Want to get stronger?
Want to boost fat loss?
Want to build some muscle?
Want to improve your conditioning?
Want a crazy physical and mental challenge?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then you may want to include some high rep squats in your strength training program.
It doesn’t really matter what goal you have – high rep squats can help you get there.
Truth be told, I have a love-hate relationship with high rep squats. They’re incredibly tough and demand your utmost focus and concentration, and they can leave you huffing and puffing like a locomotive. Despite their difficulty, they’re one of my favorite strength training tools and can be done in a variety of ways with various equipment (as you’ll see below).
High rep squats are also a terrific way to work your legs (hard!) without putting too much stress on your back. So for those who may be a bit intimidated to lift very heavy weights while squatting but still want a challenge, then high rep squats are a terrific solution.
Below you’ll see some of my favorite high rep squat workouts and progressions and squat variations you can use for your high-rep-squatting-adventures.
One quick note – it’s my opinion that raw beginners (those who are new to squatting with free weights) would do best with lower rep sets in the range of 5-10 reps. This way they can build a base of strength and learn the correct squatting pattern and it’s my experience that this is best achieved with lower-rep sets. If you’re a beginner please refer to this women’s beginner strength training tutorial. Save the high rep squatting for later on once you’re stronger and more experienced.
High Rep Squat Workouts
Here are some high rep squat workouts you can use or incorporate in your current workout program.
The 15-30 progression: start with 15 reps, gradually work up to 30 reps with the same weight. Once you can do 30 reps add weight and start over. If this is your first time performing high rep squats, start a bit conservative. For example, begin with a weight you know you can handle for 20 reps but start by performing 15. Each workout try adding five reps each time.
This could be a “finisher” of sorts. You may want to perform 1-3 sets of 6-10 reps before finishing with this high rep set of 15-30 squats.
The 50 rep challenger: use a weight you can squat for 20 challenging reps and perform a total of 50 reps in shortest period of time, resting as needed. You may begin by doing 20 reps the first set, 15 the second, then 10 until you complete a total of 50 reps. Once you can perform all 50 reps in three sets or less (or decrease your total time by a couple of minutes), add a bit more weight and start over again.
The traditional 20 rep set: some people go about this differently, but I prefer to simply use the heaviest weight possible that I can handle for 20 incredibly challenging reps. My rule of thumb – your form should never break down and if you’re not wanting to quit by rep 15, you’re not using a heavy enough weight. These will challenge you mentally just as much as physically.
There are times when I’ll do a single, very challenging set of 20 rep squats, rest for 5 minutes (maybe more!), then do a few sets of an upper body push and pull (chin-ups and parallel bar dips are a favorite combination) and call it a day. This is minimalism at its finest.
The 20 minute challenge: use a weight you can handle for 20 challenging reps. Set a timer for 20 minutes and perform as many reps as possible in that time, resting as needed. You can begin by performing 20 reps or 10. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just perform as many reps as possible in the 20 minute period. Strive to perform more reps each time you repeat the workout. Once you can do 10-15 more reps than when you first started, add more weight and start over.
That brings us to some important notes regarding high rep squatting. . .
Important High Rep Squatting Note
The most important thing to remember when performing high rep squats is that you will accumulate fatigue as the set progresses. This means you must stay focused the entire time and don’t let your form deteriorate. If your form breaks down or your squat depth gradually decreases with each rep, then you’re doing it wrong.
The only thing that can change as a high rep set goes on is your rep speed. Meaning it’s totally acceptable for reps 16-20 to come up slower than than reps 1-10. Just don’t get sloppy.
It’s tempting to rush through a high rep set of squats, but you must focus on every single rep you perform. Put as much focus and effort on reps 1-5 as you do the last two. Make very rep count and perform each with purpose.
Bottom line – stay focused, work hard, and make every rep count.
Now that you have some great high rep squat workouts and you know to stay focused at all times, let’s look at several different squat variations you can use.
High Rep Squat Variations
Variety is the spice of life . . . or something like that.
That’s why I like to have a range of squat variations to use for any given training cycle. This way you don’t get bored (because you get to change things up on occasion) and you can keep making progress with new variations (because you’ll likely stall after a period of time with each one).
Here are some of my personal favorite squat variations for high rep squats and you can use any with the High Rep Squat Workouts shown above:
Barbell Back Squat (aka Squat)
This is certainly the most common and traditional squat variation, and it works well for high rep squats too. Make sure you have safety bars in place, just in case.
Safety Bar Squat
The safety squat is one of my personal favorite squat variations. It puts your shoulders in a less awkward position since your hands are in front of your body holding onto the handles of the safety bar. Also, you can remain a bit more upright when compared to a traditional barbell back squat. Personally, I find this variation more comfortable for my knees and back due to the displacement of the weight. As you can see in the photos, the weight is more inline with the middle of the body.
Keep in mind, however, that this variation is usually a bit more challenging than a back squat for most people due to the load placement. Use a conservative weight at first until you get used to the movement.
A barbell isn’t mandatory for high rep squatting.
The goblet squat can be performed with a kettlebell (as shown) or with a dumbbell. To make these even more challenging without having to go too heavy, add a pause in the bottom position for a good two seconds before squatting back up. This brief pause makes the movement more challenging since it reduces the stretch-shortening cycle of the muscles (i.e. reduces some of the natural “spring” you get when you quickly reverse the motion from squatting down then immediately squatting back up).
Double Kettlebell Squat
This is one of my favorite squat variations. You can use two kettlebells (as shown) or even two dumbbells. Again, you can add a pause in the bottom position if you’re feeling extra crazy.
Weight Vest Squats
High rep squats with a weight vest are another favorite. Because of how the weight is distributed (usually around your body with how most weight vests are made) the loading is quite unique. For example, a squat with a 40 pound weight vest feels entirely different than a goblet squat with a 40 pound dumbbell or kettlebell.
If you have a weight vest available definitely give this variation a shot.
I’ve even done a weight vest + double kettlebell squat combo that works equally well. This is a great option if your kettlebell/dumbbell and weight vest aren’t heavy enough on their own.
Barbell Front Squat + Back Squat Combo
This one may need a bit of explanation.
Begin by performing a challenging set of front squats. I recommend using a weight you can front squat for about six perfect, challenging reps. Immediately rack the bar in the power rack and then put the bar on your back, in the back squat position. Step back out of the supports and then perform as many back squats as you possibly can.
This is very challenging so please make sure you have safety bars in place. This single, combo set will allow you to perform several reps when you combine the two. Everyone is different but I’m usually able to perform at least double (usually more) back squats than front squats with this method. Don’t get too caught up on “how many you should get” and just work as hard as possible while maintaining proper form at all times.
If you’ve never done this before, prepare to be humbled.
Hopefully now you have plenty of ideas on how to include high rep squats in your workouts in addition to several great squat variations. In fact, you can incorporate high rep squats into many of the workout programs in this workout tutorial.
So start squattin’!
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