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SQUAT THERAPY FROM POLAND

In collaboration with Wojtek Jusiel

Poland has a huge history of strength. From their many old time strongmen of the 1800s and early 1900s to their Olympic medalists in weightlifting and of course, their legendary strongmen competitors like Marius Pudzianowski, the country has a long time love affair with strength.

This year, I had the chance to give a seminar at the Strength Coach Performance Gym in Wroclaw, an amazing facility equipped all in Eleiko equipment and the finest tools you can find to get strong. There, Wojtek Jusiel and his staff train many elite athletes and national medalists in powerlifting.

We got to talk training and his approach sparked some interest since it was so drastically different to mine. At first I was doubtful, but because he reported some serious gains in strength (up to 25kg (55lbs) increases in squatting strength over 6 weeks in high level lifters) he peaked my interest.

His approach was novel to me because it combines some elements I use myself in training (a high frequency of training and a focus on technique and skill) with a very high volume of work and less emphasis on maximal weights. Basically, his routine is based on building as much muscle as possible and optimizing technique to create a foundation of strength.

The plan is a 6-week general physical preparation phase that he uses for powerlifters, with a focus on squatting strength. It uses a foundation of German Volume Training (who knew that Poland and Germany could get along?!) but with a higher frequency.

I must warn you: it is a ton of work. But if there is one thing I learned from spending time in Poland, is that people from Eastern Europe are kicking our ass in the hard work department. I think there is a trend moving away from brutal hard work in North America and I call it the pussification of training.

We prefer to theorize about the best way to hit the external fibers of the long head of the triceps than actually engaging in brutal hard work. This is certainly not something I’ve seen in Eastern Europe!

This program is thus both modern and a throwback to a time (and place) where people valued hard work more than looking good in selfies.

The program is a squat specialization (Wojtek is currently working on a bench press adaptation). As such, the deadlift is taken out of the program to minimize excessive fatigue in the squatting muscles. The upper body volume is also decreased to allow for maximum recovery from this very arduous plan.

Foundation principles of the plan

The main tenets of this program are a high frequency and repetition number in the squat to maximize both muscle growth (through fiber fatigue) and technical efficiency. It will also improve tendon strength/resiliency (focusing on low volume of heavy work too soon can lead to tendon injuries) and work capacity, both of which will prepare you to breeze through the subsequent intensification/heavy phase.

This plan is based on the accumulation of volume on the squat, the objective is to use the squat itself to stimulate maximum muscle growth in the whole lower body. It uses the German Volume Training approach by Charles Poliquin, which if you don’t remember is simply doing 10 sets of 10 repetitions with a moderate weight. It is very simple but quite effective.

The program also relies on perfecting technique, which is why it is not enough to get through the 10 sets of 10. Each repetition has to be as technically perfect as possible.

Some elements to think about when squatting:

  1. Root your feet into the floor to create spiral tension at the hip. This means trying to externally rotate your hips in your set up and during the whole execution of the movement. A good coaching cue is to try to screw your feet into the floor. You should also try to grab the floor with your toes. That creates the strongest foundation to squat from and creates torque at the hip which will make you a lot stronger at the start of the squat.
  1. Brace your trunk. Do not hyperextend the lower back. Create a “big belly” then contract your abs hard. Basically, imagine that you are about to get punched in the stomach. Maintaining that tension is very important to maximizing performance and safety.
  1. Keep the upper back tight. Squeeze the bar as hard as you can, this will help create tension in the whole upper body. Pull the shoulder blades together hard, and try to compress your torso with your elbows to engage the lats.

When this is done you turn your body into one piece of iron that is ideal to use all of your strength potential. You must maintain that tension during the whole set.

Since 10 reps is a long time I recommend breaking down the sets into mini-sets. 4 reps – 3 reps – 3 reps. You do not rack the bar but after your mini set, you pause for 2 seconds to re-establish tension. Basically, a set of 10 will look like this:

Unrack the bar
Establish tension (3 steps mentioned above)
Do 4 reps
Pause for 2-3 seconds while you take a deep breath and re-establish tension
Do 3 reps
Pause for 2-3 seconds while you take a deep breath and re-establish tension
Do 3 reps
Rack the bar
This will facilitate maintaining perfect technique which is one of the keys of the program’s success.

WOJTEK JUSIEL SQUAT THERAPY (6 weeks)

This is a 6-week program with 5 weekly workouts: 3 for the lower body (squat) and 2 for the upper body.

A good schedule would be:

Monday: Lower body
Tuesday: Upper body 1
Wednesday: Lower body
Thursday: OFF
Friday Upper body 2
Saturday: Lower body
Sunday: OFF

The three different workouts are (Lower body, Upper body 1, Upper body 2):

Lower body Day (3 times a week)

  1. Back Squat

10×10 (with progression model from below)
3010 tempo*
90 sec of rest between sets

  1. Glute ham raise or leg curl variation

3 x 8-12 reps

  1. Romanian deadlift or Reverse hyper

3x 10-15 reps

  1. Leg press (optional)

3 x 15-20 reps

*Note that only the squat has a specific tempo allocated, this is to facilitate technical learning.

Squat Progression (6 weeks – 18 Sessions)

Session 0 (before starting) – Establish your back squat 10RM
Session 1 – 75% of your 10RM
Session 2- 77%
Session 3 – 79%
Session 4- 81%
Session 5 – 83%
Session 6- 85%
Session 7 – 87%
Session 8- 89%
Session 9 – 91%
Session 10- 93%
Session 11 – 95%
Session 12- 97%
Session 13 – 99%
Session 14- 101%
Session 15 – 103%
Session 16 – 105%

Session 17 – No squat

Session 18 – Test new 10RM

Upper body 1

  • 1A. Bench Press
    4×8
    3010 tempo
    Rest 90 sec before 1B

  • 1B. Single Arm Dumbbell Row
    4×8
    3011 tempo
    Rest 90 sec before going back to 1A

  • 2A. Dips
    3×10
    3010 tempo
    Rest 75 sec before 2B

  • 2B. Lat Pulldown pronated
    3×12
    3011 tempo
    Rest 75 sec before going back to 2A

  • 3. Face Pull
    3×15
    2011 tempo
    Rest 60 sec

Upper body 2

  • 1A. Military Press
    4×8
    3010 tempo
    Rest 90 sec before 1B

  • 1B. Chin Up
    4×6
    4010 tempo
    Rest 90 sec before going back to 1A

  • 2A. Incline DB Bench Press
    3x 12
    3010 tempo
    Rest 75 sec before 2B

  • 2B. Cable Pullover
    3×12
    3011 tempo
    Rest 75 sec before going back to 2A

  • 3. Dumbbell Shrugs
    3x 25
    2011 tempo
    Rest 60 sec

NOTE ABOUT TESTING YOUR 10RM

Testing your 10RM: Testing your 10RM is really hard. Why? Because each work set you do to find out your 10RM you build-up fatigue which can decrease performance. So if you do 3 hard sets of 10 before reaching your max, your actual lifting performance is probably lower than your true 10RM.

To make it simpler we can use these facts:

  • Your 10RM is likely around 67-70% of your 1RM. And around 80-82% of your 5RM
  • Between 5 and 12 reps, each rep accounts to about 2%

From this information, you can estimate your 10RM very accurately from any rep number from 5 to 12, but even more precisely between 8 and 12.

So here are the 10RM procedures I recommend for the pre and post tests.

10RM PRE-TEST (Session 0)

You need to know either your 1 or 5RM at the moment. Most serious lifters know what these are, if not, you can test them in an earlier session.

Using that number will allow you to estimate your 10RM.

For example let’s say that your current 1RM is 405lbs. For the percentages mentioned above this put your “theoretical” 10RM at around 270-280lbs.

With this number in mind you can start the testing session.

Set 1: Warm-up with the bar x 10 reps
Set 2: 50% of theoretical 10RM x 5 (so 135lbs x 5)
Set 3: 70% of theoretical 10RM x 5 (so 190lbs x 5)
Set 4: 90% of theoretical 10RM x 5 (so 245lbs x 5)
Set 5 Testing set: 100% of theoretical 10RM for max reps (so 275lbs x max reps)

So you only do one all-out test set to avoid fatigue hurting performance. From your result you can calculate your true 10RM. Remember that 1 rep = 2%

For example if you get 12 reps with 275lbs, your 10RM would be 4% higher (because you got 2 more reps) which puts your 10RM at 285lbs.

If you only got 8 reps with 275lbs then it means that your 10RM will be 4% lower than the test weight because you failed to get to 10 reps. So your 10RM would be 265lbs.

Anything between 8 and 12 reps will be 100% accurate evaluate your 10RM. But as low as 6 and as high as 14 you still get a good estimate.

When you test your 10RM you do not take pauses during your set. You can rest for a second or two at the top to reset tension but longer than that will give you a false result.

10RM POST-TEST (Session 18)

We must once again avoid doing many work sets before the actual test set otherwise it will give you a false result. I prefer to use a pretty accurate estimation rather than a false prediction affected by fatigue.

Assuming that you completed all sessions successfully, you finished by doing 10 sets of 10 reps with 105% of your pre-program 10RM. So it’s safe to assume that your actual 10RM is at least 7% higher than your pre-test value and likely at least 10% more.

Since we know what each rep is worth about 2% we can select pretty much any weight between 107 and 110% for our test, and adjust based on the result. If the 10 x 10 with 105% were all successful and with solid form I suggest doing the test with 110%. If some sets were not completed (getting 8-9 reps) with 105% or if some reps where grinders, I suggest using 107% for the test.

Let’s pretend that you select 110% for your test and that your pre-program 10RM was 275lbs. This means that you will use 302lbs (or 300lbs) for your test.

The procedure would be as follow:

Write down your test weight: 300lbs

Set 1: Warm-up with the bar x 10 reps
Set 2: 50% of test weight x 5 (so 150lbs x 5)
Set 3: 70% of test weight x 5 (so 210lbs x 5)
Set 4: 90% of test weight x 5 (so 270lbs x 5)
Set 5 Testing set: 100% of test weight for max reps (so 300lbs x max reps)

And just like with the pre-test you adjust the result based on how many reps you got remembering that 1 rep = 2%.

If you got 9 reps it means that your 10RM is not 300lbs it is 300lbs x 98% = 295lbs

ISN’T THAT OVERTRAINING?

Let’s be honest, 10 sets of 10 reps on squats is hard enough. Doing that three times a week can seem insane, especially if you are not somebody who is used to high-frequency training. But it isn’t any more insane that the popular Smolov Jr. squat program where you squat four times a week, or the training of Olympic lifters who do the competitive lifts and squats 4-6 days a week.

Is it hard work? It sure is! Likely a lot harder than you ever trained before. But the progression is built so that the workouts are actually fairly easy at first because of the light weights and the progression is gradual enough to let your body adjust to it.

And understand that it is a “therapy program”: it’s a very intense solution to fix a problem. And it will fix it! But it’s just that: a short term blitz approach. As such, if you use proper peri-workout supplementation and each a caloric surplus you will survive and thrive. It’s only 6 weeks.

Wojtek has reported gains of up to 55lbs on an athlete’s 10RM with average gains of 35-40lbs. This is a lot for a 10RM in 6 weeks. And as a side effect you will easily add 1” or more to your thighs!

If you feel like you are as hardworking as a lifter from Poland, give this a try and let us know how it worked out.

— CT, in collaboration with Wojtek Jusiel

Christian Thibaudeau

Written by Christian Thibaudeau

Christian Thibaudeau has been involved in the business of training for over the last 16 years. During this period, he worked with athletes from 28 different sports. He has been “Head Strength Coach” for the Central Institute for Human Performance (of…