Linear Progressions and My Current Squat Program

I hear a lot about linear progressions and all sorts of squat programs that people put themselves and others on. I want to take a moment and demystify some of the more common ones and just touch on what I'm doing in my recovery phase to get my squat back up to where I want it to be.

Linear Progressions

I think this is probably one of the most maleable, personalize-able programs out there. This is what I'm using right now to get back into squatting bliss.

First, take a working rep volume (all working sets times reps) that works for you. Common numbers are 25, 30, and 35. Then you list out all the sets x rep combinations that get you to that number, +1. Let's take what I'm doing:

I chose 25 reps because I like 5x5 as a base. That would leave 2x12, 12x2, 3x8, 8x3, 6x4, 4x6 (yes, all these equal 24, but like I said, close enough), and of course 5x5.

There is some intensity for ya. 
Then we decide how many times a week we want to squat. I like to squat at least 3 times a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday), so I'll pick three of the sets x reps combinations that work towards a 5x5. I use 8x3, and 6x4, with 5x5 being the last in the weekly series.

Here is where you can get fancy. I would say start your series out around 60% of your 1RM. What I do is start my 8x3 on Wednesday, 6x4 on Friday, and 5x5 on Monday. I do that so I'm well rested for my 5x5. Then I up the weight by ~10 lbs and start over again, keeping the same weight all the way through.

You can also change the weight a little each time. For instance, a teammate uses 30 as her base number. Her 3x10 is, let's just randomly pick, 180 lbs. Then her 6x5 is 170 lbs, followed by her 3x10 at 160lbs. The next cycle she adds 5-10 lbs to each number and goes at it again.

Bulgarian Stylings

Linear progressions can only get you so far. It's great to change things up for the advanced lifter, to get in lots of practice for the novice, and for cases like mine when I was out of the game for nearly 2 months.

My favorite style of training is the Bulgarian style, also adopted by Westside Barbell. This one is pretty straight forward. You pick your top reps (1-5 reps) max out at it, then drop to 80% of what you completed and do as many reps as possible.

This give athletes the chance to test their top end strength each time they squat. The Bulgarian ideology means that this is your 1, 3, or 5 rep max for that day. You are not expected to PR or even meet your old PR every time. Also, if you find your max effort is significantly lower, it gives you a cue that maybe you need to take a hard look at your recovery, nutrition, warm ups, and other lead ins.

The drop set is where the strength gains will be made. You can't expect to get strong particularly quickly with only one set at a max effort weight, you need some volume work.
Wendler's 53/1

I like using this program for people fairly new to the strength game. Thing is, once you've been through 2-3 cycles of it, you're not going to get as much out of it as the above programs. You can find a better explanation of the program HERE than I could ever write.

What's nice about this for semi-beginners is that the given percentages allow the athlete to know exactly what's expect each time, and aren't so aggressive that they are going to miss lifts. This allows for lots of technical practice and confidence building. Yes, confidence plays a huge role even in the "less technical" lifts, like the deadlift and shoulder press.

Again, only 2-3 cycles, then I'd take it back to the Bulgarian programming.

Pound for pound, she's got you owned. 


This is another great program because it's based around specific volume work at various percentages. It lasts about three months from start to finish, and you can get a specific breakdown of the day by day HERE. Thing is, Smolov is meant to be a workout in and of itself. It's not meant to be combined with Westside, Olympic lifting, or CrossFit. When you do Smolov, that is ALL you're supposed to do.

I think it's suffice to say, I've never done this program myself. As much as I love squatting, I'm too exercise ADD to only squat day in and day out. But if that's something that appeals to you, friends and teammates have made huge gains doing this.

Enough is Enough

I think that is more than enough to choose from to get anyone started, or to change things up when a plateau is reached.

Squat more. Suck less.