It has been a little while since my esteemed colleague Benni and I have set ourselves a rather unusual task. In the wide plains of the internet we stumbled upon a blog post about a thing called squat holiday by a coach from Stuttgart, Wolfgang Unsöld. The blog post in the blog of the renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin has immediately fascinated us. And since we like to use some good ol’ iron in combination with our sling trainers, battle ropes, and other functional training equipment, we wanted to face the challenge:
squats with heavy loads for six days of one week with three workouts each day!
Many of you might say right away that it is counter-productive to only do one exercise. But don’t worry, our muscles above the waist line are certainly not going to shrink, I am certain. The squat is such a fundamental movement that involves many big muscle groups at the same time. Many coaches even claim that the squat is the queen of all exercises. Some reviews of this training week promise a decent muscle growth (for the whole body), an improved metabolism, a lower body fat percentage, and increased strength. Well, let’s see…
My experiences with the squat holiday:
- I had the nastiest muscle soreness of all time ever in the universe!
- I have unfortunately not gained weight!
- I couldn’t increase my 1 RM
- I have tortured my adductors so bad that I can still unpleasantly feel them today!
- My technique got significantly better
But now one thing after the other.
The rules are pretty simple: every day of the week there are three workouts. The first workout consists of ten sets with three repetitions each, the second workout has six sets with four to six repetitions each, and the third and final workout of the day consists of four sets with eight to twelve reps. Additionally, it is important to supply your body with huge amounts of protein in the form of protein shakes and the requirements on your choice of food increase in order to get the right nutrients for the demanding training you are challenging your body with.
Highly motivated, we started our first workout on monday morning. After the warm up the sobering up followed: that is some pretty heavy load! We thought we take our 3 RM as orientation and confidently stacked up 100 kg. That was tough because you are supposed to do ten sets in the first workout. Well, somehow we still managed to get through it.
At noon and in the afternoon, the weight didn’t feel any lighter. Well, what am I supposed to say? We brought this upon ourselves. But honestly: god, that was hard!
The following day, I decided to reduce all workout loads by 5 kg because my muscles were already so sore when I got out of bed that it felt like I had done sport for the first time in months. It was bad! From now on, my mobility and warm up program became much more extensive. During the second workout it didn’t actually feel that bad to push 185 % of my bodyweight into the ground.
The problems that we faced
Anticipatorily I have to state that I have completed the week almost entirely with reduced weight. The muscle soreness was permanent and the anticipation of each session was mild at best. Nevertheless, we were motivated to bring the week to a successful end. It was unfortunate, however, that I started having problems with my adductors (the inner sides of my thighs) on friday. We spent every break between sets on mobility and fascia training but still, the muscles were under great tension all the time and caused pain. Especially the lower parts close to the knees were very tense and felt like they were about to burst at any minute. In addition, my hip joint suddenly started to act up. That is a body part that has already caused me pain in the recent months before. Pretty uncomfortable and certainly not helpful for the whole project. Thus, it was inevitable that I had to skip 2 of the 18 workouts of the week. That was a real bummer but probably for the best because I can’t afford a serious injury at all. If we’re honest, nobody can.
My colleague Benni also struggled to fully complete the program. Starting in the mid of the week, he felt pain in the left groin that constantly came back while doing squats. Unfortunately, this developed into a real problem for him and he decided to end the squat holiday after the morning workout of friday. We suspect that these problems were due to the fact that we aren’t actually training squats that long and also that we were a bit overzealous with the loads. The original blog post by Wolfgang Unsöld doesn’t give any recommendations for the loads so we took an educated guess.
Better technique and physique
What I can already see as a result is the fact that my technique improved significantly. Maybe it is just habituation. At the end of the day (or week, in this case), you find yourself in a deep squat position at least 516 times. With a heavy load on your shoulders which should normally unsettle you. Maybe my body was simply too afraid of the unknown before. I don’t mean the deep squat position but the heavy loads. But now my muscles, tendons, and ligaments have probably grown accustomed to it. Excellent. I used lower weights on the first training sessions after this hardcore week of course. But it felt great. Clean and easygoing… Almost fairy-like 😉
A new 1 RM test is yet to come. We will do it as soon as possible.
Another positive effect: I gained serious muscle on my thighs. Standing in front of the mirror I couldn’t help but enjoy the sight of the additional centimeters on my legs. Generally, I am more of a hardgainer, so I have a hard time building muscle. But sometimes, you just have to shock your muscle, like Arnie has described so beautifully::
Now I certainly want to keep at it and save the gains.
So my conclusion goes as follows:
The squat holiday by Wolfgang Unsöld is definitely an interesting experience. But you should have a very, very (!) good base. Especially in the areas of mobility and core strength because the week will challenge you like nothing before. The absence of the promised results is probably due to my hesitant eating behaviour and the great mobility constraints (problems with my adductors, hip pain). Still, it was fun and the visual results in combination with the much improved technique are benefit enough for me!