Update: I wrote this blogpost a month ago, but someone hacked my blog so I couldn’t post it. Over the past four weeks since performing this experiment, I’ve gone on to tie numerous squat and deadlift records despite just performing 1-2 hard sets of them per week and I’m still pain free.
Squats and deadlifts have been my bread and butter lifts for as long as I can remember. But over the past couple of years, I’ve felt myself getting beat down from them. My knees (especially my right one) were dodgy, and my low back was feeling beat up more often than not.
For this reason, I decided to embark on an experiment. Having realized that the smith machine allowed me to hip thrust pain-free and recently having received the Glute Drive, which also feels good on my knees, I wanted to see what would happen to my leg and glute size in addition to my squat and deadlift strength if I just performed hip thrusts, leg extensions, and Nordic ham curls (or leg curls) twice per week (zero squats and deadlifts – not even single-leg patterns).
What’s awesome about the smith machine and Glute Drive is that they allow me to go very deep. I get more hip flexion compared to when I use the Hip Thruster. In fact, when I perform smith machine hip thrusts, I use a taller bench than normal. I felt that going deeper would help me retain more squat and deadlift strength due to hip range of motion specificity.
During the last 8 weeks, my training has been amazing. Any low back and knee pain has vanished, and my workouts have been highly productive. Twice per week, I would perform 4 sets of either smith machine or Glute Drive hip thrusts, 4 sets of leg extensions, and 4 sets of either lying or seated leg curls or Nordic ham curls. I was performing 12 sets of lower body twice per week for a total of 24 weekly sets.
My sets were in the 6-30 rep range, with the average reps per set being 10. This is a lot more repetitions than I’m used to, but my body responded well.
Today, I tested my 1RM squat and deadlift strength. I hit a 405lb full squat and a 565lb sumo deadlift. This was surprising as I hadn’t performed a single rep of squats or deadlifts in 8 weeks, nor had I performed anything with a wide stance in that same amount of time. I believe I likely could have hit a 425lb squat if I wanted, and I probably could have a hit 585lb deadlift if I allowed for more slop. This is right around what I was lifting 8 weeks ago. Interestingly, the squat and deadlift movement patterns did feel unnatural. In fact, I felt very uncoordinated and awkward – similar to how I used to feel decades ago when I was first learning them, but my strength was still there.
I also reached all-time highs in leg extension strength, Nordic ham curl strength, and smith machine and Glute Drive hip thrust strength. I believe my glutes have grown slightly during this time, and my legs don’t seem to have lost any size.
If you are finding yourself in a lot of pain from squats and deadlifts, you can try this experiment too. Avoid them for 8 weeks, let your body heal up, and then go back to the lifts – this time without the pain. Pain inhibits muscle activation, so you’ll never experience maximum muscular gains if your body isn’t feeling good.
This experiment has taught me that hip thrusts are more effective than I ever could have imagined. There are a couple of papers showing incredible transfer from hip thrusts to squats, and one that will eventually be published showing great transfer from hip thrusts to deadlifts. These studies used beginner trainees as their subjects, however, not advanced lifters.
I don’t think leg extensions are tremendously helpful at retaining squat strength, but I do feel that Nordic ham curls are effective in helping retain deadlift strength.
Sometimes in training, we must take one step backwards in order to take two steps forwards. This 8-week program can allow you to unload your body and heal up while retaining most of your strength and muscle mass (possibly even gaining muscle).
Bear in mind this is an n=1 experiment. I look forward to hearing back from some of my followers to see if they experience similar results from this routine.
Monday and Thursday:
4 sets of hip thrust for 6-30 reps (I did them on the smith machine or Nautilus Glute Drive)
4 sets of leg extensions for 10-20 reps
4 sets of either Nordic ham curls (3-5 reps) or lying or seated leg curls (10-20 reps)