Saturday, January 17, 2015

100-Day Squat Challenge - Cory Gregory (January 2015)




This was the finale to my #100daysquatchallenge that I tracked on my Instagram page @Musclepharmpres. I challenged myself to squat heavy for 100 consecutive days, using a variety of stances, bars and set-ups. It was a huge undertaking both physically and mentally, but I wanted to challenge myself and push the limits. After some huge results, I knew I had to do something to finish big on Day 100. 
 - Cory Gregory

Weighing 208 pounds, Cory Gregory has achieved a powerlifting total of 1,755 pounds, culminating in a career-best 700-pound squat.







It was mid-March and I knew I needed a change.
I needed a challenge.
I needed something extreme.

On March 29th of last year, I decided I was going to squat every day for 100 straight days. To some, it may have sounded like I was writing my own death wish, but I needed something drastic. Squatting for 100 consecutive days counted as that and, right then and there sitting at my computer early one morning, I knew I had to see if I was capable of meeting this challenge.

I had just performed poorly at a powerlifting meet and I was simply ready to tackle something different. I have competed in powerlifting for nearly 20 years and been fortunate to be around some of the biggest names in the sport. But competing in equipped powerlifting isn't easy on the body.

I might have squatted more than 700 pounds, but my hips were a mess. Even worse, I think my raw strength had started to deteriorate. My focus had been on equipped powerlifting and by body was paying the price. It got so bad that for my recent run of cover shoots and one bodybuilding competition in late 2013 I didn't perform one single squat. You read that right -- not one single rep was done, and now I was going to squat 100 straight days.


Getting Started

For me, though, it was exactly the challenge I needed. After my sub-par meet in early March of 2014, I started reading extensively about Bulgarian training methods and was immediately intrigued. The more I looked down that rabbit hole, the more I knew I found what what I wanted to do. I read more and more about their extreme mindset of training, how it wasn't uncommon for them to squat 10-plus times per week. It was absolutely extreme, but I was hooked. If I wanted to drastically help my raw squat and completely overhaul my training mindset, this was it.

I continued to dig for all the information I could find. I was like a sponge, and at this point I came across famed Olympic lifter John Broz and his Average Broz gym in Las Vegas. They were massive proponents of the everyday squat approach, also doing more than 10 squat sessions per week. Watching their training videos and reading Broz quotes like, "How you feel is a lie," and "Your mind plays tricks on you. Learn to ignore it and keep training," gave me goosebumps. There was no turning back now.

http://www.averagebroz.com/culture/

https://www.youtube.com/user/BROZKNOWS

The initial and really the only question I had was, "How would my body react?" My hip still drifted in and out of socket, also causing back pain when I squatted with a wide stance. To combat this, I decided to go with a much more narrow stance, which was also weak, and do my best to make this a strong point.

There was also the matter of being a lifetime drug-free athlete and tackling a challenge that seemed to scream "injury" and an inability to recover. But my mind was set. I was going after this challenge with as much intensity as I've gone after anything in the gym. Let's squat and deal with everything else later.

And so, on March 29, 2014, the 100-Day Squat Challenge was born.


The Beginning

It took all of one day for me to be humbled. Now, I have no problems with that and have had that happen to me plenty of times in the gym. That's how you improve and how you make progress. But, believe me, day one was humbling.

I stepped up to the squat rack and 285 pounds was on the bar. Coming from a 700-plus suited squat to a 285 raw squat was an eye-opener. I took it out of the rack, squatted deep -- much deeper than I had been taking my squat -- and it promptly felt horrible and slow as hell.

I followed that up with an equally slow and horrible 335-lb conventional deadlift and day one was complete. It wasn't exactly a session that dreams are made of, but it was a start and the process had officially begun.

It's also worth noting that I had not squatted much more than 315 when it came to a deep, close-stance squat and my conventional deadlift was a definite weak point. Through powerlifting, my hip problem had continued to get worse, so that was the other challenge I was facing. Would squatting each and every day for 100 days straight make my hip problem worse or would the constant work be the cure to this nagging problem? I was about to find out.

Fortunately -- and it's partly the genius behind the everyday squat approach -- by day seven I had worked through most of my hip issues and I felt surprisingly good. Clearly, this didn't make any sense. How could I actually be feeling better after squatting for seven consecutive days? The simple answer, backed up by John Broz's theory, is that the body is an amazing adaptive system. It is capable of far more than you might think, and I was starting to believe Broz's reasoning that "How you feel is a lie."

By day 10 I had hit a wall, which is common in an everyday squat routine, and it was up to me to adapt and work through it. This approach screams overtraining, but I'm not sure I believe in that term, at least not in the way most people believe it. I certainly felt fatigue through different periods -- an day 10 was the first one -- but it was up to me to work through that mentally and physically. it may be lightening your load for a short period, but at no point did I feel as though I was risking injury or was actually heading into overtraining.

The first adaptation phase lasted about five days, but by day 16 I was back in a zone. My hips had loosened up, my strength in the hole was skyrocketing and I was now hitting 365 -- for those struggling with the math that's a swift 80-lb jump from day one -- on a regular basis. My conventional deadlift was moving forward as well and I was making great progress.

By this point I was completely sold on the process and it was time to take it to another level.


Day 30 and Beyond

The questions were starting to come before day 30 from my occasional social media posts and I had the idea to make myself completely accountable and post each day on Instagram.       

http://instagram.com/musclepharmpres/

This was partly done to eliminate any chance of someone screaming bullshit on this entire process and partly to give everyone an inside look at all of this.

That includes the ups and all the good days when everything was clicking, but also the bad and most certainly the ugly. It made me accountable and it made the process much more real. Not every day was a cakewalk and not every day was a PR, but working through those difficult days is what allowed progress to be made.

Looking back, pushing through difficult days when I may have had an ache or pain is what made this challenge so memorable. It would have been easy to skip a day here or there, but I was here to complete a challenge and push myself, aches and pains be damned. Plus, pushing through these helped eliminate that soreness, made my lower body feel completely better and delivered squat gains that would otherwise never have been possible.

It also helped that day 30 was a pretty good day. I had made solid progress with my normal stance and decided after one month to add Reebok Olympic shoes. The raised heel is made for squatting much deeper, and almost forces you to have a narrow stance. Coming from a flat-shoed, wider-stance approach, this was a big adjustment. But I also felt it was a necessary one to help my overall squat game. I wanted to eliminate any weaknesses and this was a definite one. I hit 275 lbs the first day with the weightlifting shoes and it felt fast, and the next day managed to work through a solid 365. It was hard but it felt great, and my conventional deadlift continued to progress as well. Doing 365 was a breeze and it almost felt like 225, even with a conventional stance.

I continued to alternate going with my Olympic shoes and using a narrow stance, and using a flat-soled shoe with a wider stance. On day 46 I had a huge highlight. I squatted a raw 500 lbs in my power stance, a massive PR and something I felt really good about. It was another indication that this method was gold.

By day 63 I was squatting 799 in my contest suit, weighing 198 lbs. That by far the lightest I've ever been for a 700 squat, and to even greater joy I managed to do it without any hip pain. By continually squatting every day, my body had worked out all the nagging aches and pains in my hip joint that had bothered me for so long. The body truly is an amazing machine.

Five days later I worked up to a strong 585 in my contest briefs with Mike Rashid and Bulo at the famous Metroflex Gym in Long Beach, California.

http://www.metroflexgym.com/

On day 73 I hit a PR of 430 lbs in Olympic lifting shoes, by far the most I had done with a narrow stance. This was a huge highlight for me and squatting every day was simply a way of life for me now.

I knew I would have no problem in reaching 100 days, but I also knew I wasn't going to stop there.


100-Day Squat Massacre, Deadlifting and More  

By this point, it had become more than a 100-day challenge. I knew this is how I wanted to train and I knew I wasn't going to stop anytime soon.

I'm well over 200 days by the time you read this, but the initial challenge was to do 100 straight days, so I had to celebrate with something special -- or insane, depending on your point of view. After talking to a variety of people, including the incomparable CT Fletcher -

http://ctfletcher.com/

we came up with the Quad City Massacre, which ended up being a pure hour of squat madness and torture. I started with 405 x 2, went to 365 x 4, then 315 x 8, 275 x 16, 225 x 32, 185 x 64, and finished up with 135 x 132, giving me a ridiculous 258 reps in one day. It was one of the most agonizing workouts I ever went through, but the reward was huge. In essence, it was the perfect way to sum up 100 days of squatting in a single workout -- pure madness, but oh, so worth it.

A day later I was back at the squat rack, blowing through 315 less than 24 hours after the most insane squat workout of my life. But it had become part of my life and my workout now centered on a daily squat.

Through this, I managed to really work on my high-bar, Olympic-style squat in weightlifting shoes. I was more used to the wide-stance powerlifting squat using Reebok Power Trainers, so this was a big challenge. The high-bar squat sits right above your traps, shifting the focus much more on your quads and lower back, especially when you use a heeled shoe and concentrate on going super deep in the hole. This also means a narrower stance, while the low-bar style is much different. There the bar is placed under the traps and rests on top of the rear delts. Going with a stance a little wider than shoulder-width apart, the focus shifts more to your glutes and hips, targeting a different area. I picked both of these styles to work on in hopes that it would make me a more complete squatter. 

During this time I was also training for a competition, so I would also throw on my competition suit once a week to get used to the pressure of 600-plus pounds on my back. Even though I was squatting every day, the variety of stances changed consistently, allowing things to never get stagnant. Almost without realizing it, I was also nearly as consistent with the deadlift. I only missed 10 out of 100 days and pulled a minimum of 315 each day. Now, 405 feels like 315 used to and that was a sure sign of making rapid progress in a short time.

The ultimate goal was to be able to squat and deadlift with 405 every day. By the end, I was there and that was as satisfying as anything I accomplished during this journey.


Reflection

Ultimately, the question comes down to this: Did this work?

Simply put -- Hell, Yes!

It was one of the most mentally challenging processes I went through, but the journey is something I will never forget. It was satisfying to complete an undertaking like this, one that backed up a saying I've always believed -- if you want a crazy result, you have to do something crazy. I basically squeezed two-plus years of squatting into 100 days and got the results along with it. By the end of this process, I enjoyed the daily challenge of getting my mind and body right for yet another squat session. My body reaped the benefits, which surely helped the process a great deal. I was able to get leaner while also looking thicker and certainly getting stronger.

My advice? Try it out and push yourself to a place you've never been. To get there you have to be smart and listen to your body. You're not going to set PRs every day and you're not going to feel awesome for 100 straight days. Some days you will want to squat and get the hell out of the gym. That's fine, but remember to push yourself as well. Your body is capable of much more than you realize.

Don't be afraid t miss a lift and don't be afraid to fail, and always pay attention to form. You'll learn a lot about yourself and it's also a great opportunity to better yourself. When it comes down to it, that's what the gym is all about.

If you want to improve, there might not be anything better than the 100-Day Squat Challenge. It's time for you to take "don't skip leg day" to another level.


Take the Challenge

This was my general approach for my 100-Day Squat Challenge and similar to how I continue to set up each day for squats.

Warm Up -
Bar: 2 sets of 10 reps (this allows you to get loose and warms up all your joints)
95 x 2 x 8 reps (continuing a deliberate warm-up process)
135 x 2 x 8-10 (by now everything would feel pretty loose and ready to go)

It's important to note that there are six warm-up sets listed there, all with 135 or less. That's a big step in this. I didn't do a lot of stretching, but I was extensive in my warm-ups and took them seriously. I advise doing the same.

Work Sets -
185 x 1
225 x 1
275 x 1
315 x 1 (I normally added a belt at this stage)
365 x 1
404 x 1 (at this point I would wrap up with knee wraps if I felt fatigued)

If 405 felt strong and fast, I would go up one more time and go for a new PR. But I got to the point where 365 to 405 was my everyday max, meaning I knew I could hit something in that range every single day, no matter how poorly I felt. That continued to go p and then on good days I would go for something big.

Tip: Find your daily max, something you know you could hit on your worst day. Make sure you hit that every day and then if you're feeling god on a particular day, move up and try for a bigger weight or even a new PR.


Get It Right

During your 100-day challenge, you can use a combination of Front and Back Squats to change things up. Here are some tips for proper form.

Back Squat:
After finding a comfortable place for the bar (for a high-bar squat it is on the traps, for low-bar, it's just below), grip the bar tight, align your elbows with the bar and squeeze your upper back muscles together. Keeping your chest up and with your stomach full of air, begin the descent. If you're wearing Olympic (heeled) shoes, the descent is more straight down, while your first motion in flat shoes (like Chucks) should be pushing your hips back. Staying tight, once you go below parallel, focus on driving your knees out when coming out of the hole to finish the lift. Keep your stomach full of air and keep your chest up while also maintaining upper back tightness as well.

Front Squat:
Flexibility of an Olympic Clean rack position is an important part of the front squat. Improve on your flexibility of that Clean position if your elbows aren't high enough when holding the bar. While keeping the elbows high, create a stable shelf with your lats and shoulders for the bar to sit on. During the descent, keep your chest up and keep air in your stomach, also driving up your elbows hard. Once you go below parallel, force the knees out hard when coming back up. It's important to keep your back tight and elbows up, forcing the elbows up as hard as you can to complete the lift. 


















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