Hi. Been a while.
The occasion being the finale of the Squat Every Day program that I followed for about two months. It was fun, thought I’d share.
The curious flat-assed & pencil-legged among you may find the details of the Squat Every Day program by clicking this, but the essential idea is what it says on the box: you squat every day.
Squat Every Day is sort of halfway between a training plan and a challenge. The program lasts for 30 days, though some people continue on with it (I did for a bit). I imagine it’s difficult for a regular person with a moderate to high level of responsibilities to sustain long-term, but remember difficult & impossible are 2 different things & there are amazing people who have done so for a year or more. For 30 days it’s an interesting experiment. What the fuck. At least you get to work on your form. Often. Every day.
Anyway. Here are some rarely asked questions about my experience. About 4 people asked me about it.
Q. Why did you start?
A. Sometime in January I got bored. I had been doing months & months of cycles of the 5/3/1 training program which, though easy to follow & effective at molding puny weaklings into powerful brutes, can get kind of dull, particularly if (like me) you’re basically doing this for health, fun, & self-interest — not for some more noble reason like you’re competing at a meet for the chance to win the coveted title of World’s Strongest Person In My Weight Class In The Room Right Now & perhaps a T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of some kind of muscle enhancement powder.
To break up the boredom I tried a Smolov Jr. cycle. This is not advised for people like me. Smolov Jr. is a 4-week cycle of gruesome high-volume squatting and benching 4 days a week, & only that — nothing else. Squat, bench, eat, sleep. It’s not nearly as tough as the full 13-week Smolov cycle (it’s been known to turn people’s leg-hair stark white with fear), but nasty enough to the point that dilettantes like me shouldn’t do it.
I did it anyway.
At the end of the 4 weeks I tested my squat and hit 340#. That was a 40-pound PR. Rather pleased w/ myself about it, thanks for asking.
After a little deloading & some missed workouts due to Life Stuff I went back to 5/3/1 with a shiny new squat max & found all my #gainz had fucked off someplace. I tried to squat 260# for 5+ reps & struggled with more than two.
This would not do.
Thinking about it, it makes sense that the gains evaporated. Smolov and Smolov Jr. are not long-term training programs — Smolov is a peaking cycle that athletes can run just before competitions. They’re meant to get you moving big-boy weights on Meet Day. The gains are often unsustainable.
During the spring I tried working through it, but I suck.
After some more faffing around I noticed there were people out there squatting every day & having fun & getting strong. I googled “squat every day.” The program is the first thing that came up. Boom. I figured it might help me recover some of the gains I lost. That’s why I did it.
Q. But don’t you hate daily challenges?
A. Yes I do.
A. OK, there are a few aspects of daily-exercise streaking I dislike:
I don’t like challenges that escalate to the point they become insane (i.e., 100-day burpee challenge).
I don’t like challenges that are easy enough to be boring (i.e., plank every day).
I don’t like when people who exercise very little or not at all decide to exercise 7 days a week, because that’s not physically or mentally healthy.
I don’t like challenges where you end up notching some bare-minimum amount of work to sorta-qualify for streakhood when it’s not quite worth it or you’d be better off just resting.
I don’t like locking myself into a thing that I’m forced to do or else risk failure, because (a) failing is not fun, & (b) it requires my life to conform to the demands of my hobby, rather than the other way around.
I’ve done all those things. They weren’t helpful for long-term health, & the results weren’t good.
I made sure to avoid these things this time.
Q. What’s the Squat Every Day program like?
A. Almost every day you max out some kind of squat: front, back, pause, belted, unbelted, with knee wraps, without. Plus some kind of thing where you front squat then do a back squat right afterward. I don’t like those.
Besides the squats, there are other exercises 5 days a week: one day is a pull, another is a press, back stuff, chest stuff, & arm stuff. Plus a lot of lunges. Miles and miles of lunges. And bodybuilding type stuff, like 3 different kinds of bicep curls in the same day. No.
Every 7th day is a deload where you lift light to recover.
Q. Did you really squat every single day?
A. No, that’s silly. I postponed a couple of days due to migraines. Call me a pantywaist if you want: I’m not going to sit under a 300-pound bar if I feel like vomiting. A couple of days, my kid was up in the middle of the night & needed someone to watch Dora the Explorer with. A few nights, I pulled overtime shifts at the office & couldn’t hit the garage. A couple of days, one of my dogs was dying.
I did all 30 workouts my first go-around, but postponed a couple as needed. The idea of “squat every day” is nice, but I live in Objective Reality & this thing has to fit into it. If my dog is spending her last night on the planet lying in my yard dying of intestinal cancer, I’m not going to miss it because I’m in the garage like an asshole.
I wasn’t too concerned about missing a day here or there because taking rest days is preferable to working out hard every day anyway. Which is contrary to the whole theme of “squat every day,” but it’s true.
I did 12 days consecutively to start. Another stretch was 11 days. Generally I’d go about 5 to 6 days in a row before I needed to take a night off for one of the aforestated reasons.
Some people really do squat every single day. That’s great for them if they can do that.
Q. Jesus fishermen’s friend Christ, every day looks like there’s a ton of stuff to do. Ten sets of squats, 10 sets of deadlifts, 3 supersets of three things, lunges lunges lunges — how long is this bloody workout anyway?
A. Very long. The program says you should take no rest between sets — load plates & get after it. Fine, but sometimes a person should have a goddam breather between sets, & if you’re doing 10 or 20 sets, it adds up. Also, loading plates seems to take forever. Deadlift day, the conditioning work is lugging the son-of-a-bitching plates on & off the bar.
I’d often spend an hour working out & only get half the shit done. One time I tried to do it all as prescribed, it took 2 hours. Not everyone is like me though. Some people are efficient.
I step foot in the garage around 9:30 or 10 pm. I work out at nights, because mornings I play with my daughter & afternoons I work. I tried to finish by 11 pm so I could eat something & go to sleep by midnight.
Which is why very quickly I stopped doing the program as prescribed & cut what I considered to be the extraneous shit. Some stuff I couldn’t do anyway — e.g., I have no lat pulldown machine or a GHD. So I scaled it to adapt to my equipment. Also, doing multiple kinds of the same thing in the the same workout seems pointless, when I can do one thing with better quality. Like, if I’m bench pressing, I don’t really see the point of then doing dumbbell bench presses, & then push-ups. I mean, I know it’s not exactly the same, but let’s face it it’s the same general idea. Also didn’t see the need to do barbell curls, then preacher curls, then reverse curls. Not that I have a preacher curl machine anyway. Regardless, I ended up not doing curls at all after about a month when I noticed they were making my right elbow feel terrible.
All the lunging seemed excessive. Almost every workout, fucking bodyweight lunges for hundreds of feet. Listen. Lunges are lovely. They are highly effective at making you into a strong person. But I didn’t want to induce debilitating soreness that might affect my ability to squat well the next day. So I did just some of it. Not all of it.
After some trimming, I generally worked out for about 75 minutes.
Q. So basically you’re saying you didn’t do the Squat Every Day program.
A. No no, I did.
Q. You didn’t squat every day, & you scaled or didn’t do all the work he programmed. You just straight-up didn’t really do the program, jackass!
A. Well. I prefer to think of it as “adapting it to my abilities or circumstances.”
I know there’s a major school of thought that says you do the program with no variations or else fuck off. That’s fine if you’re a pro being coached. I’m just some fellow.
I got a lot out of the program. You’d probably get even more out of it if you took the time to do all the lunges. Knock yourself out.
Q. With all that squatting, I can only assume you took time every day to warm up properly & make mobility a priority, right?
Q. Were you sore?
A. Not really.
Q. Tell the truth.
A. At most twice. You do stuff often enough, you adapt. Mostly minor soreness that went away with some stretching. Nothing crippling like all that stupid “omg I can’t walk it’s the day after leg day” crap you see online.
Q. What did you like best about the program?
A. All the squatting. Most programs I’ve done, you get 1 squat day a week. When I was doing CrossFit, some weeks I didn’t even get squats in because I missed that day on the schedule. This is better.
Squats work everything. Muscles you wouldn’t even think apply. One of the few times I was noticeably sore, it wasn’t my legs — it was my lats. I had tightened my trunk harder than I’d ever clenched any muscle before, even harder than that time I had food poisoning & was a half-hour subway ride from home.
It fixed my front squat form because I had to do it so often.
Also I liked that it challenged me to max out unbelted — sometimes I rely on the belt like a security blanket.
And some of the accessory work was good. Deadlifts 2x a week is fine by me.
It’s also a great mental test, lifting as heavy as you can that often. People who don’t lift may not understand how much of it is about your mind, not your muscles.
Q. What did you dislike most about the program?
A. Every day’s too fucking long. This won’t be an issue if you have the ability to live inside a gym. I don’t. Some of the accessory work seems redundant, like I said. Also, while it’s an interesting mental challenge to get under a heavy-ass bar every single day for a month, it’s not ideal. Sometimes it would’ve been nice to have time to both squat & spend an hour sitting in the yard with the dogs looking at the stars.
Q. Did you make #gainzzzzz?
A. Oh yes. I put an easy 25# on my front squat after being stalled for about 2 years. On Day 30 I front-squatted more unbelted than my old belted PR.
Post-Smolov, my back squat dropped from 340# to a shaky 295#. Now it’s recovered to a solid 325#. I could probably do more if I really tried.
Starting to get more teardrop-shape in my quads. They’d stand out more if I could trim some of the fat off my legs too. Getting a more solid upper-self from the arm/back/shoulder accessory work.
Did a 150# push press after being stuck at 135# forever.
So yeah, it works. I’m curious to see if these gains stick around.
Q. What about recovery? Don’t you need it?
A. With no or very few rest days, yeah, recovery seems like a potentially terrible problem, so I assume you’d want to sleep a lot, eat a lot, de-stress as much as you can, stretch often, do mobility all the time. Get those muscles repairing themselves in the hours between workouts. I don’t do any of that very well. I sleep like shit, I don’t warm up & mobilize enough, & I don’t always refuel optimally, & I have a chronic anxiety problem. It’s an area I have to work on.
A. I do take fish oil on the reg though. Maybe that does something, he wondered hopefully.
Q. Should I do Squat Every Day?
A. Hell, I don’t know if I should’ve done Squat Every Day.
I think it isn’t for beginners who squat like shit. Because if you squat like shit every day you’re just going to train yourself into a chronically shitty motor pattern. Which does nobody any good.
You also need to be self-directed. Squat Every Day does not include specific percentages you should lift. It’s all about how you feel that day. So you gauge yourself while still pushing yourself to find a daily max. You need to be on top of shit, making sure you’re logging everything, looking at your log, bumping up the weights a little every week so you’re increasing the stimulus. It’s up to you to turn this into a progressive-overload program, so you’re not just getting really good at lifting mediocre weight.
Likewise, you have to make sure you’re not going too heavy too soon. It’s a delicate balance of increasing stimulus & not dying.
Oh yeah, & plus you have to be thinking a few days ahead all the time, so you’re maxing out but not grinding your legs into strawberry jello. Otherwise tomorrow’s squats will suck. Which will make squatting the day after that also suck. And so on.
Q. Are you still squatting every day?
A. No. After a full cycle and then 3 weeks of a second, I stopped. My squat improved but my deadlift became worse. You squat first, then you do your accessory lifting. So on deadlift day, I’d start out trapping myself underneath 200 to 300 pounds of weight for 10 sets over about 30 minutes, then try to deadlift. Exhausted by then.
This week I switched back to doing 5/3/1 cycles, with added squatting as accessory work after the main work. Trying to blend the good parts of both programs — 5/3/1 is balanced, but could use more volume. Squat Every Day has loads of volume but it’s (obviously) squat-centric. This way I give all the big lifts equal time but add more squat volume.
Also, you can do your 5/3/1 lifting plus conditioning plus mobility in about an hour, easy.
Q. Why is this important anyway?
A. Shit, I don’t fucking know. Why is it so important to me that I be able to sit down with 325 pounds and stand up with it again? I don’t know. I don’t ever want to compete in this as a sport, & I’m not ever going to get good enough to do that & not embarrass myself anyway. It’s for health, but then again you can be healthy without ever squatting 325 pounds. So why do I spend any amount of time concerned about how much I can squat or deadlift when I have an office job & there are other very important matters to attend to & I probably should? This is a question that plagues me every day & has literally driven me out of the garage back into the house where I just stand there in a state of paralytic concern, unsure what the point of anything is supposed to be. Why does anyone do anything? WHEN IS THIS EVER GOING TO COME UP IN REAL LIFE? I don’t know. We talk about functional fitness, but there comes a point where it outgrows any reasonable function one might be expected to encounter. If for some reason I ever get trapped under 325 pounds while I happen to be wearing my weightlifting shoes, I’ll be prepared, but call the Fire Department just in case please. Apart from that, this is just for fun.¶