Now that you understand the heavy squat is the only thing between us and a deadly tornado of sharks, you want to know: how often and how heavy? Enter the elixir of macho mens, the favorite topic of meatheads everywhere, the one thing Jersey Shore’s “The Situation” can talk intelligently about…the squat program.

The premise of any progressive strength program is that you get stronger as weights go up. Duh. But this incredibly simple principle produces a seemingly endless supply of programs, each one promising to make you not just stronger, but stronger than any other program or routine can make you.

You’re grown, you can choose. The top 6 squat programs, starting with the ones most appropriate for those just getting serious about heavy squatting, and ending with the one as ridiculous as the sharknado:

1. Starting Strength Novice Program. At its most basic, you’re doing 3 sets of 5 heavy squats three times a week. Once or twice a week, you’ll throw in either a set of 5 heavy deadlifts, or 5 sets of 3 power cleans. As with any other starter program, there’s no need to geek out about percentages and maximum lifts. Just add 5-10 pounds each week to your squat, maintaining form and depth. While 8-12-rep sets are good for bodybuilders and people who are more interested in hypertrophy (muscle size) than maximal strength, anyone who wants to increase their maximal strength will increase the weight and reduce the reps. To explain why, there’s a lot of science-y debate about the effect of hi-rep vs. lo-rep schemes on your muscles’ myofibrils and sarcoplasm. An explanation that’s good enough for me is that you get better at doing the things you do. If “stronger” means increasing your maximal lift, then lift heavy for fewer reps.

2. Starter Program for Olympic Lifting. This isn’t exclusively a squat program.  Rather, it incorporates squats as part of basic training for someone learning the Olympic lifts (snatch and clean & jerk). I like how it rotates through the heavy squats each week, emphasizing the front squat because of its carryover value to the Olympic lifts. As a program for folks new to Olympic lifting, it is appropriately simple about what weight to use: “heavier than last week” is the main instruction. If you go want to continue down the Olympic lifting route, a great resource is Catalyst Athletics, which puts all its training cycles on one easy-to-access page.

3. 20-Rep Squat Routine. This is brutal. For six weeks, you squat three times a week, each time putting in one set of 20 reps. To figure out your starting weight, there’s a formula that’s based on your 5 rep max. As with other intermediate/advanced programs, much of the magic comes from limiting the rest of your workout so your body has time to recover. Back in the day, the rest was combined with drinking a lot of milk – a gallon a day – to pack on the mass. The 20-rep squat program got a big boost recently when the son of legendary Jack LaLanne incorporated it into their crossfit program, and then an even bigger boost when the number one superman crossfitter Rich Froning gave it his stamp of approval. When used in this way, as part of a conditioning program rather than for getting huge, the most common protocol is to do the 20-rep sets only twice a week rather than three times, and to get it done before you hit your metcon. The gallon of milk becomes optional.

4. Stronglifts 5×5. This is not a program for beginners – it’s designed for serious weightlifters who have hit a plateau with their strength gains. The 5×5 is just like it sounds. You’re hitting the gym three or four times a week and you’re doing 5 sets of 5 heavy squats every time you’re there. If that seems like a lot of heavy squatting, it is. What makes the 5×5 program work is that you pretty much do nothing else. There are two other exercises each day (bench press and row, or overhead press and deadlift), but they’re there mostly to make you feel like finding your shoes was worth the trouble. It’s about as boring as it sounds, but it will certainly increase your max squat. For most people, the 5×5 program’s gains will seem too limited to be worth the lockdown on the rest of your exercise program. I think the only two reasons to dedicate a few months to 5×5 program is if (1) you want to become a competitive powerlifter, and so need to increase your 1-rep max back squat, or (2) you’re needing foundational strength gain in your Olympic lifts. It the latter case, doing 4-6 weeks of 5×5 with front squats could be worth the focus.

5. Russian Squat Routine. Again, not for beginners. This is a six week program of squatting three days a week. The first three weeks keep you at the same weight while building up the volume, then the next three weeks brings the volume down while increasing the load. Compared to the outrageous claims made by promoters of other routines, the Russian squat routine’s goal to add about 5% to your max at the end of 6 weeks sounds downright meager. But this program actually delivers that 5% for most people, and if you are able to stay disciplined and on task, it can be incorporated into a more general conditioning program. The good people at Dragon Door developed a version of this routine that has you squatting only twice a week over an eight week period. It’s good for older knees, and for those of your who are do other things, like queerfit, and only go into a gym twice a week.

6. Smolov Routine. This is the big daddy of all the squat programs, with the most outrageous claims: it promises to “increase your squat by 100 pounds” if you stick with the numbers. Whether anyone has every actually stuck with the numbers is up for debate. The overall routine is thirteen weeks, broken down into five cycles. It’s more squats at heavier loads than any other program, and is designed for folks who are strong, experienced squatters and who have the mental fortitude to consistently go super-heavy day after day after day. Smolov starts with two weeks of prep, then grinds away through a four week “base mesocycle” where you’re squatting with very heavy loads four times a week. Ouch. You then take a two week “break” where you do other kinds of other squats, before hitting another four week “intense mesocycle” where you cut back to three times a week, but at near max load.  You get a week to taper, and then test. You’re not going to add 100 pounds to your squat with the Smolov, but the bearded nerdball and Outlaw coach Rudy Nielsen is currently programming with a Smolov Jr. calculator, so we’ll soon see what kinds of gains his athletes are making with a 3-week version of Smolov.

And there you have it. Put something heavy on that bar and squat away, friends.