The Triple Gear Squat Protocol

In a recent article, I explained how varying your lifting speed can help you gain more strength.

Today I will show you a couple of ways of applying this knowledge to boost your squat, barbell (back, front, Zercher) or kettlebell (goblet, double front).

Lady performing a double kettlebell front squat

3 x Gear Squat Protocol #1

The simplest thing you can do is to copy the most effective of the protocols in the classic Soviet study by Slava Lelikov:

  • Lift three times a week: Monday—fast, Wednesday—medium, Friday—slow.
  • Use 80% 1RM x 3/5 (reps/sets) every time.
  • Rest between sets: until you feel ready, then take another minute.
  • Retest your 1RM after 5 weeks.
  • Repeat for another 5 weeks.

The reps and the rest periods need explanations.

For a typical weightlifter 80% 1RM roughly corresponds to 6RM—a weight he can lift six times with perfect form when going all-out. Three reps are half that. Why so few? Where is the “intensity”?

The answer is outside the scope of this article but students of Plan StrongTM know that Soviet weightlifters of all levels generally did 1/3-2/3 of maximal possible reps with a given weight. To stay with the 6RM example, two to four.

Which brings us to a situation when you do not know your exact 1RM, e.g., when squatting with kettlebells that take big jumps between sizes. No problem, use a “repetition maximum” to identify the right weight. 6-10RM will hit the spot.

Do half your max possible reps. E.g., if you are squatting with 8RM do sets of four reps. Aim for the same total of fifteen reps. Four sets of four add up to sixteen, close enough.

Note that regardless of the speed you are lifting at, the 6-10RM is established with a medium speed.

Retest your 6-10RM on Wednesday of week five.

There are two reasons to test on that day of the week. First, the explosive lifts on Monday will prime your nervous system. Second, according to Soviet research, an athlete is at his best in the middle of the week; on Mondays you are fresh but sluggish.

Back squat practice at the SFL Certification

Onto the rest periods between sets. Prof. Leonid Matveev, the father of periodization, classified them as ordinary, stress, and stimulation:

Types of rest periods between sets
Click on the image to enlarge

Soviet weightlifters practiced “ordinary” rest periods—between “stress” intervals beloved by bodybuilders and “metcon” junkies and “stimulation” rests favored by old school American powerlifters.

Our 3x Gear Squat protocols also use ordinary rest periods. In other words, do not rush but do not lollygag. The cue of adding an extra minute after you feel ready comes from powerlifting coach extraordinaire Marty Gallagher.

If you are not good at listening to your body and insist on a number, make it 3min.

About speed:

  • “Fast”—as fast as possible without jerking. Use compensatory acceleration.
  • “Medium”—a comfortable, confident speed, corresponding to a first attempt in a powerlifting competition.
  • “Slow”—the speed of a hard-fought PR single.

The above speeds refer to both the concentric and the eccentric halves of a rep—with one exception, the negatives on “fast Mondays.” Unless you are an experienced jumper or Olympic weightlifter, dropping into a squat is not a good idea. Descend briskly but do not “dive bomb.”

We love pauses on the bottom of squats but in the 3x Gear Squat protocols the reps are touch and go.

3 x Gear Squat Protocol #2

This more sophisticated plan plays with more variables in addition to the lifting speed: intensity (weight), volume (the total number of reps), and the proximity to muscle failure:

Triple Gear Squat Program weekly template plan #2

Note that you will be alternating weights from day to day, thus “Week A” and “Week B.”

Starting the week with speed, moving on to strength, and wrapping up with hypertrophy is a classic Soviet weightlifting tactic. Increasing the volume towards the end of the week and placing slow reps on the last training day of the week were parts of it.

Here is how to pick your reps and sets.

E.g., on a Monday you are squatting with your 7RM. The “reps per set” row specifies 1/3 RM.

7:32.3. Round down to 2. The day’s volume is ten reps. Do five sets of doubles.

Another example. You are lifting 11RM on a Wednesday and you are supposed to do 2/3 RM.

11:3×27.3. Round down to 7. The day’s volume is fifteen reps. Do a set of seven and a set of eight. You are a hair over 2/3 RM in your second set; it is okay.

A final example. It is a Friday with 5RM lifted for 1/2 RM.

5:2=2.5. You can round down to two reps or up to three. Why not both? Do ladders of (2, 3). Your volume is twenty reps, thus (2, 3) x 4.

Onto testing. You need to identify two weights, one in the 4-7RM range and another in the 8-12RM range. Here is how.

Start with a general warm-up of choice: joint mobility drills, etc. Then ramp up to your testing weight, an estimated 4-7RM.

Let us say that you been training with double kettlebell front squats (DFSQ) for easy sets of five with a pair of 24kg kettlebells (2x24kg x 5) and you can barely grind out a single with 2x32kg. Your ramp-up might look like this:

2x16kg x 5—very easy
2x24kg x 3—easy

You do not own 28kg kettlebells and you decide to test yourself with one 24kg and one 32kg. Being right-handed, you believe your left leg is the stronger one and load the right one with the 32kg.

(Test with more weight on your weaker leg but in training switch the heavy kettlebell from side to side every set.)

You manage five tough but perfect reps, your 5RM, and park the kettlebells.

Man performing a double kettlebell front squat

An 8-12RM is next to test. Walk around and rest for a full 10min. Per Soviet research (Hippenreiter, 1966), it takes this long to restore your performance back to 100% after an all-out set of reps in a strength exercise. (According to the same study, if you wait 20min, you might boost your max reps by 20%—an example of “stimulation” rest periods—but it is not your goal.)

Then you go all-out with a pair of 24s and bag nine perfect reps, a 9RM. You have what you need to start the program and gain some serious strength.

3 x Gear Squat Protocol #3 and Beyond

You can make your programming simply sinister, highly sophisticated, or anything in between. Attend the Programming Demystified seminar and learn how.

Pavel Tsatsouline
Pavel Tsatsouline is the CEO of StrongFirst, Inc.

11 thoughts on “The Triple Gear Squat Protocol

  • Hi Pavel,

    Thank you for sharing this program with us. I am about to start it and I’m wondering if I on the days following the squat day I could do the Victorious program.
    M:Squat, T:Press, etc.
    Thanks you,

  • Great protocol, thanks Pavel!
    Spoiler: It also works for presses!
    I just set a new military press PR as my new training goal when I read this article.
    Do you know how you go through the exercises in your mind when you read an article? After I read this one, I realized that I pictured myself doing fast and slow military presses, instead of squats. And then I wondered if this protocol also would work for presses.
    So I tested my RMs as described above (ended up doing 12 presses with the 24 kg bells and 6 presses with two 32’s) and designed the plan.
    After 5 weeks of following this protocol, I achieved a new military press PR today and was able to press the 40 kg bell on both sides!
    I was actually surprised it worked so well, since this is one of these protocols where it feels like you’re not putting in enough work…

  • Pavel, thank you for this interesting program. Can you please elaborate if a trainee is supposed to rest when performing a “ladder”? This part confused me a bit.

  • Thanks for sharing! Was looking for a squat program to run alongside the 30 day pushup plan. However, access to equipment will be limited during that time. Hence the following questions:

    How (if at all) would one modify this protocol if he/she only had a single KB that is lighter than his/her 10RM? Would alternative programming be recommended in such a situation instead?

  • Great article, thank you.
    Does these protocols work with other lifts too, like kettlebell press?

    • Thank you, Andrus.

      Yes, but for the KB MP you will need to increase the volume by 50% or more by adding sets.

      Also, some gireviks’ KB MP groove does not lend itself to explosive lifting.

  • Some proofreading:

    – “Three sets of four add up to sixteen, close enough.” – faulty math?
    – “The “reps per set” column specifies 1/3 RM.” – it is a row, not a column
    – “a pair of 24kg kettlebells (2x4kg x 5)” – 2×24 or 2×4?

This article is now closed for comments, but please visit our forum, where you may start a thread for your comments and questions or participate in an existing one.

Thank you.