After posting the guide on how to get your deadlift from 95 lbs to 405 lbs, I received a couple of e-mails from people who want to know how often a natural lifter should squat, bench press and deadlift. Here’s my take on the subject.
Out of the big three, the squat can be trained the most frequently. Notice that in this case we are talking about the back squat and not the front squat. The front squat cannot be done as often as the back squat because it places more stress on the knees and fatigues the upper back very quickly.
For a natural, it’s recommended to squat no more than 4 times a week. Technically, if you are using low volume and low intensity, you can squat every single day…maybe eveb twice a day. However, easy doesn’t count. If you can squat 250 lbs, squatting 100 lbs will not make you stronger. It’s an endurance/mobility workout.
If you squat challenging weights more than 4 times a week, you will mentally burn out and eventually quit. On top of everything, there is absolutely zero need to squat more than 4 times a week to get results. Even four times is a little too much, if we have to be honest with you. We’re sorry that you won’t be meeting your sweetheart as often as you were planning to.
For a natural, the ultimate way to squat is two times a week. Once heavy (about or more than 80% of your 1RM) and one time with more volume just to practice form and promote active recovery.
For example, on Day 1 you can work up to one heavy set of 5-8 reps and do a couple of lighter back off sets. A few days later you can pick up a weight and do it for 5×5, 3×10…whatever. The goal is to simply practice form and add some volume to your overall workload. It’s not uncommon to keep the weight on the light day the same for months.
Let’s say that on your heavy day you worked up to 300 lbs x 6 and then you did 2 back off sets with 250 lbs. On your light day you can do 200 lbs for 5×5 just to practice form. You can keep adding weight to your heavy day, while keeping your light day at 200 lbs for months until one day you’re way too strong for that.
If you are a beginner who is just starting out, you can squat super often. We’re familiar with Rippetoe’s Starting Strength progression and it does work for your first two months at the gym. You squat three time a week and add weight each time. You do 3×5 until it gets super hard and then you switch to less days. This could work for someone who is a beginner, but once you are squatting 1 time your bodyweight and more, it becomes a pain in the ass to promote recovery. Most people who are able to successfully keep linear progression going for months gain 2 pounds of fat for each pound added to the bar.
Since the squat has a negative portion and there is a stretch reflex at the bottom, it’s easier on the body unless you do it with a pause. In this case we are obviously talking about pause-less classical barbells squats.
With that being said we don’t recommend that naturals do crazy routines like Smolov or other programs used by drugged lifters. While there are cases when a natural is able to survive Smolov, it’s not worth the trouble in the long run. So, you’ve added 50 pounds to your squat in 2 months instead of 5. Who cares, really? In the end of the day you are not saving the world with your squat number anyway. Don’t risk injuries in order to satisfy your ego.
All noobs do it. They think that if they were to get to a certain number before their birthday or Christmas, something amazing will happen. Well, we have news for you noobs. Grow up! This is not 6th grade anymore when 3 months seemed to be an eternity.
But John Broz said that you can squat every day….’the day when you won’t be able to squat the bar will never come’, he said.
Let me tell you something really important. All of John Broz lifters are as natty as the Bulgarians winning them medals 20-40 years ago. Did you know that John Broz’s methods are a variation of what the Bulgarians did under the commandment of Ivan Abadjiev? Well, what you probably don’t know is that many lifters who trained under the order of Abadjiev ended with blew out knees, shoulders, elbows, back…etc. Only the strongest survived and won them medals, the rest trained just as hard but were destroyed by the regime.
Squatting heavy every day only works for juiced lifters who do nothing but lifting, have really good genetics and peculiar need to satisfy the Party.
Remember: If the Party says you’re natural, you’re natural. You can be as big as the kid of Marcus Ruhl and Ronnie Coleman a.k.a The Thing from the Fantastic Four. It doesn’t matter. You’re still natural if the Party says so.
We’re sorry, but we are not sorry. Most people take themselves way too seriously and think that lifting some heavy shit from the ground will help them in the real spiritual war on this planet. It will only help, if along the way you take notes and learn real lessons. How many lifters are really doing it? They’re all blindly following the direction of their coaches, the same way a soldier follows the orders of his commander and goes killing ‘the bad guys’.
Related article: Realistic Squat, Bench And Deadlift For Naturals: How much?
THE BENCH PRESS
Just like the squat the bench press can be done quite often, but not as often. The bench involves mainly the chest, the front delts and the triceps. They are all weak muscles connected to fragile joints. Usually, people complain mostly of shoulder pain but all points can be damaged easily. That’s why bench pressing more than 3 times a week as a natural seems pointless. To tell you the truth, 2 times a week would be more than enough. You can follow the same plan as the squat – one heavy day and one light volume day.
While the main bench press muscles are tiny and recover fast, the small joints of the upper body recuperate slowly and cannot take as much beating. If you are not built for the bench press, you will find it particularly difficult to sustain any type or crazy programs such as Sheiko and Smolov which are, once again, used mainly by drugged lifters with a lot of time dedicated to moving iron. Natty brahs can benefit from similar training, but only if they have the structure allowing them to recover fast. What is that structure?
The best build for excelling at the bench press consists of short T-rex arms and naturally wide shoulders. It also really helps, if the lifter has full muscle bellies and shorter tendons in the arms and the chest. That way the bench presser is able to push from a more beneficial angle and the range of motion is small. Similar structure makes it easier to recover and in that case benching more often is more easily tolerated.
If you have really long arms and naturally narrow shoulders, benching will murder your deltoids since lanky guys are mostly delt and triceps dominant benchers who use a close grip to protect the shoulder joint. Those guys don’t need to bench more than 1-2 times a week. It just isn’t practical nor amusing. At the same time a short dude with short arms will find deadlifting as pleasant as getting a hand-job from Edward Scissorhand.
Related article: Is a 225 lbs Bench Press Good For a Natural?
Out of the big three the deadlift is the most brutal on the body. One heavy set can pin you to the ground and leave you feeling like you’ve worked construction for 16 hours straight without having access to water and food. Why is the lift so merciless? Well, it’s dead, that’s why.
The deadlift does not rely on stretch reflex. The weight is dead on the floor and you have to brute force it all the way up. Also, you can’t really shorten the range of motion compared to a squat for example. You can squat high, but you can’t really deadlift high and call it a deadlift. It’s either locked out or not. Of course, your can do other sexy activities such as hitching, but similar cheating is extremely noticeable. Brahs will be talking. Do you really want that?
That’s why it’s not recommended to do more than 1 or 2 sets of heavy deadlifts once you are an advanced lifter. To be on the safe side stick with one. When you are first starting out you can deadlift heavy more times a week, but as soon as the weight gets heavy – it’s game over.
There are programs such as Pavel Tsatousline’s Power To The People that make you deadlift 5 times a week, but the intensity is carefully cycled and you are never supposed to go all out. However, even in that case deadlifing 5 times a week seems crazy, especially if you are also squatting and doing other back exercises.
If you plan on specializing in the deadlift, you can use the same plan as the squat. One really heavy day and then a light day to add volume and practice form. However, never do back off sets for the deadlift. After your heavy set is completed, you’re done. Why? Doing back off sets after your back has been fatigued is asking for trouble. It’s not uncommon for a lifter to do the heavy lifting right and remain injury free, only to injure himself doing light nonsensical stuff.