Intermediate Squat Program, 2 Days/Week

In this post, I’ll outline an intermediate squat program designed to increase your squat strength and build bigger leg muscles.

 I will also explain how and why your training should differ from the beginner’s.

Are you still a beginner? Check out our beginner squat program.

If you’ve left the beginner phase behind, read on.

(Note that this is a squat-only program. If you are looking for a program that combines training for the squat, bench press, and deadlift, you should check out our intermediate powerlifting program.)

How Do You Know if You Are a Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced?

While there are many ways to classify experience level, I like these definitions from Practical Programming:

  • Beginner lifter: Gets significantly stronger from workout to workout.
  • Intermediate lifter: Gets significantly stronger from week to week, or bi-weekly.
  • Advanced lifter: Gets significantly stronger from month to month, or longer.

By “significantly stronger”, I mean that you can add 2.5 kg (or 5 lb) and do the same number of reps, or use the same weight but do more reps.

If you’re still getting stronger from workout to workout, then our beginner squat program is right for you.

But if you’ve been training the squat for some time now and gains are harder to come by, you’re ready for intermediate-level training.

How to Increase Your Squat Strength at the Intermediate Level

When you’re a beginner, getting stronger is easy.

You follow a beginner workout program, slap on an additional 2.5 kg per workout, and enjoy the gains.

But after a while, this starts to get difficult.

Soon you will have to make several attempts at a given weight before you get all your sets and reps in (i.e. going from 5, 4, 4 reps to 5, 5, 5). And as soon as you succeed, you’re supposed to add another 2.5 kg and do it all again.

As you near the end of your beginner phase, this will get very difficult and start to wear you down.

The law of diminishing returns dictates that your gains will generally come the fastest and easiest in the beginning, and the more advanced you get, the more you will have to work for every extra plate on the bar.

This pattern is the same for any sport. And just like athletes in other sports, you need to make the same adjustments as you get more advanced, according to the fundamental training principles.

Generally, all of the following three increases as you get more advanced:

  • The necessary training volume. For the complete beginner, just a single set per week will lead to gains in strength and muscle size. But the more accustomed you become to your training, the higher the threshold you must overcome to stimulate continued gains.
  • The need for specialization. For the beginner, anything leads to an improvement in everything. A couch potato that takes up jogging will grow their leg muscles and improve their one-rep-max in the squat. But, the higher the degree of performance you want in your given sport or lift, the more you need to specialize your training for that goal.
  • The need for individualization. Similar to the above principle, a beginner program will work for everyone, more or less. As you increase your training volume and degree of specialization, it will become increasingly essential to fit the training to your capabilities and needs. One lifter might thrive on squatting three times per week, while another will just hurt their knees. Some will thrive on a high-volume program, while others gain better on something more moderate.

Intermediate Squat Training in Practice

So how should you train the squat as an intermediate lifter?

Generally, you will need to do three things:

  1. Plan your progress. The aforementioned definition of a beginner is that they get significantly stronger from workout to workout. Intermediate lifters can expect noticeable strength gains from week to week, or at least bi-weekly. Plan your progress rate accordingly.
  2. Increase your training volume. Likely, you will have to increase your training volume in the squat slightly, since your body is now more accustomed to the stimulus. This is an overarching principle in every sport, and strength training does not seem to be an exception. However, this does not have to be (and should not be) a drastic change. Try increasing your weekly squat volume in small increments and see how your strength reacts.
  3. Keep an open mind and be a student of the sport. The training program that works for your gym buddy might not necessarily work for you. Your genetics, training history, life circumstances, and even things like your personality will influence which training program you thrive on. That is why we have many different training programs in our workout log app, and write articles and guides on training here on this site: to educate you and increase the chances that you will find something that unlocks your maximum strength potential.

Now, let’s get into the outline of the intermediate program.

The Intermediate Squat Program

This intermediate squat program has two workouts per week and is six weeks long.

When you start the program in our workout app, you will have to enter your 1RM (one-rep max) in the squat, and the app will calculate the correct weights for you to use each training session.

Not sure of what your one-rep max is? Use our 1RM calculator to get an estimate.

Intermediate Squat Program 1RM
When you start the first workout, you will be asked to enter your squat 1RM.

For the assistance exercises, you will have to manually choose weights that enable you to complete the designated number of reps.

The Goal of The Program

The goal of this program is two-fold:

  1. Increase your strength in the barbell squat.
  2. Build bigger leg muscles.

To accommodate this goal, one of the workouts (the heavy) will use heavier loads for lower reps, and the other workout (the medium one) will use lighter loads and more reps per set.

The assistance exercises are there for the same purpose: increasing your squat strength, but also building your leg muscles.

Even if you mostly care about getting stronger in the squat, taking six weeks to add muscle mass by doing higher rep work probably increases your future strength potential.

You can realize this potential later by following a more strength-specific program with higher weights and lower reps, such as our advanced squat program or the Russian squat program.

Program Outline

This program contains one heavy squat workout and one medium squat workout per week.

  • Monday: Heavy weight
  • Thursday: Medium weight

Here’s an outline of the training week.

Workout 1 (Monday), Heavy

  1. Squat: Heavy weights and medium volume
  2. Good Morning
  3. Bulgarian Split Squat
  4. Seated Leg Curl

Workout 2 (Thursday), Medium

  1. Squat: Medium weights and medium volume
  2. Romanian Deadlift
  3. Leg Extension
  4. Seated Leg Curl

(Download our workout log app to see % of 1RM, number of sets, and reps.)

Intermediate Squat Training Program
The intermediate squat program is percentage-based, and StrengthLog will calculate your training weights in the squat based on your one-rep max.

Progression Method

Some people might think this program starts pretty easy. (If you don’t, you might want to consider lowering your entered 1RM a bit.)

However, the weights increase every week, and you’ll soon find yourself pushing the boundaries of your previous strength limits.

The heavy workouts will challenge your strength more than the medium workouts (although the latter might feel equally challenging because of the higher rep numbers), and both will increase in weight every week.

The medium workouts “feed” the heavy workouts. Meaning that before every new heavy workout comes around, you have been doing one medium workout to boost your muscle and strength gains.

This type of progression is called wave progression, or wave periodization, and the concept can be illustrated like this:

Wave progression
In wave progression, or wave periodization, the load increases in rising and falling waves.

Compare this to the training of the novice lifter, where the load goes up almost every workout for several months (also known as linear progression).

That is no longer possible as an intermediate lifter, and you need these microcycles before you can take another step up.

Later on, when you are even more adapted to training and have entered the advanced stage, you will need even longer cycles before you can take a step up.

Accessory Exercises in the Intermediate Squat Program

This program contains some accessory exercises to improve your squat.

The point of these exercises is to aid your muscular development without inducing more fatigue from additional squatting.

This probably won’t make a big difference in the short run. But in the long run, your muscle mass is one of the primary determinants of your squat strength.1

Let’s take a closer look at each of the accessory lifts.

1. Good Mornings

The good morning exercise works your lower back and glutes – two of the prime movers in the barbell back squat.

The key to this exercise is to start out with very light loads and focus on good form. Around 50% of your 1RM in the squat is usually a good starting weight for sets of five.

It can also help to think about pushing your butt back, rather than thinking about leaning forward.

2. Bulgarian Split Squats

The Bulgarian split squat works your glutes, adductors, and quad muscles (two other prime movers in the squat).

It does so unilaterally (one leg at a time) instead of bilaterally, like the squat.

The Bulgarian split squat is a great way to get some extra leg training done without loading your spine and lower back like many of the other squat variations do.

If you’ve never tried these before, prepare for having to practice your balance for the first few workouts.

3. Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is a classic exercise for working your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.

Like the good morning exercise, the key to proper form in the Romanian deadlift is to think “butt back” rather than leaning forward.

Don’t hesitate to use lifting straps in this exercise to enable better focus on your posterior chain muscles instead of your grip.

This is another exercise where it really pays off to prioritize technique over weight.

4. Leg Extension

Finally, an isolation exercise for one of the most important muscle groups for squatting: your quadriceps.

In contrast to many other lower body exercises where you extend your hip and knee simultaneously, the leg extension only has a knee extension element. This has the benefit of training your rectus femoris (one of the four quadriceps muscles), which doesn’t get worked to the same extent as the other quadriceps muscles in exercises like the squat.

Doing a few sets of leg extensions is a great way to add some meat to your quads, without incurring heavy strain.

Use fairly light weights and focus on squeezing your quadriceps.

5. Seated Leg Curl

Finally, the seated leg curl works your hamstrings. While the hamstrings aren’t prime movers in the squat, it is probably a good idea to keep some degree of muscle balance across your knee joint.

Additionally, one of the purposes of this program is to grow your leg muscles, so some direct hamstrings work is warranted.

Read More: Do Squats Work Your Hamstrings?

Training Days and Extra Rest Days

Training Days

Note that the weekdays stated in the program earlier are only examples. Train on whatever days you feel like, but try to get at least two days of rest between every squat day.

Extra Rest Days

For most intermediate squatters, doing two squat workouts per week is about right, especially if you plan on doing some deadlift training as well.

But, because we all have different recovery capabilities, you should not hesitate to add an extra rest day here or there if you feel beat up.

You might get the best results when you rotate through this program on eight or nine days, and someone else might get better results going through it on six days.

As long as you’re going forward, you’re good.

When You Reach The End of The Program

The squat weights keep increasing for six weeks, at which point you have reached the end of the program.

Did the last week feel easy, you made good progress, and do you think you can handle another cycle? Start the intermediate training program over but enter your new 1RM.

Did the last week feel heavy, and you don’t think you can handle another cycle? Then it’s probably time to move on to our advanced squat program.

What About Peaking For a New Max / PR Attempt?

The intermediate-level lifter should focus more on building his or her strength rather than testing it. This program is focused on training, not testing, and therefore does not end with a peaking phase and a PR attempt.

If you would like to do a peaking phase, simply do a few additional weeks where you practice with slightly heavier weights in the 1–3 rep range.

Then, when you’ve got some practice under your belt and feel like you might have a good day (which we never know, do we?), go into the gym with a training buddy to spot you and test your 1RM.

You can use our calculator for warming up for a 1RM, and then keep adding 2.5 kg or 5 lb to the bar until you fail.

Just make sure you have someone to catch the bar or safety racks set up so that you can put the bar down on them if necessary.

Follow This Squat Program in StrengthLog

This program is available in our app StrengthLog. The app is completely free to download and use as a workout tracker and general strength training app where all the basic functionality is free – forever.

The app also has a bunch of free programs and workouts. However, our more advanced programs (such as this one) are for premium users only.

Want to give premium a shot? We offer all new users a free 14-day trial of premium, which you can activate in the app.

Download StrengthLog for free with the buttons below:

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  1. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002 Feb;86(4):327-36. The role of FFM accumulation and skeletal muscle architecture in powerlifting performance.
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Daniel Richter

Daniel has a decade of experience in powerlifting, is a certified personal trainer, and has a Master of Science degree in engineering. Besides competing in powerlifting himself, he coaches both beginners and international-level lifters. Daniel regularly shares tips about strength training on Instagram, and you can follow him here.