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October 13, 2021 7 min read

High rep squats are some of the most difficult exercises to do in the gym. There are few other exercises that rival the squat in terms of the sheer number of muscles worked and the mental toughness you will need to get through a difficult set.

They are a great exercise for many weightlifters, bodybuilders, athletes, and strength enthusiasts. In this article, you’ll find out how to do high rep squats correctly for better mobility, cardiovascular endurance, stability, and strength.

The High Rep Squat Technique

High rep squats come with the risk of injury to your back or to your shoulders. Always warm up adequately before you start and learn the proper way to do this exercise long before you actually start doing it.

man stands in front of squat rack in gym

Benefits of High Rep Squats

Mobility and Strength

Doing high rep squats can relieve mobility and stability issues in older people, such as tight, rigid thoracic spine that does not extend as it should, or hips, knees, and ankles that are stubbornly inflexible.

Start with basic positioning and practice the proper form. Never just throw a few plates on a bar and expect your body to be able to handle the weight, especially if you have ever had any other injuries.

Muscle Growth 

As explained by Charles Poliquin, your quadriceps (or quads) are mostly made up of type 2a muscle fibers, which are more aerobic than type 2b fibers so they respond better to higher reps. The time you spend doing a set of high rep squats can quickly pack on lower body muscle. Just make sure that your load is heavy enough. You should have to take at least three deep breaths between reps when you are getting close to finishing your set. 

Muscular Endurance 

High rep squats work your quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, your lower back, and all of your core muscles. To improve your muscular endurance you will need to perform sets of 15 or more repetitions using a weight that is lower than 60 percent of your 1-rep max (the heaviest weight you can lift for one rep with good form.)

David Adamson, powerlifter and strength coach at the University of Texas at El Paso, claims that your sets should last at least 45 seconds. This means that if you are doing 15 reps, each rep should be taking at least three seconds. By gradually increasing the number of repetitions and the load of weight, you will be building up your muscular endurance. 

Mental Strength 

In addition to muscular endurance, high rep squats allow you to work on your mental strength. Prepare your mind for the exercises the first time before you start planning your high rep squat routine or workout. The key to developing mental toughness is mind over matter. For beginners, you might find that a high rep set of squats will be the hardest thing you have ever tried in the gym. 

High rep squats are extremely important to legendary bodybuilders. Higher reps improve cardio, muscular size, definition, mobility, and mental toughness. This type of leg training also has a noticeable effect in terms of bigger muscles. Some bodybuilders have been able to gain up to 10 pounds of mass and up to an inch on their arms with this squat program. 

High rep leg specialization is often associated with hardcore bodybuilding. If you plan to get started with these exercises, do a bit of research into the dramatic training results of many Olympic bodybuilding stars such as Steve Reeves, John Grimek, Tom Platz, Larry Scott, Reg Park (who did up to 50 reps per set), and many others. 

After all, keep in mind that these high rep squats are rugged, painful exercises to do. You are trying to build muscle by driving your legs to the point where they almost have to start growing bigger (also known as hypertrophy).

Rib Cage Expansion 

The most common high rep squat program is the 20-rep squat routine. This is where you will be loading the bar with your 14-rep maximum and trying to get up to 20 reps.

While this might sound intense, you can rest for as long as needed at the top of each rep, so this will give your legs a chance to rest.

12 Week Squat Routine

Starting a new workout routine can sometimes feel daunting. We suggest that you plan your 12 week squat training program to include all of the following leg workouts at the beginning of your training week. You can also do these workouts immediately after a rest day when your energy is at its highest.

First Cycle (4 Weeks) 

Perform this workout twice a week on non-consecutive training days. 

  • Set 1: First warm-up. 30 very easy reps, full range of motion, followed by a 60 to 90 second rest. 
  • Set 2: Second warm-up. 20 easy reps, full range of motion, followed by a brief rest. 
  • Set 3, 4, and 5: Three full range of motion growth zone sets of 15 reps each, resting 2 or 3 minutes between each set. 
  • Set 6: One all-out 30-rep pump set. 

Note that all of the warm-up sets are performed with a poundage that could be done for an additional 10 reps before fatigue. These are weights you could do for 40 reps and 30 reps, respectively.

The growth zone sets describe the maximum amount of poundage you can do correctly for 15 reps. Try to use the same weight on each set, but you can try to use heavier weights when you are moving from one set to the next. By the end of the 30-reps, you should be extremely worn out. 

Second Cycle (4 Weeks) 

During the next four weeks, everything will follow the same routine, except that you are going to do an additional two growth zone sets of 15 reps. Aim to perform this workout twice each week.

  • Set 1: 30 reps 
  • Set 2: 20 reps 
  • Set 3: 15 reps 
  • Set 4: 15 reps 
  • Set 5: 15 reps 
  • Set 6: 15 reps 
  • Set 7: 15 reps
  • Set 8: 30 reps 

Rest 60 to 90 seconds after the first two sets. Rest 2 or 3 minutes after the 15 rep work sets and for several days after the 30 rep set.

Third Cycle (4 Weeks) 

During the third cycle, everything will be mostly the same, with you still repeating this workout twice per week. The only difference is that now you will be doing an additional two growth zone sets. You will really feel the burn in this third cycle.

  • Set 1: 30 reps 
  • Set 2: 20 reps 
  • Set 3: 15 reps 
  • Set 4: 15 reps 
  • Set 5: 15 reps 
  • Set 6: 15 reps 
  • Set 7: 15 reps 
  • Set 8: 15 reps 
  • Set 9: 15 reps 
  • Set 10: 30 reps

Core Strength Training 

Your abdominals, obliques, and deep core muscles like the transverse abdominis are some of the most important muscles when it comes to high rep squats and your overall muscle gain.

High rep squat workouts are going to cause your core to work a lot harder than usual because all of the weight is positioned right over your head. If you are going to be doing a lot of reps with a loaded barbell on your back, your core must be strong enough to keep you from falling forward or backward and getting crushed.

This can raise your center of gravity.

Also, because your torso is elongated, the tension in your deep inner-core muscles will be increased. Although some weightlifters train their abs mostly by doing crunches or other similar exercises, the main jobs for your core are always going to be anti-extension and anti-flexion.

For example, when placing a heavy object over your head, that heavy load can sometimes put a lot of stress on the internal structures and can sometimes cause injury. Working on antiextension exercises is a good way to help the muscles of your spine control these functional movements. Some examples of antiextension exercises are planks and reverse crunches. 

As for antiflexion, your spine tends to bend to the side as the shoulders sway outside of the hips, which can also lead to injuries. Some good types of antiflexion bending exercises for you to do in the gym as a beginner are things like side planks and briefcase or single arm farmer’s carries.

Hyperextension exercises can also be useful for people who want to strengthen their back as well as their entire posterior chain. These exercises have most often been used during physical therapy to treat conditions that might have developed in the lower back, such as herniated disks and other ailments.

Shoulder Stability Training

Putting something really heavy over your head can definitely feel uncertain. When you are lifting weights, you never want to feel unstable, especially with a hundred pounds or more of heavy weights right above you. This is true also for an exercise such as the deadlift, which can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing.

But the benefits to the stability of your shoulders cannot be denied. Including high rep squats in your workout program, along with a range of single-arm exercises like dumbbells or perhaps even standing Arnold press, can really help your shoulders function more effectively in a whole lot of other exercises too.

Holding a heavy load above your head while you squat requires balance. The weight needs to be perfectly placed above the center of gravity. If you lean too far back on your heels, you will risk losing the weight behind you. But if you are standing on the balls of your feet with your heels in the air, it can be dangerous. Some lifters completely miss the lift in a forward direction. Staying in the middle is the sweet spot. 

Using the Leg Press 

Some bodybuilders might prefer to use the leg press. With the leg press, there is no oppressive weight on the shoulders and there are no balance or coordination problems.

The leg press is a mechanically-controlled movement where you can apply the developmental stress exactly where you want it. If you prefer to use a leg press instead of a barbell, go for it, as long as you are using the correct form.

man in shorts working on legs press machine in modern gym

This type of leg specialization program has allowed bodybuilders and even amateurs to add several inches to their legs, and plenty of other impressive muscles to the rest of their bodies. Leg specialization has a tremendous anabolic effect on all of the other muscle groups.

In many cases, bodybuilders have experienced a solid 1-inch gain on their upper arms, usually accompanied by a 10-pound muscle mass gain.

Getting Deeper Into High Rep Back Squats

High rep squats can improve your cardiovascular function, respiratory efficiency, muscular bulk and definition, articulation and mobility of joints, coordination, and endurance. When you are doing high rep back squats for the first time, your mind has to play a big part too. Combining all of this with some proper rest and recovery periods can also help your bodybuilding routine immensely.

Although high rep squats might seem a little intimidating, remember that they mostly target your back and upper body. These difficult exercises can really help you create high levels of hypertrophy, which will translate into some direct building of all of your major muscles.