High reps low-weight squats

Progressive overload is something we’re all familiar with: adding more weight to the bar. You don’t even have to add more weight — you could increase reps, slow your reps down, use pauses, add a half rep then a pause before completing the full rep, you get the idea. So a better way of understanding progressive overload is a literal understanding: progressively overloading the muscle anyway you care to, including adding external weight.

Now. Everyone will have a favorite method towards progressive overloading and hey, that’s great, but what I want to look at here is squatting with high reps and low weight. Firstly, high reps to me is anything over 12 x reps and low weight to me is roundabout half your body-weight, which in my case would be 50kg. You may have a different definition but whatever man, I really don’t give a fuck. Just go with whatever works for you and experiment. Live a little, for god’s sake.

The point I want to make is high reps with a low weight can be just as effective at muscle building as low rep/ high weight or somewhere in between. Most online “experts” say to incorporate all three into your training program but you know what? Do what works for you. You’re allowed to say nah, fuck it, and just do that one exercise for that one body part if you want to. You really are and guess what else? No-one is going to come out of the woodwork and castigate you for it. It’s your body after all.

Remember too that for hypertrophy purposes the focus is always on progressive overload, NOT weight. The use of weight and by that I mean any weight, body-weight or externally-added, is simply to overload the muscle further. That’s it. Unless you’re a weightlifter or power-lifter, your weight numbers are irrelevant. If you can stress your quad muscles doing body-weight lunges, why bother squatting under a barbell until your muscles have adapted to the lunges? Is this a race?

No. No it isn’t.

I use high reps/low weight — can I just shorten that to HR/LW from now on? I’m already over having to type it out — for my squats but I need to clarify how I do these. I squat with a heel elevated to at least 3-inches if not higher as this position allows me to A) get as low as possible and B) it really focuses on the quads. As you can see, my knee goes past my foot so if that bothers you or you think it’s morally wrong, don’t use this position. Okay?

The cool thing about this positioning though is you don’t need heavy weight to overload the quad muscles much or so I find, because of how quad-dominant it already is. You’re also breaking at the knees first rather than sitting back into your normal squat, the reason being in this elevated position you can’t really as your torso is very erect, like when front-squatting. This further focuses on the quads and reduces the use of your hips-hamstrings-posterior-chain.

I’ll do four sets as many reps as I can. This is an important hypertrophy principal when using light weights: always go to failure on every set. You won’t hurt yourself but you will absolutely fry your quads. The first set I go high-bar back squat, second set front squat, third set high-bar back squat, fourth and final set front squat. If you want to do more sets, that’s your business. Remember, I’m only using half my body-weight so if you want to go heavier, knock yourself out but I find my half body-weight ratio adequate.

Feel around when squatting this way. If you’re used to squatting between your legs i.e. knees out so you can get into the hole, see what it’s like not doing that instead, keeping your knees closer together to stress the quads further. For foot-placement I go close, never wider than shoulder width as I think this assists in outer quad sweep, and feet pretty much facing forward. This may sound weird but I tend to “press” through the big-toe rather than the heel but again, feel around and see what works for you.

Kia ora koutou!