risk of injury or excessive fatigue.
Making Adjustments on the Fly
The Conjugate Method provides a coach with tremendous freedom when designing training programs. A coach needs to understand how to execute our training methods in a way that allows the training to be quickly adapted to whatever situation may present during a training day or week.
We never want to be locked into blind obedience to any training plan. The objective of a Conjugate-based training plan is to provide an athlete with optimal training relevant to the current state of the athlete and the situation the athlete finds themselves in. A coach's job is to provide optimal training days regardless of the situation, not force the process, and unquestioningly adhere to a training plan using subpar training methods.
What makes the Conjugate Method so valuable to a coach is the ability of the training methods to be manipulated and for adjustments to be made on the fly. No matter how tired an athlete is, what injury they may currently be dealing with, or how demanding the competitive schedule may be, there is always a way to design practical Conjugate-based training to provide the athlete with optimal training.
A coach's training methods must account for the dynamic nature of sports practice, sports competitions, and daily life. As a coach, if you want your athletes to be as successful as possible, you must be able to design a training plan that meets the athletes where they are currently, not where some pre-written plan expects them to be.
The Conjugate Method gives a coach and athlete all the tools to become strong, explosive, and properly conditioned. Learn to use these tools correctly, and you will be able to improve any athlete's sports performance, regardless of the circumstances.
Simmons, L. (2007). Westside Barbell Book of Methods. Westside Barbell.
Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. Verkhoshansky.
Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training. Human Kinetics