Improving my squat using wave cycling

After a week skiing in February 2015, my knees became inflamed and painful and I had trouble walking up and down stairs. I found that deadlifts improved my knee function and started powerlifting training for deadlifts and bench press. For the first months, I avoided the squat completely, and only gradually started to squat with relatively light weights around 50-60 kg. In the last couple of years, I’ve discovered that my knees are fine with squatting with good technique to parallel or below. I still have trouble getting below parallel with heavy weight on the back but am working on improving mobility. In my last pre-pandemic competition in December 2019, I squatted 107.5 kg with depth that was only just below parallel and one of the judges told me afterwards he thought they had been lenient in judging depth. This was substantially behind my deadlift at 190 kg. Most powerlifters have squat somewhat less than they can powerlift, but the difference is on average only around 20% and is narrower at 15% at the elite level (see here for averages based on over 7 million lifts).

So I decided to focus over the last 8 weeks on improving my squat, to do only a minimal amount of deadlifting, and no bench press (instead to rehabilitate an AC joint injury). I had been reading Pavel Tsatsouline’s book Beyond Bodybuilding: Muscle and Strength Training Secrets for The Renaissance Man and decided to do the 8 week wave cycling program that he describes on page 80 of the Kindle edition.  Here is how it worked for my squat:

I assumed my squat one rep max was currently 110 kg and my best working weight for 5-rep sets was 90 kg. For the first week, on Monday I performed 90×5, 92.5×4, 95×3, 97.5×2, 100×1. Following Pavel’s recommendation, I rested for 3 minutes between the sets. On Wednesday, I added 2.5 kg to all my sets: 92.5×5, 95×4, 97.5×3, 100×2, 102.5×1. On Friday, I added another 2.5: 95×5, 97.5×4, 100×3, 102.5×2, 105×1. Each new week, on Monday, I backed up to my last Wednesday numbers and worked back up. So every week, I added 7.5 kg to my sets and then took 5 kg off and built up again. This is why it is called ‘wave cycling’. Looking just at the singles, my weeks looked like this: 100, 102.5, 105; 102.5, 105, 107.5; 105, 107.5, 110, etc.

At the end of the 8th week, my last single was at 117.5 kg.  I then tested my 1 rep max at 120 kg (shown in video below). I felt like I could probably have added a little more, but as my depth was still problematic, decided not to. The video shows that I am getting to parallel or very fractionally below it, and I need to do more work to get consistently below parallel. So that will be my focus for the next weeks.

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