Deadlift and squat programs
There are many squat and deadlift programs out there. Here is a rundown of the most popular and instructions for two lifts.
What is your why
Before we go into the details of different squat and deadlift programs let me ask you a couple of questions.
- Why do you want to deadlift?
- Why do you want to squat?
- Why do you want to get stronger?
- Why do you want to pack on muscle?
- What happens if you do?
- What happens if you don't?
While these questions might seem trivial to you they are crucial to your long-term success. If you get to the bottom of what motivates and drives you forward. Live will get in the way of your ambitions and long-term plans. You will to stand your ground and protect your time for fitness if you want to succeed. Most people think about their goals in this way:
- What do I want?
- How do I get it?
- Why do I want it?
Most people know what they want. Fewer make a detailed plan to achieve what they want. Almost none thinks about why they want these things in the first place. If you mainly chase what you want you will be reactive to your impulses and daily needs. These change constantly based on your surroundings. This is a very reactive way of reaching your goals. This way of thinking is good for achieving short-term goals, but not for your long-term goals. If you want to increase your chances of reaching your long-term goals switch your thinking to:
- Why do you want something
- How do you get it
- What do you need to do to get it
This way your tying in your daily actions with what makes you happy long term. Your routines will have more meaning to you and your overall live quality will improve. If you want to learn how this works on a psychological level read Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking fast and slow. If you are not convinced yet check out Simon Sinek's TED talk on the golden circle to dig deeper.
The deadlift is one of the most iconic movements with a barbell you can do in the gym. It is a display of raw strength and power. There are only a few other exercises with the same impact on all of your muscle groups. When the deadlift is mentioned most people think of the conventional deadlift. However, there are many more variations which you can do:
- Sumo deadlift
- Trap bar deadlift
- Deficit deadlift
- Paused deadlift
- Banded deadlifts
- Deadlifts with chains
- Kettlebell deadlifts
- Dumbbell deadlifts
- Romanian deadlifts
- Rack Pulls
- Block Pulls
- Suited deadlifts
And many other variations based on your training goals and preferences. The deadlift mainly trains your quads, hamstrings, lower back, and traps. The emphasis is on the back of your body. If you want to learn more about the deadlift check out the following sources:
- Ed Coan
- Brian Shaw
- Layne Norton
- Frank Duffin
- Dan Green
- Chad Wesley Smith
- Calgary barbell
- Juggernaut System
- Kabuki Strength
- The Lillibridge brothers
- Stan Efferding
- Ben Pollack
Try to learn from as many people as possible and keep on open mind. This way you will become a better lifter and person. Loo at different body shapes and leverages and which ones might be most similar to yours. Every millimeter counts. As a start, here is how you perform a good deadlift:
- Place your midfeet under the bar
- Grip the bar in a mixed or hook grip
- Lower your self to the bar
- Breathe out
- Breathe in
- Turn your elbows in as if you were to squeeze lemons in your armpits
- Be patient off the floor
- Make the bar bend
- Initiate the pull by pushing the floor away from you
- Pull the bar up and towards you
- Squeeze your glutes
- Pop your hips forward
- Set the bar down
One of the biggest debates around the deadlift is to keep your back straight, I personally find this queue to be insufficient. There is not a lot you can do to actively keep your back straight during the deadlift. Setting up the right way creating maximum tension and being patient off the floor will lead to a straight back during the pull.
The deadlift has two sticking points. The first is off the ground while the second is at lockout. If you are not able to lift the weight off the ground you are simply not strong enough. If you are strong enough you might not have created enough tension to get the bar moving off the floor. If you fail the lift at lockout it is usually down to a lack of aggressiveness or technique, The limiting factor in the deadlift is usually the grip. Poor technique or moving slowly will show at the weakest link first.
The two main variations are the sumo deadlift and the conventional deadlift. The sumo deadlift gives you worse leverage off the ground in exchange for a smaller range of motion. The conventional deadlift gives you better leverage off the ground in exchange for a longer range of motion. Lifters with short limbs are usually better off pulling sumo. If your limbs are relatively long compared to your torso go for the conventional deadlift.
The biggest advantages of the deadlift are its capability to develop raw strength and willpower. There is almost no lift that compares to develop these qualities.
The biggest disadvantages of the deadlift are its risk of injury to your back and that it is not explosive. If you want to do high repetition work the trap bar and sumo deadlift are better options than the conventional deadlift. If you want to be more explosive work on the clean or power clean.
The squat builds the backbone of every strength program which is worth its salt. The squat comes in many variations be it with or without a barbell. When you talk about the squat in the gym most people think of the barbell back squat. There are many other variations. Some of them are:
- Front squat
- Safety bar squat
- Banded squats
- Squats with chains
- Box squats
- Paused squats
- Pin squats
- Dumbbell squats
- Kettlebell squats
- Goblet squats
- Overhead squat
- Zercher squat
- Hack squat
- Leg press
And many more depending on your style and preferences. The squat mainly trains your quads, hamstrings, lower back, and core. The focus is mainly on the front of your body. If you want to learn more about the squat look up the following athletes:
- Tom Platz
- Ray Williams
- Pat Mendez
- Carl Yngvar
- Ed Coan
And other world record holders in different powerlifting and weightlifting categories. The squat is one of the more technical lifts. This is why many stay away from it when they enter the gym. The safer option seems to be the leg press. Don’t avoid the barbell back squat because of fear. Learn how to squat safely on a rack. Use the pins and practice how to fail safely. To perform a good squat follow these steps:
- Set up the j cups at a height where you can pop the barbell out by simply straightening your hips
- Warm up with the empty bar and some warm-up sets
- Grip the bar as close as you can while being able to get under the bar
- Get under the bar aggressively
- Find the resting spot for the bar on your back
- Pop your hips forward to unrack
- Walk three steps backward
- Plant your feet
- Breathe out
- Breathe in and brace
- Pull in the bar like you were to bend it like a horseshoe
- Break from the knees, not the hips
- Descend as fast and controlled as you can
- Use the rebound
- If you get to sticking point press yourself into the bar while keeping tension with the arms
- Pop your hips forward
Rinse and repeat. The squat has two sticking points. The first is directly after the lowest point of the squat while the second is when you are about to straighten your back. If you fail at the bottom it is usually due to weak legs. If you fail higher it is usually a combination of weak legs and lower back.
The squat is different from the deadlift in the sense that starting the movement is relatively easy. I can easily unrack 250kg. However, there is no way in hell that I can squat it for repetitions at the moment. There are two styles of squats out there, the quad heavy and the lower back heavy.
A quad heavy squat is usually performed by weightlifters. They bomb into the hole and use the rebound to push up again. While this is a great technique to have for a snatch or clean and jerk, it is suboptimal for developing a very heavy squat. To perform an impressive back squat compared to your strength level you need full control on the way up. This is why most powerlifters squat very slowly compared to weightlifters. Think about it like the difference between a Ferrari and a big truck. Even with the same amount of horsepower they use it very differently to pull or accelerate a load. While the truck moves slower there is a lot more energy stored in it.
The biggest advantages of the squat are that it has a lot of carryover to all kinds of movements and rawness. It is probably the single best exercise to train your quads.
The biggest disadvantages with the squat are its complexity and risk of injury. You seldom see it done in most gyms because of this.
Stronglifts is one of the most popular beginner lifting programs. You will train three times a week utilizing the squat and deadlift amongst other lifts.
I had a very good experience with the program and you can read my extensive review of Stronglifts on my blog.
Madcow is the follow-up program to Stronglifts. Rather than increasing the weights from workout to workout you will switch to a week by week schedule.
I personally have not done it but the feedback is generally good. Read more about it on the Stronglifts 5x5 web page.
Starting Strength is the big competitor to Stronglifts when it comes to beginner programs. The main difference between the two programs is that Starting Strength utilizes the Clean instead of the row. This makes starting Strength more suited to individuals who want to be more explosive.
I personally have not done starting strength but together with Stronglifts, it forms one of the most searched lifting programmes on Google. If you find to learn more either buy Mark Rippetoe's book on the program or read his free article on T-Nation.
The Texas method builds the follow-up program to Mark Rippetoe's starting strength. If you are an intermediate lifter and/or fit athlete this is might where you want to begin. Madcow and the Texas method are very similar in structure. Instead of improving workout by workout you will go for improvement for week to week.
I have done the Texas method but with no great success. I entered it after the Jim Wendler 531 cycle I did and was exhausted. I switched to the Juggernaut method very quickly and found better results.
Wendler 531 is a solid program which has been designed by Jim Wendler. The improvements are done week to week and one cycle lasts a month. Within this cycle, you do a 5 rep, 3 rep, and 1 rep maximum wave. The biggest difference to the aforementioned programs is that you will do one AMRAP set per day. This brings in autoregulation which is very important.
This is my best program so far overall which ended in a 140kg bench press, 190kg deadlift and 15kg squat personal best. I also injured my lower back during the cycle and had to stop. Since then I am getting back to the levels I achieved with Wendler 531. You can read the entire review of my progress here on my blog.
The Juggernaut Method was one of the first programmes written by Chad Wesley Smith at Juggernaut Strength. Back then his gym had a bigger focus on football athletes. Keep this in mind when you look into the program.
The Juggernaut method work with a 120-day cycle including a 10 rep, 8 rep 5 rep, and three rep wave. This is a program which combines the ideas of Wendler 531 and German Volume training. I did all of these programs and saw good results on them.
The Juggernaut method followed my personal cycle of Smolov after I injured my lower back. The smolov cycle brought my squat up to 170kg. However, I felt that I was too reliant on my lifting belt, wrist wraps and knee wraps as an intermediate lifter. Therefore I started Juggernaut when we moved to Berlin.
In Berlin, I was able to move my strength levels to the same without any gear than with gear within a year. Unfortunately, I pulled the muscles around my rib area twice in that year. The impact was biggest on my squat progression. All in all the result was that I had the same level of strength without any gear after a year. The year itself was pretty rough from a personal and training perspective and I was glad to move to Ireland in 2018.
Smolov is quite famous as it is marketed as one of the most brutal squat programs you can do. It consists of a 3-month cycle doing only squats. So far, I got my best squat results out of Smolov with a 170kg PR. My squat and bench press did not suffer too much during that period in time.
However, this progression came at a price. As the result was inflated based on the sheer squat volume I did and reverted bcl to the 140-150kg ranges fairly quickly after bringing the volume back down. In a nutshell, the cycle would have only made sense if I wanted to set a personal record, world record or meeting pr. The gains I made were not sustainable.
You can read more about my progression on my blog which reviews the Smolov program in detail.
German volume training
German Volume training is the best program I have done so far when it comes to muscle gains. I was able to put on 2.5kg of muscle mass in a month. The basic idea of GVT is that you do 10x10 repetitions of your exercise of choice with minimum rest between sets. This would be done at 60% of your one repetition maximum. If you are not that experienced do it with 50%.
If I had to do it all again I would swap the conventional deadlift for a sumo deadlift. This is the better variation when you want to go for high rep work. German Volume training does what it says on the tin. You can find all the details in my write up about the 4-week extravaganza.
Gironda (x8 follows the same thought process as German Volume Training. The only difference is that Gironda limited to rest between sets to 30 seconds and decreased the number of reps and sets. This program was designed for bodybuilders on a cut who still want to define or even pack on muscle while being in a caloric deficit.
I personally have not done Gironda in its purest form. I have adapted it for a block of a program I invented in 2018 for myself. I build it into a 7x7 block. At the time of writing the results are promising and I hope to publish once I hit my goal of a 200kg deadlift.
Shortcut to size
Shortcut to size is the go-to program of Fitness guru Jim Stoppani. You will find a free write up of the 90-day cycle on bodyuilding.com. The program utilizes the squat and deadlift to build muscle in a coherent program.
This is one of the most complete and high-quality beginner muscle programs I have seen. You get proper supplementation, diet and exercise instructions in the mix. It is not the right program if you are looking into maximizing power. If you are looking for a solid all-around program and don't mind complexity or constantly changing exercises and rep schemes ( I do, drives me nuts) then this is for you.
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