18 Months of Daily Max Squats

December 1st, 2015 by Laura

This is a summary of my 18-month long daily max squat experience.

WHY I CHOSE TO SQUAT EVERY DAY

Confidence with Heavy Weight
Given my other lifts, I was sure that I had the physical strength for a decent squat if I could get past the panic and technique blunders. I could do endless reps with a weight, then put another ten pounds on the bar and be stapled. At meets, I was so nervous under the bar that I would ‘forget’ how to squat. My technique for reps didn’t hold up under heavies, and it always took many months longer than anticipated to dial it in. A method I found to minimize this was to incorporate heavy singles during all blocks of training. This worked to an extent but with every programming option I had tried, I felt as though I could have used a lot more attention on singles.

Autoregulation
I trained late at night after putting my kids to bed, and my hips had some quirks. My percentage-based training plan never seemed to line up with my abilities on that particular day. I wanted to take advantage of the days where I was able to perform well and not feel pressured to push through on days I wasn’t. I also wanted to stay mentally connected to the lift as opposed to mindlessly pushing through prescribed reps.

Potentially Stronger Joints and Connective Tissues
Aside from dropping weights on my foot, or messing up a powerclean and breaking a collarbone, I have never sustained an injury in the weight room. Pregnancy is another story. I was left with loose ligaments, snapping hips, abdominal separation, hernias, abdominal surgery including belly button removal, and SI joint troubles. A knee surgery found its way in there, too. I felt like I was in a different body every squat day due to inconsistent mobility and joint issues. Everything seemed to happen at random and I felt like I had no control over my body’s quirks. I would not have chosen high frequency squats if I believed that these existing issues were not workable. The fact that I had such ups and downs showed me that there was potential to improve.

Success with Similar Systems
The Chinese System was suggested to me by a weightlifter friend who was convinced that it could work for powerlifting. It entailed working to a max on a squat variation two days per week, followed by back-off work. It got me past an age-old stall and I was making better progress than ever until anxiety surrounding each session’s max lift began to dominate. I eventually moved on to another way of training though I hated to leave something that was working so well. Daily maxing’s max-then-back-off style with autoregulation was very similar to the system that worked for me in the past, but the ‘daily’ aspect seemed like it could help with the anxiety.

Schedule
Logistics-wise, short, frequent workouts appeal to me. I always did well with lots of brief mini-sessions in my home gym as it was the only way I could train around the (non)schedule of young children.

I did my research, followed whatever training blogs I could find and all sources seemed to agree that daily squatting will not kill you. Being primarily a weightlifting method, there were only a handful of powerlifters I was able to find at the time who were doing some sort of daily max or Bulgarian-inspired training. They seemed to be in good health and happy with their choice. Some reported that their joints and connective tissues never felt better.

As a 35+ mom of three, I didn’t come across any accounts of this training method from my particular demographic, but I didn’t consider this experiment to be much of a gamble considering my squat frustrations and stagnant numbers.

On April 3rd 2014, I began my first month of daily maxes.

 

MY INTRO MONTH OF DAILY MAX SQUATS

Day 1
• Front Squat to Daily Max
• 2-3 x 2-3 @7-8
• Bench, bench accessories

Day 2
• Squat to Daily Max
• 2-3 x 2-3 @7-8
• 2 x 5 @5 speedy
• Unilateral or extra hip work

Day 3
• Squat to Daily Max
• 2-3 × 2-3 @7-8
• Bench, bench accessories

Day 4
• Front Squat to Daily Max
• 2 x 5-8 @6-7
• Deadlift to top single @8, or light speedy singles

Day 5 (Sometimes)
• Squat or Front Squat to Daily Max
• Unilateral or extra hip work

 

I worked to a daily max on either a squat or front squat every training day. The daily max is whatever can be done perfectly on that day, not a grinder or a true competition max (though there are some daily maxers who go to failure each day).

With plenty of bad memories of squat fails and struggle patterns to work through, I was comfortable shooting for an RPE of 7-8 to start. Maxes were calm, adrenaline-free and focused on pushing evenly through both legs. Any change in bar speed or technique meant it was time to back off.

Back-off work was not set in stone, it depended on what I felt I could do perfectly and what fit the schedule. I started a little lighter than usually prescribed, taking 20-25% off of my daily max and adjusting the weight with each subsequent set. Sometimes I would skip the back-off work altogether. Rest periods were short and the squat portion of my day usually took 30 minutes or less.

I had logged my volume totals for the months of training leading up to my daily max trial and made sure to stay in the same range as what I was doing before.

 

What a Daily Training Max Looks Like
Example 1: The video below is a front squat daily max. The preceding squats on this day had uniform tempo and technique. In the last clip, I was slightly slower out of the hole and my chest dipped so it was my ‘max’ for the day.

Example 2: The video below is a beltless squat training max of 240. The weight moved quickly but there was a quick shift forward on the rebound so it was my ‘max’ for the day. (I squat in a dark room on most days to help stay calm.)

 

The Immediate Changes in My Squat
I quickly became desensitizing to having a heavy barbell on my back. I liked the calm, adrenaline-free approach and was surprised at what I could get done with easy breathing, tuning in and not anticipating exactly how much weight I was going to lift each day.

I was constantly discovering tiny adjustments that would make my squats feel easier. My singles allowed me to concentrate on quality while my back-off sets echoed and instilled perfect patterns.

Occasionally, I’d revert to old habits by unracking aggressively and setting up in a way that seems full of conviction but really it was nerves. Anything I do from that point on is like jumping off a cliff. I’d re-rack the bar, take a few breaths and squat slowly and quietly. The panicked feeling would go away and the squat felt under control. The tech errors started slipping away along with the nerves.
Actual Max Tests :

Front Squat: 40lb PR! (225)
It felt too soon to be testing anything but I was feeling strong and curious. My ‘really bad day’ daily max weight had increased by 30 pounds and I hadn’t factored in a belt or aggression yet. 225 wasn’t pretty, but it went up and it was a huge PR for me. I’m very sorry about the cursing at the end. I sometimes let my chest drop on heavy front squats, miss the hook and it becomes a process. 🙂

 

Squat: 25lb PR! (300)
About a week after my front squat test, I was having a fantastic day in the gym, I just wrapped up a light week and felt fresh…and it was Mother’s Day. It felt like a good day to test the waters.

I put on a belt and wraps for my test but left out the adrenaline. The calm focus used for my daily maxes served me much better than excitement. When going for a PR, I had to remind myself NOT to add anything to the lift. Just do the same thing each time no matter how much is on the bar.


Daily Fluctuations

On the charts, I like to see the dips in daily performance and how they do not affect the overall outcome. It is also neat to see the difference between the training max and actual max. I became detached from numbers and their connotations.

 

NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS ON DAILY MAXING
I enjoyed the trial period of daily maxing so much that I continued with it for 18 months. I learned a lot by training this way. Daily squat training goes well when I don’t try to force or control things too much. Just go with the flow and note the patterns.

The following is a collection of notes about things that worked out well for me and things that didn’t. I’ll continue to edit and add to this list as time goes on.

Favorite Back-off Options
Over the year, I tried a variety of back-off templates for volume. Some favorites are listed below.

Singles Only

  • Daily Max
  • 4-10 singles
    Start by taking 85-90% of the daily max weight and adjust with each set.
    Work back up to the max or do multiple singles at the desired intensity for the day.
    No more than a minute and a half of rest between each squat.
  • I noticed that the ‘more singles’ option usually precedes a new PR. The extra practice with heavy singles helps sharpen tech and depending on how I take this phase and what I was doing leading up to it, some fatigue drops off as well.

Weak Point Correction

  • Daily Max
  • Select an exercise based on flaw in the daily max (borrowed from the Chinese System that worked so well for me in the past).
    Example 1: Falling forward in the squat – back off with safety bar squats.
    Example 2: Slow point in the top 2/3 – back off with partials.
    Adjust weights used accordingly.

Pauses

  • Daily Max
  • Perform back off reps with pauses.
    For triples, start with 70-75% of daily max weight.
    For doubles, start with 75-80% of the daily max weight.
    Adjust weights used accordingly; use less weight for extra-long pauses.
  • I also like slow eccentrics. I was hesitant to use them since there is obviously an exaggerated eccentric component that could possibly interfere with recovery. Also, I like to read and take everything with a grain of salt but some research does show that moving the bar as fast as possible is more productive for strength gains than going super-slow. In spite of that, I thought that slow eccentrics might be a good choice for someone like myself who is naturally speedy, prone to lateral shifts and can get sloppy. So far, it seems to be working out very well. I recently went through a ‘long eccentrics and pauses only’ phase and when finally I allowed myself to go to tempo, I was pleasantly surprised. I noticed that I got more aches and problematic tension when I am sloppy and shift my weight around than when I go exaggeratedly slow and stay on course.

Occlusions (For Lighter Sessions)

  • Daily Max
  • Perform back-off sets for high reps with occlusions.
    Very light weight is fine.

Website: Squat Nemesis

  • Squat Nemesis has a list of fun work-up and back-off options that reads like a Chinese takeout menu. As time went on, I decided that most of these templates lead me to doing more volume than I want or need. I just wanted to include this option incase I change my mind on that later, or if anyone else is reading and interested in more volume ideas.

I vary what I do on a given day. On the days that my daily max is strong, I’ll reinforce it with some heavy-ish back-off reps. On the days that my daily max does not go so well, I’ll make up for it with some lighter volume, or stick to singles if I think I need to reel in tech. I try to work in phases but there aren’t really any hard lines anywhere. I’m still learning and observing the patterns so going with the flow is useful. I stay better connected when I don’t follow too a stringent of a plan but set limits on volume in order to avoid sharp increases.

Progression
The more I focus on perfection and minimize struggle patterns in training, the better it translates to my true max efforts. I’m most concerned with the quality of the rep. I’d rather hit the same daily max for 2 months straight and have it be faster and smoother than it was than to push heavier weights into grinder-territory. Another sign of progress is my daily minimum going up (my ‘bad day’ max, or minimum amount of weight I use for my daily max).

When I began this, I was under the impression that one of the premises of daily maxing was to stay away from slow or grinding lifts. Now I see daily maxers who actually go for a max-max or fail everyday and they are doing great. I’m actually very certain that allowing frequent grinders into my training would not work for me right now, but getting comfortable grinding through squats might be useful in the future.

Originally, I wasn’t excited about tracking PRs because I thought that in itself would make me anxious. I didn’t want to feel pressured to always beat my previous best at whatever cost. Luckily, I find it pretty easy to stay out of that mindset. Progress isn’t linear and the training numbers don’t mean much to me anymore, so many things influence them. Simply switching my session from late night when I’m exhausted to early afternoon after a cup of caffeinated tea is good for an instant PR.

Increasing Volume
The best piece of advice I had read was to do as little as possible for as long as possible. Unfortunately, I ignored that and I had to learn the hard way!

A criticism of this method that initially worried me was that the only way to progress would be to keep piling on volume. Soon enough, you will need to be in the gym for hours each day of the week, multiple times per day. In an effort to outrun what I thought was an impending stall, I made the mistake of adding volume when it was not yet warranted and at times, getting carried away. Some of the back-off templates I used called for pushing sets until it felt like another set would be impossible. I found out that I had very good stamina for this – the sets kept coming and feeling easy. Within a short timeframe, my 30 minute gym sessions were taking nearly 2 hours and my minor flare ups and pains were becoming major.

I had expected my daily max to temporarily plummet with the volume increase and then bounce back. It didn’t. Actually, my max single was on a steady decline but I could do endless reps and sets. My technique was getting progressively sloppier as my ‘let’s just get through these reps’ patterns were dominating. This was the problem that I was trying to escape from in more traditional programming and I was reminded of why I chose high frequency max squats in the first place. Since then, my preference has been to get away with as little as possible, and to get my volume in back-off sets as opposed to working up. I like to feel the flaw in the top single and drill it the correction with a weight I can do perfectly.

You’d think that large volume changes would be blatantly obvious but even small changes add up quickly with daily frequency. The consequences of sharp increases can be severe and negate whatever benefits I am getting from the extra squat work.

In spite of my volume-happy phases and length of time I’ve been doing this, I still respond well to short, frequent squat sessions. I know that volume drives progress but for me, I don’t believe that having to be in the gym all day is a looming issue. What I have found for myself (for now anyway) is that it does not take very much work just to maintain or slowly increase my daily max. I can go into ‘coast’ mode off-season or when I need extra time to dedicate to other areas. My intensity and frequency stay the same but I’ll spend much of my back-off time on weak points.

Additionally, what I ‘can’ do, and what I ‘need to do’ in order to progress are two very different things. I have always had a lot of stamina and ability to crank out volume but being able to do more doesn’t mean that I will respond well to it.

I suppose the rate at which to increase volume will be different for everyone. Now that this style of training is a little more popular with powerlifters, I’ve seen some accounts from daily squatters who cut their days DOWN once they reached a certain daily training weight and they continue to progress. I think there are plenty of reasons why very modest increases, or even pulling back a bit at times can be useful for some.

One major point I learned about this style of training is to only increase volume if  I am actually stalling – not because of a predetermined timeline or what I see other people do.

Squat Variations
I stay better balanced by cycling through stances and variations. Wide stances, narrow stances, specialty bars, pauses and partials are all in the rotation. Sometimes even a change of shoe seems to register to my body as something a little different.

There were periods where I did only my favorite narrow high-bar squat and conventional deadlift. When I finally decided to do some wide-stance work, I was struggling with less than half of my narrow squat weight. The temptation to practice my narrow high-bar is always there since that is where I see the best numbers. Doing variations that I am not good at keeps me balanced and boosts my competition squat more than just sticking to my favorites, even though I usually have to work very light by comparison.

Choices in squat variations and rep ranges also help me to avoid anxiety. When I find myself expecting a level of performance out of my competition squat or getting greedy with numbers, I like being able to establish new PRs in other areas.

Deadlift
5-12 singles once per week works well for me right now, anywhere from 60-90%. I’ve always had luck with light, speedy deadlifts, even before I began daily squat maxes. I pull in my opposite stance most of the time which shaves quite a few pounds off of the workload. My deadlift tends to go up from squatting moreso than pulling.

Daily Max For Bench
After my successful intro month of daily max squats, I wanted to try it for bench as well. I transitioned from my normal 2-day per week schedule to 3 days per week, working to a max and backing off just like the squat. I chose a small handful of bench variations to cycle through and hit a PR of some sort every single session.

At my competition in March, I left with a 160 bench in my ‘peaked’ state. In June, after just one month after starting ‘daily max’ style training for bench, I could easy hit a 170 paused bench any day of the week. As a spaghetti-armed female, a bench gain like that is very much appreciated. 🙂

The sweet spot for me with bench still seems to be three times per week, I have no need or desire to up the frequency at this time. I like working up to top sets between 1 and 5 reps with back-off sets as while leaving plenty of room for ‘busy work’ for my scrawny upper body. My bench seems to want more volume than my squat.

My shoulders are very healthy and never hurt but I do keep my push-to-pull ration to something like 1:2. Sometimes if I don’t want to bench, I apply the same daily max principles to pull-ups, working to a top weighted single then backing off. I also found that my favorite way to warm up to bench is to front squat.

Accessories, Supplemental Lifts and Other Work
My squat isn’t ‘perfect’, I am prone to lateral shifting, a hip that buckles and one side of my body tends to do things differently than the other. Incorporating a little bit of extra work alongside the squats keeps my imbalances in check so I can continue to squat frequently. It can be the difference between progress sailing and things feeling great, or stalling and being in pain.

When I have a glaring weak spot that needs attention, I like having the option of just working to a daily max and making up volume in other movements. I’ve been able to increase or at least maintain my daily max that way while building up the areas that need it.

I also like to do a couple of conditioning sessions each week that I can easily throw my extra work into. They are usually just 15 minute-long circuits.

Body Weight and Strength
At 5’7, I am definitely on the taller side for my weight class, but an increase in bodyweight did not accompany my increase in squat performance. When I began daily maxing, my walking around weight was 137-140. A couple of months into daily maxing, I settled in the range of 134- 137, so a couple of pounds lost.

Staying Healthy

Trigger point work also helps keep me healthy enough to squat frequently. Stretching and mobility work can be disastrous for me due my ligaments being left very lax after pregnancies. Breaking up fascial restrictions is key in heading off little aches before they turn into something more sinister.

One of the things I was hoping to get out of squatting daily was to find out exactly what triggers my pains and quirks and what I can do to manage it. Repetitive patterns and networks of trigger points alert me to possible movement dysfunction and weak areas. The combination of daily maxing and trigger point work is holistic for me, exposing weaknesses all over my body, forcing me to take a step back to address them before moving forward again. Most times, this is accompanied by a temporary dip in performance which I am happy to accept as I come out stronger on the other end. As time goes on, I feel like I am bulletproofing my body.

Joints and Ligaments
Though all of my body quirks did not totally disappear, and I had moments where it seemed like nothing would ever help… there has been a marked improvement. Before, I could not even identify what problems existed, never mind knowing what to do about it. Somewhere along the line, the pains and annoyances that used to dominate my sessions faded into the background.

On a less frequent training schedule, I had a lot of mystery pain, my mobility was drastically different from day to day and it took me a long time to warm up. Now, I don’t need much time to be ready to squat and could most likely hit my daily minimum with no warm-up at all.  I rarely have a day where I can’t get my squat technique down.  My hips are also more quiet than before.

Here is how my hips sounded when I first began daily maxing:

And here is how they sound most of the time now:

I also used to live in fear of my SI joint; it was a nuisance that felt I had no control over. It has several major slip-ups each year, for seemingly no reason at all. My SI went out again this past October and I didn’t go to my meet because of it. Once I was out of the acute phase, I kept squatting daily as part of rehabilitation but used occlusions to minimize the load. I also saw a movement specialist and worked on correcting some postural issues and imbalances. I spent countless hours and late nights reading everything I could get my hands on about hip and pelvic floor function, trigger points and hip stability. I took those measures because I had to. I couldn’t just ignore the underlying issues, let things heal for a week or two then get right back to what I was doing as I did in the years prior, because they would come back again to bite me sooner than later. I don’t know if this is the last I will hear from my SI joint but after some work, it doesn’t feel so fragile.

More importantly, even though there are sometimes ‘sensations’, nothing actually hurts. Even more importantly, when my body wants to rebel, I am better at reading its language. When I am overextending, I have an assortment of mini-fixes to choose from to wake up the correct muscles and get through my session.  When the sides of my calves are buzzing, I’m not properly using my butt.  I also know when to cut it at the daily minimum, or not squat at all.

I have to backpedal at times to reinforce the weak links. I used to feel frustrated by taking a step back but now I am always happy to fix issues as they arise. The improvements I am working on make both training and daily life a lot more comfortable than it was. I have no doubts that daily squatting makes joints and ligaments stronger.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON MY 18 MONTHS OF DAILY MAX SQUATS
I have never felt so good in general as I do squatting daily. Not only did I not die but I’m no longer a nervous disaster under the bar. I treat it the same way as if I were going to move a couch across a room or dig a hole in the yard or something. No emotion to it, nothing riding on it. Nothing is expected of me, the number I hit doesn’t matter. Just do the movement deliberately and perfectly, no grinding or struggle. It doesn’t get to a point where technique changes, it’s just whatever can be done perfectly that day.

One thing that helps me stay calm under heavy squats is remembering ‘hey, I just did this weight yesterday, and the day before’. That alone calms me down pretty quick. You get desensitized and it becomes an everyday thing. The frequency makes it instinctive. I can just walk up to the bar, totally indifferent, and do it.

This Might be the Best Thing I’ve Ever Tried
Originally, Daily Max Squats were just going to be a short deviation from my normal routine. I was looking for a temporary method to work on my heavy squat technique and boost confidence but it ended up being one of the most enlightening, therapeutic and addictive programming choices I’ve ever made.

More Reading on Daily Max Squats
This book was my starting point on daily maxing and answered any questions I had. If anyone stumbles here and hasn’t picked this up, I hope they do so. It is only a $7 download and an amazing read – whether you are planning to squat frequently or not.

Russian Squat Assault

November 3rd, 2013 by Laura

Just wanted to stick this here though it is easy to remember; it is just the 3-week base mesocycle of Smolov stretched out to 6 weeks (2 sessions per week instead of 4). From the Pavel book listed below.

WeekMondayWednesday
170% 4x975% 5x7
280% 7x585% 10x3
370%+10lbs 4x975%+10lbs 5x7
480%+10lbs 7x585%+10lbs 10x3
570%+15lbs 9x475%+15lbs 5x7
680%+15lbs 7x585%+15lbs 10x3

Spacing out the days makes it easier on the body and is still usually enough to provide a volume contrast with whatever programming I was doing leading up to it. If not, then 3 days per week works too. It doesn’t have to be crammed into 4 sessions per week like the original Smolov.

You can lower the reps and up the sets if you are really struggling (do 9 sets of 4 instead of 4 sets of 9).

For deadlifts, I’ve only tried running speed cycles alongside this. It seems to be a good fit. My dead usually goes up alongside the squat anyway in spite of not training it heavy.

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May 21st, 2013 by Laura

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