Programming Update: Back Squat Cycle


CF NYC-50

Most of you have noticed that we are back squatting more regularly than in the past by performing 5 sets x 5 reps every week. This will continue until we hit 12 exposures of 5×5 back squats.  At that point the cycle will culminate in a new 1 Rep Max (RM) test in the fall, after which we will change the set and rep scheme for back squats. We do not expect everyone to hit all 12 exposures over the summer, some may miss squats from time to time because of vacation or scheduling, ideally you manage to hit 8-10 exposures.

After only five exposures, you may be creeping up to your previous 1 RM and the squats getting increasingly more difficult to perform requiring more rest time between sets.  Some of you may have even been unable to complete all the reps last workout. This is okay, missed attempts happen from time to time.  We cannot add weight indefinitely and expect to increase our squats 250# in a year by adding 5# per week. Sometimes we have to take a few steps backwards in order to keep moving forward; all athletes do this by deloading the weights and, in our case, resetting our 5×5 at a lighter weight and continuing loading 5×5 in the same manner from a slightly higher starting point.

If for some reason you missed the memo and have been adding weight by feel or YOLO style every workout (by working to your heaviest possible set of five each week), we’ll reiterate that you should stick to the linear progression – slowly increasing the load over a longer period of time. Not only are you able to build strength and speed with your squatting by adding weight slowly, you are increasing your technical squatting ability by virtue of practicing many sub-maximal repetitions.

We encourage you to listen to your coach and stick to the prescribed weight for the 5×5 set, unless they instruct you to do so otherwise. Every time you take big jumps or do not stick to the weight for your rep scheme, you are actually sabotaging your future progress.  At first it seems as though it is too easy doing the same weights for all five sets, especially when you feel like you could do more.  If you are patient and stick with the prescription, adding a little more weight each week (5-10# depending on the lifter), you will see measurable gains by the end of the summer.

CF NYC-45

When you feel like your last 5×5 back squat workout took everything you had to complete, then it is suggested you perform a reset.  One indicator that you need a reset is that your last 1-2 reps each set (even your early sets) become very, very slow or a “grind” where you lose position.  Another indicator is that you fail or miss a rep, forcing you to drop down in weight for the remainder of your sets.  Finally if you are at 95% or at your old 1 RM for 5×5, it’s generally useful that you go ahead and reset.  If you are unsure of what to do, since lifters can miss a rep for all sorts of reasons: Ask a Coach!

To perform a reset: Instead of dropping all the way back down to 75% of your max, reset now to 80% of your old 1 RM and start from there. The importance of the reset or deload cannot be stressed enough. No amount of machismo or mental toughness can overcome your body’s physical limitations. 

We place a high importance on the back squat and getting stronger in our programming, as it has carryover to most all activities that we do in CrossFit.  Squatting will make you stronger physically and mentally. There will be some variations in the remainder of this squatting cycle, such as finding a 5 rep max or performing a max rep test after your 5×5. You will see overhead squats and front squats appear in other workouts during the week but the back squat will remain our main strength movement for the foreseeable future.

Lastly, the Beginners/All Levels have a 5RM test scheduled this Monday.  If you follow the Experienced WOD programming, please do not see this as an open invitation to test out your 5 RM.  (Ideally, you stick to one track of programming rather than cherry picking the workouts you like – most people make less progress when they switch back and forth between programs.) The reason for programming a 5 RM for Beginner/All-Level classes is that the majority of people in this class are relatively new to CrossFit and lifting.  They are going to see large changes in their maximal weights during their first year of CrossFit.  Therefore finding a new 5 RM can allow for a more accurate reset, which allows newer lifters to maximize their results.

  • Hari Singh

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  • Jacob Paul

    Will any of the back squat days have an additional metcon component as part B of the WOD? It seems like a lot of times when we just do a strength component like this, we end up finishing class 10+ minutes early(especially if it’s a small class), wishing we could finish out the day with a short amrap or cash out of some sort.

    • Avery W

      Jacob, generally we have been adding a cash out, a second part B or something in addition to squat days because we understand that not everyone loves squatting as much as we do!

      For instance, last week we had manmakers and double push up burpees as an additional part of the WOD and most people struggled to finish both parts of the WOD. The week before that was push ups work, and before that we had a 10 minute AMRAP of shoulder to overhead and T2B. The intensity and relative volume of the secondary part of the WOD doesn’t just reflect that single workout, but how it will fit within the overall volume and intensity of the week. However, at some point, when the loading is heavy enough, this should be a workout itself, requiring adequate rest periods (upwards of five minutes or more).

      If you are in a smaller afternoon class and you have extra time leftover you could certainly do that additional work “for time” if you felt like it had to be a more strenuous effort. For instance, 50 double burpee push ups for time or the manmakers at the end of class. You could do some row (250 m sprint repeats?), double under practice or other conditioning work that we normally don’t have time for in a class as long as you get an OK from your coach. Most coaches are happy to work with members if you ask them about what to do with extra time in class.

    • Jason Lapadula

      30 sec air squat/30 sec squat hold x4 sets…best 4 mins of your life

  • Quan Yoon

    On the all level workout tomorrow, if you have been following the programming and have done all five exposures, should we consider tomorrow’s workout as the sixth exposure?

    • Avery W

      You would consider the All Levels/Beginner class a testing workout (which is different than just coming in to train). This may indicate how much of a reset you may need (or perhaps none at all). You will hit your 6th exposure the next week. Experienced WOD will be hitting their 6th exposure and can reset if needed (without having to test).

  • Edouard P.

    would it be silly/counterproductive to do the test tomorrow and also do the experienced squat wod later in the week?

    • Avery W

      I don’t really see the point. If you are sticking with Experienced programming, then there should be no need to test today. If you are unsure about your reset, then I would discuss that with your coach.

      • Edouard P.

        Makes sense. The point was only to squat twice in a week :)
        Just transitioning to experience track so still doing some of both but being diligent about the squat (and deadlift) programming. Not sure about reset. Will chat with coach at next session.

  • constantinXF

    If you added 5 pounds every week for a year you would have added 260#. Just for the record.

  • Matt C

    Avery – so when we have to “Reset” do we start the cycle all over again, i.e. return to 1st exposure? So I’m starting with 80% of 1RM week 1, then next week go to 80% + 5-10#?

    • Brian D

      I can answer that, Matt. Yes, instead of dropping all the way back down to 75% of your max, start over again at 80% and continue to add 5-10# each exposure from there on.

      • Matt C

        Got it, thanks!

  • Alan

    This is a long but great read. When anyone wonders why Avery (and other coaches) writes down x% of your max in a workout, this explains it. If anyone is wondering if experience wods are really gonna help or if anyone doubts that coaches are putting in any extra time, I think this post shows that they are. They have set programs and there’s a reason behind their madness and it’s spelled out very clearly here.

    I totally appreciated this post and it really helps to put things in perspective about how crossfit (and training in general) is about long-term success and not just short term or immediate results (even though those are admittedly more fun).

    Thanks for this post!