Monday, April 11, 2011

50 Rep Squats - They'll Make You A Believer! Endurance Athletes You Need To Do These Now

Recently I have been following Dan John's Mass Made Simple Program, available here.

Not so much to build mass but to maintain mass and strength while I up my running in preparation for an ultra run. The mass made simple program basically covers all your bases - upper body, lower body, strength, complexes and endurance reps - all in one workout.

The workout normally finishes with some high rep back squats with a barbell. This is after you've done all your upper body strength work and complexes.

I haven't tried high rep squats for a long time, not since I did the super squats 20 rep squats program, rest pause reps,  also favoured by DC Training, where you do (and I did) 20 reps with a 10 rep max weight, with some heavy breathing in-between every few reps after number 10.

Second most popular squat picture on the Internet

The squats can be in the 25-30 rep range, and today I did a set in the 50 rep range. That's right 50 reps in one go, after a couple of warm up sets.

This is the only weight training that comes close to the feeling you get running up a long hill on trail with a rucksack on, a hill that takes at least 45-60 seconds, and sometimes takes 5-10 minutes.

The high rep squats make you push into that same zone. Your legs are screaming, you are breathing hard, trying to recover, keep form and get some oxygen in. You fight through the fatigue and keep going. It has the same mental feeling as endurance hill running, where you have to push through the pain and your body's saying 'stop you idiot, just stop and sit down'.

Although the research for strength training for endurance athletes tends to focus on the lower rep ranges, less than 5, and Olympic lifts, and plyometrics, and also the standard 8-12 reps; I can't helps but feel that these high rep squats have the same mental training effect and the same fatigue effect. There must be some carry over in my opinion, even if its 'just' mental toughness.

Yes, low rep squats are still valid for all the usual reasons we should strength train. However, I would say these high reps must have some glycogen depletion effect, and possibly localised capillarization and increase mitochondria. And even if none of this is true, you should still do them, as nothing else quite gives you that ultrarun feeling of an elephant standing on your chest while your legs are both painful and numb at the same time.

Alli McKee squatting should make you a believer ladies

So give it a go, finish your workout with 2 x 25 reps of squats, and build from there, maybe 2 x 30, and then 1 x50. Start with just the Olympic bar, 20kg, or light kettlebell goblet squat., and increase the weight from there.

Also, for all you trainers and coaches out there. High reps squats are something you can get your female clients to do. If you ever tried to get a woman to do a set of squats that are at her 5 rep max, only to find that in reality they could 10 reps with that exact same weight, this is the method for you. Using just the bar means some women trainees will be lulled into a false sense of security, happily thinking they are in their 'toning range', then make them do 30-50 reps, and they'll realise that light weights with proper depth squats (parallel or below) are hard - psychologically and physically. Their legs will be somewhere between painful and numb, and their heart rate will be way beyond the normal 'I'm watching the cardio theatre range'. Once you get them hooked on squatting, you can increase the weight and lower the rep range.

Third most popular squat picture on the Internet: Pauline Nordin

Try it. High rep squats will make you a believer. And in my opinion, carry over into endurance training as well.


  1. What kind of weight are we talking about? 135?

    1. depends on previous experience and squat 1 rep max. Start conservatively - bar only (20kg), then 40kg, 60kg, 70kg, 80kg. Whatever these are in pounds, for most people 60kg is pretty tough

  2. I don't see why anyone wouldn't do it!