SQUAT CIRCUITS: Mental Strength Training Series
Plenty of lifters refer to the squat as the “king of all exercise,” and for good reason! You may be able to lift more weight on the deadlift, but nothing comes close to the squat in terms of overall muscle-building power. Heavy squats will not only build your legs up to tree trunks – they’ll give you a strong lower back, rock-solid abs, and a sturdy upper back.
If you’ve been lifting for any decent length of time, then you also know how incredibly tough squats can be – especially when you do lots of reps. Your legs don’t peter out at the end of a set like your triceps, chest, shoulders, or even your back. If the weight’s not TOO heavy, and you want those reps bad enough – you can keep going, and going, and going. The only thing that really holds you back on high-rep squats is your pain tolerance.
With that being said, it only makes sense that you’d incorporate squats into a crazy conditioning circuit! As tough as they are, you can wipe yourself out even more by combining them with overhead presses and pulling movements. Now THAT is a true total body workout.
So, if you’re looking for a serious challenge to your conditioning and mental toughness, read on. This is one circuit that will have you lying in a pool of your own sweat, wondering why you ever thought it was a good idea – until you try it again!
To do this workout, you’re going need a power rack, two barbells, and a pull-up bar. Ideally, the pull-up bar will be overhead in the rack itself, but if not – try to use the nearest one. If that doesn’t work with your particular gym, then you might want to hang some Olympic rings from the top of the rack. They’re a good substitute when a regular pull-up bar is out of reach.
Set one bar up inside the rack for squats, and make sure you do PLENTY of warm-up sets to get your blood flowing. Do lots of reps with easy weight, so you can get ready without wearing yourself out. Once you’re warmed up, put a weight on the bar that you can normally get for a hard sets of ten reps. Be honest here. You’re going to be doing legit, rock-bottom squats, so don’t load the bar up with a weight that you normally quarter squat. This isn’t going to become your primary strength-building workout, so there’s no point in getting stupid with the weight.
Once the squat bar is ready to go, set up another bar right outside the rack for push presses. You’ll have to be your own judge when it comes to the weight, so just understand what you’re going to be doing with it. At the beginning of every circuit, you’ll be cleaning that bar from the floor one time – and then doing five explosive push presses. If you can’t move the weight fast with some leg drive, it’s way too damn heavy.
The circuit is simple but brutal. Begin as we discussed before – clean that push press bar to your shoulders, and do five rapid push presses. Keep your form rock-solid, but be explosive. There’s no point in trying to “feel” the muscle working during a conditioning circuit.
As soon as you’re done with those, get up on the pull-up bar and knock out ten reps. If ten pull-ups is really hard for you, then you’re probably not advanced enough to be doing this in the first place! Remember, this is a crazy workout designed for people who have already built a good base of strength and conditioning.
Don’t get down from that bar just yet. As soon as you’re done with the pull-ups, hit a set of fifteen leg raises. Be strict, but not super-slow. Again, we’re going for conditioning here, so it’s not crucial that you feel every delicate little fiber of your abdominals firing. Save that stuff for later…if ever.
The real “fun” begins once you’re finished with the abs work. Hop down from the pull-up bar, and go straight into a set of squats. You want to limit the rest between exercise, but DO NOT compromise your set-up. Squatting in a fatigued state is risky as it is, so don’t go screwing your lower back with crappy form. Using that ten-rep max that you loaded up earlier, do a set of SIX reps. Given how tired you’ll already be, that’s going to be hard enough.
Once you’ve blasted through those four movements, you are going to be absolutely toast. Give yourself three to five minutes to rest up before giving it another go. While you’re resting, take enough weight off the squat bar so that you’re at about your twelve-rep max. When you go through the circuit the second time, you’re going to be doing EIGHT reps, not six.
Continue this pattern for FIVE total rounds. You’ll take some weight off the squat bar and add two reps for each one, so the overall scheme is going to be 6-8-10-12-14. The reps and weight stay the same on all of the other exercises. Oh, and it’s fine if you have to start fudging the form on the pull-ups near the end – just don’t get into that habit for your normal back workouts.
If you knock out all five rounds, you WILL feel utterly destroyed – especially if you make an effort to limit your rest between the circuits. This is not the kind of workout you want to be doing all of the time. Like other forms of insane, balls-to-the-wall training, it’s most effective at testing your mental strength. Keep focusing on your basic heavy movements, and throw this session in every once in a while to really push yourself.
A Note on Safety
I’ll say this again because it can’t be stressed enough – be as safe as possible when you do this circuit. If you can’t keep good squat form in a fatigued state, then just don’t do it at all. You’re going to be doing these without a belt on, and your abs and lower back will need to be rock-solid even while you’re panting your lungs out. If you let your form slip, you are going to hurt yourself. Train hard, but train smart!