100lb Squat Increase In 3 Weeks

I’m posting this simply to illustrate what’s possible when an effective training program is used. The athlete in the video played defensive tackle at the University of Washington a few years back. Under the Strength & Conditioning Coach that was there during his 5 years of training, his best ever squat 1RM was 550lbs. In 3 weeks of training with me I was able to take him from hitting 445lbs for 2 reps all the way up to 545lbs for 2 reps, as you can see in the video. Yes, that’s 100lbs in 3 weeks.

[hidepost]As much as these impressive results demonstrate what an effective training program can do, to me they are a sad reflection on the level of strength and conditioning that exists at many universities across the country. While I’m by no means saying that max strength is everything in football, as a defensive tackle there is an advantage to having a high level of max strength simply because the level of required force production at that position is very high.

Because of this, a good level of max strength is important for successful performance as a defensive tackle and I have no doubt that this athlete could have been significantly stronger and more explosive if he’d been given a more effective training program in college. There is absolutely no way I should have been able to get his squat higher in 3 weeks than he was able to get it in 5 years in college!

We’ll be retesting his vertical jump, broad jump, 10yd and shuttle in a few weeks as well, but I can already guarantee they will most likely be noticeably higher than they ever were in college as well. This definitely speaks as much to the lack of effectiveness of the training program he was on in college as much anything else.

The other reason I posted this is that I want to show that many of the most effective training programs are also the most simple. It doesn’t take a million exercises or incredibly complicated schemes to see results. It just takes applying the right amount of volume and intensity for the individual. In this particular example, I used a high low approach, with two max effort squatting days per week and followed a foundational scheme from one of Verkhoshansky’s programs.

I’m posting the first three weeks (6 workouts) of the training program that produced this 100lb increase so you can see just how simple an effective training program can be. What I’m listing is the squat progression, there were also 2-3 accessory exercises done in each workout as well. The other training days consisted of low CNS activities only.

Workout One:

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Workout Two:

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Workout Three:

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Workout Four:

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Workout Five:

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Workout Six:

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The rest interval between all heavy sets was 4-6 minutes and 2-3 minutes between lighter sets. Rest was 8-10 minutes between the transition from heavy to lighter sets.

The next three weeks will consist of three CNS intensive workouts per week and that will conclude the concentrated loading phase of the training program. I’ll post more on this program with results as we progress through it.



  1. I agree, Joel. The approach can be much more aggressive in the collegiate setting than it currently is. I would however be careful with the implicit suggestion here that college programming is IN-effective. I think a better way of putting it is maybe not as effective or LESS-effective than what is being done currently in the private sector of S&C. All in all good stuff!

    In terms of resistance training, was there anything else you did with this athlete at all? Any “supplimental” or “accesory” work? Thanks!

    All the best,
    Sam Leahey

    1. Better what question: WHAT accessory work was done? As I just saw in the last line above you DID include accesory work in the session.

      All the best,
      Sam Leahey

      1. Accessory work was basic stuff like RDL, Glute Ham Raise, Reverse Hypers, and a few exercises like that. The overall volume was no more than 4-6 sets each workout and reps were typically 6-10.

    2. The effectiveness obviously varies from program to program, some are much better than others. I’m sure there’s some college programs out there that do a great job with their athletes (I know Buddy & James did great work at Pitt for example) but I’d also say they are in the minority. With the program in question that I’m talking about, it was absolutely ineffective. There was an entire winter off-season training program where the average strength numbers of the team actually went down!

  2. This may be a stupid question but I wanted to clarify how you listed the sets and reps. How you have it listed “1×[email protected]%,” is that 1 set of 12 @ 70% or 1 rep for 12 sets @70%? Thank you for clarifying and for sharing all the knowledge you do.

  3. Joel,

    Your %1RM seem off. A 5RM is usu. about 80-85% of 1RM, so 3×[email protected]% is off. 10 reps at 80% is also usu. not possible, unless you’re doing rest-pause reps. This is just from Week One; 1RM may increase after Week One so I won’t look beyond that.

    Are your numbers just obtained in some different way?

    1. You just have to remember that any time you’re dealing in % of 1RM it’s more of a range than exact number. Every athlete’s strength curve is different and 1RM testing has a lot of variables of the number you’ll actually hit. I’ll also say that most athletes don’t hit their true 1RM when it comes to squats, and we’ll usually extrapolate from 2-3RM, so I’ll typically use a bit higher % on squats than other exercise. Those are the numbers I give the athlete to shoot for, if I say 3 reps they may get 3 reps, they may get 2. When you’re above 90%, it’s not an exact science, it’s a range, but that’s all that matters anyway. 10 reps at 80% is not that unusual, I can go hit 10 reps right now at 80% of any of my 1RM, again everyone’s strength curve’s are different and 1RM is moving target.

  4. Joel,

    Great work…what type of warm-up and explosive drills did you during this phase. I would love to see the total program and I agree that some programs can do a much better job. I also think that doing less is better approach especially when you take into consideration the school stressors, practices,etc…Thanks for sharing.

  5. #1 As another poster already stated, the %s used suggest that you were working off a sub 100% PR max(easy training max?) because there is very little chance that an advanced athlete can squat 5 reps with their 90-92% of true max, much less for 3 sets.

    #2 That video shows a fairly big guy performing a sky high half squat, not something that I would be particularly proud of.

    #3 As stated in the beginning of the article, the guy’s all time max was 550 lb(although I am sincerely hoping with much deeper ROM) so in essence your brought up his current max to 5 lb under his college max. So how can you say that you outperformed his college S&C coach? People strength levels vary a lot so it’s a bit disingenuous to suggest that you increased the guys max by 100 lb in 3 weeks. Joel I am truly hoping you stay away from the gimmicky world of the internet.

    Joel with all this said, I hold a high opinion of your thoughts on S&C and wish you well.

    1. #1 I don’t know what % charts people are working from, but there are plenty of athletes who are going to hit 3-5 reps at around 90% of their 1RM. Again, it’s NOT an exact number, it’s a RANGE. People’s strength curves vary tremendously, I can very easily hit 3-5 reps at 90% of my 1RM all the time, other athletes can’t. It depends on % of FT/ST and how they’ve trained. The %s and schemes I use are based all from Verkhoshansky’s and the eastern european blocks, that’s how they write programs, that’s how I write programs, and athletes are able to hit the numbers just fine.

      #2. A high “half squat”? I don’t know what angle you’re looking at, but he gets as deep as any defensive lineman needs to get when squatting. He’s getting down around 90 degrees on his first rep (the bars were set for 90 and you can see the bar almost touches them) and he’s maybe 5-10 degrees off on his second rep. The guy is 6’5″ and he goes plenty deep enough for a defensive lineman. Maybe the camera phone doesn’t show this properly, but I have no problem with the squat depth and there is no reason to make him go any lower than that.

      It’s not a powerlifting competition, I could care less if he hits exactly 90 degrees on every rep. I also use quarter squats and half squats all the time in programs, though this was not one of them, and both are effective and should be used. If you believe a guy has to hit a particular depth every squat rep for it to count, then you’re completely missing the point of the exercise, which is CNS development and strength in biomechanically relevent joint angles to the athlete’s skills. There is a different between training powerlifters and training athletes.

      #3 The guy’s all time 1RM was 550lbs after 5 years of training, going to the same depth, and in 3 weeks of training he’s hitting 5lbs less for 2 reps, that’s my point. What he was getting for 2 reps increased by 100lbs, it’s not gimmicky, it’s a fact. I can guarantee he’ll be hitting 650-700lbs, a full 100-150lbs more than he hit in college by the time his program is over in 8 more weeks.

  6. To the above, sorry for budding in but I don’t see a problem with his ROM. He is going parallel, perhaps even more so, how do you say it was a half squat?
    Also, I would assume that his previous max was done with same ROM – football coaches aren’t power lifting coaches, they would not demand bum to the ground…

    My question for you though Joel is: would you recommend doing this alongside mma training/cardio ( ie 4-5 days of mma training/cardio, low intensity) – or would that be too much and influence the potential results that can be obtained through the 3 week program? Thanks!

    1. There is no reason for a defensive lineman to go any deeper than that, look at the joint angles of the three point stance that they start in. You don’t want to compromise CNS loading to develop strength in positions the athlete is never in. It would be foolish to lighten the load to make him squat deeper than that.

      Results would definitely be compromised if an athlete was also doing 4-5 days of MMA training unless it was all very low volume/low intensity, but MMA training rarely is either one of those things. This program is for a football player in the off-season, I wouldn’t use it in MMA.

      1. That’s true, .very low depth only makes sense for power lifters IMHO… most PT certification courses only recommend parallel.

        Thanks for the info! I’ll stick with the guidelines outlined for a general strength block. Perhaps later if I am out for 3 weeks from hard mma training I might put one of these to use.

        1. My point is that if Joel is going to brag about his athlete squatting 545 lb, doing it for 2 reps, or increasing the max by 100 lb then I am going to evaluate all of those criteria on their merits objectively. Although the angle is indeed terrible, one can still see that the movement had considerably shortened ROM akin to that of the average gym goer who moves the bar 5 inches.

          You are right advanced athletes often train differently and full ROM may not be necessary for sport specific exercises/training however I dont understand why everyone gets stuck on powerlifting parallel. I am not a powerlifter and their requirements differ, however I take PL requirements as the BARE MINIMUM for what I expect out of someone performing a movement and claiming a certain number. If Joel wants to say his athlete performed a half squat or a walkout, fine but saying the guy squatted 545 for 2 reps is misleading and laughable to anyone who truly follows strength sports.

          Although sport specific strength training is important, to a large extent strength is strength and how it’s applied is up to the sport coaches to instill the drills/skill set of the sport. If I increase a Linemans squat from 500 to 700 lb, you can bet your ass he’s going to feel and notice the difference regardless of anything else. It’s then going to be up to the offensive/defensive coach to drill all of his positional skills and to take the advantage of the added size/strength.

          Also incase everyone has not noticed it from their personal training, generally speaking greater ROM=greater difficulty and that’s why you dont see majority of people at gyms doing their 1/4-1/2 squats and claiming that as their squat max.

  7. It’s obvious that this is a subject with a great deal of misunderstanding, yet it is critically important to performance. There is no magic squat depth that anyone and everyone should be going to, it’s all completely biomechanically specific to the athlete’s skill requirements, just like every other exercise should be.

    The “squat to parallel” concept is a broad generalization, it’s not some rule set in stone. If you’re a Powerlifter, you train to competition squat depth. If you’re a Weightlifter you train ass to floor because that’s the depth you’ll hit in the Olympic lifts. For every other sport, you train accoridng to biomechanics of the sport and according to the adaptation that you’re striving for.

    In fact, for vertical jump development, you should be training at least 30-40% of the time with quarter and half squats because this translates the best into vertical jump. Try 3 weeks of max effort quarter and half squats and watch what happens to your jump. For jump squats, I’ll rarely go below half squat depth, there is just no reason to.

    I’ll write an article about this topic soon, it’s clear now that it needs to be discussed.

  8. As Joel stated, Verkhoshanksy stated that in certain sporting events the half and quarter squat are superior for development of absolute force than paralell or ATG squats.

  9. What if you have a longer period for developing strength – say the double (12 weeks) – how would you structure the training then? Just start the cycle over again, or switch to another exercise after 6 weeks?

    1. I don’t believe in switching exercises for no reason, I just manage volume and intensity effectively to begin with. The program listed was the first 3 weeks of a longer program, it’s by no means a 3 week program. How you structure your program has a lot of variables and is more complicated than I can answer in a post like this.

    1. Yes, I absolutely adjust time between workouts and intensive training sessions based on HRV readings. Unless you’re in a concentrated loading phase and intentionally accumulatingfatigue, there is no point in training someone intensely again when they haven’t recovered from the previous training session. Doing this over and over again how people get overtrained in the first place.

      1. Joel,
        I am curious how long you would allow an athlete to be sympathetic dominant in a concentrated loading phase before you decided the cycle was not working? If sympathetic for to long would you trash the cycle since I think the idea is to accumulate fatigue over the concentrated loading phase?

        Doesn’t Mark M at PTC use this same sort of cycle?

        Sorry for all the questions. With HRV technology so easily available these days, this is an interesting.

        1. Plenty of athletes won’t be sympathetic dominant in a concentrated loading phase, they will become parasympathetically dominant, or overly dominant is a more appropriate way to look at it. In fact, most well developed athletes and those with good aerobic fitness and general recovery will show this trend as you load them. I think a lot of the HRV research is not accurately reflecting what happens in most athletic individuals because they are only tracking one measure of HRV and they are not using athletic populations.

          I believe, and the research supports, that sympathetic overdrive is the stress response and short term adaptation to stress, parasympathetic is the long-term response to chronic overload. This makes the most sense from an allostatis point of view as well. I’ll be writing more on this topic shortly.

  10. Thanks for the info Joel,

    As for making a functional change in how this guy performs I’d like to know how you would take this gain and apply it to how fast he moves or how hard he hits. The strength gain is impressive and obviously shows his previous training program was coming up far short of his potential, but where did the training go after the strength gain?

    For me personally three weeks of heavy focus leaves me pretty hurt(i.e. increased HR recovery times and lots of gasping for breathe) when I switch to a speed/power workout, so I normally only do a maximum of 4 heavy strength building workouts before changing focus. Am I switching too early?
    My focus is on power to weight ratio for the most part…

    1. This is just a small 3 week sample of a much larger training picture. How you transfer improvements in max force to on field performance is a long discussion and far beyond the scrope of this discussion, but it starts with making sure the exercise meets the requirements of dynamic correspondence.

      If three weeks of heavy training leaves you in that state, then you’re doing far too much volume given your level of work capacity. Yes, you are switching too early, you’re not going to develop much strength in four workouts.

      1. So how long would you keep someone on a strength building cycle if they were looking to maximize speed/power to weight ratio for a sport like martial arts? I was previously doing 6-8 weeks of strength building before switching to speed, and then finally endurance, but by the time I got to the endurance stage my cardio performance was crap although in the gym my strength was improved.

        Once I cut it to 2-3 weeks I was getting better with both strength and cardio capacity albeit with smaller gains in the gym. Is that a real trade-off or am I just making some mistakes with my scheduling? is there an ideal timeline for really solidifying strength gains before switching focus?


  11. Thanks Joel for this excellent article. I’m very interested by this high/ low approach.

    1- I did a lot of 3*5 to improve my strength but I feel that more hypertrophy would have helped me to reach another level of performance. That’s why I started to watch at Bompa’s periodization. By the way, I know that you know a lot about Russians’ training method, what do you think of his materials?
    2- I’m struggling at improving my upper body strength. I’m thinking about using the same scheme you used with that football player to improve it. Does it make sense to do those 3 weeks alone, or do I need to do the 11 weeks of program in order to have a really effective effect? Will you give us the rest of the training program?
    3- I’m doing MMA, but I’m in the off season. In order to enhance the transfer of strength and the CNS stimulation, I think the bench press would be better than the overhead press. Do you agree?

    1. Bompa’s materials have little to no resemblance to russian or any eastern bloc training. The only time I’ve ever seen his name mentioned anywhere is one time by Verkhoshansky where he makes reference to Bompa having no idea what he’s talking about. I’m not a fan of any of Bompa’s information.

      No, it does not make sense to follow the three weeks I outlined. It’s for a very high level football athlete in the off-season and it’s part of a much larger program. Unless you too are a defensive lineman getting ready for a pro football tryout, then I wouldn’t recommend following it.

      Yes, I think the bench press has greater transfer than the overhead press for MMA.

  12. I’ll buy that certain sports don’t need a low squat but that guys squat was no where nea 90 degrees. That’s like saying Pat Robertson’s knees were hitting his chest on his 1,000lb leg press.

    1. As I said, the second rep was definitely a bit short of 90 and probably closer to a 3/4 squat, but I’m a bit baffled how people think they can see hip and knee angles with any sort of accuracy in a camera phone video shot from 10-15 feet BEHIND the athlete. His hips can’t even been seen in the first rep a the bottom as they are out of the picture. Unless you can see a squat from the side with a good viewing angle, you’re simply guessing at best what the hip and knee angles are or where they were at the bottom of the rep. You have to be able to actually SEE the joint angles in question to know where they are at.

  13. Joel,

    I need a program like that, I could use a few hundred pounds added to my squat. And my deads, and bench…

    I think as long as the athlete is seeing positive results, it’s all good. The depth issue is, as you said, individual to each athlete and often a non issue. Ankle mobility, hip flexibility, and lower back strength vary. I myself have to tuck under to get low because I have poor ankle and hip flexibility.

    At any rate, I like what I see. I am looking forward to getting back in there to let you torture me again. Caleb and Cameron aren’t looking forward to it as much. Keep up the good work!


  14. Guys I am not trying to stir up controversy here but the guy in the OP video, was about 6-8 inches above what’s considered bare minimum parallel in most powerlifting federations. I am not even going to talk about what an ‘ass to grass’ squat looks like. For a deep squat that’s damn impressive, check out Pat Mendez atg squat with 800 lb in his shorts.


    Pay attention to the angle of the upper thigh and the relative position of hips to knees. Although it is difficult to see joint angles in OP, it’s still pretty evident it’s quite high. Also why take a video that cuts off dept off the lift? I am sure it’s not overly difficult to post a video with full view.

    I am not debating whether quarter or half squats have a place in an athletes programs, that’s a whole different debate. My point is that it’s not fair to call original video in this article a squat when it doesnt even come close to being a parallel powerlifting squat much less a full ass to grass squat which I actually believe to be more applicable to athletic performance.

    Good luck, and I do hope that the guy will squat 600+ with good depth.

    1. If the athlete in the video ever decides to be a Powerlifer, I’m sure he’ll keep this in mind. For now, he’s trying to play football, not meet any depth requirements for a competition that he’s not in and probably never will be in. I happened to take the video from that position, I wasn’t trying to demonstrate depth because it wasn’t the point of the video or the post.

      Also, no offense my friend, but saying that an olympic lifting squat to the bottom position has greater applicability to athletic performance means you really need to take a much closer look at the specificity of strength because you couldn’t be more wrong and are way off. Find a sport where force is produced in the joint angles at the bottom position of an Olympic squat and then use it for that sport, other than that it’s a big mistake and a total waste of time to be producing force through positions that have no relevence whatsoever to the athlete’s skills.

      You don’t define an exercise by any standards other than the specific goals of the athlete, period. To say it’s not a squat because the depth doesn’t meet requirements of particular sport that has nothing to do with the athlete is silly. Powerlifting and Olympic lifting are sports, football is a sport. You don’t superimpose the goals or demands from one sport onto another if you have any idea what you’re doing as a coach. It would be like putting the Powerlifter in the video you posted on an offensive line against my athlete and telling him to block him, it would be an absolute joke.

      If you’re on this site, I hope it’s to learn and along those lines I would strongly suggest you spend some time studying the principles of dynamic correspondance and specificity because your statements demonstrate a very clear and total lack of understanding of very basic and fundamental princples of the transfer of training and how the motor control system works.

  15. _DS_ ,

    I think Joel has already stated that he couldn’t care less if the guy went exactly parallel so I don’t know why you even bring it up? You are too concerned with a lift that is utilized to develop general strength so it doen’t really matter if he gets exactly parallel becuase he won’t be tested in the squat on the field. What if the athlete doesn’t feel comfortable going exactly parallel?

    Your statement that a full Olympic squat is more applicable to performance is true if the sport requires a full Olympic squat.

    It is not true if the athlete competes in a sport that doesn’t require a full squat like football unless you can prove Joel wrong…

    1. Whether the squat is a general or more specific exercise depends on the sport. For a defensive lineman, it’s a specific exercise, not a general one The joint angles and force production are very specific given the position of the three point stance and coming off the line.

      For other sports like MMA, the squat is much less specific. You can’t find a good defensive lineman in college or pro football who doesn’t at least have a decent squat and most have very good squats. You can find plenty of guys in MMA who can’t squat much of anything and yet they are still top pros. This shows the difference in specificity between the two.

      The general or specific classification of the exericse is completely depend on the sport and the skills of the sport. An exercise can be completely specific to one sport and very general to another and the squat is no different in this regard.

  16. I see what you are saying with the comparison of MMA athletes and defensive lineman.They do need more strength obviously because of the nature of the sport, and there are many exercises to stength train the hip and knee extensors with free weight and some machine exercises if you use a large enough load. There are alot of other ways to train the squatting motion that more closely resemble the position requirements of a D-lineman. I guess what I’m thinking is yes there is a squatting motion a defensive lineman goes through, but I don’t think I would classify a heavy BB squat as a specialized exercise. Maybe as a Specialized preparatory if the weight is lowered and speed is high like a jump squat for explosive strength, or maybe something like explosive MB thrusts jumping forward from a squat, but to me I’m thinking of all the movements a D-lineman may go through during a play, and most of it is coming out of a stance, using their hands and either running straight, laterally, or spinning trying to avoid a blocker, depending on what kind of defense they play. I guess it doesn’t really matter if you have a logical training target, and you know how to get there. This is just my opinion.

    1. Specificity is a continuum, not really black or white. For a defensive lineman, the spectrum would consist of drills like the blocking sled, coming off the line against band resistance, etc. These would be the most specific exercise a d-lineman could do. In the weightroom, the squat is going to be a specific, more than a general, exercise because you can replicate the joint angles, velocity, and overall loading, depending on how it is performed.

      1. While much of what you say is true, one big issue with doing partials with a big exercise like squat is that you’re likely underdeveloping certain muscles(glutes/back) and overdeveloping others(quads) while potentially overly exerting CNS. There’s nothing wrong with someone doing walkouts or partials however doing so consistently creates potential for imbalances, overworking CNS, and creates increased risk of injury due to handling heavier loads.

        1. You’re not training bodybuilders it’s not about structural balance to begin with, it’s about training the muscles to produce force through the same ranges of motion as they do in the sport. If you don’t think the glutes or back are being developed in 1/2 and 3/4 squats with maximal loads then you’re not understanding that increased loading changes activation patterns and I can assure you that in any heavy 3/4 or even 1/2 squat the glutes and back are producing massive forces.

          And yes, the CNS can be overworked, that’s always something you have to be mindful of, but it can also be trained and improved more with the higher loads and higher forces as well.

  17. Agreed. Thanks Joel. I’m Pretty sure I believe fairly close to what your training of a football player would be compared to some other coaches out there who only focus on exercises with no regard for the adaptations taking place.

  18. Joel, which are the exercises that transfer effectively to strongman events (based on the most important factors for transfer: direction of force production, joint angles used in the movement, resistance load & profile, velocity of movement)?

    1. Squat and Deadlift will present the best general transfer because those movement patterns are used in a lot of events, but anyone who trains and competes in strongman will tell you that you need to train the events themselves as much as possible. There is no substitute for training the actual events that you’ll be competing in, you have to replicate them as close as possible.

    1. I don’t necessarily have a set of particular requirements because each athlete is different, but generally they need to at least have a few years of solid training experience under their belt before it’s necessary. Collegiate athletes in their junior and senior years are typically ready for this type of loading, but not really before that.

      You don’t want to use concentrated loading schemes like this when they aren’t necessary for development. If an athlete is still making improvements through more distributed loading models then there is no reason to use a concentrated loading block.

  19. Hi,
    I have a basic question. I know in your book you say to take 3 days apart from each max strength workout. So if I lifted Monday, would I repeat a max strength workout on Thursday or Friday? If anyone else can answer this that’d be great. Thanks!

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