Sunday, March 18, 2018

ODE TO SUPER SQUATS



On many occasions through this blog, I have spoken to the value of the “Super Squats” program and eluded to its difficulty and insanity, but never taken the time to fully explain what it is and why I am such a fan of it.  This program represented a big turning point in my training, and is a fantastic paradigm breaker, which is why I am to this day a staunch supporter of the idea that ALL trainees, regardless of goals, should run it for 6 weeks.  No matter what reason you train, following this program will teach you some invaluable lessons that you can get purely through academics.  Without further ado…

WHAT IS SUPER SQUATS

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18 of those pounds are balls

“Super Squats” the book, is a publication by Randall Strossen of Ironmind renown.  In itself it is a fantastic read that goes over some of the history of the iron game, big names, where the squat came from and, of course, the infamous “Super Squats” program and diet.  I first read the book over Christmas of 2006, purely as a curiosity, as I had heard the program and the book whispered about in lifting circles and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  Strossen is a fantastic author, because once I was done with the book I was already chomping at the bit to run my 6 week Super Squats program.  To understand the significance of that, you have to keep in mind that, at this point in time, I was totally drinking the Pavel Tsastouline kool-aid and firmly believed I only needed to ever do 5 reps to get bigger and stronger.  The sheer idea of a 20 rep set was totally anathema to everything I “believed” at that point, but this book sunk its hooks into me.

So you’ll notice I said “20 rep squats”, and yeah; that’s what this program is based around.  But right away people screw that up.  It’s not a leisurely set of 20, so all those people saying “reps that high don’t build muscle!” have to keep in mind that we’re not talking about  20 rep warm-up set.  In fact, the book suggests you start with your 10rm for the set of 20.

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Don't base it off of this set

“If it’s a 10rm, how do you squat it for 20 reps you idiot?!” Hey shut up for a second.  That’s the SECOND part of the program people screw up; these aren’t squats, they’re BREATHING squats.  What’s the difference?  On a normal high rep set of squats, you’ll probably knock out the first 3/4s of the reps without stopping, and once you get to the end you’ll take a few breaths between reps to “rest”.  With Super Squats, you’re taking those breaths in from rep ONE, and these are supposed to be the deepest breaths of your life.  It’s a minimum required 3 breaths per rep, but you are free to do more if you like.

Are breathing squats an old-timey gimmick?  No; it’s primitive rest pausing!  Now sure, the old timers told you that those deep breaths would give you a deep chest, and maybe there was something to that, but even if that’s not true, what they DO manage to do is force you to take a break between reps to rest and recover.  This gives you the chance to do your 10rm for 20 reps.  HOWEVER, it also forces you to stand with your 10rm on your back for about 2-3 minutes.  Even WITHOUT the squats, that is going to suck, but throw those in and you have the recipe for a TON of tension all across the body for a LOOONG time.  Throwing in some other lifting on top of all that just becomes madness.

WHY SUPER SQUATS

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Can't I just cycle for legs?

As I mentioned before, Super Squats is a major paradigm breaker in a lot of ways.  For one, if you think you train hard, once you run this program you’ll realize how run you were. And, in turn, once you’re done with this program, pretty much nothing else out there will phase you, because you can say “*Psh*, whatever, I ran Super Squats”.  I thought I was a complete Billy Badass before this, and about midway through the 6 weeks I realized I was actually dreading training because it was so awful. 

However, that dread is another reason why everyone needs to run this program; you gain a valuable lesson in obsessiveness.  I realize that word has a negative connotation and yes, being obsessed ALL the time is not a great thing, but if you ever have hopes of being competitive or even simply great at something, you’re going to need to get obsessed sometimes.  Super Squats teaches you to be obsessed about getting those 20 reps.  Each time you succeed, you are “rewarded” by adding another 5lbs to the bar for the next workout.  Whenever you fail, you will spend the next 47 hours thinking about how you absolutely COULD have gotten that last rep if only you weren’t such a wimp.  You’ll kick yourself, beat yourself up, and flat out hate yourself because you’ll be convinced that ALL the growth on the program happens on that 20th rep and, if you don’t hit it, you wasted a training session.  When you run this program, you will live, eat and breathe 20 rep squats.  All time not spent squatting will be spent either dreading the next workout or kicking yourself for failing the previous one.  Once the 20 reps are done, you will feel exactly 1 second of relief before realizing that, next workout, you have to do it again with 5 more pounds.

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Yeah pretty much this

You’ll noted I say “live, eat and breathe” 20 rep squats, because what you’ll be drinking is a ton of milk.  And yeah yeah, everyone is going to say “You don’t need to follow the diet; I know an app that TOTALLY calculates your macros and calories and there’s no reason to eat any more than what the computer tells me to eat!”, again, shut up for a second.  This is once again a lesson in obsessiveness.  So many underweight kids out there are like that because they’re adamantly CONVINCED that they totally eat a TON and they must just have a fast metabolism.  Cool story bro; tell it after you drank a gallon of milk on TOP of a diet rich in solid foods as well.  When you buy in completely to the program, to include the food intake, you suddenly learn how much you WEREN’T eating in your quest to get big previously.  And you’ll find that all those calories are necessary to keep pushing the weight up on those squats every single session.  But if you don’t want to eat that way, well…good luck.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE RIB CAGE EXPANSION?!
Image result for Big rib cage

Hey maybe it works...

Everyone gets so freaked out over this, and I don’t see it as any different than the “extreme stretching” from DoggCrapp.  Which is to say; just do it.  It’s 20 reps of pull overs; what’ the worst that could happen?  You accidentally develop a little chest muscle?  Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, but you may as well run it just to completely take part in the program.

MY OWN EXPERIENCE/LESSONS LEARNED

Image result for life is hard it's harder if you're stupid

I ran this program back in January of 2007 weighing 190 at the start, and finishing in 6 weeks at 202lbs.  Yeah, the book says “30lbs in 6 weeks”, grain of salt here fellows. At 5’9, I was pretty stocky there.  I was in my senior year of college and had access to a meal hall, so I was able to eat a lot of food that was already prepared for me and had very few demands on my time, which made it pretty awesome.  I’d say, if I had to do it all over again, I’d use a little more training volume.  I was running the super abbreviated program in the book, which boiled down to 2x12 of a press (bench or overhead), 2x15 of pulls (rows or chins), the squats and the pullovers.  There were other programs in there with more volume, along with programs in “The Complete Keys to Progress” and “Brawn” that do the same, and I think I would have been able to recover well, but I was trying to prove something by training less and still growing.

Good luck for those of you that decide to take this on.  Feel free to ask any questions you have, and please buy and read the book. 

21 comments:

  1. I very briefly tried running the 20 rep squat program. And very quickly realised why I had no business running it.

    But I'll defend the pullovers. Even if the ribcage expansion is full of shit, it's about the only movement I was in any shape to do right after the death set. Lay down on this bench and take deep breaths? That sounded like the greatest idea ever at that point. Beats sitting around sucking wind.

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    1. Too true! I looked forward to those pull-overs every time, because it gave me a chance to go lay down and die somewhere, haha.

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  2. I ran this in the Fall of 2012. I'd been away for work for about 6 months and had been doing bodyweight and kettlebell stuff during that time. My plan was to use it to shock myself back into barbell work because I'd read a lot about the mental anguish side of things. And that appealed to me. I hated running it. I can attest to the dread. The moments before I'd start the set after the halfway point were horrible.

    I don't know how much weight I put on. But I haven't felt so miserable lifting weights since then. Probably should run it again. Top up that well of anguished memories.

    Also, I like the typo here:

    "For one, if you think you train hard, once you run this program you’ll realize how run you were."

    Rather I like the ambiguity because I could see you using run as a synonym for wrong, weak, or just as a generic negative term to describe someone.

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    1. Doh! But sometimes, as you noted, those typos can be profound, haha.

      That dread before the set is ridiculous, and it just builds with every rep. The worse is when you're at rep 3 and already think it's starting to feel heavy, haha.

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  3. Rest pauses (among a few other things, like taking as long to recover as I needed) is how I ended up adding a total of 50 pushups every bodyweight session until I hit 400, and switched to EMOM training. It's definitely a great tool.

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    1. For sure. EMOMs are just another form of rest pause really, and incredibly beneficial. As much as people want to believe you always have to be fully recovered to get a great performance, the truth is that there is a lot of value in training while faituged.

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  4. Hi Punisher. You're scaring me because you've made me want to run this programme! Fortunatelly,I've got my programming mapped out until October when I have a comp but maybe after that.....
    I've been reading Alpha's early logs on T-nation for the first time and I'm struck by how similar your views are (even though they're expressed differently). Has he influenced your thinking/training at all? Jen

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    1. This program is a mindworm; it gets in your head, and the only way to get it out is to run it, haha. My wife gave it a run a while back as well and had a blast with it, but she consumed significantly less food than I did.

      I've definitely stolen ideas from Alpha in recent years, but realistically I imagine we just have similar mindsets from similar experiences. I'll find myself watching one of his videos or reading his thoughts and just adamantly agreeing and reflecting through it. The combat sports background we shared might have played a part too.

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    2. What benefits did your wife get from it? Did she notice any strength/physique changes or was it more the mental challenge? Also, what weight did she start and end with and did she increase by 5lbs each workout or use smaller increments? I definitely won't drink a gallon of milk a day!

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    3. Oh boy, this was about 10 years ago, so I'd be hard pressed to find out what her weights were. She DID have a log, but it was on Xanga and has since been deleted. She primarily did it for the mental challenge, but was still able to do the 5lb jumps each training session and did increase her strength that way. After that program she managed to work up to a 225lb high bar ATG squat, which she was pretty proud of.

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    4. 225lb/100k is impressive. I'll be nowhere near that and would be happy to end with 60k. It's good to hear of another woman completing it though.

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    5. I was super proud of her when she pulled it off. Her interest since switched to long distance running, but we just got a facebook reminder of it the other day and it was cool to look back on. Let me know how it goes if you end up running it!

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  5. Winter 2011. Had just started dating my girlfriend and she didn't understand why I didn't want her to come to the gym with me. It was winter break at the university and a friend of mine had a key to the closed-over-break varsity weightroom, so he'd let a friend and me in and we'd just lock the door, keep the lights off, and squat.

    Didn't finish it. 7-year itch might strike me here.

    Ugh.

    WR

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    1. That sounds like the perfect environment. I was managing to pull it off in the same weightroom that Jon Anderson apparently used, as I found out we went to the same college, haha. That said, it wasn't very awesome, and there was only 1 squat rack, but still.

      Get it done dude! Might be time to be super stupid again.

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    2. Maybe I'll ruin my summer after the July show.

      Think you and JA are meant to be soulmates, so you'd better go to ND now to make it happen.

      WR

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    3. If nothing else, it gave me a chuckle when he talked about "playing Rugby in college". At least while I was there, it was a club, not a team, and it was really more a drinking team with a rugby problem.

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    4. That's every rugby team, right up to the professional level. You have to fight to get them to put Gatorade in the coolers.

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    5. In fairness its a very painful game and drinking heavily makes it easier.

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  6. I tried this routine a couple months ago for many of the reasons you cite. I wanted to try to push beyond comfort and get a sense of intense training.
    I made it through the first workout with a slight headache and didn't think much of it. After completing the 20th rep in the second workout, I dropped to the floor for half and hour with the worst headache ever. After that day, even walking at a brisk pace could bring on the pain. I've since (mostly?) recovered.
    I had was seemed like an exersion headache several months before, but had recovered before trying this. I do recall that I felt a slight headache forming after rep 10 of the second workout, but I pushed through. Perhaps I shouldn't ignore a sign like this in the future. I'm hesitant to try this routine again for fear of my training being stopped dead again for weeks.
    You've mentioned exertion headaches before, but not your experience with them, to my knowledge. Thoughts?

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    1. I've heard of this happening to people, and I'll get post workout exertion headaches, but never occurred during the squats. What I hear as the culprit tends to be neck tension maintained through the squat that contributes to the headache, but that's pretty far outside my realm.

      I'd get looked at honestly.

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    2. I had the exact same problems with higher rep squat sets. I went to the doctor and he predictably didn't really know what it was. When I gave him my own theory that my body wasn't getting enough oxygen (and therefore neither was my brain), he said that sounded very plausible as oxygen-deprivation can be a cause of migraines. I started taking more breaths between reps (more than I felt I needed) and it hasn't happened since. I will be taking at least 10 breaths between reps by the time I get to the end of a set. It's important that you prioritise finding a comfortable bar position because you don't want discomfort to end your set early. Other than that, just remember to take your time.

      I hope this helps!

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