Should You Squat 3 Days A Week?
As a young coach, I thought there was magic in squatting 3 days a week. I would try to increase volume to warrant 3 day a week frequency thinking it would unlock some form of secret gains. I mean the more the better, right? But now, as what I’d consider a more experienced coach, I try to avoid squatting 3 days a week unless it is undeniably needed. And I’d say I have more people that I am dropping from 3 days a week down to 2 days squatting, than I am the opposite. Now this isn’t to say squatting 3 days a week is wrong, but more so that as I’ve grown as a coach I’ve learned that more isn’t always better. In fact, it may be what is holding some people back.
To understand why you may not need 3 days a week of squatting, I think it’s first good to understand why someone may need 3 days a week frequency. To give some background though, at least in my time as a coach I have not yet encountered an athlete who needs 3 hard squat days. For bench, that is very common, and even sometimes up to 4 days. But for squat, I’ve universally programmed that tertiary day as low to mid volume and low relative intensity. So within this, there really are 2 main reasons I see the need for a 3rd squat day…..
1.) Skill Practice: Some athletes regress skill very quickly, and having 3-4 days in between squat sessions sometimes is just too much of a gap. They require some bridge in skill practice to allow them to feel “ready” come their primary and secondary days, with an emphasis on that primary day. So within this tertiary squat day, I’ll choose variants typically that are self limiting to lower fatigue, but have some transfer of skill to their competition squat. If you’ve watched my top 3 squat variations video, you’ll know I love pause squats and barefoot squats for this reason. Now this isn’t to say I’ll never program a regular competition squat on a tertiary day, but more commonly I find myself trying to self limit the intensity through variation, while still fulfilling the need for skill practice.
2.) Volume: There is only so much we can do within 2 squat days. If someone truly needs more volume, a 3rd squat day can be a way to fill that volume gap without creating too stressful of a primary or secondary day squat session. There isn’t a magic number for sets that someone can tolerate on a given day, but at a certain point either a lifter generates too much fatigue from continued sets and/or we see form degradation as the sets proceed. So with that, it could serve the lifter better to take some of that back off volume and distribute it into a 3rd squat day. And big emphasis on back off volume. I’ve yet to program as a coach a true top set on a tertiary squat day, but rather am taking what would be back off volume on other days and placing it on this 3rd squat day. For example, let’s say a lifter needs 14 total sets. Rather than doing 7 sets on the primary and secondary days, we can distribute these instead as 6 (primary) and 5 (secondary), and then 3 sets on the tertiary day. This most likely is going to result in more productive sessions on all 3 days. And many times when using a 3rd squat day for volume, I am also programming with the consideration of skill practice as well. So really those 2 ideas are combined.
So when may you not need a 3rd squat day? When either of those 2 reasons cannot be sufficed and you are making progress. We need that 3rd squat day to benefit the training week as a whole, not take away. And too often people ramp up volume or frequency for the sake of those magic gains, and instead what happens is they are hindering their recovery. In my weekly training split video, I break this down fully, but there is a fatigue cost for that tertiary day. While it may be much lower than let’s say the primary day, you are still doing work, so there is a cost. And that cost within the sum of the week has to equate to adequate recovery upon return to that primary day.
Brandon is a good example of a lifter recently that I dropped from 3 days a week squatting down to 2. While 3 days wasn’t going bad and we were seeing some progress, it was noticeable that he just never felt fully recovered come his primary squat day. So recently we took out his tertiary squat day, and as seen above, there has been a pretty dramatic difference in a very short time. On the left is 485×2 and on the right is 490×2 (CLICK HERE). While there are other factors at play, what we saw was that now on his primary squat day the feedback I got consistently was “I feel amazing”. Whereas before, some days felt good, some days amazing, some days just okay, and some days not great. It was a little all over the place depending on the week. And I just had a hunch that the Saturday tertiary day was interrupting his recovery a bit too much leading into his Monday primary day. Sure enough as soon as we took that away, you can see what happened with the speed and strength on the 490×2 set. He came back feeling amazing on that day and with no void of skill. So Brandon didn’t need the skill practice and he didn’t need the volume, so therefore he didn’t need a 3rd squat day. I’ll end with how I started, and that is that more isn’t always better.