Squat Progression Timelines

On Monday I shared with you my current list of squat progressions that we use with our clients at Enhancing Life.

Today I’m going to give you as much context as possible to help you implement these progressions with whoever you work with. I’m going to take you through three different types of clients who we deal with. You’ll see that they all go through the same progression, but the way it’s explained is different and the amount of time they spend with each one will vary.

This is not a template for you to follow. This is for you to get the big picture, understand our principles, and implement these progressions depending on the client you’re working with.

At Enhancing Life, we don’t do any 1-on-1. We have group classes and semi-privates. Which means we always have multiple people at once needing to be coached.

That’s one reason behind the consistency of our progressions and the time spent on each one. The better we can set up our clients by nailing down the technique, the easier it is to progress them, and the more fun they are to program for.

If we did 1-on-1, we would probably progress people faster, and we would probably pick more complicated progressions since ONE client would have all our attention and we could continue to cue them until they got it right.

With multiple people at once, we’ve got less than a minute to show someone a new move and seconds to correct them after showing them. 

Before we dive into the timelines. Let’s talk about breathing. The hardest thing to get a client to buy into, right?

How are you going to convince them for the first two sessions they’re going to do an assisted ISO squat? How are you going to get them to buy into learning the basics without them asking you: “hey, when are we actually going to lift weights?!”

Here’s how:                              

1) Stop Making Assumptions

Are they really wondering “Hey, when are we actually going to lift weights?”

Are you assuming they don’t want to nail down the technique? Are you assuming they’re wondering when the KBs and barbells are getting pulled out? Are you putting all the pressure on yourself, thinking they’re wanting to be progressed after ONE session?

Just because one client said they didn’t want to learn the basics and “the breathing”, doesn’t mean they all feel that way. Just because the internet is telling you no one cares about function and everyone wants to get after it, doesn’t mean you can’t take a couple of sessions to work on the basics.  

So, get rid of the assumptions.

Plus, if you have #2, they’ll definitely not be wondering when the loading is coming.

2) Nail Down the Execution

If your coaching is on point, after an assisted squat, they’ll be saying “Damn that’s hard. My quads are dying. My abs are dying. My glutes are dying”.

If you lack the coaching skills, they’ll feel nothing, and they might actually look at you like you’re wasting their time.

A well-executed 90/90, burns the hammies and abs.

A properly done assisted squat, crushes the legs.

The problem always comes down to a combination of 1) clients don’t take cues well 2) trainer can’t coach the client through new moves.

Just because it’s an exercise on the ground or an assisted activity, it doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, even experienced lifters get crushed with these activities.

The recent Bro Research Radio, Ryan, the biggest guy I know, mentioned how he got crushed doing one of the squats in our list of progressions.

If Ryan is getting smoked doing “low-level stuff”, just wonder how your general pop client who has no experience lifting will feel!

When coaches say they can’t get clients to buy into this type of training, I can’t help but wonder if they’re lacking the coaching skills that get clients to buy into it.

If you think that’s you, September 29th  in NY, Michelle Boland and I have a 100% hands on workshop you won’t want to miss out on. Don’t let your coaching skills hold you or your clients back!

3) Describe Your Training as a Skill

With any new skill, you must allow yourself to be a beginner. I will sometimes compare our training to rock climbing. It’s not uncommon to attend your first rock climbing class and spend the whole time working on hand and foot positions.

What sounds better?

“You can’t move well, so you have to work on the basics and learn these breathing exercises. That’s the only way we will allow you to add load to exercises” – Lucy in 2012

Or

“These next two sessions you’re going to take the time to learn our cues, our lingo, optimal lifting technique…because strength training and lifting weights is a skill that requires you to master these basic positions. If you do this, you’re going to be extremely successful progressing through our program” Lucy in 2019

After I say something like the second quote, I will point out to a client lifting heavy weights or maybe show off a PR that is listed on our success board, where I show them their future. I show them the end product.

“Josh just deadlifted 300lbs, that will be you one day”

I failed at that in the past which is why I had push-back from clients not wanting to work on the small little details.

Explaining our training as a new skill, allows us to spend a few sessions working on the basics without them thinking they’re stuck working on the technique component to lifting forever.

If you want to get people to buy into the basics:

Stop making assumptions, better your coaching skills, and describe strength training as a service that requires you to learn a new skill.

Now let’s go through the timelines!

Client A:

Your regular general pop client who is fairly active outside of the gym. They’re not scared of the idea of lifting weights and they’re ready to get after it.

With these people, you have to remind them what your end goal for them is:

Lifting Weights

Give the first few exercises purpose by showing them the familiar positions and how those activities are preparing them to what they want to do which is, lift weights.

Show them how this:

And this:

Are the same positions as this:

Those visuals alone can give people the understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish and now the ISO squat hold serves a purpose and they know they’re not stuck there forever. They know they’ll get to the loading part soon.

(sidenote: the better your coaching skills, the faster they get to the loading part)

Here’s the timeline:

Exercise Timeline: How Long Will a client do this?
90/90 Introduced During the Orientation/Assessment   This activity is added to their warm-up  
Rockback Introduced During the Orientation/Assessment   This activity is added to their warm-up  
Assisted ISO Hold 1-3 sessions   This exercise will be in their strength training part of their program. A client will usually do 3-4 sets of 5 breaths. Usually paired with some type of upper body lift and/or “core exercise”.  
Assisted Squat 1-3 sessions   Once this activity takes the place of the ISO hold. Another or the same variation of the ISO squat will become part of the warm-up, and they will start adding movement to the strength training component of their program. The client’s program will usually stay the same, but the squat will just be progressed/modified on the sheet. The sets and reps are around 3×8-12 If they need the extra challenge but still struggle with keeping the right position, slow down the tempo to give them the burn.  
Loading Squat 4-8 weeks   Once load is introduced that is usually when we decide to write the new client a new program, and pick the first loading variation (goblet) and have them do it for 4-8 weeks.  

This means in 2-6 sessions; you could have someone squatting with load where the cuing needed is to a minimum! Like I said earlier, this isn’t a template to follow to a T. I just want you to get the big picture. Sometimes I’ve introduced movement to an ISO squat, and after one set I give them a KB and progress them to a goblet squat the same day.

Client B

Deconditioned client (perhaps in persistent pain) who is not very active outside of the gym. They’re scared of the gym and not really wanting to lift weights.

You know how with Client A you had to show them how the breathing exercises are the same as the lifting exercises.

You need to do the same with these people, but the words now have to change. You’re now using the breathing exercises to get them to feel safe with the loading exercises.

Keep in mind, they don’t seem themselves as capable of loading their body.

So with them, show them if they CAN do this without pain or flaring up:

And this:

They will for sure be able to do this because it’s all the same:

Consistency is key with these people, and if you can show them those visuals, they’ll feel way safer progressing when you ask them to hold a weight 😊

Here’s the timeline:

Exercise Timeline: How Long Will a client do this?
90/90 Introduced During the Orientation/Assessment   This activity is added to their warm-up  
Rockback Introduced During the Orientation/Assessment                                                                                        This activity is added to their warm-up  
Assisted ISO Hold 4-6 sessions   This exercise will be in their strength training part of their program. A client will usually do 3-4 sets of 5 breaths. Usually paired with some type of upper body lift and/or “core exercise”.  
Assisted Squat 4-6 sessions   Once this activity takes the place of the ISO hold. Another or the same variation of the ISO squat will become part of the warm-up, and they will start adding movement to the strength training component of their program. The client’s program will usually stay the same, but the squat will just be progressed/modified on the sheet. The sets and reps are around 3×8-12  
Loading Squat 8-16 weeks   Once load is introduced that is usually when we decide to write the new client a new program, and pick the first loading variation (goblet) and have them do it for 4-8 weeks.  

It’s alllll the same, but you’ll notice the pace is a little slower. The big reason for that is because you’re trying to build safety around these positions and slowly conditioning their tissues. To you it might seem like they’re not doing much, but know that their tissue tolerance is WAY lower than a regular person. An ISO squat IS loading their tissues, so by progressing them a little slower than Client A, you’re meeting this kind of client where they’re at 🙂

Client C:

These people are JUST like client B but they’re not able to progress due to outside factors you’re not able to control or address right away.

That could be a therapist they’re seeing who promotes fear avoidance and fragility, their inability to trust your process, or ingrained maladaptive beliefs.

(I’ll be talking more about these people over the next three weeks!)

But they still must train, so what do you do?

Same as client B…try to use the breathing to get them to buy into the lifting but know that instead of progressing through the list I shared, you’ll have to add a few other squats variations before you start to progressively load.

That will help them feel the same positions in a different context and provide a little bit a novelty since they’re super restricted on what they can do.

Exercise Timeline: How Long Will a client do this?
90/90 Introduced During the Orientation/Assessment   This activity is added to their warm-up  
Rockback Introduced During the Orientation/Assessment                                                                                        This activity is added to their warm-up  
Assisted ISO Hold 4-6 sessions   This exercise will be in their strength training part of their program. A client will usually do 3-4 sets of 5 breaths. Usually paired with some type of upper body lift and/or “core exercise”.  
Wall Squat ISO Hold 4-6 sessions This exercise will be in their strength training part of their program. A client will usually do 3-4 sets of 5 breaths. Usually paired with some type of upper body lift and/or “core exercise”.
Assisted Squat 4-6 sessions   Once this activity takes the place of the ISO hold. Another or the same variation of the ISO squat will become part of the warm-up, and they will start adding movement to the strength training component of their program. The client’s program will usually stay the same, but the squat will just be progressed/modified on the sheet. The sets and reps are around 3×8-12  
Roller Squat 4-6 sessions Different context than the assisted squat but still unloaded. The sets and reps are around 3×8-12
Loading Squat By now, hopefully, you’ve gained enough trust to progress this client through loaded variations.

With this person, it might take 2-3 months before they’re progressively loading their squat. I know to you, as a fitness professional, that might sound crazy slow, but you have to put yourself in their shoes.

The deconditioned population in persistent pain who can’t seem to be able to do ANYTHING are the most misunderstood and underserved people in the industry. That’s why, over the next few weeks, I’ll be talking a lot about them and I hope you tune in because if you work with the regular general population, you can definitely work with these people too.

I hope this gives you an idea of how we progress people through squatting. Especially if you train multiple people at once and you want to keep the coaching quality as high as possible 🙂

Until next time

Lucy

Our Current Squat Progressions

I had a long post on Deadlifts published few weeks ago where I talked about why I don’t introduce them right away.

Squats on the other hand, get introduced after 1-2 sessions. Today I’ll be sharing with you our current squat progressions that we use at Enhancing Life.

These progressions take you through four phases:

1) Phase One: Increasing movement option

The first three progressions are not technically squats. See these activities as exercises to help your clients gain access to motions that are required for someone to have a good looking squat.

One of the biggest issues you’ll see when people squat is, they’ll hinge back vs going straight down.

Hingy Squat:

Squatty Squat:

The first three progressions will help your clients tuck their hips, stack the rib cage on top of them, and maintain that position as they descend down (like the second picture above).

If your clients can’t do this or don’t have access to that motion, it doesn’t matter how many cues you use, or how many times you show them what to do, they won’t be able to do it.

Our current favorite activities to open up our client’s movement options are the following three moves:

90/90

90/90 Bridge

Rockback Breathing

2) Phase Two: Owning the Position

This stage will help your clients OWN the position you want them to maintain. No movement, just holding. For someone who is extremely unaware of their body and doesn’t take cues well (most of your clients), ISO holds are great to teach them how to own the position you’re wanting them to keep for when you progress and add movement to the lift.

This is perfect for group/semi-private training! You should be able to walk away from this exercise once you’ve put them in the position that’s desirable.

Assisted Squat Hold (Ramp)

(why elevate the heels??)

3) Phase Three: Adding Movement

Your job as a coach has never been easier. All you have to do now is add movement to the position they’ve already mastered by doing the ISO hold.

Assisted Squat (Ramp/to box)

4) Phase Four: Add Load

Can you imagine getting to loading a squat and all you have to do is “Hey, keep doing what you’ve been doing, but hold this weight” and that’s it!

I’m all about making my job easy, keeping the coaching quality high, AND being able to manage multiple people at once.

Goblet Squat (ramp/to box)

KB Front Squat (Ramp)

Zercher Squat (Ramp)

Safety Bar Squat (Ramp)

DB Squat on Ramp

TB Squat on Ramp

There you have it. Our current squat progressions at Enhancing Life.

What about all the ways clients will mess up?!

Wondering how to implement these progressions?!

CLICK HERE

Now let’s talk about your coaching skills, because if you’re not able to coach people through everything I shared with you, the execution will fall short, the results will not happen, and the client will not buy into your training.

Have you ever attended a seminar where they picked you as an exercise demo? For 5 minutes, you get to feel what it’s like to be coached by the instructor. You get to respond to their verbal and manual cues, which allows you to feel what your clients will need to feel.

Out of all the other attendees who didn’t get coached, you’ll be more successful getting your clients to execute that exercise correctly.

My online program lets me coach you on weekly basis for ONLY $150 a month!!!

CLICK HERE to enroll and start getting coached by me next week 🙂

Holding Off on Deadlifts

When I introduce a new movement/lift to a client, I don’t have time for them to struggle with it because I work with multiple people at once. I try to pick exercises that they will be able to do with confidence and little to no coaching.

In a semi-private setting, I have other people waiting for my coaching, which leaves me with less than a minute to show someone a new activity.

Because I don’t work in a private setting, I tend to hold off on deadlifts for the 1st month or so.

To give you more context: We train people who have never trained before (bad at taking cues), people who might fear to lift weights at first, and people in persistent pain who are very deconditioned (my target market).

Deadlifts are hard to get right.

If they don’t tuck enough, they’ll arch their back, if they tuck too much they’ll round. If they’ve never lifted before, they don’t know how to create tension in their abdominal area. They don’t know what it’s like to push their feet through the floor…the list of problems can go on and on.

Plus, the word “dead” is in deadlift.

There have been many instances during a consult or introductory session a new client will witness one of our current clients lifting heavy trap bars off the ground, and they tell me something along the lines of “I never want to do that!!!”

With these people, you run the chance of them feeling confused, threated and non-confident when you try to introduce a weighted hinge within the first few sessions. If they build a bad taste about deadlifts from the beginning, they’ll progress way slower than they’re capable of. And the goal is always steady progression.

This is especially true with persistent pain clients. They feel their low back during a deadlift and they’ve had back pain for 10 years. Their brain is on high alert. If they flare up the day after their first time trying it, good luck getting them comfortable progressing with that lift.

I want to remind you: Context Context Context! Of course, not everyone is like this. Last month we had a brand-new client start with us and within one month, she was deadlifting, squatting, and doing kettlebell swings.

If someone comes in with a small lifting background and not scared of weights and they take cues well, we introduce things way sooner.

But since most people don’t take cues well, we train multiple people at once, work with those who are scared, or ones who are super deconditioned, I save myself the struggle and hold off on hinging until I think they’re ready to handle all the instructions to do one correctly.  

That sets ME up for success, but most importantly, it sets the client up for success.

How do I know they’re ready?

Glad you asked 😊

Think of this as giving your clients the ingredients for a deadlift so when the time comes, it takes minimal to zero coaching.

1) Restoring Motion at the Hip and Thorax During the Initial Month

In order for your client to execute a good-looking deadlift, certain motions at the hip and thorax are required. People who lack certain motions will struggle from keeping their deadlift looking like a banana or their inability to sit back and only round the shit out of their spine.

All of those positions above are undesirable.

Instead of thinking it’s your inability to coach it correctly, or your client’s ability to understand what you want them to accomplish, It might be that they don’t have access to the motions you’re wanting them to perform.

To free up your client’s movement, here are my top few moves that I will go into deeper detail explaining the “WHY” behind them over the next few weeks.

For now, practice coaching them. We’ll dive deeper later on 😉

These exercises are great for warm-ups and homework for the clients that like do thing things at home. (yes, those clients do exist).

Once you go through these activities, you’ll notice the cues are very similar. Exhale, reach, and tuck.

But what if someone seems like they need to do the opposite? What if someone is super rounded on the deadlift??

You want to keep in mind, you can’t use your eyes to assess what the client needs when deadlifting. Take Carden for example. It looks like he needs to extend and get his chest to the KB. Carden has deadlifted a little over handful of times.

Carden went through 90/90 Bridge and Elevated Bench Rockback (shared above)

Can you see a small difference? on the left from the first video he seemed to round a little too much. Second he was able to sink back into his hips more and round less through his low back. Nothing to write home about, but it’s a good change!

Here’s a video of a simple way I explain to students on why they can’t use their eyes to assess what a client needs:

 2) Being Able to Push Through the Floor

I got a lot of cues by my employers when I first started out. One of those cues when coaching a squat or deadlift was “Push your feet through the floor”.

Since clients had no problem telling me when I didn’t make sense, I would always get the confused look and a “I have no idea what you mean by that” when I’d cue it.

Because of that, I started introducing that concept early on in someone’s training when we’re doing basic activities on the ground. It seems to help them understand what I mean by “pushing yourself through the floor”, which is a great thing to think about when you’re starting to lift heavier weight off the ground.

Glute bridge hold is a good exercise to start introducing that concept:

3) Create Tension in a “neutral” Position

I hate this term because most people say good posture = having a neutral spine. I’ve gotten away from that thought process, but I still think it’s important for clients to be able to lift with not arching too much and by not rounding too much, and I can’t think of a simpler term to use than “neutral looking spine”.

Which I know there’s no such thing as neutral, you don’t have to write that in the comments (yes, talking to you, Zac), but can we all agree that you don’t want deadlifts looking like this….

Or like this….

And we want them more like this….

Plus, if you share clients with someone, don’t you want to have somewhat of an agreement of what a good deadlift looks like. We all have to come up with our own standards, and my standards are:

A deadlift needs to look somewhat like this:

Where they’re maintaining a “neutral looking spine” throughout the entire lift.

Top position

Transition:

Bottom:

You and I both know people struggle with this. They’re not aware of their body and to ask them to keep their trunk looking like this as they’re focusing on 5 different things at once. Pushing hips back, keep whole foot contact, not shrugging, keeping head with spine, knees slightly bent…you’re asking for a lot.

That’s why, by the time I teach someone how to deadlift, exhaling, tensing up their “core”, has already been ingrained in their movement skillset and close to second nature.

Here are a few activities that can be put in someone’s program prior to deadlifts:

Tall and Half Kneeling Band Pull-over breathing are GREAT ways to teach someone an optimal position:

Here are a few other ways you can teach your clients to create tension:

4) Confidence in Your Ability to Keep Them Safe

If I have a client who was super scared to lift and it’s been 4-8 weeks and I haven’t hurt them yet. Chances are, they trust me. Their trust means a lot when I tell them they’re capable of lifting that 50lb KB off the ground.

If they trust me, they too will believe they can pick up the 50lbs KB off the ground.

Trust will be a long way with persistent pain.

A few years ago I worked with a lady that would “hurt” herself each time she didn’t train with me. To the point where she cried if I wasn’t there. Since I knew nothing about pain at the time, I thought my colleges and employer were not paying attention and let her do things wrong. Now I think she trusted me so much, that if I was watching her, she thought she was doing it right. Which isn’t a good thing for a client to develop a dependency on you like that, but it does go to show how much trust plays into a client’s ability to do something.

Wait….so what about squats???

I don’t deadlift people right away but I will squat people on day 1 or 2.

Squats are easy because you can start with an ISO squat hold, which makes it easy to coach. Plus, if a client over tucks a little bit, I’m cool with it. With deadlifts, I don’t want people rounding too much.

Here are a few variations I start people with:

(I don’t cue hands together anymore)

If someone nails these down, adding movement to the lift is a piece of cake 🙂

A strong squat will also prepare someone for a successful deadlift when you decide it’s the right time to introduce it.

I hope all of that was helpful. Will be diving deeper into movement and whats required for your clients to move well over the following weeks 🙂

Until next time!

Lucy

Human Matrix by Zac Cupples

Someone asked me if I just zone out while Zac speaks since it’s my 7th? 8th? one as his TA. When I’m not coaching or demoing, I’m listening.

I listen to how well things flow, make sure people are following, catch when they get lost due to their facial expression, when they get distracted or disinterested…etc.

(now that I’m typing this, I wonder if anyone has caught me looking at them and wondered “Why is Lucy starting at me?!?”)

For the following course, he takes all my critiques and all the anonyms critiques from the attendees and spends countless hours making improvements.

Almost every course is a different course.

How could I zone out? He has simplified it so much, his explanations are becoming more and more clear, the practicality of the information taught gets higher each time, and his jokes eventually start to be funny to me.

I’ve already heard him talk about the improvements he needs to make for the next course 😊

Learn from people like him. People who keep getting better and haven’t mailed it in.

However,

I think the HM playlist needs to have more than just one LP song on there 🤷🏽‍♀️💁🏽‍♀️

Thanks to the attendees for sending me all these videos and pictures form this weekend’s seminar!!

So if you haven’t (or have) attended Zac Cupples’ course, YOU SHOULD.

zaccupples.com/seminar

Ps.

Thank you, Zac. For letting me help you.

Thank you, allllll the amazing attendees who have helped me find my purpose 😘