The back squat is one of the best exercises that you can do to build size and strength over your entire lower body. The back squat has even been called the king of all exercises!
If you want to build muscle mass and strength then you must familiarize yourself with the 9 greatest back squat workouts of all time!
- Part 1: German Volume Training
- Part 2: Klokov Squats
- Part 3: 7/5/3 Wave Loading
- Part 4: The 6/12/25 Method
- Part 5: Breathing Squats
- Part 6: Japanese Drop Sets
- Part 7: Supra-Maximal Eccentric Reps
- Part 8: 3 x 20
- Part 9: Cluster Sets
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you 9 of the most effective back squat training routines ever invented. Everything from 20-rep “breathing squats” to accentuated eccentric training will be covered in this article.
Whether you are a bodybuilding looking to pack on slabs of muscle mass to your quads or a powerlifter looking to boost your lower body strength I am confident that at least a few of these routines will work AWESOME for you.
Warning: these routines are not for the feint of heart. In fact these are some of the most physically and psychologically demanding back squat routines ever written!
If you are allergic to hard work then these routines are not for you.
Of course there is an upside: if you are willing to put in the work then these back squat routines will give you some of the best gains of your entire life.
Please note that every one of these routines is written with all of the loading parameters clearly defined. If you have any trouble reading these routines then please consult this article.
Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: German Volume Training
German volume training was invented and popularized by the late strength coach Charles Poliquin. The basic idea is to perform ten sets of ten reps on 1-2 major exercises using your 20-rep max.
In my experience the German Volume Training protocol works ESPECIALLY well for building muscular hypertrophy on the quadriceps.
The quariceps are just one of those muscle groups that seem to respond extremely well to higher-rep training protocols.
Of course if you are primarily interested in all-out strength gains then German Volume Training is probably not your best bet.
Here is what the ten sets of ten back squats training protocol might look like for an intermediate level bodybuilder:
- Set #1: 315 x 10
- Set #2: 315 x 10
- Set #3: 315 x 10
- Set #4: 315 x 10
- Set #5: 315 x 9
- Set #6: 315 x 8
- Set #7: 315 x 7
- Set #8: 315 x 6
- Set #9: 315 x 7
- Set #10: 315 x 7
Most trainees will find that their muscular endurance really starts to drop off around the 5th set the first time they try German Volume Training. Don’t worry – this is extremely normal.
Just stick with the same weight the next time you repeat this workout and do your best to complete all 10 sets of 10 reps. The day you get all 10 sets of 10 reps is the day that you can increase your weights on this routine.
You may also find that by your 8th-10th set your strength begins to increase out of nowhere. Once again this is extremely normal.
The act of performing 10 sub maximal sets on the same exercise has the effect of “potentiating” your nervous system and allowing you to complete more reps than otherwise expected.
Here is a German Volume Training routine that you may want to try to build some serious size on your lower body. Trust me, this routine is far more demanding and far more powerful than it looks.
Many trainees have seen the best quadriceps growth of their entire lives on a routine as simple as this.
Check it out:
- A1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels slightly elevated), 10 x 10, 4/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- A2: Bilateral seated leg curl (Poliquin method** / feet neutral), 10 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B1: Alternating reverse DB lunge, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
- B2: 45 degree back extension (holding DB at chest), 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/1, 30 seconds rest
**Dorsiflex your ankles (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantarflex your ankles (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range.
It is extremely important to stick to the exercise tempos and rest intervals laid out in this routine. The 4-second lowering phase is particularly important to make sure that you accumulate sufficient time under tension on each of the ten sets.
If you start “dive-bombing” on the descent of each rep then you will not get the maximum benefit out of this routine!
Part 2: Klokov Squats
A “Klokov squat” is a squat performed with a 7/6/X/0 tempo. That is, you lower the weight down over seven seconds and pause for six seconds in the bottom position. Immediately after the six-second isometric pause you explode the weight back up to lockout.
For example here is a perfect demonstration of the Klokov squat:
Dmitry’s preferred way of boosting his strength in the back and front squat was to use very slow eccentric phases and long isometric pauses in the bottom position. This is a rather unconventional approach to training the back squat but it worked like magic for Dmitry.
For example you can click right here to watch Dmitry Klokov perform a “Klokov squat” with 550 pounds.
Keep in mind this was done many years after he formally retired from competing in Olympic Weightlifting.
Many world-class strength coaches such as Wolfgang Unsoeld regularly use Klokov squats with their clients to rapidly boost maximal strength in the back squat.
In fact Klokov squats have several key advantages going for them:
- Rapidly improves your back squatting technique
- Increases your eccentric strength levels
- Eliminates the stretch reflex in the bottom position
The bottom line is that Klokov Squats are a superior training tool that you can use to rapidly boost your lower body strength. Here is a sample training routine that you may want to try.
Check it out:
- A1: Back squat (wide stance / heels flat), 7-8 x 1, 7/6/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Kneeling unilateral leg curl (foot plantarflexed / pointing in), 7-8 x 1, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Front foot elevated split squat (holding DBs), 3 x 5-7, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: 45 degree back extension (eccentric emphasis with DBs), 3 x 7-9, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
It is important to be conservative with your weight selection on this exercise. You want to pick a weight that lets you complete all 7-8 sets of singles with the same weight.
I recommend you select a weight that you could lift for about 3-5 reps on that day. If you can complete all 7-8 sets with the same load then go ahead and increase the weight on your next workout.
Part 3: 7/5/3 Wave Loading
Wave loading is an incredibly effective way to train. In my experience the 7/5/3 wave loading protocol works especially well for boosting strength levels on the back squat and increasing functional hypertrophy on the quadriceps.
A strength training “wave” is simply a group of three sets performed with decreasing rep ranges.
For example, here is what a 7/5/3 wave might look like:
- Set #1: 7 reps
- Set #2: 5 reps
- Set #3: 3 reps
This probably looks a lot like the traditional “pyramid” schemes where you increase the weight and decrease the reps in a workout over many sets.
The thing that makes wave loading unique is that you perform 2-4 of these waves in a single workout. Typically a 7/5/3 wave loading workout features 2 waves per major exercise.
- Set #1: 7 reps
- Set #2: 5 reps
- Set #3: 3 reps
- Set #4: 7 res
- Set #5: 5 reps
- Set #6: 3 reps
The most important benefit of any wave loading protocol is that it excites your nervous system. The waves are structured in such a way that your nervous system gets better and better at recruiting motor units as the workout progresses.
Most trainees actually find that they are 1-2% stronger on the second wave vs the first wave in a single workout!
In my experience 7/5/3 wave loading works especially well on the back squat because it lets you flirt with heavier weights but without burning out your central nervous system. If you are interested in becoming stronger or enhancing the size of your fast-twitch muscle fibers then 7/5/3 wave loading is for you!
Here is a sample wave loading squat routine that you may want to try.
Check it out:
- A1: Back squat (medium stance / heels slightly elevated), 6 x 7/5/3**, 3/2/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method**** / feet pointed out), 6 x 7/5/3**, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- B1: Deficit snatch grip deadlift, 3 x 8-10, 3/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest
**Performed as a 7/5/3 wave loading protocol as described above. Perform 6 total sets with the following rep scheme: 7, 5, 3, 7, 5, 3.
******Dorsiflex your ankles (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantarflex your ankles (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range.
7/5/3 wave loading is probably the one training method included in this article that works equally well for BOTH bodybuilders and powerlifters!
Regardless of your training goal I am confident that you will be able to make excellent progress on this routine.
For more information on this superior training method I highly recommend the following articles:
Part 4: The 6/12/25 Method
The 6/12/25 method is a special type of tri-set that is specifically designed to boost muscular hypertrophy at an extremely fast rate. The 6/12/25 method is also very effective for dropping body fat in record time.
The procedure for performing the 6/12/25 method is rather simple: you are going to perform 3 different exercises back-to-back for the same body part with only ten seconds rest in-between sets.
Of course this is the standard procedure for performing a tri-set. The thing that makes the 6/12/25 method unique is the target rep ranges. You are going to perform 6 reps on your first exercise, 12 reps on your second exercise, and 25 reps on your third exercise!
This sequence of exercises and rep ranges produces an absolutely horrible amount of muscular damage and metabolic fatigue.
By the end of the tri-set your quadriceps are going to be absolutely overwhelmed with lactic acid! If you are going to use the 6/12/25 method to train your quads then you need to adopt the following attitude in the gym:
“May God have mercy on my quads, because I won’t!”
Don’t worry, the temporary pain you will experience on this routine is well worth the effort.
The 6/12/25 method is extremely effective for rapidly boosting muscular hypertrophy in the quadriceps. After 2-4 weeks on this routine you may find that you have a hard time fitting into your old pant legs!
Here is the routine:
- A1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels slightly elevated), 4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Leg press, 4 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Leg extension, 4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
It is possible to pick a different set of exercises for this routine. However, I strongly recommend that you perform some sort of machine or isolation exercise such as the leg extension or leg press for your 25-rep set.
Reversing the order of the exercises on this routine is not likely to end well for you!
Part 5: Breathing Squats
“Breathing squats” are one of the classic bodybuilding routines from the golden era of bodybuilding.
The idea is simple: you are going to perform 20 reps with your 10-rep max on the back squat. No, that was not a typo: you are going to perform 20 reps with your 10-rep max!
After you complete your first 10 reps you are going to lock out your legs with the barbell on your back and take several (3-5) deep breaths. This should give your legs just enough rest that you can bust out another 1-3 reps.
You will then repeat this process of taking several deep breaths and busting out another 1-3 reps until you have completed 20 total repetitions.
Of course this is where the name “breathing squats” comes from!
Here is the legendary bodybuilder Tom Platz giving a perfect demonstration of a “breathing squat” set:
Let’s get one thing straight: breathing squats are NOT for everybody. You are going to perform one single set of squats and that is it for quadriceps.
Many people do not respond well to this type of low-volume training approach. Many others simply do not have the psychological profile to handle this type of training program.
However, for some people breathing squats work like absolute magic. Just as one example Dante Trudel has trained an absolute army of 250-300 pound bodybuilders using his DC Training bodybuilding program which is built on a foundation of 20-rep breathing squats.
Dante prefers to call this set of squats the “widowmaker.” This should give you an idea of how hard you are working during this one all-out set!
Here is a sample lower body routine featuring breathing squats that you may want to try.
Check it out:
- A1: Leg press calf raise, 1 x 7-10**, 2/2/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Bilateral seated leg curl (Poliquin method*** / feet pointing out), 1 x 7-10**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- C1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 2 x (5, 20****), 2/0/X/0, 240 seconds rest
**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Perform 7-10 reps to failure, rest while taking 12-15 deep breaths, train to failure a second time, rest while taking 12-15 deep breaths, train to failure a third time, done!
*****Dorsiflex your ankles (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantarflex your ankles (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range.
****Performed as a “breathing squat” as described above. Use your 10-rep max. After completing rep #10 you take several deep breaths with your legs locked out and then perform 1-3 more reps. Continue this process until you have completed 20 total reps.
Breathing squats is a highly underrated training tool that has stood the test of time. Countless trainees have seen their 10-rep max on the back squat go up by 25-50 pounds in 1-3 months using this type of routine.
Of course the muscle mass gains that you can expect on this type of routine are even more impressive!
Part 6: Japanese Drop Sets
Japanese drop sets were invented by a team of Japanese researchers at the beginning of the 21st century. The basic idea is to perform five sets of five reps on an exercise. On the very last set of five reps you are going to perform a quadruple drop set.
In other words you are going to perform a drop set where you drop the weight four separate times!
Here is what a Japanese Drop Set protocol looks like in practice:
- Set #1: 5 reps, rest 2-4 minutes
- Set #2: 5 reps, rest 2-4 minutes
- Set #3: 5 reps, rest 2-4 minutes
- Set #4: 5 reps, rest 2-4 minutes
- Set #5: 5 reps, drop the weight and rest 10 seconds, 5 reps, drop the weight and rest 10 seconds, 5 reps, drop the weight and rest 10 seconds, 5 reps, drop the weight and rest 10 seconds, 5 reps, done!
In my experience Japanese drop sets work INCREDIBLY well for boosting functional hypertrophy (or hypertrophy of the fast-twitch muscle fibers).
The fast twitch muscle fibers are often neglected by bodybuilders and other physique athletes. This is surprising as the fast-twitch fibers are the ones with the greatest latent potential for size and strength gains!
If you ignore the fast-twitch muscle fibers in your training then you are literally leaving slabs of muscle tissue on the table!
Here is a Japanese drop set workout featuring the back squat.
Check it out:
- A1: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointing straight), 5 x 5, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- A2: Back squat (narrow stance / heels flat), 5 x 5**, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- B1: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 3 x 8-10, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
This routine is far more demanding than it looks. Of course the most demanding part of this routine is the massive drop set performed on the fifth set of back squats. This set separates the champions from the losers.
You are going to have to dig deep on this set. As the professional bodybuilder Ben Pakulski likes to say, “you have to take your balls out of your purse” for this set. Don’t worry, the results are more than worth the effort.
Japanese drop sets are like CT Fletcher: they command your quads to grow!
If you want to learn more about Japanese drop sets (or drop sets in general) then I highly recommend you check out the following articles:
Part 7: Supra-Maximal Eccentric Reps
It’s no secret that I am a HUGE fan of eccentric training. Eccentric training is easily one of the most effective training methods ever invented. It is also one of the most underrated training methods.
This is somewhat understandable. After all, you have to be a little bit crazy to go out of your way to overload the lowering phase of an exercise.
In reality there are many different ways to overload the eccentric phase of every exercise. This includes the king of all exercises: the back squat.
Earlier in this article I showed you how to overload the eccentric phase of back squats with the “Klokov squat.” This is an extremely effective training method in it’s own right. However, there is an even more effective way to perform accentuated eccentric training on the back squat.
This method involves weight releasers.
Here is the world-renowned strength coach Josh Bryant giving a perfect explanation and demonstration of weight releasers on the bench press:
Weight releasers are large metal hooks that attach onto either side of a barbell. They make the barbell heavier during the lowering phase of an exercise (squat, bench press etc.). However, once you reach the bottom position of the exercise they fall so you are just lifting the weight of the barbell.
In layman’s terms weight releasers are a tool that you can use to overload the eccentric phase of back squats and other barbell exercises!
One of the cool things about weight releasers is that you can actually lower a weight that is well above your regular 1-rep max.
The average trainee will find that they can safely lower anywhere from 105-120% of their 1-rep max with the use of weight releasers. In fact, some highly experienced trainees can safely lower as much as 140% of their 1-rep max!
Here is a weight releasers back squat workout that you may want to try.
Check it out:
- A1: Back squat with weight releasers (medium stance / heels flat), 7 x 1, 10/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- A2: Bilateral seated leg curl 2/1 method (feet plantarflexed / pointing out), 7 x 2, 10/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: DB split squat, 3 x 5-7, 3/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: 45 degree back extension (band tension), 3 x 7-9, 2/0/X/1, 60 seconds rest
There are many benefits to w and other forms of supra-maximal eccentric training. To be blunt they are one of the best, if not THE best tools for increasing maximal strength and functional hypertrophy.
Of course talking about all the benefits of accentuated eccentric training would extend beyond the scope of this article. If you are hungry for more information then I highly recommend you check out the following two articles:
Make no mistake: these are the 2 greatest articles ever written on building size and strength with accentuated eccentric training. Everything you could ever want to know about this superior training method is available right here.
Of course there are some drawbacks to the use of weight releasers. First of all they should only be used by trainees with at least 2 years of hardcore training experience in the gym.
If you are in your first 1 or 2 years of training then you should leave weight releasers alone. They are just too demanding for you.
The other major drawback is that most commercial gyms do not have weight releasers that you can use. You will have to train in a hardcore powerlifting gym or purchase a pair of your own weight releasers.
Of course if you are serious about your training then this shouldn’t be an issue.
Part 8: 3 x 20
Stan Efferding is easily one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. When Stan isn’t talking about steak and rice he has some very important things to say about how to optimize training programs for bodybuilders and powerlifters.
One of Stan’s more interesting recommendations is to perform multiple sets of 20 reps when you want to increase the size of your quadriceps.
For many years Stan’s quadriceps were his most underdeveloped body part. It wasn’t until he started performing multiple sets of 20 reps that he was able to bring up his lagging lower body to match his monstrous upper body development!
Nowadays Stan wholeheartedly recommends multiple sets of 20’s to anyone looking to bring up their quads. Many other successful coaches such as Ben Pakulski and Dante Trudel are in complete agreement with this.
Here is a rather simple but incredibly demanding lower body workout that Stan coached Chad Wesley Smith through. If you want to pack on some serious size onto your quadriceps then this may be just what the doctor ordered.
Check it out:
- A1: Back squat (wide stance / heels flat), 3 x 20, 2/0/X/0, 240 seconds rest
- B1: Farmer’s walk, 2 x 100 ft, 240 seconds rest
20 rep squats have a whole host of other benefits besides just increasing the size of your quadriceps. They also have a tremendous positive impact on your cardiovascular conditioning and your overall body composition.
I highly recommend you give this routine a shot!
If you want to learn more about 20 rep squats I highly recommend the following article:
I cover several different ways to program 20 rep squats into your routines. Several sample training routines are of course also included!
Part 9: Cluster Sets
Cluster sets are easily one of my “go-to” programs to rapidly boost maximal strength levels. Whenever one of my coaching clients complains of a lack of progress in the back squat I am immediately tempted to put them on a cluster sets routine.
I am certainly not alone in this regard. Many of the world’s most successful strength coaches such as Charles Poliquin, Christian Thibadeau, and Josh Bryant regularly use cluster sets with their world-class strength athletes.
Christian Thibadeau even goes so far as to call cluster sets the single greatest training method to use to boost maximal strength. Talk about an endorsement!
The idea behind cluster sets is simple: you are going to perform 5 sets of 5 reps with 90% of your 1-rep max. I said simple, not easy! Normally this would be impossible. After all, most trainees can only perform 3 reps with 90% of their 1-rep max.
The unique wrinkle of cluster sets is that you are going to rest for 15 seconds between each of the five reps. These short intra-set rest intervals give your muscles just enough time to remove waste products and partially recover.
The end result is that you are able to perform 5 reps with your 3-rep max!
For example, here is what a typical cluster set would look like:
- Perform your 1st rep, rest 15 seconds
- Perform your 2nd rep, rest 15 seconds
- Perform your 3rd rep, rest 15 seconds
- Perform your 4th rep, rest 15 seconds
- Perform your 5th rep, done!
I should warn you that cluster sets are incredibly demanding on the central nervous system. They should be reserved for intensification phases only where you are primarily focused on boosting your strength levels.
Cluster sets do a good job of hypertrophying the fast-twitch muscle fibers but they should not be used during accumulation phases when your primary goal is increased muscular size.
Here is a back squat cluster sets workout that you may want to try.
Check it out:
- A1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 5 x 5**, 5/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- A2: Unilateral seated leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointing out), 5 x 5**, 5/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- B1: Snatch grip deadlift, 3 x 6-8, 4/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest
**Performed as a cluster set as descried above. Take a 15-second rest break in between each of the five reps.
Choosing the right weight is very important during a cluster sets workout. You want to pick a weight that lets you complete all 5 sets of 5 reps without missing any of your reps.
It is normally better to be conservative with your weight selection on the first workout. Don’t worry, your training weights will go up very rapidly from workout to workout.
Before long you may find that you are performing multiple repetitions with your old 1-rep max!
The back squat is easily one of the most effective exercises that you can do. As I demonstrated in my article “Back Squats Vs. Front Squats!” the back squat is probably the single best squatting exercise that you can do.
Of course it is not enough to know about the most bang-for-your-buck exercises. You also have to know how to write effective training programs with them!
Rest assured I am extremely confident that these 9 back squat workouts will work AWESOME for you. Please keep in mind that these routines don’t work unless you do!
Always remember: the mind is more important than the body. Where the mind goes the body will follow. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
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