Rotating Exercises, Squats & Deads in the Same Week


Question: Jay,

Two quick questions regarding the squat and deadlift and rotating these lifts.

1. How does rotating through several lower body lifts affect your muscular development over the long term?

I know that it is a great way to build well rounded strength and keep your CNS refreshed so you can go hard on lifts, but would focus on one variation and doing longer programming methods result in more size and strength?

2. Also, it seems from your last few programs that you’re not big on squatting and deadlifting from the floor in the same week. Are you starting to get the sense that more than what most intermediate level guys can recover from?

Thanks,

-Chris

Answer: For muscular development it probably won’t make much difference. Bodybuilders use a variety of methods and exercises. But if you are just concerned with improving your back squat it’s probably better to work strictly on that lift with varying loads, percentages and intensities throughout the year instead of doing box squats, front squats, safety bar squats, etc.

To get better at something you need to do it often. So squatting three times per week until you were fairly strong would be a good idea. Once you start moving some very big weights you might want to back off on the frequency a bit just due to the long term wear and tear it may have on your body.

Of course, Olympic lifters squat every day and it can be done with outstanding results. It just really depends on the individual, the recovery ability, the boredom factor, etc. Plus no one really knows what the long term damage may be from loading your spine and knees with three to five hundred pounds multiple times per week. It’s really a guessing game and your call at that point.

If a big squat is important to than you need to squat often for a few years. After that you can decide what you want to do going forward.

Now, to address your second question I will start by saying that most people recover very poorly from squatting because they do it improperly. 99% of all people technically shouldn’t be squatting without first correcting asymmetries, improving flexibility and mobility, doing some unilateral training to improve stability, etc.

This process should take 12-24 weeks. I know that sounds like an incredibly long time but three to six months isn’t really too long to sacrifice if you intend to be doing this stuff for the next 30-50 years. Believe me, it’s way smarter to take care of it up front than to wait for the injuries to start creeping up and being forced to add mobility work instead of doing it by choice from the get go.

After that initial pre-squat period I’d say that about 80-85% of people could probably do a  heavy back squat with good form and do so safely.

The remaining 15-20% probably will never be able to squat without some lumbar flexion or other issues that can lead to long term injuries. Now, that’s not to say those people won’t squat or can’t squat, it’s just that if they want to remain healthy for the long term and not be hobbling around beaten, broken and scarred like so many lifters in their 50’s and 60’s it’s not in their best interest.

Remember, if you’re not a powerlifter you don’t need to do exactly what they do. There are always other options.

Picture courtesy of traviscoffmanphotography.com

IF you can squat properly (high bar, Olympic style below parallel with no tuck) you can do it three times per week with very minimal recovery issues as long as you take your time slowly building up to it. I’d recommend something like a heavy, light, medium scheme as Mark Berry advised back in the 1930’s.

If you choose to do a low bar squat with a wide stance your shoulders, elbows and hips will get too beat up to squat multiple times per week and I wouldn’t even entertain the thought.

The deadlift is a whole different animal. Pulling a straight bar from the floor crushes you and impairs your ability to do anything else very effectively for the next few days. With the lower back strain you’ll be experiencing from deads it’s harder to squat, overhead press, bent over row and do just about any other standing exercise.

More effective than eliminating the combo of the two in the same week is the total removal of straight bar deads from the floor (except for a rare testing day if you were interested in that) and the minimizing of heavy pulling for guys who are strong and have been training for a while. Lighter pulls like high pulls and shrug pulls from blocks are more effective for those guys, with the heavy stuff snuck in on occasion.

Nowadays I’d recommend guys that can pull 405 for 5 from the floor instead do sets of 335-405 off of rubber mats stacked 4-8″ high with absolutely picture perfect form and no lumbar flexion or grinding AT ALL. That means when you initiate the pull you don’t start by raising the hips first or by first slipping into a bit of lumbar flexion.

If you deadlift like that it’s far safer. And think about it… even though you’d be using weights that are far below your max you’re still using a weight that is much heavier than any other back exercise you could do. If instead of using 405 on the deadlift you did 355 with perfect form it’s still significantly more weight than you could ever bent over row. So you’re getting the benefits without the negatives.

Remember, submaximal training is what leads to maximal results.

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32 Responses to Rotating Exercises, Squats & Deads in the Same Week

  1. Jocko November 30, 2011 at 9:12 am #

    In minimalist training – the Basic Ménage – you have written squats and dealifts in the same week. Do you recomend not doing the Basic Ménage then?

    • Jason Ferruggia November 30, 2011 at 9:35 am #

      @Jocko: Do the deads off of mats. It also depends on how strong you are. If you only deadlift 250 or so it won’t make as much of a difference

  2. Eric Martin November 30, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    Great question and terrific answer. My program is a mix of main lifts and accesory exercises/bodyweight/etc. Monday is Bench, Tuesday is Squat, Wednesday is Press, Thrusday is Misc bodyweight only, Friday is Deadlifts, Sat/Sun are recovery days. This has worked well for me with regards to recovery of each lift, strength gains, and overall hapiness with my workouts. I do mix up each of the main lifts periodically with the different variations of each(i.e. Wide Grip Bench, Front Squats, 50% loads, etc.).

  3. Brad gierke November 30, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    Back squat on monday, hex bar deeds on wed, and front squats Friday? What do you think? High football.

  4. Koosh November 30, 2011 at 9:35 am #

    I can’t focus with that picture. I do believe that is illegal in some areas on the country

  5. Brandon Cook November 30, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    The insights of a Renegade! Burn it into your brain. :)

  6. Tartovski November 30, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    Awesome article, and very timely. I was debating this same thing this week myself.
    I don’t lift crazy heavy, yet, and I’m only lifting to supplement my grappling (mainly BJJ, but some wrestling) so I was wondering about recovery etc.

    I have to ask though: why does high bar vs low bar make such a difference to your recovery/injury chance? I currently squat low bar, should I change?

    • Jason Ferruggia December 7, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

      Just because there is more stress on your shoulders with the low bar squat. It’s also more stressful to the lower back if you lean forward a lot.

  7. Mrod November 30, 2011 at 10:04 am #

    What do you think of the idea of doing a posterior pelvic tilt and lumbar flexion up at the top of the dead lift? I’ve been incorporating this into my deads, and it actually lessons the strain on my lower back greatly. However, I’m not sure if this is safe in the long run…

  8. Michael November 30, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    Perfect timing for this question and answer, for me at least. This last year I used 531 to build up my strength base (current 1RMs are DL: 465lb, Squat: 385lb, Bench: 225lb, Press, 135lb, all at 200lb BW).

    I have been having some crazy pains in my arm (which is why my bench sucks). I am pretty use I have Tendinitis/osis but will not know until I get the money to see a doctor. I wanted to switch to a primarily lower body type workout to give my arms a rest while still continuing to workout but was worried that squatting 3 days a week was too much. From this article it sounds like you are saying that it is fine to do so (right?).

    I decide to give Liftstrong 5×5 a try because it has you squatting 3 days a week starting with an empty bar (so you can work on form/technique) and adding 5lb every session. If I can not do the rest of the program (bench, press, row, DL) I will just do conditioning instead.

    Is this a good solution to hopefully a short term problem or am I way out in left field???

    Thanks for the article Jason!

    • Jason Ferruggia December 7, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

      High bar squatting 3x per week is fine.

  9. Michael November 30, 2011 at 10:28 am #

    Can some explain to me what “low/high” bar mean and what is considered a wide stance vs Olympic stance??? Thanks.

    • Jason Ferruggia December 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

      High = bar on traps. Low= bar on rear delts. Wide= very wide. Olympic= shoulder width.

  10. LB November 30, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    Another good article. I recently picked up your new Rampage 2.0. Any suggestions as to replacements for barbell squats in that workout? I will still be deadlifting as per the routines but can’t squat currently due to injury. Thanks again for all of the great info.

  11. Jocko November 30, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    ok, thanks!

  12. Jeff November 30, 2011 at 11:47 am #

    Great article Jason!..Currently, I am following Wendlers 531, with twist. I do my bench and squat days with the 531 protocol with some assisted lifts. My deadlift day has been for the last 14 weeks (with 2 more to go) a program from Andy Bolton (Current PR on Deadlift is 500 lbs and I’m hoping to pull 545 lbs next thurs). My 4th day is a Westside inspired Dynamic Effort day for the bench, which is the lift I want to have my numbers to improve the most (and it is, but slowly). I seem to have no apparent issues with squatting and deadlifting in the same week. All my numbers keep going up and my body feels great other than the typical DOMS, but that’s expected. Recovery is key, and between foam rolling, tennis balling, clean diet and surfing on off days, everything is going great.

  13. Till November 30, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    Michael: check out powerlifting squat technique and olympic squat technique on youtube. Powerlifters spread their feet wider and place the bar lower onto their back muscles, thus leaning forward compared to olympic squatters. Again, visuals will give you a better idea.

  14. Raymond November 30, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    Good points I have backed off on doing squats and deadlifts in the same week and with less frequnecy.
    Simply because I realised I don’t do them properly so I rather less is more in my case.
    Nice thing though when it’s time to do them I really look forward to it.
    Raymond

  15. Robert November 30, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    Jason, what do you think of doing knee height rack pulls and squats twice a week? Maybe one day light the other heavy (or both moderate, both heavy, etc.)? It would be part of a 4-day a week training program, with the other 2 days being upper body (one vertical push/pull, the other horizontal).

    • Jason Ferruggia December 7, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

      It could be done. But pull off rubber blocks or mats; not pins.

  16. Mike T Nelson December 1, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    I love this line
    “Remember, submaximal training is what leads to maximal results.”

    So true! The old Lee Haney quote is still good too “Stimulate, not annihilate”

    @Michael
    I am not Jason, but my thoughts are to get out of pain first. At min, don’t do any exercises that are painful. Your brain is really really good at 2 things 1) prediction 2) association.

    Every time you move in pain, your brain associates that movement (exercise) IS painful.

    Simple, I know. The more you do it though, the more it gets associated, and the harder it is to get out.

    Many times doing new exercises and/or ones that are not painful is enough for the brain to re-associate movement is NOT painful.

    Of course seeing someone directly to help with the issue is the best plan; but it sounds like that may not be an option for some time.

    Just my 2 cents
    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c)
    PS–nice work on the lifts too! Whoo ha!

  17. Alex December 1, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    But in case i want to do all the big 3 in a week (i just love them all too much to not have either one on my program) do you think that doing squats on mondays, bench on wednesdays and deads on fridays would be the best option ?
    That way i will have 3 days to recover from the deads..
    Any other best option ?
    Keep it up !!

    • Jason Ferruggia December 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

      I’d bench and squat 3x and deadlift only once.

  18. David - The Natural Health Service December 15, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    I always found my deadlift improved best when I stopped well short of failure, but everyone was saying you should always train to failure so I kept doing it, and not progressing. I’m not deadlifting at the moment, and am stopping short of failure on everything else, so we’ll see how that goes.

    Quick question though, what about training to failure, or very close to, for higher reps (10-15) for the purpose of fatiguing the muscle to initiate maximum muscle growth. Does that work or are you better with 5 – 8 reps, stopping a rep or two short of failure? Thanks

  19. Eugene December 17, 2011 at 7:58 am #

    Jay
    I gotta question in regarding shoes for deadlifting…I know you like the Merril Trail Glove. How does the New Balance Minimums Trail compare? I think they might have a little higher drop, but I find them more comfortable and better looking. Your thoughts?

  20. Jason December 20, 2011 at 7:29 am #

    What I have found to be a good substitute are clean pulls. Close to a dead lift but get you to move quickly without the same heavy load.

  21. Michael Hodge December 24, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    Hey Jason, first off, I’d like to say I am a huge fan of your programs and that they are the most effective workouts I have ever done. I am currently doing your “Triple Threat” program and I my question was about squats and dead lifts. I screwed up my back pretty bad several months ago and as of just a few weeks ago I started to squat and do very light dead lifts.

    My question for you is for the squat part do you suggest doing front squats, box squats or just plain old squats. I have to admit I don’t squat a lot of weight mainly because of the back problem. I know you really emphasize on training heavy so I was wondering if you had any suggestions?

    Thanks again!

    Michael

  22. Chris P December 27, 2011 at 7:42 am #

    From my research, I’d say most people with average recovery ability can do squats/deadlifts twice a week at most, as long as the workouts are 3-4 days apart and the volume is kept low. Not the intensity though – one set to failure should be enough after 2-3 slow warmup sets. This should stop the body from overtraining too badly so that progress is made – I’ve had good progress on these lifts from limiting the volume as much as possible. Great article Jay.