Let's look at the squat program we utilize at our small, private training facility in Michigan, The JAC. The basis of the program is conjugate periodization, with some scheduled deloads and a reverse band peaking schedule from Brian Carroll's 10/20/Life. This program has yielded some of the following competition results in the raw division; 700 at 198, 740 at 220, 783 at 242, 848 at 275, and 821 at 308. These have all been done by a training crew consisting of only six men and two women. I think it's safe to say we've got the squat figured out. Here's the kicker, with this program, you'll never do more than a single with weights above 75% of your max. That's right, nothing but singles with working weight, and your squat will explode.

This program is the result of over a decade of fine-tuning and working with lifters of every skill level, from beginners to elites. It utilizes a few pieces of equipment you can find at any gym or purchase here on elitefts.com. 

Main Equipment Staples

The main staples you're going to need are as follows:

If you already have all those things and are looking for additions to mix things up, your best bets are some chain weight and a couple of specialty bars; my favorites are the SS Yoke Bar and the Rackable Cambered Bar.

Program Basics

Let's get into the nuts and bolts of the program. You'll have two lower days, just like the classic conjugate template. Day one is max effort (ME) and day two is either dynamic effort (DE) or repetition effort (RE). You're going to warm up with a good general warm-up. We use the McGill big 3, followed by a more specific warm-up to prepare us for the movement of the day. 

For most of our crew, this becomes something like hamstring curls, Reverse Hypers®, lat pulldowns, or something similar. Just one or two high rep sets (15-25 reps) for each movement, performed as a circuit, and you're ready to start squatting.

Max Effort Day

On ME day, you're going to pick a squat variation. This variation could be a box squat or a free squat with a regular or specialty bar and either straight weight or some added form of accommodating resistance (chains or bands). The only thing it can't be (until you get into meet prep) is a competition free squat. The goal of the day is a PR max single, not a double or triple, only a single. The reason we've stuck with singles is that we've found (especially with really strong and veteran lifters) that it greatly decreases the chances of injury that become prevalent on subsequent heavy reps. 

The first time running this program, you will establish new PRs. Use the 20-pound rule here. So, after you hit a weight that makes you work, ask yourself, "Can I go up 20 pounds and still get the weight?" If the answer is no, you're done for the day and have established your base PR. 

We like to shoot for three total singles above a perceived 90%. Less still works well, and more can put you at higher risk for injury. Three is what we've found to be optimal.

You'll pick five to six ME movements to keep in rotation to break your previous PR by five to ten pounds each time you come back around to it in your rotation. The variation changes every week until you get back to the one you started with at the beginning of the program. You'll hit a max single every week for three weeks in a row, then take a deload week with some light belt squats for three sets of five reps at roughly 50%-60% of your max free squat. After this, you'll do another three weeks of ME squats, followed by another deload. For our raw lifters, we prefer to keep at least 50% of our ME movements free squats. Geared guys can do much more work off a box if they choose.

Max Effort Accessories

Your accessories on this first day should consist of one compound movement (we like Good Mornings, Split Squats, or Belt Squats) followed by three to four isolation movements for your weak points (GHRs, Reverse Hypers®, and Weighted Carries are all staples in our gym). You should shoot to get the entire session, including the warm-up, done in 90 minutes. The goal is to bring up weak areas, be honest with yourself and prioritize them in order of importance. 

For example, your hamstrings are more important to your squat than your calves, and your glutes are more important than your lats. If both are weak, pick the more important muscle group first. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so don't have one.   

Earlier I mentioned that day two would be either DE or RE work. Further out from the meet, you may do more RE work for hypertrophy if you feel this is something you need to work on. If not, you can very easily run the DE work year-round. 

Either way, we like to keep the total volume on this day to roughly 20-25 working reps in the 65%-75% range. Keep in mind that there must be some progression to make continued gains. Something like three sets of eight on week one, four sets of six on week two, and five sets of five on week three will ensure that the weight you're handling increases each week, thus providing stimulus for growth. We typically use the belt squat for this hypertrophy work—it does wonders for the legs and glutes without beating up your lower back.

Dynamic Effort

DE work is done as either 12 doubles or eight triples to move the bar as fast as possible. We run the DE work in a three-week wave, with the movement staying the same for all three weeks before deloading on the fourth week (just as we do on the ME day). 

On this day, we typically run one block with accommodating resistance, followed by a block with straight weight. We also do two out of three weeks on a box: 

  • Week 1: Low Box
  • Week 2: Parallel Box
  • Week 3: Free Squat

When using accommodating resistance, you'll start Week 1 with 40% bar weight and 25% band weight (the same applies to chains if you're utilizing them. We prefer bands for the over-speed eccentrics). 

For Week 2, the bar weight will increase to 45%, then 50% in the third week. The accommodating resistance remains 25% at all times. When using straight weight for the DE day, you increase the straight weight percentage by 15% but leave the bands or chains off the bar. You'll use the same pendulum wave; Week 1: 55%, Week 2: 60%, Week 3: 65% in this case.

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DE work intensity range may increase over time if you're a fast lifter with a lot of Type 2 muscle. Don't get crazy and start working doubles at 90% because you will get hurt—I assure you. I'm a very fast lifter and have to be cognizant of this, or I can get myself in trouble. The long and short of it is; err on the side of too light vs. too heavy. Remember, the goal is to move the weight fast and build speed strength. Save the heavy shit for ME day when the goal is absolute strength.

Dynamic Effort Accessories 

Accessory work on the DE day should look very similar to ME day. Do one compound movement (we like to do our deadlift variations on this day) followed by three to four accessory movements to bring up weak areas (Weighted Carries, GHRs, Reverse Hypers®, etc.). Keep these the same for six to eight weeks or until you become stagnant on the movement. 

Again, progression is key here. Constantly strive to increase the weight you're handling or the number of reps you're doing. Just don't get too crazy and beat yourself into the ground going to failure on everything. 

4-Week Block Template  

Let's take a look at a template that shows you pretty much exactly what a 4-week block looks like at the JAC:

 ME DayDE Day
Week 1SS Yoke Bar w/3 chains: warm-up, then 90%x1, 95%x1, and 101%x1
Arch back GM: 5x5
GHR: 4x8
Lat pulldowns: 4x10
Stir the Pot: 3 sets
Reverse Hyper®: 3x15
DE Low Box Squat: 40%+25% band: 8x3 Deficit DL: 3x5
Suitcase Carries: 3 trips per side
Chest Supported Rows: 4x8
Reverse Hyper®: 3x15
Week 2Low Box Cambered Bar Squat: warm-up, then 90%x1, 95%x1, and 101%x1
Belt Squat: 5x5
GHR: 4x8
Lat Pulldowns: 4x10
Stir the Pot: 3 sets
Reverse Hyper®: 3x15
DE Parallel Box Squat: 45%+25% band: 8x3
Snatch Grip DL: 3x5
Deficit DL: 3x5
Suitcase Carries: 3 trips per side
Chest Supported Rows: 4x8
Reverse Hyper®: 3x15  
Week 3Free Squat w/Strong bands: warm-up, then 90%x1, 95%x1, and 101%x1
5 Sec Pause Squat: 3x5
GHR: 4x8
Lat Pulldowns: 4x10
Stir the Pot: 3 sets
Reverse Hyper®: 3x15
DE Free Squat: 50%+25% band: 8x3
4” Block Pull: 3x5
Suitcase Carries: 3 trips per side
Chest Supported Rows: 4x8
Reverse Hyper®: 3x15
Week 4Deload Belt Squat: 3x5@50%-60%
GHR: 2x8
Lat Pulldowns: 2x10
Stir the Pot: 2 sets
Reverse Hyper®: 2x15
Deload No Squats or Pulls Suitcase Carries: 3 trips per side
Chest supported Rows: 4x8
Shrugs: 3x15
Reverse Hyper®: 3x15

You'll remember that I said you couldn't use a Competition Free Squat as your ME movement unless you're getting closer to a meet. This is where things stray the most from a classic conjugate template. 

Here we use principles from Brian Carroll's 10/20/Life to peak our squat for competition. During meet prep, the ME squat movement is replaced by a Competition Free Squat for the last six weeks. These squats are based on your projected attempts at the upcoming meet. Week to week, the weights will get heavier, followed by one or two singles with a reverse band. 

The reverse band squats are known as the future method—a way to handle weights you intend on taking later, i.e., in the future. In those final six weeks, you'll start with a weight around your projected opener and finish with a new PR before deloading for recovery going into competition. Here's a basic outline:

Six Weeks Out

You'll squat straight-weight singles up to an opener, then take two reverse band singles around your current meet PR or projected second attempt. Your secondary day stays as is with the DE work.

Five Weeks Out

You'll take a light week (deload) in preparation for three weeks, over 90% on the same movement going forward (competition squat). This will be kept light, 50%-60% for 3x3 as an example. This week uses no DE work on your second squat day. This is time to rest and recover.

Four Weeks Out

This is where it gets serious. You're going to take singles as the last warm-up, an opener, and something very near but not over your current PR before putting on the reverse band and taking your projected third attempt (which should be a nice PR). The second day keeps with normal DE work, as discussed earlier.

Three Weeks Out

The heaviest week of the entire cycle. You'll take an opener, a new PR, and a reverse band attempt even heavier than the previous week, all for singles. You can take another single with the reverse band if they all go well. This will be your last week doing DE work on your second squat day.

Two Weeks Out

Now the weights start to taper off so that you can recover for the meet. You will likely feel like trash and be on the verge of over-training when you reach this session. Because of that, we warm up well, then quickly work up to a last warm-up or opener (85%-90%) and call it a day. It's time to shift our main focus to recovery. Your strength is already built, and you will not add any more this close to competition. You are also done with dynamic work for the cycle.

One Week Out

This is the end of the cycle. This week consists of nothing but a deload, just some light blood flow work to help you recover as well as possible by meet day. 

By following this peaking program, we always come to meets ready to squat PRs, and it's very rare that we don't. Our team typically goes three for three on squats because we're so prepared and conditioned. This cycle works just as well for geared lifters as it does for our raw guys. 

When you started this article, you didn't know JAC squat. Now you know what, when, and why we do the things we do, and the results it has yielded us. I invite you to try the program and see the results for yourself. Do heavy singles and light, manageable dynamic work to keep you explosive. If you show up, work hard, and stay consistent, you will hit big PRs; I guarantee it.

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Zane Geeting is a competitive powerlifter with over 20 years of experience. He has achieved both raw and equipped elite totals across three weight classes. Zane also coaches several elite lifters from across the US and Canada.