Two of the best reasons to keep a workout log and look back at it is that you can find trends in your programming and fondly recall memorable workouts. On occasion, workouts deviate off course from your planned routine and leave you at the whim of your own sadistic imagination.

Too much variety in a program can be a progress killer, but occasionally you need to spice things up and provide yourself with a physical and mental challenge. My training session in mid-March could be one of one of those hidden gems that fit the bill. The day was a lower body session and focused on ramp sets of squats with work sets working at 70, 80, and 90 percent followed by a couple singles at 95 percent of my training max. I hit the first few lifts for easy triples and the 90 percent for a set of five before the singles—a solid session but nothing extraordinary. Following the work sets in the squat, I was still feeling strong, stable, and motivated to push the assistance work a little bit.

Bulgarian split squats, Romanian deadlifts, and glute ham raises weren’t sounding too intriguing, so I scraped that plan. Still wanting to perform a squat variation, I switched to front squats, figuring the decrease in sheer stress on my spine would be a more intelligent alternative, especially considering the relative intensity I had already worked at during the session. I thought of many different options including cluster sets, pyramids, and reverse pyramids and merged multiple ideas into one. I wanted the volume of a pyramid but the density of a cluster.

I took the 70 percent 1RM of my front squat rather than 75 percent, which is, by most equations, a 10RM, to build in some leeway for fatigue following my heavier work sets in the squat. My goal was simple—pyramid up from one to ten reps using fifteen- to thirty-second rest periods for as many sets as possible, adding a rep each set. The thirty seconds would give me enough recovery for my ATP system in the short term and a brief break for my legs and lungs.

I slammed my water, chalked, loaded the bar, and went to work. Unrack, ass to grass for one, stand up, re-rack, rest 15 seconds, and repeat. Sets one through four were relatively easy, but the volume and short rest periods were mounting. Sets five and six were a battle, and I increased my rest periods to about 30 seconds. During these sets, my lungs were battling to maintain oxygen equilibrium, and my upper back and core were fatiguing, especially deep in the squat. Staying tight while trying to fight the compressive forces of the barbell was a battle, and I narrowed my focus on keeping the elbows high and heels into the ground. If the elbows stay up, the legs will join them.

Twenty-one reps with a 12RM in two or three minutes was as much fun as walking on broken glass at a Justin Bieber concert. Maybe less. Probably less. Fuck it. My mental bitching session ended with the beep of my stopwatch going off. I wrapped my fingers around the bar and my throat against the knurling and busted through set seven. Thirty seconds came and went in the blink of an eye. It was time for set eight. My legs were trembling and my chest heaving as I struggled for air and recovery. It was time for set eight. Chest up, butt out, big breath, drive the elbows high.

Each rep was the only thing that mattered. Each single felt like its own set as I struggled for two or three large breathes after each rep and then held my air. The set must have taken forty-five to sixty seconds before I re-racked. It left me holding onto the barbell while I fought off my disappearing peripheral vision. I was toast.

I took my thirty seconds rest and tried to set up for a nice set, but it wasn’t happening. I waited two or three minutes and finished out the sets and then did ten reps in a back squat with the same weight, which was less than 50 percent of my 1RM. Overall, with the front squat, I took my 12RM and performed thirty-six total reps in three or four minutes time, a significant growth inducing training stimulus in a short time.

My observations were as such:

  • Seventy percent seemed to be a good load to provide a training stimulus. However, the stronger athlete may want to tinker this number down and play with different rep schemes.
  • This provided a great battle both mentally and physically. Few things suck like doing a front squat when you're gassed. This was a good test of character.
  • My quads and upper back were crushed for a few days, but I had a 72-hour break between my next training session. I suggest looking at your programming before implementing this method and increasing your peri-workout nutrition protocol to adequately recover.
  • The overall workout was pretty short—under forty-five minutes with a warm up included. This could be a great option when you're high on motivation but don't have time for training.
  • I have yet to program this method into a microcycle, but it would be best used sparingly either for a few weeks at a time or an occasional test of physical and mental mettle.
  • Use a spotter for obvious safety reasons. The motivation provided when you're pushing the limits from a quality training partner is invaluable.

This was a great workout and intensity booster in my training. It provided both a great physical and mental challenge—two vital components needed for success. Sometimes the components of a workout that are spur of the moment or stray from the plan end up being the best workouts and provide a much needed reality check on how hard you're working. Try implementing this front squat finisher as a challenge or into a short microcycle to add some high density squatting to your program.