One of the more frequent questions I receive in regards to programming is the placement of squats in a training session. The squat, front or back, is an accessory exercise and as such is given less emphasis than the competition lifts.
However, the relationships between squat load and the competition lifts are pretty well reported, meaning as the squat load increases so will the snatch and clean & jerk, assuming an appropriate amount of time is spent performing the comp lifts in addition to the squats…which is really another post entirely.
For those who have downloaded the Free Training Course or purchased “The Next 8-Weeks” ebook you may have seen that I am in favor of performing the squat either first or last in a training session.
Squatting last is pretty common. The slow grinding nature of a heavy set of squats can induce a large amount of fatigue in a lifter. The timing and coordination needed to perform the snatch and clean & jerk require that you are fresh to receive the greatest benefit. During periods of high volume training, adding squats at the end of the session are a quick and easy way to further increase total volume without having to perform an excessive number of comp lifts, to the point where technique may degrade due to fatigue.
Squatting first in the session is not that common in all training programs. Besides the snatch and clean & jerk, the squat is the most important exercises a lifter can perform and deserves some emphasis in the program. Putting them first, allows you to improve strength and increase training load, and in some cases improve technique in that exercise as well.
Squatting first takes a little getting used to in the sense that the exercise performance immediately afterwards may decrease slightly due to fatigue; but this should improve over time as you are conditioned to the training load. I use squats first pretty frequently in my programs, usually 1-2 days per week but only during periods of training at least 4-weeks out from competition. The time period immediately before a meet requires focus on the competition lifts. Further out from a meet, squatting first allows you to really push the weight used in the exercise which should lead to an improvement in competition total, or at minimum the training loads used prior to competition.
An easy way to adjust your training to squatting first may be to use 2 days per week to squat heavy and then perform the comp lifts (or variations) at a lower intensity. The other 2-3 days per week, the comp lifts are performed at higher intensities first in the session.