Rebuilding the Squat, One Set at a Time

Writing lifting reports can be extremely self-indulgent: look at me, I lift weight. But they can also be honest reckonings of weaknesses, failures, setbacks and all the other roadbumps that interfere with our smooth progress towards long-set goals. So I write ’em; I haven’t done so too often out here but this year, I hope to rectify that.

So, here is the year’s first report. This time on the year’s squatting thus far. As is the case with most who take the squat seriously, it rapidly becomes the centerpiece of one’s lifting; no other lift’s ‘numbers’ matter quite as much; no other lift is tracked so extensively.

I feel especially inspired to write a brief note on my squatting because of having carried out what amounts to a successful reconstruction and rebuild of the lift this year.When the year began, I had lost some contact with a regular lifting schedule thanks to my new-born daughter’s arrival. I returned to squatting in mid-January and completed a cycle of squatting at Crossfit South Brooklyn, spread out over six weeks or so. I missed only a couple of sessions and slowly started to recover some strength, with my numbers creeping back up. I then began a second cycle and early in it, injured my back at the bottom of a squat. I was not squatting very close to a maximum; the week before I had squatted 240 pounds for sets across (three sets of five reps at the same weight), and on this occasion, I had been squatting 225. But the back felt bad and that was that. The next week, after resting, I tried again, and felt the soreness and stiffness again. No bueno.

It was time to deload. I set my work weight all the way back to 205, and recommenced my lifting sessions again. With a difference: this time I did sets of 5, 5, followed by a repout (i.e., as many reps as possible). This way, I hoped to continue to work on strength as well by adding a little volume to my lifts at a sub-maximal load. It worked; the following were my lifts over the next few weeks, leading up to today:

205: 5, 5, 10

210: 5, 5, 10

215: 5, 5, 12

220: 5, 5, 10

225: 5, 5, 10

230: 5, 5, 10

235: 5, 5, 10

240: 5, 5, 10

245: 5, 5, 11

250: 5, 5, 10

At this point, I began microloading in 2.5lb increments, as I was getting close to the maximum weight I have ever done for reps, 260 lbs):

252.5: 5, 5, 9

255: 5, 5, 10

257.5: 5, 5, 10

260: 5, 5, 9

Today, for the set above, I think I had the 10th rep but my back was getting sore and tired as I was waiting too long between reps to catch my breath. When I went down for the 10th, I collapsed at the bottom and couldn’ t stand back up. Still, nine was not bad at all. This session now counts as some kind of personal record for the last time I had squatted 260 lbs, I had done it for three sets of five reps.

These last few weeks of squatting then have been deeply satisfying: when I began them, I was injured, scared, and worried that I would not regain strength, and remain injured and out of action. But thanks to some judicious ego-swallowing and a patient, yet ambitious approach to recovery, I was able to lift my way back into some real strength gains.

Much hard work to be done over the summer (especially on squat technique), but for the time being, at least the squat is back in business.

2 comments on “Rebuilding the Squat, One Set at a Time

  1. Rob Israel says:

    I think the squat is the only lift you can’t “fake” or half-ass your way through. Not only is there something intrinsically intimidating and terrifying about the lift, but any fault in your mechanics really sets you up for bad times. A sloppy bench isn’t nearly as dramatic and building back your deadlift, while a testament to your total strength, has a safety net in that you can just drop the bar if things go awry. Not so with the squat.

    I too had to regain my squat in 2013 and it’s been a long slow process. I still haven’t reached PR territory, but two resets later I’m within striking distance and it’s more satisfying than any other lifting endeavor I’ve encountered. I”m happy to have tied my power clean PR for a triple last week, but when I do that on my squat, that will be a day to truly celebrate.

  2. […] return to resuming lifting is a good idea–not only do you need to get the body firing again, you need to get your mind used to heavy weights; two, during training, don’t bail unless you absolutely have to; it’s perfectly all […]

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