The Best Squat Sets And Reps For Size And Strength!


squat sets and reps

The squat can be trained with a wide variety of set and rep schemes.

Many strength athletes have achieved unbelievable results in the gym using nothing but singles, doubles and triples on the squat. On the other hand some of the world’s best bodybuilders get their best results using multiple sets of 20 reps on the squat!

In reality the squat can be trained with a wide variety of set and rep schemes. Find out the best squat loading schemes right here!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Wave Loading
  • Part 2: Breathing Squats
  • Part 3: 6/12/25
  • Part 4: 2/1/1/1 Drop Sets
  • Part 5: 5 x 5
  • Part 6: 10 x 10 (German Volume Training)
  • Part 7: Japanese Drop Set
  • Part 8: Mechanical advantage drop set
  • Part 9: Isometronics
  • Part 10: Cluster Sets
  • Part 11: 8 x 1, 5 x 5
  • Part 12: 3 x 20
  • Part 13: Giant Sets
  • Part 14: Supra-Maximal Eccentric Training
  • Part 15: 5 x 2, 5 x 3
  • Part 16: Omni-Rep Supersets
  • Part 17: The Patient Lifter’s Method

In this comprehensive guide I am going to teach you 17 of the most effective squat set and rep schemes ever invented. One of the most important things you can do before choosing a set and rep scheme is to define your training goals.

Are you a strength athlete training to put up massive numbers in the squat rack? Or are you a bodybuilder trying to build a pair of tree-trunk thighs? The best set and rep schemes differ enormously for each of these goals.

Some of the best squat set and rep schemes for hypertrophy include the 6/12/25 method, 20-rep “breathing squats” and the German Volume Training program. On the other hand some of the best squat set and rep schemes for strength include cluster sets, wave loading and the Modified Hepburn Method.

Regardless of whether you are primarily interested in strength or size gains I am extremely confident that many of the set and rep schemes presented in this article will work AWESOME for you.

Note: if you have trouble reading the training routines in this article then check out this guide on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…

Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: Wave Loading

Wave loading is by far one of the most effective ways to structure a squat workout. Wave loading works unbelievably well for boosting your squatting strength. It also works reasonably well for building and maintaining muscular hypertrophy on your quadriceps.

So what the heck is wave loading?

A strength training wave is a series of three sets performed in a row with decreasing rep ranges.

For example here is what a 7/5/3 wave would look like:

  • Set #1: 7 reps
  • Set #2: 5 reps
  • Set #3: 3 reps

Strength training waves look a lot like a “reverse pyramid” set up. One of the things that makes waves different from a reverse pyramid is that you normally perform several waves within a single workout.

For example here is what a 7/5/3 wave loading workout might look like:

Wave #1

  • Set #1: 7 reps
  • Set #2: 5 reps
  • Set #3: 3 reps

Wave #2:

  • Set #4: 7 reps
  • Set #5: 5 reps
  • Set #6: 3 reps

Most trainees find that their strength actually improves a little bit on each subsequent wave. In other words on your 4th set you should be able to lift slightly more weight for 7 reps than you could on your 1st set. This is due to the principle of post-tetanic potentiation.

The lower rep sets help to “excite” your central nervous system. When you start your second wave the weights feel lighter on you back and you are able to lift slightly heavier loads. This is obviously a good thing if you are trying to build strength!

There are may different wave loading protocols that you could use. For the purposes of this article I am going to cover three of the most popular and effective ones:

  • 7/5/3 wave loading
  • 5/3/1 wave loading
  • 3/2/1 wave loading

7/5/3 wave loading is a great program for building both strength and functional hypertrophy. You know, hypertrophy specific to the fast-twitch muscle fibers.

The 7/5/3 wave loading protocol does a great job of exposing your body to some lower-rep sets but without totally burning out your central nervous system. If you are someone who struggles to recover from a lot of low-rep sets then this can be a great option.

Here is a sample 7/5/3 wave loading squat workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

7/5/3 Wave Loading Squat Workout

  • A1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 6 x 7/5/3**, 5/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / neutral), 6 x 7/5/3**, 5/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: DB Split squat, 4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 45 seconds rest
  • B2: Reverse hyperextension, 4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/2, 45 seconds rest

Of course if you are more interested in all-out strength gains then you may want to consider either 5/3/1 or 3/2/1 wave loading protocols.

The 5/3/1 wave loading scheme is an AWESOME way to train. You get to play around with maximal singles which are obviously great for increasing your limit strength.

However, the 5 and 3 rep sets also do a great job of building a foundation of strength. Because the reps are relatively lower you can perform anywhere from 2-3 total waves with this system.

For example:

Wave #1

  • Set #1: 5 reps
  • Set #2: 3 reps
  • Set #3: 1 rep

Wave #2: 

  • Set #4: 5 reps
  • Set #5: 3 reps
  • Set #6: 1 rep

Wave #3:

  • Set #7: 5 reps
  • Set #8: 3 reps
  • Set #9: 1 rep

Once again your goal is to increase your strength from one wave to the next. Here is a sample 5/3/1 wave loading squat workout that you may want to try.

Check it out:

5/3/1 Wave Loading Squat Workout

  • A1: Back squat (wide stance / heels flat), 6-9 x 5/3/1**, 3/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Leg press, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: Bilateral seated leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointed out), 3 x 4-6, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • C1: 45 degree back extension (band tension), 3 x 7-9, 2/0/X/2, 120 seconds rest

Of course this brings us to the 3/2/1 wave loading scheme. This is by far one of the most powerful set and rep schemes for building a stronger squat. It is also one of the most taxing set and rep schemes.

This protocol calls for anywhere from 2-4 total waves. In other words you will be performing 6-12 total working sets of squats!

Here is what a 3/2/1 wave loading workout might look like if you are having a perfect day:

Wave #1

  • Set #1: 3 reps @ 87%
  • Set #2: 2 reps @ 90%
  • Set #3: 1 rep @ 93%

Wave #2

  • Set #4: 3 reps @ 88%
  • Set #5: 2 reps @ 91%
  • Set #6: 1 rep @ 94%

Wave #3

  • Set #7: 3 reps @ 89%
  • Set #8: 2 reps @ 92%
  • Set #9: 1 reps @ 95%

Wave #4

  • Set #10: 3 reps @ 90%
  • Set #11: 2 reps @ 93%
  • Set #12: 1 rep @ 96%

Of course it is not strictly necessary to perform 4 total waves. If you have an average recovery ability then 2-3 total waves is probably more than enough.

As you can see your training weights should increase slightly as you progress through the workout. The single repetitions performed on each wave make all of the subsequent weights feel lighter.

Actually the 3/2/1 wave loading protocol is one of the best ways to peak your strength on a particular lift. If you are preparing to do a 1-rep max on the squat then this is one of the best set and rep schemes that you can use.

Here is a 3/2/1 wave loading front squat workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

3/2/1 Wave Loading Squat Workout

  • A1: Front squat (narrow stance / heels flat), 6-12 x 3/2/1**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / neutral), 6-12 x 3/2/1**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/2, 120 seconds rest

Here are some sample exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2.

In my experience the 3/2/1 wave loading protocol works MUCH better with the front squat than the back squat. The front squat tends to be more forgiving on your lower back and knees when performed for super low reps.

Of course this isn’t just my opinion – the scientific literature has repeatedly confirmed this.

You now have three different wave loading schemes that you can use to build a bigger squat. There are many different ways that you could periodize your wave loading workouts. However, one of my favourite methods is to actually perform a 3-workouts progression using all three of these loading schemes.

For example:

  • Workout #1: 7/5/3 wave loading
  • Workout #2: 5/3/1 wave loading
  • Workout #3: 3/2/1 wave loading
  • Workout #4: 7/5/3 wave loading
  • Workout #5: 5/3/1 wave loading
  • Workout #6: 3/2/1 wave loading

This sequence can be repeated for a total of 6-12 workouts. If you are going to run this cycle for 9-12 workouts in a row then I recommend you use different exercises for each of the three wave loading routines.

The 3 sample wave loading workouts provided above would work perfect for this.

Part 2: Breathing Squats

20-rep breathing squats are one of the oldest and most effective bodybuilding training programs. I first read about the infamous 20-rep breathing squat protocol from the training book “Super Squats.”

The book was published in 1989 but it was based off of a training protocol that was very popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Many old-school bodybuilders claimed that this training technique helped them to add up to 20-30 pounds onto their frames in just one month!

The idea is simple: you are going to one all-out set of back squats for 20 reps. The crazy thing about this set / rep scheme is that you are going to perform it with your 10-rep max! No, I am not kidding: you have to perform 20 reps with your 10-rep maximum!

First you are going to load the barbell with your regular 10-rep max and bust out 10 repetitions in a row. After your 10th rep you lock out your knees with the barbell still on your back and you take in several deep breaths.

As soon as you feel partially recovered you squat down and bust out another 1-3 reps before locking out your knees and resting again. This process is repeated until you have completed 20 total reps.

For example:

  • Perform 10 reps in a row, then lock out your knees and take several deep breaths.
  • Perform 1-3 more reps, then lock out your knees and take several deep breaths.
  • Perform 1-3 more reps, then lock out your knees and take several deep breaths.
  • Etc.

Of course this process is repeated until you perform 20 total reps. This set is often called a “breathing squat” because you are taking in so many deep breaths after the tenth rep.

If you perform this set correctly then won’t be able to do anything else for your quads in that workout. For inspiration here is Tom Platz giving a perfect demonstration of a 20-rep breathing squat:

If you are a beginner or intermediate level bodybuilder then a great option is to perform the 20 rep squat workout twice per week. I recommend you train with a 4 days per week upper body / lower body split. For example:

  • Monday: Upper Body
  • Wednesday: Lower Body
  • Friday: Upper Body
  • Saturday: Lower Body

Here is how you might set up your workout:

Beginner-Intermediate 20 Rep Breathing Squat Workout

  • A1: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointed in), 3 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 1 x 20****, 4/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • C1: 45 degree back extension (band tension), 2 x 10-12, 2/0/X/1, rest as needed

**Performed as a “breathing squat” set with your 10 rep max. Perform 10 reps then take several deep breaths with your legs locked out and bust out another 1-3 reps. Continue until you have performed 20 total reps with your 10-rep max.

If this seems like a low-volume training program then you have clearly never done a 20-rep breathing squat! In this case one all-out set is all it takes to get some screaming fast size and strength gains if you really push yourself.

If you are more of an advanced trainee then you may have a difficult time performing a true 20-rep breathing squat every single lower body workout.

Breathing squats are very hard to recover from. However, they are also very hard psychologically. This is especially true once you start squatting 300+ pounds for your 20-rep sets.

One of your best options at this point is to start rotating three different lower body workouts. If you really like the breathing squat set / rep scheme then you could easily apply it to your other lower body workouts, just with different exercises.

For example for your quadriceps exercises you could perform back squats on your 1st lower body workout, leg presses for your 2nd workout and machine hack squats for your 3rd workout. This is essentially the approach that Dante Trudel uses with his DC Training bodybuilding system.

For example:

Breathing Squat Workout 1/3

  • A1: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (foot neutral / plantarflexed), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 1 x 20**, 3/0/X/0, 300 seconds rest

**Performed as a “breathing squat” set with your 10 rep max. Perform 10 reps then take several deep breaths with your legs locked out and bust out another 1-3 reps. Continue until you have performed 20 total reps with your 10-rep max.

Breathing Squat Workout 2/3

  • A1: Stiff legged deadlift, 2 x 8-12, 2/0/X/0, 240 seconds rest
  • B1: Leg press, 1 x 20**, 2/0/X/0, 240 seconds rest

**Performed as a “breathing squat” set with your 10 rep max. Perform 10 reps then take several deep breaths with your legs locked out and bust out another 1-3 reps. Continue until you have performed 20 total reps with your 10-rep max.

Breathing Squat Workout 3/3

  • A1: Machine hack squat, 1 x 20**, 3/0/X/0, 240 seconds rest
  • B1: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 120 seconds rest

**Performed as a “breathing squat” set with your 10 rep max. Perform 10 reps then take several deep breaths with your legs locked out and bust out another 1-3 reps. Continue until you have performed 20 total reps with your 10-rep max.

By rotating between three different lower body workouts you can actually make progress for a much longer period of time before stalling out.

This is very similar to the approach that Dante Trudel recommends with his DC Training system. In fact DC Training is probably the single most effective bodybuilding training program that features the 20-rep breathing squat set / rep scheme.

If you are interested in learning more about a complete bodybuilding training program featuring the 20-rep breathing squat then you must read this article:

DC Training: The Ultimate Guide!

Another great periodization option is to rotate through three completely different lower body workouts. One of them would feature the 20-rep breathing squat while the other two workouts would feature more conventional set and rep schemes.

For example:

  • Workout #1: 1 x 20 
  • Workout #2: 4 x 6-8
  • Workout #3: 7/5/3 wave loading

This is a great option to use if you normally like training with slightly more volume but want to give the 20-rep breathing squat a try once every few workouts.

The 20-rep breathing squat is easily one of the best bodybuilding training methods that you can use. I highly recommend you give it a try if you have an above average pain tolerance!

Part 3: 6/12/25

The 6/12/25 method is a special type of tri-set. As you may already know a tri-set is a special training method where you perform three exercises for the same body part with very little rest in between sets. For example:

  • Perform quadriceps exercise #1, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform quadriceps exercise #2, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform quadriceps exercise #3, rest 2-4 minutes

This circuit is usually repeated a total of 2-5 times for 2-5 total tri-sets. Tri-sets are an incredible training method to use when training for muscular hypertrophy. We know that hypertrophy is largely a function of the load and the time under tension of your sets. Just take a look at the following equation:

Muscular Hypertrophy = (Load) x (Time Under Tension)

If you want to maximize your muscular hypertrophy then you need to maximize both parts of this equation: the load AND the time under tension. I think Ronnie Coleman said it best: 

“It’s called bodybuilding and the only way you can build muscle is through repetition. Heavy weight, as heavy as possible and as many reps as possible.”

In my experience the 6/12/25 method is probably one of the best quadricep tri-sets that you can use to build muscle. The idea is simple: you are going to perform 6 reps on the first exercise in the tri-set, 12 reps in the second exercise, and 25 reps in the third exercise.

The 6/12/25 method combines the bet of both worlds: heavy loading AND an insanely high time under tension! This is a recipe for some unbelievably fast growth.

In my experience the 6/12/25 method works especially well when training the quadriceps. You would use a front or back squat for the first exercise and machines for the second and third exercises.

Here is what a typical squat workout featuring the 6/12/25 method might look like:

6/12/25 Front Squat Workout

  • A1: Front squat (wide stance / heels flat), 3-4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Machine hack squat, 3-4 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Leg press, 3-4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

The lactic acid from this routine is absolutely horrible. You are going to have to dig deep to complete the 25 reps of leg extensions at the end of each tri-set. Remember, the more lactic acid you produce the more your puny little legs are going to grow.

You might want to throw in some hamstrings work at the end of this routine for a more balanced leg workout. For example you might want to perform a superset consisting of leg curls and 45 degree back extensions. 

Part 4: 2/1/1/1 Drop Sets

Most people believe that drop sets are only for bodybuilders. It is true that drop sets are one of the most popular high-intensity bodybuilding techniques.

However, drop sets can also be modified to work AWESOME for all-out strength gains. This is particularly true when it comes to training big compound exercises such as the front squat or back squat.

One of the very best ways to increase your squatting strength is with 2/1/1/1 drop sets. I learned about 2/1/1/1 drop sets from the “Strength Sensei” Charles Poliquin many years ago.

The idea is simple: you are going to work up to a heavy double on squats. Then you reduce the weight by 2-4%, rest 10 seconds and perform another single repetition. This process is repeated until you have performed 5 total reps.

For example:

  • Perform 2 reps, drop the weight by 2-4%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 1 rep, drop the weight by 2-4%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 1 rep, drop the weight by 2-4%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 1 rep, done!

Altogether this counts as one single 2/1/1/1 drop set. Charles Polquin recommends that you perform 3-4 of these drop sets in a single workout. For example here is a sample 2/1/1/1 drop set workout you may want to try. Check it out:

2/1/1/1 Drop Set Front Squat Routine

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels elevated), 3 x 2/1/1/1**, 5/0/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: Bilateral seated leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing out), 3 x 5-7, 2/0/X/1, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Reverse hyperextension, 3 x 10-12, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

One of the big advantages of the 2/1/1/1 set and rep scheme is that you are able to perform an enormous volume of work in a very short period of time. In other words the “training density” of your workout is practically through the roof!

Just think about it: each of your 2/1/1/1 drop sets is easily the equivalent of 4 regular sets. That means if you perform 3-4 of these drop sets in a single workout you are really performing the equivalent of 12-16 total sets of squats! Talk about a high-volume squat workout!

In my experience the 2/1/1/1 drop set method is great for when you want to rapidly boost your squatting strength while also building some functional hypertrophy.

Despite the lower rep ranges these drop sets actually create a lot of muscular fatigue which is helpful for increasing muscle mass. 

Part 5: 5 x 5

The five sets of five loading scheme is easily one of the most reliable set and rep schemes for building a big squat. The idea is incredibly simple: you perform 5 sets of 5 reps with a given weight. For most trainees this will be somewhere around 80-85% of their estimated 1-rep max.

The five sets of 5 reps loading scheme is so effective for building a stronger squat because it represents the perfect compromise between neurological adaptations and muscular adaptations.

In reality there are two main ways that you can build a stronger squat: 

  • Your nervous system becomes more effective at recruiting and firing the muscle fibers of your lower body
  • Your muscle fibers themselves become larger and are able to produce more force

The routines that work best for increasing neurological adaptations tend to feature relatively low rep ranges. The 3/2/1 wave loading scheme is a great example of this.

By performing a large volume of singles, doubles, and triples your body becomes better at activating the fast-twitch muscle fibers in the legs. Ultimately this translates into a bigger squat.

On the other hand increasing the size of your muscles is also a great way to boost your strength potential. Performing 5 sets of 5 reps on any type of squat is a great way to get the best of both of these worlds in a single workout: neurological adaptations AND muscular adaptations.

Some of the most popular 5 x 5 programs include three squat workouts per week. In my experience this type of squat frequency works well for a very small percentage of the training population.

Most trainees get FAR better results squatting no more than twice per week. This is especially true when you start squatting in the 300-500+ pound range on a regular basis.

Here is a 5 x 5 squat workout that you can perform anywhere from once every 3-7 days. Check it out:

5 x 5 Squat Program

  • A1: Safety squat bar squat (wide stance / heels flat), 5 x 5, 3/1/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (Poliquin method / feet neutral), 5 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Walking alternating DB lunge, 3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Snatch grip Romanian deadlift, 3 x 7-9, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest

Here are the sample training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2.

For this specific routine I recommend you perform your squats with a safety squat bar.

Of course there is nothing wrong with performing a 5 x 5 workout with either front squats or back squats. However, the safety squat bar has many advantages and certainly deserves a place in your long-term squat programming.

The bar itself has a camber in it which puts the weights further in front of your body than normal. In other words the center of gravity is actually further out in front of your body than normal.

While you squat it is going to feel like the safety squat bar is trying to make you “face plant” on the ground in front of you!

This just means that your lower back and upper back are going to have to work harder than usual. In my experience the safety squat bar works best with sets in the 4-8 rep range. This makes the safety squat bar a perfect choice when using the 5 x 5 set and rep scheme. 

Part 6: 10 x 10 (German Volume Training)

German Volume Training is often called the “10 sets of 10” set and rep scheme. The German Volume Training program was originally used by various German Olympic Weightlifting teams in the mid-1900s.

They used it with back squats because it was one of the fastest and easiest ways to add slabs of muscle to the quadriceps.

The idea is simple: you are going to perform 10 sets of 10 reps with a single exercise. This loading scheme works well for most body parts but it works ESPECIALLY well for training the quadriceps.

The quadriceps have a large percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers and respond extremely well to higher rep ranges.

Charles recommends that you start off with a weight that you can perform for 15-20 reps. For example here is what a typical 10 sets of 10 workout might look like:

  • Set #1: Back squat 300 pounds x 10 reps
  • Set #2: Back squat 300 pounds x 10 reps
  • Set #3: Back squat 300 pounds x 10 reps
  • Set #4: Back squat 300 pounds x 10 reps
  • Set #5: Back squat 300 pounds x 9 reps
  • Set #6: Back squat 300 pounds x 8 reps
  • Set #7: Back squat 300 pounds x 7 reps
  • Set #8: Back squat 300 pounds x 7 reps
  • Set #9: Back squat 300 pounds x 6 reps
  • Set #10: Back squat 300 pounds x 6 reps

Don’t worry, it is perfectly normal to have your reps drop off like this the first time you attempt this workout. You would simply use the same weight at your next workout and try to get 10 reps each of your ten sets.

As soon as you are able to perform ten sets of ten reps with a given weight you would increase the load at the following workout to continue challenging yourself.

Here is a sample lower body German Volume Training workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

10 x 10 Squat Workout

  • A1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels elevated), 10 x 10, 4/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral seated leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointing out), 10 x 6, 4/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B1: Leg press, 3 x 12-15, 3/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
  • B2: Dumbbell stiff-legged deadlift, 3 x 12-15, 2/1/1/0, 30 seconds rest

If you are going to design your own ten sets of ten workout then it is EXTREMELY important to pick the right exercises.

The back squat is an excellent choice for a 10 sets of 10 reps workout. However, the front squat would be a very poor choice.

As a general rule of thumb you do not want to perform more than 6 reps per set with the front squat. Your upper back muscles such as the rhomboids and middle-trapezius have to work very hard during a front squat to stabilize the barbell and your upper body.

These muscles actually have to produce a very strong isometric contraction throughout the set to prevent your upper body from literally collapsing forward.

If you perform more than 6 reps per set on front squats your scapular retractors will fatigue faster than your legs. For this reason it is best to stick to sets of 6 reps or less when training the front squat.

The back squat, on the other hand, does not have this limitation. It is commonly trained for anywhere from 1-20 reps per set.

Part 7: Japanese Drop Set

The Japanese drop set is a powerful bodybuilding training method that can be paired with either front squats or back squats to build muscular hypertrophy. This drop was invented by a team of Japanese researchers in the early 2000s.

The Japanese scientists were actually baffled at how quickly their subjects were packing on muscle mass! Here is the procedure for a Japanese drop set:

  • Perform 5 reps, reduce the weight by 5-10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 5 reps, reduce the weight by 5-10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 5 reps, reduce the weight by 5-10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 5 reps, reduce the weight by 5-10%, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform 5 reps, done!

As you can see the Japanese drop set is really a quadruple drop set performed with 5 reps on every single attempt. This is a brutally effective way to build muscular hypertrophy.

In my experience it works particularly well for individuals who are trying to build functional hypertrophy, or hypertrophy specific to the fast-twitch muscle fibers.

The Japanese drop set protocol is so severe that you only want to perform one of these drop sets per exercise.

One of my favourite ways to use this drop set with my online coaching clients is to pair it with a 5 x 5 set and rep scheme. Your first five sets are performed as usual. On the fifth and final set you would perform your Japanese drop set.

For example:

  • Set #1: 5 reps
  • Set #2: 5 reps
  • Set #3: 5 reps
  • Set #4: 5 reps
  • Set #5: Japanese drop set as described above

The Japanese drop set works so well because it maximized both the load that you are lifting AND the total time under tension of the set. Here is a sample Japanese drop set drop set workout:

Japanese Drop Set Squat Workout

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 5 x 5**, 2/1/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral seated leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointed in), 5 x 5**, 2/0/X/1, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Machine hack squat, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Glute ham raise, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a Japanese drop set as described above.

One of the more difficult aspects of this routine is actually figuring out how much weight to take off the bar on each part of the drop set. As a general rule of thumb I recommend you take 5-10% off the bar on each drop.

If you are a very strong individual or have a large percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers then you may need to take off closer to 10% on each drop. On the other hand if you have a lot of slow-twitch muscle fibers then dropping the weight by 5% may work better for you.

Of course these are only rough estimates. You are just going to have to give this routine a go before you know for sure how much weight to take off the bar.

Part 8: Mechanical Advantage Drop Set

Mechanical advantage drop sets are one of the most effective ways to build muscle. In fact they are probably one of my all-time favourite high-intensity bodybuilding training techniques.

The normal protocol for a drop set involves training to failure and reducing the weight on the bar so you can continue pumping out additional reps. This is a very effective way to train for hypertrophy and has been used sense at least the “golden age” of bodybuilding in the 1940s and 1950s. 

Mechanical advantage drop sets are also designed to allow you to train beyond the point of failure. However, rather than dropping the weight on the bar to bust out additional reps you are going to change exercises.

Specifically you are going to pick 2-4 variations of the same exercise and progress from the weakest variation to the strongest variation. 

You can click right here to listen to strength coach Christian Thibadeau giving a great overview of mechanical advantage drop sets.

A great way to structure a mechanical advantage squat workout is to superset front squats and back squats. Specifically you are going to perform a set of front squats just shy of failure, rest 10 seconds and perform a set of back squats with the same weight.

For example:

  • Perform a set of front squats, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform a set of back squats with the same weight, rest 2-5 minutes, repeat!

Most trainees are around 10-20% stronger on back squats than they are on front squats. By performing a set of back squats immediately after your front squats you can push your muscles beyond the point of (near) failure and create a powerful hypertrophy training stimulus.

One of the downsides to this training method is you are somewhat limited in the rep ranges you can use. It is not a good idea to perform more than 6 reps per set on the front squat because your scapular retractors will fatigue faster than your legs.

For this training method I recommend you perform anywhere from 3-5 total mechanical drop sets.

If you feel like superman then go ahead and perform 5 total mechanical drop sets. On the other hand if you have less energy than Jeb Bush then go ahead and stop after 3 sets.

I recommend you aim for 4-6 reps on your front squats and simply perform as many reps as you can on your back squats. Most trainees find that they can get 1-4 total reps on their back squats but this depends on your ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch muscle fibers among other things. 

Here is a sample workout you may want to try. Check it out:

Front / Back Squat Mechanical Advantage Routine

  • A1: Front squat (wide stance / heels flat), 3-5 x 4-6, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Back squat (wide stance / heels flat), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A3: Kneeling unilateral leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing straight), 3-5 x 4-6, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: 45 degree back extension (eccentric emphasis with dumbbells**), 3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest

**Hold the DBs at your chest during the concentric range and fully extend your arms during the eccentric range. See the video below for more details.

Again your goal with this workout is to perform 4-6 reps on the front squat and then perform as many reps as you can on the back squats. Most trainees will be able to bust out an additional 1-4 reps on the back squat.

The mechanical advantage front / back squat is one of the most effective squat set and rep schemes that you can use. I highly recommend it if you are looking for some rapid strength and size gains in your quadriceps and the rest of your lower body!

Part 9: Isometronics

I am going to introduce you to one of the most brutal strength training methods of all time: isometronics. There are three different types of muscular contractions:

  • Concentric muscular contractions
  • Isometric muscular contractions
  • Eccentric muscular contractions

You are probably already familiar with concentric and eccentric muscular contractions. Concentric contractions occur any time your muscles shorten while contracting. In other words they occur whenever you are lifting a weight up.

Eccentric contractions are just the opposite: they occur when your muscles are lengthening while contracting. In other words they occur when you are lowering a weight down under control.

Most trainees spend almost 100% of their time performing concentric and eccentric contractions. This is especially true when it comes to training the squat.

There is nothing wrong with this approach. However, isometric contractions have many benefits that the average trainee is missing out on. Isometric contractions occur when your muscles are contracting without moving!

A great example of this is if you tried to lift a 1,000 pound barbell off the ground. Unless your name is Eddie Hall the bar probably isn’t going to move very far. Your muscles will be working very hard but the bar will remain still. In other words you will be performing an isometric contraction! 

The main benefit of isometric contractions is they increase the number of motor units that you can recruit in your muscles.

In fact research has shown that isometric contractions help you to recruit up to 15% more motor units than either concentric or eccentric contractions! This has enormous implications for building maximal strength and muscular hypertrophy.

One of the best ways to use isometric contractions is with isometronics. In order to perform this training method you are going to need two pairs of safety pins. First you divide the squat into three equal ranges of motion:

  • The bottom third of the squat
  • The middle third of the squat
  • The top third of the squat

You are going to perform 3 isometronic sets in each of these ranges of motion and then 1 full range of motion set of squats at the very end. Each isometronic set features 4-6 partial range of motion reps followed by 1 all-out overcoming isometric rep against the top pins.

In other words the overall set / rep scheme for an isometronics workout is 10 sets of 4-6 reps. This is an enormous amount of volume. Therefore a full isometrics workout should only be attempted by trainees with a relatively large work capacity.

If you are more of a “low-volume, high-intensity” guy then this workout is NOT for you.

Here a great video demonstrating an entire isometronics workout for the front squat:

As you can see it is very important to select the right weight for the bottom-range, mid-range and top-range isometronics sets. You want the weight to be heavy enough that you are being challenged but light enough that you can still apply a ton of force into the top pins on your isometronics set.

As a very general rule of thumb I recommend you use the following training percentages:

  • 75% of your 1-rep max for your 1st bottom-range isometronics set
  • 80% of your 1-rep max for your 1st mid-range isometronics set
  • 85% of your 1-rep max for your 1st top-range isometronics set

If your 1st set at each position is too easy then you can go ahead and increase the weight for your 2nd and 3rd sets.

Here is a complete front squat isometronics workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Isometronics Front Squat Workout

  • A1: Bottom position front squat isometronics, 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointing out), 3 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Middle position front squat isometronics, 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • B2: Bilateral lying leg curl, 3 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Top position front squat isometronics, 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • C2: Bilateral lying leg curl, 3 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Front (medium stance / heels flat), 1 x 6, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D2: Bilateral lying leg curl, 1 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: 45 degree back extension w/ DBs (eccentric emphasis**), 3/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest

Here are the sample exercise videos:

You can perform the isometronics workout with either front squats or back squats. In my experience pairing the isometronics protocol with front squats works very well. The scientific literature has shown that front squats are much easier on your knees than back squats.

Some trainees find that the all-out overcoming isometric contractions on back squats can be somewhat uncomfortable on their knees.

Regardless of whether you favor front squats or back squats in your training I highly recommend you give the isometronics training protocol a shot. It is easily one of the most effective set / rep schemes you can use to build a stronger squat.

Part 10: Cluster Sets

Cluster sets are widely regarded as one of the very best training methods that you can use to build maximal strength. They are right up there with the other best set / rep schemes for strength such as wave loading and the Modified Hepburn Method.

The defining feature of cluster sets is you will be taking short intra-set rest periods in between your reps.

The most common cluster set protocol is called the Poliquin cluster set. This protocol has you perform multiple sets of 5 reps with 15 seconds rest in between each rep. 

For example:

  • 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, rest 2-5 minutes, repeat!

These intra-set rest intervals allow you to use much more weight than normal for your sets of 5. In fact Charles Poliquin recommends that you use your 3-rep max for the sets of 5!

Normally this would be impossible. I mean, c’mon! Performing 5 reps with your 3 rep max? Give me a break! In all seriousness the intra-set rest intervals give your muscles just enough time to rest in between repetitions that this becomes possible.

As an added bonus the rest periods between reps give you an opportunity to focus on performing one perfect rep after another. Research has shown that you actually maintain maximal force production much better during your cluster sets than you do during regular sets.

Here is a sample Poliquin-style cluster sets routine that you may want to try. Check it out:

5 x 5 Cluster Set Squat Routine

  • A1: Front squat (narrow stance / heels elevated), 5 x 5**, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral seated leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointed out), 5 x 5**, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels flat), 3 x 5-7, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Glute ham raise, 3 x 5-7, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

Performed as a Poliquin-style cluster set protocol as described above. Use your 3-rep max and rest 15 seconds in between each repetition.

Here are the sample exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2.

The Poliquin style cluster sets protocol is probably one of the best ways to train for strength. The protocol places a large amount of time under tension on the high-threshold motor units which helps to build strength through both neurological and muscular pathways.

Of course there are ways to modify cluster sets to work even better for all-out strength gains.

One of my favourite way to do this is with Carl Miller style cluster sets. Carl Miller was a highly accomplished Olympic Weightlifting coach. He found that by further lowering the rep ranges and further increasing the rest intervals between repetitions he could make cluster sets work even better for all-out strength gains.

One of Carl’s most effective protocols involves performing multiple sets of 3 reps with 30 seconds rest in between each rep.

For example here is what a single set would look like:

  • Perform your 1st rep, rest 30 seconds
  • Perform your 2nd rep, rest 30 seconds
  • Perform your 3rd rep, rest 2-5 minutes, repeat!

With this cluster set protocol you can use your 2-rep max on either the front or back squat and still get your 3 repetitions. Here is a sample Carl Miller cluster set squat workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

5 x 3 Cluster Set Squat Routine

  • A1: Back Squat (medium stance / heels flat), 5 x 3**, 4/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (foot dorsiflexed / neutral), 5 x 3**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Snatch grip deadlift, 4 x 6, 3/1/X/0, 240 seconds rest

Performed as a Carl Miller style cluster set. Rest 45 seconds in between each rep.

Of course cluster sets aren’t just for boosting maximal strength levels. Josh Bryant has shown repeatedly that cluster sets can be tweaked to build slabs of muscle mass onto your frame. Josh calls his unique twist on cluster sets “hypertrophy specific cluster sets.”

Here is the protocol:

  • Select a weight that represents your 10-15 rep max
  • Perform 5 reps with the weight and then rest for 15 seconds
  • Repeat this process for 5 minutes straight

You can click right here to watch Josh Bryant himself walk you through this muscle-building training method:

As you progress through the one long extended set you may find that you are unable to complete 5 repetitions. That is perfectly OK. Just perform 4 reps and continue on with the set.

The same thing holds true if you cannot complete 4 reps at any point: you just perform 3 reps and continue banging out triples for as long as you can.

At your next workout your goal would be to use the same weight and try to bust out 5 reps on all of your sets. A typical hypertrophy specific cluster set workout features 2-4 exercises per body part. Here is how you might set up a squat-focused lower body workout:

Hypertrophy Specific Cluster Set Squat Workout

  • A1: Safety squat bar squat, sets of 5**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Leg press, sets of 5**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Alternating walking DB lunge, sets of 5**, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Bilateral seated leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing out), sets of 5**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: Romanian deadlift, sets of 5**, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • F1: Glute ham raise, sets of 5**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

This is definitely a higher volume squat and lower body workout but it works wonders for building muscular size. Don’t let the relatively low rep ranges fool you. You are using a weight you can lift for 10-15 reps which is right in the sweet spot for building hypertrophy as quickly as possible.

Cluster sets are clearly one of the most versatile set and rep schemes for training the squat.

You have at least 3 great options:

  • The Poliquin style 5 x 5 cluster set routine
  • The Carl Miller style 5 x 3 cluster set routine
  • The Josh Bryant hypertrophy specific cluster set routine

All three of these routines work awesome depending on your goals and your neurotransmitter profile. I highly recommend you give them a shot!

Part 11: 8 x 1, 5 x 5

So far in this article I haven’t really covered the topic of performing maximal singles to boost maximal strength. OK, some of the wave loading protocols featured single repetitions.

But singles weren’t necessarily the core focus of the wave loading routines. If you love to train the squat with maximal singles then one of your best options is undoubtedly the Modified Hepburn Method.

This training protocol is rather severe. It involves performing 8 sets of singles, followed by 5 sets of 5 reps on a similar but slightly different variation of the same exercise.

For example:

  • First half of the workout: 8 singles
  • Second half of the workout: 5 sets of 5 reps

The singles should be relatively heavy but slightly submaximal. You definitely don’t want to try and perform 8 singles on the front or back squat that are right on the edge of your 1-rep max. That is a sure-fire way to end up in the hospital!

Instead I recommend you perform your first single at around 90% of your 1-rep max and slowly work your way up from there. Here is a sample progression through these 8 singles:

  • Set #1: 90% x 1 rep
  • Set #2: 90% x 1 rep
  • Set #3: 91% x 1 rep
  • Set #4: 92% x 1 rep
  • Set #5: 93% x 1 rep
  • Set #6: 94% x 1 rep
  • Set #7: 95% x 1 rep
  • Set #8: 95% x 1 rep

The exact percentages aren’t super important. The important thing is that you start somewhere around 90% and slowly work your way up in weight over the course of the 8 singles.

Your 7th and 8th singles should be extremely challenging but not impossible.

The second half of the Modified Hepburn workout focuses on functional hypertrophy gains and features the classic 5 x 5 set and rep scheme. For optimal results you should slightly vary the exercise selection from the first half of the workout to the second half.

For example you may try slightly elevating your heels or using a more narrow stance for your five sets of five. The slight variance in the exercise selection will allow you to tap into a slightly different motor unit pool. This will boost both the neurological and the muscular adaptations from this routine.

Here is a sample Modified Hepburn Method squat workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Modified Hepburn Method Squat Workout

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 8 x 1, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / neutral), 8 x 1, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Front squat (medium stance / heels elevated), 5 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B2: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointing in), 5 x 5. 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest

This set / rep scheme is very demanding on the body, both from a neurological perspective and from a muscular perspective. If you have struggled in the past to recover from workouts featuring near-maximal singles then you may want to modify the first half of the workout.

There is an alternate version of the Modified Hepburn Method that features doubles instead of singles.

For example:

  • Part 1: 8 sets of 2 reps
  • Part 2: 5 sets of 5 reps

This set / rep scheme is still very good for boosting maximal strength. The major advantage to it is that you are far less likely to burn out your central nervous system with the doubles.

Just make sure that you slightly modify the exercise variation before performing your 5 sets of 5 reps. This change can be as subtle as changing the width or elevation of your heels from the first half of the workout to the second.

Part 12: 3 x 20

squat sets and reps

Stan Efferding is probably one of my all-time favourite bodybuilders. One of the things I like about Stan is that he is every bit as strong as he looks. He prides himself on being the “world’s strongest bodybuilder” and for good reason.

In his prime Stan was repping out weights that even the legendary 8 x Mr. Olympia winner Ronnie Coleman couldn’t handle! 

For example here is Stan Efferding squatting a mind-boggling 905 pounds in training:

Although Stan was an unbelievably strong squatter his legs were a lagging body part for many years on the bodybuilding stage. It wasn’t until he started training under Flex Wheeler that his legs really started to catch up to his upper body in terms of muscular development.

Flex Wheeler’s solution was simple: he had Stan perform multiple sets of 20 reps for legs. Stan’s legs grew so fast from the 20’s that he used them as the foundation for his quadricep hypertrophy workouts for many years to come.

Many other IFBB professional bodybuilders such as Ben Pakulski also swear by 20’s for bringing up the quadriceps. If your legs are lagging then you may want to try one of Stan’s favourite bodybuilding set and rep schemes on the squat: 3 sets of 20 reps.

Here is a sample lower body routine that you may want to try. Check it out:

3 x 20 Back Squat Workout

  • A1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3 x 20, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing out), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Leg press, 1 x 50, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: 45 degree back extension (band tension), 1 x 10-12, 2/0/X/2, rest as needed

You can click right here for a great video of Stan busting out a 20-rep squat in Marc Bell’s Supertraining gym:

Please keep in mind that these are NOT performed as 20-rep “breathing squats.” Instead you should select a weight that accurately represents your 20-rep max.

These 20-rep sets of squats do more than just add slabs of muscle tissue to your things. They are also very effective at bringing up your cardiovascular conditioning.

Stan Efferding has talked on multiple occasions about the benefits of improving your cardiovascular conditioning for both bodybuilders AND powerlifters. If you want to add some quick size on your quadriceps and rapidly increase your cardiovascular health then I highly recommend you give the “three sets of 20” squat workout a shot.

Part 13: Giant Sets

When I think of giant sets I think of Milos “The Mind” Sarcev. Milos is an IFBB professional bodybuilder and one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry. He has trained countless amateur and professional bodybuilders using his unique giant sets training system.

Giant sets are essentially a circuit of four or more exercises performed back-to-back for the same body part.

For example: 

  • Perform quadriceps exercise #1, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform quadriceps exercise #2, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform quadriceps exercise #3, rest 10 seconds 
  • Perform quadriceps exercise #4, rest 10 seconds

Giant sets have many advantages. Milos Sarcev uses them to dramatically increase the time under tension that your muscles are exposed to. Just think about it: if you perform 4 exercises in a row in a giant set then your time under tension per set is about 4 x as long as normal!

This dramatically increases the amount of muscular damage and metabolic fatigue within the muscle cells which is very helpful for stimulating muscular hypertrophy.

Of course it is possible to perform more than 4 exercises in a single giant set. Milos Sarcev often had his professional bodybuilding clients perform as many as 10 quadricep exercises in a row with no rest in between exercises!

This is a rather extreme approach but Milos’ track record as a bodybuilding coach is unmatched. A more reasonable approach would be to perform a giant set consisting of 4 different exercises. For example you could sequence together back squats, leg presses, DB lunges and machine hack squats.

I strongly recommend you perform your squatting exercises first in your giant sets as they are a superior choice for recruiting as many motor units as possible within the quadriceps.

There are many different set / rep schemes that you could use for a quadriceps-focused giant set. In my experience a great place to start is to perform all 4 exercises in the 10-12 rep range.

Here is a sample routine you may want to try. Check it out:

Quadriceps Giant Set Routine

  • A1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels elevated), 3-4 x 10-12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Leg press, 3-4 x 10-12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Alternating walking DB lunge, 3-4 x 10-12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Machine hack squat, 3-4 x 10-12, 3/0/X/0, 240 seconds rest

I recommend you perform anywhere from 3-4 of these giant sets in your next quadriceps workout. The most important thing is to monitor how much your strength decreases from one giant set to the next.

As a general rule of thumb I recommend you use a 20% fatigue drop off curve when training for hypertrophy. In other words if your strength decreases by more than 20% on your first exercise then you should stop and move on to the rest of your workout.

Let’s say that you squat 300 pounds for 10 reps on your 1st giant set. 20% of 300 pounds is 240 pounds so we know that if you have to use less than 240 pounds on your sets then you should stop and move on.

Part 14: Supra-Maximal Eccentric Training

Eccentric training is by far one of the most effective ways to train for muscle mass and strength. In fact the world-renowned strength coach Christian Thibadeau considers eccentric training to be the single best tool to help intermediate and advanced trainees bust through strength plateaus.

As we discussed earlier eccentric muscular contractions occur any time you are lowering a weight down under control.

For example when you slowly lower yourself down to the bottom position of a squat your quadriceps are contracting eccentrically to control the weight and the speed of your descent.

The scientific literature has repeatedly shown that it is the lowering phase of your exercises that produces the greatest gains in muscle mass and strength. For this reason many athletes and coaches have experimented with training techniques to overload the lowering phase of a lift.

You can click right here to watch an athlete performing back squats with an 8-second eccentric tempo:

There are of course some other ways to overload the eccentric phase of squats.

One of the best tools for this purpose are weight releasers. Weight releasers are giant metal hooks that attach to either end of a barbell. They weigh about 10 pounds each but they can be loaded up with additional 45-pound plates.

When you reach the bottom position of an exercise they drop off the bar so you are lifting just the barbell back up to lockout. For example here is a video of weight releasers in action:

As you can see the weight releasers let you overload the eccentric portion of squats. Eccentric training is very taxing on the central nervous system. For this reason you should perform fewer sets with weight releasers than you would with regular sets. 

One great option is to perform 5 sets of 3 reps. The weight releasers will obviously be on the bar for the first rep. The second and third rep will be performed immediately afterwards without the weight releasers.

Because this is a rather severe system only 5 total sets are performed.

Here is a sample back squat workout you may want to try. Check it out:

Back Squat 5 x 3 Weight Releaser Workout

  • A1: Back squat with weight releasers (medium stance / heels flat)**, 5 x 3***, 10/0/X/0****, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet neutral), 5 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Snatch grip deadlift, 3 x 6-8, 2/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Use 80% of your 1-rep max on the bar and an additional 10-40% combined weight on the weight releasers.

***Perform 1 rep with the weight releasers immediately followed by 2 reps without them. See the video below for more details.

****Use a 10-second lowering phase on the first rep and a 3-second lowering phase on the second and third reps.

Another great option is just to perform multiple sets of single repetitions. This obviously works well with weight releasers because you have plenty of time in between your sets to re-rack the releasers.

In my experience most trainees can handle 7-8 of these eccentric-only reps before they tap out. In other words this workout calls for 7-8 sets of 1 rep. Check it out:

Back Squat 7-8 x 1 Weight Releaser Workout

  • A1: Back squat with weight releasers**, 7-8 x 1, 10/0/X/0****, 300 seconds rest
  • B1: Kneeling unilateral leg curl (Poliquin method / pointed out), 4 x 5-7, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: Front foot elevated DB split squat, 4 x 5-7, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • C1: 45 degree back extension (barbell held w/ snatch grip), 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest

**Use 80% of your 1-rep max on the bar and another 10-60% combined weight on the weight releasers.

****No, that was not a typo: use a 10 second lowering phase! If you cannot lower the weight in 10 seconds then it is too heavy!

Supra-maximal eccentric training is definitely one of the best training methods that you can use to build strength and muscle mass.

Just remember that this is a rather extreme training method. In order to recover from your workouts you are going to need to use far fewer sets than normal. As a very general rule of thumb I recommend you perform 5-6 sets if you are performing triples and 7-8 sets if you are performing maximal singles.

Just make sure you have a lot of training experience under your belt before you attempt these routines. I recommend that you have at least 2 years of hardcore training experience before you use supra-maximal eccentric training in your workouts.

Part 15: 5 x 2, 5 x 3

This is a very popular set and rep scheme used by many Olympic weightlifting teams. Of course you do not have to be an Olympic weightlifter to benefit from it!

The idea is simple: you are going to perform 5 sets of 2 reps at a given weight, followed by 5 sets of 3 reps. The variation in reps halfway through the workout allows you to accumulate slightly more overall training volume.

Perhaps more importantly it helps you to stave off boredom during the workout!

In all seriousness I have found this to be an extremely effective set / rep scheme for boosting your strength in the squat. Here is a sample lower body workout that you may want to try:

5 x 2, 5 x 3 Squat Workout

  • A1: Safety squat bar squat (medium stance / heels flat), 5 x 2, 3/2/X/1, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Kneeling unilateral leg curl (feet plantarflexed / neutral), 5 x 2, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Safety squat bar squat (medium stance / heels flat), 5 x 3, 3/2/X/1, 100 seconds rest
  • B2: Kneeling unilateral leg curl (feet plantarflexed / neutral), 5 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • C1: Reverse DB lunge, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C2: Romanian deadlift, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

It’s very important with this type of routine to start relatively conservatively with your weight selections. On your first workout I recommend you use the following training percentages:

  • Sets of 2: 90%
  • Sets of 3: 87%

Of course if you are blessed with a large percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers then you may want to use slightly lower training percentages. On the other hand if you have a lot of slow-twitch muscle fibers then you may be able to use even higher training percentages. 

Part 16: Omni-Rep Supersets

Supersets are another awesome tool that you can use to increase the size of your quadriceps. Of course a superset consists of two exercises performed back-to-back for the same body part.

For example you could superset a front or back squat together with any type of machine-based exercise for the quadriceps. Supersets are an awesome tool to use if you are a bodybuilder because they prolong the time under tension that your muscles are exposed to.

The quadriceps in particular seem to respond very rapidly to sets featuring long times under tension.

In my experience one of the best ways to design a squat-based superset workout is to use two completely different rep ranges for both of your exercises.

Let’s cover two of my favourite set / rep schemes for this purpose:

  • 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps supersetted with 3-5 sets of 10-12 reps
  • 3-5 sets of 10-12 reps supersetted with 3-5 sets of 15-20 reps

The first option is a great choice if you are specifically trying to increase the size of your fast-twitch muscle fibers. It is also a great option if you are looking to use the front squat because the front squat shouldn’t be performed for more than 6 reps per set.

Many bodybuilders neglect their fast-twitch muscle fibers in their workouts. This is a big mistake because the fast-twitch muscle fibers are the ones with the greatest overall potential for growth.

Of course you do not have to train with singles or doubles in order to make these stubborn muscle fibers grow. Sets performed in the 5-10 rep range often get the job done just fine. Just make sure that you are really pushing yourself in your sets.

One of the keys to maximally recruiting the fast-twitch muscle fibers in the moderate rep ranges is to train close to failure on your sets. Here is a sample lower body superset workout using the 4-6 / 10-12 rep scheme as described above.

Check it out:

Quadriceps 4-6 / 10-12 Superset Routine

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3-5 x 4-6, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Machine hack squat, 3-5 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2.

This may not seem like a lot of volume if you are used to performing 15-20 sets per body part in your hypertrophy workouts. Trust me, nothing could be further from the truth!

If you are truly pushing yourself to your limit on all of your sets then you will need to crawl out of the gym when you are done! 

Superset workouts for the quadriceps can also be performed with much higher rep ranges. Normally I am not a big fan of the leg extension machine. As a general rule of thumb it is not very effective at stimulating growth in the quadriceps.

Of course I do not think leg extensions are completely useless. Many bodybuilders such as Dorian Yates have found novel ways to use the leg extension machine to build tree trunk thighs.

In my experience the leg extension machine actually works pretty well  when used as the second exercise in a quadriceps superset. Here is a quadriceps superset featuring the 10-12 / 15-20 rep scheme described earlier.

Check it out:

Quadriceps 10-12 / 15-20 Superset Routine:

  • A1: Back Squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3-5 x 10-12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral machine leg extension, 3-5 x 15-20, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest

Supersets are one of the very best hypertrophy training methods for the quadriceps. I highly recommend you give either the 4-6 / 10-12 or the 10-12 / 15-20 superset rep schemes a try.

The only downside to these routines is that your legs might grow so fast that you outgrow your current pant size!

Part 17: Patient Lifter’s Method

The patient lifter’s method is a very underrated set / rep scheme. You are going to perform 6 total sets of 2-4 reps. On your first workout you want to pick a weight that allows you to perform 2 reps on all 6 of your sets.

You may want to pick a weight that is slightly lower than your estimated 2-rep max to make sure that you can get all of your reps in with good form. At every subsequent workout you are going to try and increase the number of reps that you perform on each set.

The goal is to take the weight that you performed 6 sets of 2 reps with and perform 6 sets of 4 reps with it. For example:

Workout 1

  • Set #1: 300 pounds x 2 reps
  • Set #2: 300 pounds x 2 reps
  • Set #3: 300 pounds x 2 reps
  • Set #4: 300 pounds x 2 reps
  • Set #5: 300 pounds x 2 reps
  • Set #6: 300 pounds x 2 reps

Workout 2

  • Set #1: 300 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set #2: 300 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set #3: 300 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set #4: 300 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set #5: 300 pounds x 2 reps
  • Set #6: 300 pounds x 2 reps

Workout 3

  • Set #1: 300 pounds x 4 reps
  • Set #2: 300 pounds x 4 reps
  • Set #3: 300 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set #4: 300 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set #5: 300 pounds x 3 reps
  • Set #6: 300 pounds x 2 reps

Workout 4

  • Set #1: 300 pounds x 4 reps
  • Set #2: 300 pounds x 4 reps
  • Set #3: 300 pounds x 4 reps
  • Set #4: 300 pounds x 4 reps
  • Set #5: 300 pounds x 4 reps
  • Set #6: 300 pounds x 4 reps

At this point you would bump up the weight by around 10% on your next workout and repeat the whole cycle over again. For example:

Workout 5

  • Set #1: 330 pounds x 2 reps
  • Set #2: 330 pounds x 2 reps
  • Set #3: 330 pounds x 2 reps
  • Set #4: 330 pounds x 2 reps
  • Set #5: 330 pounds x 2 reps
  • Set #6: 330 pounds x 2 reps

Of course you don’t have to perform this specific set / rep scheme forever. In my experience most trainees adapt to a given set / rep scheme after about 3-6 workouts. After 3-6 workouts your best bet is to move onto a different type of set / rep scheme and start building your strength up on that one as well.

This is actually the basis for the accumulation / intensification periodization model. You perform a higher-rep accumulation style routine for 2-4 weeks and then switch to a lower-rep intensification style routine for 2-4 weeks.

Alternating hypertrophy routines and strength routines every 2-4 weeks is a great way for most trainees to optimize their results. Of course the exact length of time for the accumulation and intensification routines depends on a number of factors such as your training age, your strength levels, and your neurotransmitter profile.

Here is a sample squat workout featuring the patient lifter’s set / rep scheme. Check it out:

Patient Lifter’s Squat Workout

  • A1: Front squat (wide stance / heels flat), 6 x 2-4, 5/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral seated leg curl (Poliquin method / heels flat), 6 x 2-4, 5/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Snatch grip deadlift, 3 x 6-8, 5/1/X/0, 240 seconds rest

The patient lifter’s method is simply a fantastic all-around set / rep scheme. It may not be very fancy but sometimes all you need to break through a strength plateau is a simple, bare-bones routine and some good old-fashioned hard work.

Conclusion

squat sets and reps

You now have 17 of the most effective set and rep schemes for building a huge squat and a pair of tree-trunk thighs. I promise you that may of these routines will give you some of the best gains of your entire life.

So what are you waiting for? Get back under the bar and start squatting like you mean it!

“The problem human beings face is not that we aim too high and fail, but that we aim too low and succeed.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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