How often should I squat each week to gain leg strength?
Before we discuss some of the tried-and-true methods of squatting that will develop strong and powerful legs, we first need to discuss the harsh reality that squatting for leg strength is a slow, boring, mundane process. This doesn’t mean it can’t be fun or exciting. What it does mean is that growth, especially in our barbell movements, takes a long time and is a consistent, steady climb upward. Typically, an athlete doesn’t go from squatting an empty bar to squatting 305 lbs in two weeks. That takes a lot of intentional focus, effort, and a lot of reps over a long period of time.
Traditionally, to gain leg strength, we advocate that an athlete squats 2-3 times per week. This allows your body to make the proper adaptations to increase strength, add muscle mass, improve power, while also allowing the body sufficient time to rest and recover.
Your body is developing new muscle cells and expanding upon the ones already present. This process is called hypertrophy. When we engage in lifting weights, our muscles undergo both mechanical damage and metabolic fatigue. Contractile proteins in our legs have to generate force to withstand and counter the pressure provided by the weight we are moving. This causes structural damage to the muscles, namely, a tearing of the muscle fibers. As the body seeks to repair the damage, there is an increase in muscle size. Along with this is muscle fatigue, in which the body utilizes its stores of available ATP (an energy carrying molecule that helps move muscle contractions/extensions/flexions) ,and therefore your musculature can no longer move to lift the weight properly. Again, a repair-stimulus is offered and muscle strength and size occurs.
In essence, lifting weights causes mechanical damage and metabolic fatigue which help develop size and strength of the muscles worked.
Typically, a squat program focused on gaining leg strength is going to be a longer-term program (6-12 weeks), with a small number of sets (3-5 sets) and a small number of reps (3-5 reps). The weight on the bar will typically stay the same for all the sets in a single training session, or might increase slightly, roughly 5-25 lbs during the session. Over the course of the 6-12 weeks, weight will be added to the bar, but in small and consistent increments. For example, an athlete might squat 105 lbs in their first week, and then 110 lbs in their second. The body needs time to adapt to the load. Adding 50 lbs, moving the bar from 105 to 155 lbs wouldn’t be beneficial for a variety of reasons. First, the body physically may not be able to move it. Secondly, an increased loading before the body’s capacity is sufficient can lead to injury and poor movement patterns. Finally, when we make big jumps in weightlifting it can rock our confidence if we aren’t able to successfully complete the lift.
In CrossFit we do a lot of squatting, in a lot of different variations, all of which will increase your muscle mass, definition and stamina.