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 is a muscle-building program invented by the Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin. German Volume Training is sometimes called the “10 sets of 10” method because your goal is to perform 10 sets of 10 reps on 1-2 major exercises. I recommend you use your 20-rep max the first time you attempt this program. As your muscular endurance improves you can use heavier and heavier weights and still get your 10 sets of 10 reps in.
Here is what your ten sets of back squats might look like:
- 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 bodybuilders have a hard time performing 10 reps on all 10 sets the first time they use this program. Don’t worry, that is perfectly normal. Each time you perform this set / rep scheme your muscular endurance will improve and you will be performing 10 sets of 10 reps before you know it!
You may also find that by your 8th-10th set your strength begins to increase out of nowhere. Don’t worry – 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.
In my experience the German Volume Training protocol works ESPECIALLY well for building bigger, stronger quads. The quads are just one of those muscle groups that seem to respond extremely well to higher-rep training protocols.
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 effective than it looks. Check it out:
German Volume Training Back Squat Workout
- A1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels slightly elevated), 10 x 10, 4/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest
- A2: Bilateral seated leg curl (Poliquin method** / feet neutral), 10 x 6, 4/0/2/0, 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 plantar flex your ankles (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range.
For this workout you are going to perform 10 sets of back squats and leg curls followed by a couple of accessory exercises for the quads and hamstrings. This may not sound like a lot of work but if you perform this workout correctly you will have a hard time sitting down on the toilet for the next 3-5 days!
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
Klokov squats were invented by the Russian Olympic Weightlifting world champion Dmitry Klokov. Dmitry’s favorite way to boost his squatting strength was to squat down very slowly and to pause for several seconds in the bottom position.
Here is Dmitry klokov giving a perfect demonstration of the Klokov squat:
As you can see Dmitry lowers himself down very slowly and pauses for several seconds in the bottom position. Squatting this way is an AWESOME way to blast through training plateaus in the back squat.
Klokov squats are so effective because it eccentrically overloads your muscles. As you may already know eccentric training is one of the fastest ways to build muscle mass and strength.
The other big advantage of Klokov squats is the long isometric pause in the bottom position eliminates the stretch reflex. In other words the long pause forces you to use nothing but your muscles to blast yourself up to lockout.
This is very helpful for attacking a weakness in the bottom position of the squat and for strengthening your vastus medialis muscle.
Many world-class strength coaches including Wolfgang Unsoeld and Charles Poliquin like to use Klokov squats with a 7/6/X/0 tempo. In other words they have their athletes squat down over 7 seconds, pause for 6 seconds in the bottom position and explode up out of the bottom of the squat.
Here is Friedrick Luethke giving a perfect demonstration of the 7/6/X/0 Klokov squat:
Now THAT is what you call perfect squatting technique!
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:
Klokov Squat Routine
- A1: Back squat (wide stance / heels flat), 6-8 x 1, 7/6/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Kneeling unilateral leg curl (foot plantarflexed / pointing in), 6-8 x 2-3, 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
For this routine you are going to perform 6-8 singles on the back squat. If you are feeling like superman that day then go ahead and perform 8 singles. On the other hand if you feel more tired than Ron Burgundy after performing 1,000 bicep curls then stick with 6 total sets.
These singles are not Westside Barbell style “max effort” singles. Instead I want you to use a weight that is between 90-95% of your estimated 1-rep max for that day. The strength gains on this routine come from the high volume of quality sets, not your performance on any one individual set.
If you perform this routine correctly then you can expect some of the fastest strength gains of your life!
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. For example:
- 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:
Back Squat 7/5/3 Wave Loading Routine
- 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 an advanced hypertrophy training method popularized by the strength coach Charles Poliquin. The basic idea is to perform 3 exercises in a row for the same muscle group as part of a tri-set.
Tri-sets are easily one of the best training methods for building muscle mass. The basic idea is to perform 3 exercises in a row for an exercise with only 10 seconds rest in between sets.
Tri-sets are so effective for building muscle because they triple the time under tension of the set and force your muscles to work longer than normal. This creates a TON of muscular damage and metabolic fatigue which is fantastic for building muscle mass.
The thing that makes the 6/12/25 method different from regular tri-sets is the rep ranges: you are going to perform 6 reps on the first exercise, 12 reps on the second exercise and 25 reps on the third exercise! For example:
The 6/12/25 Training Protocol
- Exercise #1: 6 reps, rest 10 seconds
- Exercise #2: 12 reps, rest 10 seconds
- Exercise #3: 25 reps, rest 2-4 minutes, repeat!
The quadriceps have a very wide range of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers. For optimal results you have to use a wide variety of rep ranges including sets in the 4-6 rep range and sets in the 20-30+ rep range. The 6/12/25 method is so effective for building bigger, stronger quads because it combines all of these different rep ranges into a single training method!
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. I recommend that you design your 6/12/25 method quad workouts with a variety of free weight and machine exercises. A great strategy is to start your routine with back squats and then progress to different machine and isolation exercises. Here is a sample routine you may want to try. Check it out:
6/12/25 Method Back Squat 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
The order of exercises is very important for this routine. You want the last exercise in this routine to be a machine exercise or some other simple exercise like walking dumbbell lunges. Performing 25 reps on the third part of a quadriceps tri-set is absolutely brutal and you want to pick an exercise where it is easy to fight through the pain all the way to the 25th rep. For example you could also design a 6/12/25 method quadriceps routine using front squats, machine hack squats and walking dumbbell lunges. As long as you are careful with your third exercise then you can use almost any exercises you want. Of course performing a hamstrings tri-set after you are done training quads does not make you a bad person!
Part 5: Breathing Squats
“Breathing squats” are one of the oldest and most effective ways to build a huge squat and massive legs. Many modern bodybuilding programs such as Dante Trudel’s DC Training program use breathing squats as a core training method.
Breathing squats are an advanced training method where you perform 20 reps on the back squat using your 10-rep max. No, that was not a typo: you are going to perform 20 reps with your 10-rep max!
First you are going to perform 10 hard reps with your 10-rep max. Then instead of racking the weight you are going to lock out your knees and take several deep breaths with the bar on your back. After you take 3-5 deep breaths you are going to perform another 1-3 hard reps. You just keep going until you have performed 20 total reps. For example:
The 20 Rep Breathing Squat Protocol
- Perform 10 reps with your 10-rep max. Then lock out your knees and take 3-5 deep breaths.
- Perform 1-3 more reps, then lock out your knees and take 3-5 deep breaths.
- Perform 1-3 more reps, then lock out your knees and take 3-5 deep breaths.
And so on. You just keep going until you have performed 20 total reps!
Here is the legendary bodybuilder Tom Platz performing a set of breathing squats with 525 pounds:
What an unbelievable set of squats!
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:
DC Training 20-Rep Breathing Squat Routine
- 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
Supra-maximal eccentric training is one of the most powerful training methods you can use for building maximal strength. Eccentric training is a training method where you overload the lowering phase of an exercise.
Research shows that the eccentric or lowering phase of an exercise is where most of the size and strength gains occur during an exercise. Eccentric training protocols take advantage of this by specifically overloading the lowering phase of an exercise.
There are many different ways to perform eccentric training but one of the most effective is called “supra-maximal eccentric training.” The goal of supra-maximal eccentric training is to slowly lower a weight that is heavier than your 1-rep max. These ultra-heavy eccentric reps are unbelievably effective for stimulating strength gains.
One of the best ways to perform supra-maximal eccentric training is with 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:
Stan Efferding’s 20 Rep Squat Workout
- 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 a training method where you take short rest breaks in between the reps of your sets. These short intra-set rest periods give your muscles a chance to partially recover so they can produce more force on each set.
There are many different cluster set training strategies that you can use to train the back squat. However, one of the oldest and most effective ones is called Poliquin cluster sets.
Poliquin clusters are a training method where you perform 5 sets of 5 reps with 90% of your 1-rep max. Don’t worry, Charles Poliquin hasn’t gone completely insane! The secret is you are going to rest for 15 seconds in between each rep. These short intra-set rest intervals give your muscles just enough time to remove waste products and partially recover.
Here is what a typical Poliquin cluster set looks like:
- Perform your 1st rep, rack the weight, rest 15 seconds
- Perform your 2nd rep, rack the weight, rest 15 seconds
- Perform your 3rd rep, rack the weight, rest 15 seconds
- Perform your 4th rep, rack the weight, rest 15 seconds
- Perform your 5th rep, rack the weight, done!
Here is a perfect demonstration of Poliquin cluster sets on the back squat:
As you can see the athlete racks the weight for 15 seconds in between each of his 5 reps. These short rest periods give his muscles just enough time to partially recover so he can apply maximum force into the bar on each rep.
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:
Cluster Sets Back Squat Routine
- 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.
Your goal with this workout is to perform all 5 sets of 5 reps with the same weight. Using the same weight on all of your sets helps to stimulate strength gains in your central nervous system.
If you go too heavy on your first set and “shit the bed” then you won’t have enough energy for your other sets.
This is why it is so important to stay conservative with your weight selection. If you perform all 5 sets with the same weight then go ahead and increase the weight for your next workout.
However, if you have to lighten the weight on your last couple of sets then use the same weight at your next workout and try to get all 5 sets with the same weight.
Before long you may find that you are performing multiple repetitions with your old 1-rep max!
The back squat is one of the best, most “bang-for-your-buck” exercises that you can perform in the gym. No other exercise trains all of the muscles of the lower body quite like the back squat.
In this guide I showed you 9 of the most effective back squat routines including cluster sets, the 6/12/25 method and German Volume Training.
If you are interested in building bigger, stronger legs and increasing your back squat then these routines are for you! Just make sure you are ready for these routines before you try them. If you have the pain tolerance of Ace Ventura then these routines will eat you up and spit you out alive!
“Don’t be afraid to fail or look like a fool. These are necessary milestones on your way to the top.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
The push / pull / legs split is one of the best training splits a bodybuilder can use. Many professional bodybuilders like Jeff Nippard have made it a core part of their training programs. If you...
There are many different ways to build your upper back. Many bodybuilders have built impressive backs using high-volume routines with lots of volume and short rest periods. However, in my...