Can You Squat Every Day?
Can you squat every day? To smug middle school English teachers, the only answer is, “I don’t know. Can you?” We’re not looking for detention, so let’s rephrase rather than retort.
Should you squat every day? To literalists, this is still preposterous. You need to squat every day to sit at your desk or upon your porcelain throne. But to lifters and strength professionals who recognize we’re talking about squatting with weights in the gym, it’s a thought-provoking question.
Like a proper squat, the best way to approach the question is to go deep. Here, you will find a history of “squat every day” protocols and an evidence-based evaluation of daily squatting for a variety of training goals. We will also consider the likelihood of harm, discuss the nuts and bolts of programming, and, inevitably, answer the question: Should you squat every day?
What Are Daily Squat Protocols?
Broadly, daily squat protocols contain just that — squats every damn day. Past this commonality, different daily squat protocols contain variables. Some require the same type of squat be used (e.g. always barbell back squats). Others incorporate squat variations throughout the week (e.g. front squat, overhead squat, etc.).
Many of these programs are periodized, including planned variation of volume (daily sets and reps) and intensity (weight or percentage of maximum). In the most extreme plans, lifters may be asked to max-out every day with a single or multiple repetition sets.
The defining feature of all daily squat protocols is ultra-high frequency squat training. Traditionally, a muscle group is trained and then given 48 hours (or longer) to recover. (1)
Brazen “squat daily” protocols provide only about 24-hours recovery between bouts. To the traditional strength coach or athlete, this may sound like blasphemy, but high-level athletes are successfully squatting daily and have been for decades. (2)
History of Squatting Every Day
In the age of commercialism, one might think the “big squat rack” industry developed the idea of daily squatting just to sell their wares. But the history of squatting every day runs deeper than pushing powder-coated steel and graphic T-shirts. It even predates social media hashtags like #squatober.
Like many draconian activities in the gym, the origin of modern daily squatting can be traced to Eastern European origins. Starting in the 1960s, Bulgarian coach Ivan Abadjiev successfully trained Olympic weightlifters using a high-volume system that included the competition lifts and squats every day. (3)
This so-called “Bulgarian method” was not without controversy, but it helped to produce gold medalists in Olympic weightlifting. And yes, one could assume the success of the Bulgarian method was largely pharmacological, but does high-frequency training provide an edge when training for certain attributes?
Daily Squatting for Strength
Daily squat programs may have originated in Olympic weightlifting, but they’ve now taken a foothold in powerlifting. Does high-frequency training make sense for the strength-focused lifter?
Research seem to find an advantage to higher frequency training among certain types of lifters, including young adults and intermediate and advanced trainees. The finding most notable for daily squatting was reported by a pair of meta-analyses — improved strength gain for multi-joint exercises when training at higher frequencies. (4)(5)
In both meta-analyses, this effect was tiered, with significant benefit for each additional training session per week up to four or greater. In other words: the more frequency, the better (to an extent).
However, the findings were based on a limited number of available studies on frequencies at or above four training sessions per week, and studies that allowed more sets and reps for the higher frequency training groups were included in the analysis. (4)(5) More recent studies with intensity- and volume-matched protocols show no difference in strength outcomes. (6)(7)(8)(9)
But the take-home message stands: there does not appear to be any downside to high-frequency training when it comes to strength outcomes. And, if high-frequency training allows you to train harder or do more, there might be a benefit.
Daily Squatting for Hypertrophy
For building muscle, there is an argument for high-frequency training. Protein, as you probably know, is kind of a big deal for muscle growth.
A lifting session stimulates construction of new muscle by increasing rates of protein synthesis. But the increased protein synthesis rate is short-lived, peaking at about 24 hours post-training before rapidly declining. (11) Frequent training, therefore, may help to keep the muscle in a building, or “anabolic,” state by repeatedly stimulating muscle protein synthesis. (12)
Theory aside, a meta-analysis of training studies failed to show significant benefit of increased frequency when volume (total sets and reps) is kept constant. (13) Keep in mind, most of the “high-frequency training” studies in the meta-analysis were looking at three or four sessions per week for a given muscle group. Squatting every day will train the quads, glutes, and calves, well, every day.
While research on ultra-high frequency training (five or more sessions per week) remains sparse, more studies are taking on ultra-high frequency training protocols and comparing muscle gains to lower frequency.
Don’t get too excited yet. The findings of recent, volume-matched studies are unlikely to change the conclusion provided by the previous meta-analysis —“No difference” in muscle growth between ultra-high-frequency training and low-frequency training when overall volume is the same. (6)(8)(9)(10)
Here’s where things get interesting. When total weekly training volumes were not equal, research has reported moderate benefits to three or more sessions per week. (13) This makes sense, as lifting volume is a driver of hypertrophy. (14)(15) This point is key when considering daily squatting because, if squatting every day helps you achieve more quality sets and reps, there’s a good chance it will help you to grow bigger muscles.
Daily Squatting for Power
Bulgarian Olympic weightlifters were early-adopters of ultra-high frequency training. They were training for a power- and technique-driven sport. Although direct research is lacking, squatting every day to develop lower body power appears anecdotally promising.
Power training is most effective when failed reps and general fatigue are avoided. (16) Therefore, power training programs tend to use sub-maximal loads with set, rep, and rest schemes designed to avoid failure.
Squatting every day may be an appealing option because it is likely that power-focused lifters will recover within 24 hours and be ready to perform again. (17) High-level Olympic lifters train as often as 18 times per week.
Distributing training across frequent, shorter sessions not only reduces overall fatigue, but it provides more opportunities to practice exercise technique and skill. Remember the wisdom of legendary American wrestling coach Dan Gable: If something is important, do it every day.
Should I Max Out Every Day?
The most extreme daily squatting protocols ask the lifter to “max out” or test their maximum strength every day. Daily max protocols fly in the face of conventional strength and conditioning practices.
To dissuade lifters from maxing out every chance they get, a coach might say, “training and testing are two different things.” Strength tests are low volume with maximum loads. For example, working up to a one-repetition maximum (1RM) squat and then calling it a day. Training for strength typically consists of multiple sets of multiple repetition sets. For example, four sets of five or three sets of eight.
Maxing out in every session can be physically taxing and might result in rapid accumulation of fatigue. Also, since most lifters are in no condition to train efficiently after maxing out, testing strength comes at the expense of traditional training.
Interestingly, training that consists exclusively of 1RM testing twice per week has been linked to strength improvements similar to higher volume training (i.e. four sets of eight to 12 reps, twice per week). (18) There is something to be said for practicing the test and getting more comfortable under heavy loads.
Research was performed on three very experienced powerlifters who spent 37 days hitting daily 1RMs. (2) Each of the participants improved their 1RM over the course of training, ranging from five to 10%, which is serious progress for an experienced lifter.
However, the lifters didn’t only perform a 1RM. Their daily squat workouts also included five sets of doubles or triples at 90% 1RM and 85% 1RM, respectively, for the first 30 days of the trial. Daily maximum squatting for roughly six weeks appears to be a viable strength-building method in well-trained lifters.
Just be cautious extrapolating this data to your own training. Are you a healthy powerlifter with a lengthy training history? Do you have trained spotters to keep you safe every day? Could you handle the mental and physical grind of maxing out every day?
If you answered “No” to any of the above questions, daily max squatting is probably not for you. Keep in mind, even a middle-of-the-road (non-max) daily squatting routine gives you plenty of opportunities to both train and test your squat.
Is it Overtraining?
Overtraining is defined as a persistent decrease in performance lasting months. (19) It’s the fastest way to derail your train to Gainsville. Overtraining is associated with performing too much exercise volume and/or too much exercise intensity. So, will daily squatting cause you to overtrain? Not likely, but let’s take a step back and discuss the nuances.
Genuine over-training appears to be rare among lifters. (19) But you’re not out of the water yet. Two related and more common phenomena are non-functional over-reaching and functional over-reaching.
Non-functional over-reaching is overtraining’s little brother — not nearly as dangerous, but still a persona non grata in any decent muscle-focused community. It’s a performance loss lasting weeks to months, which rebounds back to baseline after a period of recovery. (19) You end up with no net loss, but nothing gained.
Functional over-reaching, or simply “over-reaching,” is a short-term performance loss followed by super-compensation (rebounded improvement). After days-to-weeks of lagging, you recover and overall performance increases. (19)(20) When used strategically, functional over-reaching is a powerful tool for making new gains.
Over-training vs. Over-reaching
Overtraining, non-functional over-reaching, and functional over-reaching — where will squatting every day put you on this spectrum?
One daily-squatting study sought out to cause overtraining. After performing 10 one-rep max lifts per day, every day for two weeks straight, researchers saw lifters’ 1RM strength drop an average of more than 10% and blood levels of creatine kinase (a marker of muscle damage) nearly double. (20) However, the researchers failed to conduct a follow-up test after a period of recovery.
Instead, the final 1RM test was conducted the day after the final training session. To determine whether the study truly induced overtraining based on our established definitions, a longer period of recovery should have been provided before performance testing. We can only theorize whether the high-intensity squat every day protocol led to long-term losses in performance.
Another study by the same lead researcher clearly showed non-functional over-reaching among intermediate trainees with a high-intensity squat protocol. The training consisted of two singles at 95% 1RM, three singles at 90% 1RM, and three sets of 10 leg curls performed three times weekly for three weeks. (21)
The trainees’ squat strength failed to improve during the rigorous training and failed to improve following three weeks of baseline training for recovery. These findings should be eye-opening. The study shows how quickly high-intensity training, even at moderate frequency, can push lifters away from results.
Non-functional over-reaching can be surprisingly sneaky. The participants didn’t report increased muscle, knee, or low back soreness or pain throughout the high-intensity protocol. (21)
The only published study on daily squatting is the previously discussed research on the three powerlifters who hit 1RMs daily for six weeks. These powerlifters didn’t actually overtrain, but their 1RM fell below baseline at multiple points during the study.
The lifters undoubtedly experienced functional over-reaching at the beginning of the intense protocol, because their strength ultimately rebounded and improved. (2)
While true over-training is unlikely, non-functional over-reaching (unproductive training) is a real risk when squatting frequently. Avoid this pitfall using well-designed programming.
The Right Way to Squat Every Day
If you are going to squat every day, you need to pay attention to more than just volume and intensity. A number of variables are important when selecting a program or developing your own.
Daily squat programs should include some degree of variation. This can include changes in programming variables: intensity (weight), volume (sets and reps), rep speed, rest intervals, frequency, and exercise selection. (22) Squatting every day precludes variation in frequency, but should not limit manipulation of the other variables.
If you are not a competitive powerlifter, you should not feel limited to programming only the back squat. A wide variety of “squats” can be used in daily squatting programs, each with unique qualities and benefits.
Squat variations that promote a more upright torso are more knee-dominant and will hit your quads harder. Options include, but are not limited to: Zercher squats, goblet squats, heels-elevated squats, and safety squat bar squats.
Squat variations that encourage the lifter to sit back into the hips are going to be hip-dominant and bias the glutes. Low-bar back squats and box squats are great options. Single leg-biased squats, such as the rear-foot elevated split squat, challenge balance and train your stabilizing muscles.
Machine variations like hack squats can offer reprieve to some of the stabilizing muscles. Belt squats are great for offloading the spine. By alternating or intermixing multiple squat variations throughout the week, you’re adding variability to the program.
Variability should assist with fatigue management by promoting a more equitable distribution of training stress across various body tissues.
There are many ways to vary the remaining programming variables. For ultra-high frequency training, a daily undulating periodization (DUP) structure works very well because it promotes extreme variation by adjusting the intensity and total volume in each session.
One day might have you program one or two working sets of squats in the eight to 12-repetition range. The next day might be a single set in the two to six-rep range. The third day could be one or two sets of 12 to 16 repetitions. Rinse and repeat.
Big Picture Planning
Daily squat programs should be part of your periodized training plan. The program should be conceptualized as a “block” of training being performed for the specific goal of maximizing one aspect of fitness related to the squat (e.g. power, strength, hypertrophy, technique, etc.). (22)
It should fit into your “bigger picture” plan for performance or competition. For example, a powerlifter or Olympic weightlifter might be interested in improving squat strength and technique leading up to a competitive season.
A bodybuilder might program daily squatting to beef up their lower body in the off-season. A CrossFit athlete might squat daily to improve work capacity and lower body strength-endurance.
The daily squatting “block” can be used as a planned over-reaching strategy to accelerate progress toward your goal. To realize the benefits, daily squatting should be terminated early enough to allow for recovery and super-compensation to occur.
For strength-related pursuits, consider ending daily squatting two to four weeks prior to competition. (23) Performing a deload immediately after daily squatting will allow you to get the most out of this training block.
Use Appropriate Volume
“Squat every day” programs should include appropriate volume, relative to your training goal and training status. Massive training volumes are not needed to increase strength. Most individuals can increase their squat strength with two or three weekly hard sets in the six to 12 repetition range. (24)
To optimize strength gain, there will be incremental benefits for adding additional working sets. (5)(25) However, the dose-response relationship has an upper limit. For advanced lifters, this threshold may be approximately 10 to 12 weekly sets. (5)(26) This threshold is almost certainly lower for beginners and intermediate lifters, possibly as low as five to nine sets per week. (5)
Volume is directly tied to hypertrophy. The general recommendation for hypertrophy training is to hit a minimum of 10 weekly working sets per muscle group. (15)(27)
In summary, strength-focused trainees on a “squat daily” program will likely target seven to 12 weekly sets of squats, while lifters focusing on hypertrophy will target a minimum of 10 sets per week. The ultimate number of sets a trainee should use should be individualized based on training experience.
Keep in mind that these are total working sets and does not include warm-up sets. If you are a strong squatter working up to big numbers seven days per week, these recommendations will result in a lot of time at the squat rack. Bear in mind, weekly volume should not be a static target. Your daily squat program ought to be progressive just like any other training.
Considering the close relationship between hypertrophy and volume, it is most prudent to for lifters interested in gaining muscle to add sets throughout their training “block.” (15) Increasing set volume by 20% throughout a month-long squat program is a reasonable target. (27)
Finally, those squatting for substantially less than seven sets per week (i.e. the minimum number required to “squat every day”) should to gradually build their squat volume prior to beginning daily squatting.
Squat every day programs should be intensity-controlled. You are (probably) not an elite athlete, so you probably shouldn’t max out every day like elite athletes can handle. Even if you don’t plan max out often or at all during your squat protocol, be cautious of combining high-intensity with high-frequency.
Just three weeks of 15 weekly singles at 90% and 95% 1RM was enough to stall the progress of intermediate trainees. (21) Ultimately, you can decrease the likelihood of unproductive training by limiting the number of sets performed above 90% 1RM. These sets are taxing and may not be as important for strength gain as you might assume.
For example, competitive weightlifters who completed over 91% of their repetitions at loads below 90% 1RM demonstrated greater increases in strength than weightlifters on a higher intensity, volume-matched protocol. (26)
Make no mistake, building strength is dependent on lifting heavier loads, at least occasionally. On the other hand, building muscle is more dependent on volume. (14)(15) (28) A wide variety of intensities stimulate hypertrophy training provided sets are taken close to failure. (27)(28)(29)
Any load greater than the very light 30RM can be effective for building muscle. (27)(28) Anyone who has taken a light weight, high-rep set close to failure knows how taxing and miserable it can be.
Therefore, a middle-of-road approach to loading your squats may still be most appealing. For most lifters with strength or hypertrophy goals, most sets should be performed in the 70-90% 1RM range with heavier sets programmed judiciously. You don’t need to “max out” often, but when you do, use it as an opportunity to re-calibrate your loads or percentages.
The ultimate number of heavy sets per week appropriate for your program is highly individual. It’s related to your training history (“how long have you been squatting heavy?”), other training stress (“are you also doing other strenuous workouts?”), and how much you’re able to recovery (“are you eating a diet with ample calories and nutrients while getting more than seven hours of quality sleep per night?”).
Start conservatively and plan to progress. Progress intensity by ensuring that you are putting more weight on the bar during your high intensity workouts. For ambitious lifters, the potential consequences of doing too much will always outweigh the potential cost of doing too little. If you under-load one session, you can always do more. If you over-load one session, your recovery and performance will take time to adjust.
Cut the Fluff
When squatting often, dial back elsewhere. Cutting back or eliminating other lower body training during the daily squat protocol is also advisable, especially leg exercises that are loaded axially (through the trunk and spine, such as deadlifts, lunges, and weighted step-ups).
Isolation work is fine for muscle groups sub-optimally stimulated by the squat, such as machine calf raises and hamstring curls.
Set an End Date
Daily squat programs should be time-limited. It was shown that well-trained powerlifters can thrive under a daily squat protocol for nearly six weeks, but it is not known how long even well-trained lifters can tolerate squatting every day.
Researchers explicitly warned against using their study as a model for novice and intermediate lifters. (2) Conservatively, intermediate and novice lifters should experiment daily squatting for just a few weeks and assess their individual tolerance and responses to the program before committing to relatively longer protocols.
Abandon or Modify the Plan if Necessary
Responses to this style of training are highly individual. Studies have shown large individual variation among responses to high-frequency training. (8)(9)(10) The take-home message? You might thrive on a high-frequency squat program, but there is a chance you might bomb.
Monitor progress during daily squatting with objective and subjective data. Objective data could be as simple as tracking your maximum effort or highest intensity sets (e.g. repetition maximum attempts) or the number of repetitions you perform with a typical weight.
Subjectively, you could track Session Rate of Perceived Exertion (Session RPE), which is a number from zero to ten used to rate your workout effort, “zero” means you were resting and “ten” is maximum exertion. (30)
Track trends in your performance and exertion. During the first week of daily squatting, your body is adapting to the new stimulus. You might see some significant drops in performance here. Outside of the first week or so, you should not be losing strength or unintentionally cutting reps for multiple days in a row.
Every session should not be a 10 of 10 Session RPE. If you notice these features, they could be a sign that high-frequency squatting, or the way you are programming high-frequency squatting, is not working for you. Course correct accordingly.
If you’ve made it this far, hopefully you have an idea of whether or not you should squat every day. Or, maybe you’ve just skipped to the last section looking for a verdict.
So, should you squat every day? Like any nuanced question, the answer is…it depends. You could boil it down to three key factors — individual preferences, appropriate program design, and individual responses.
There is typically no harm associated with high-frequency training. (4)(5)(6)(7)(8)(9)(10)(20)(21) Meaning, if you like the idea of squatting every day, you should feel empowered to try it. Once you’ve committed to squatting every day, the next challenge is to determine the program specifics (e.g. volume, intensity, duration of training block, squat variations, etc.). Misjudge these variables, and you’re charting a course toward non-functional over-reaching.
Finally, your daily squatting program can simply be your own “experiment.” No randomized controlled training study will provide you with as much value as your own experiences.
All of these recommendations may provide guidance but, ultimately, it’s the help of a good coach, the latest research, and the lessons you learn from the iron that can help you keep squatting day in, day out.
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