Back squats have been contenders in a decades-long battle against deadlifts, fighting for the coveted title of “King of Exercises.”
Now, the jury might still be out on the verdict, but either way, this quad-destroying exercise should be either #1 or #2 on your to-do list.
But here’s a (maybe not so) shocker: If your relationship with the gym’s power rack is so strained that you only squat once a week, it’s no wonder your legs look better in pants.
So … how often should you squat? Well, it’s not what you think!
What Is a Squat?
The squat is arguably the best lower-body exercise (and likely your mortal enemy in the gym), strengthening your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and even the core muscles.
Because these are the very same muscles you use while walking thousands of steps per day and climbing stairs, it’s not unusual for lifting elites to squat 300% of their body weight.
Jeff Nippard’s squat PR recently escaped 450-pound territory. In his prime, legendary bodybuilder Jay Cutler could crank out ten reps at a leg-shaking 500 pounds.
If you want to do ‘em right and maximize your leg TLC:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart & knees and toes generally facing forward.
- While keeping your feet planted and back mostly stiff (a slight arch is okay), lower your butt as if you’re sitting in a chair.
- Once your thighs are about parallel to the floor, drive your feet into the ground & push up.
But that’s not why you’re here … right?
Should You Squat 3 Times A Week?
That depends on who you ask.
The weightlifting community argues about everything and anything (bench grips & upright row safety, to name a few), but the consensus is 2-4 weighted squat sessions a week.
(Yes, a case can be made for all three.)
Now, when you add 3-5 sets of squats per workout (like in Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program), it might just push you over the edge energy-wise.
Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, 3rd Edition
Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe has been called one of the best weightlifting books in the world and has been used by tens of thousands to begin strength training.
How can we possibly justify skimping down on other muscles for more legs? Well, it helps to look at a few basic weightlifting principles regarding rest.
Most experts recommend 48-72 hours of rest between workouts. Bite the bullet and hit the rack any sooner, and you might be chugging along at 75-85% strength instead of near-100%.
Good luck snagging regular PRs without the cheat reps.
But of course, if you’re squatting just once a week … Why even bother?
While you will make strength gains, it’ll be at a snail’s pace. However, some workout programs like Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 argue that slower sets the stage for a stronger foundation.
5/3/1: The Simplest and Most Effective Training System for Raw Strength
Want to follow a simple progression to get stronger and build muscle? Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program is for anyone looking to get stronger with barbells.
Alternatively, one study even discovered that, in 9 weeks, three weekly squat sessions could add 9 extra kilograms to your lift than twice/week.
So, three squat sessions is the “sweet spot.”
How Often Should I Squat For Mass?
Leg hypertrophy requires a slightly different approach to squats, as you need to place special emphasis on both frequency (how often you squat) and volume (how much you squat).
The 2-4 weekly sessions a week recommendation still stands, though the ramped-up intensity might leave you feeling shakier, achier, or requiring an extra rest day to repair those muscles.
Even if you’re squatting just twice a week (which leading industry experts agree maximizes hypertrophy), you must build your squat workouts around these principles:
- 3-5 sets
- 8-12 reps (though mixing in sub-five rep sets can tackle the strength issue too)
- 75-85% 1RM
- 1-2 minutes rest (up to four is also acceptable if you’re not ready to jump back in)
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However, hypertrophy can be an ultra-rare breed. To avoid plateaus and keep those workouts more exciting, don’t be afraid to take the more randomized approach.
How Often Should I Squat If I’m A Woman?
Women can squat ungodly heavy weights that level the ranks between men and women, like powerlifter Natalie Hanson, who, in 2017, shattered the squat world record with a 603-pound lift.
Now, Hanson is a bit of a fitness industry anomaly. That’s because the female body produces far less testosterone (muscle-growth igniter) than men, making gains a more treacherous path.
Possible, but more challenging.
If you’re a woman, squatting 2-3 times per week (leaning closer to three) will target gains best. One 15-week study found that a 3×10 rep scheme 3 times a week can yield 25%+ gains.
(Yes, this is where things get a little taboo.)
There’s a long-held myth that doing hundreds of air squats per day will build a bigger butt. While it’s possible to an extent, the best way to build muscle mass is by adding a loaded barbell.
How Much Can You Increase Your Squat In A Year?
It depends on what seems like a zillion factors:
- Lifting experience (this is where being a noob pays off)
- Genetics (womp womp)
- Protein intake
- Creatine intake
- Surround muscle strength (ever try to squat with weak hamstrings or calves?)
If you just invested in your first-ever gym membership, you’re in luck.
Beginner programs like StrongLifts 5×5 (or even the later Madcow) can add 5 pounds to your squat per week, totaling a 60-pound heavier squat by the program’s end 12 weeks later.
But what about in a year when those noob gains settle?
Well, with a regular training routine and proper fuel (a healthy balanced diet), many lifters suggest that you could add 200+ pounds to a back squat in one year alone.
How Often Should You Squat?
Whether you’re eyeing strength, mass, or an equal combination of the two, performing squats 2-4 times per week is generally regarded as the “gold standard.”
However, even more crucial than your squat frequency is your weekly volume. Gains only occur when you push your muscles to their limits and force them to adapt and grow.
So … if you’re sticking to a 3×10 squat rep scheme, but your intensity is well shy of the 75-85% 1RM recommendation, there’s your answer to the “why don’t I see gains?” problem.
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