Fun Exercise to Try at Home: Suicide by Squats

Let me tell you about a short, 16-minute exercise that I did a few weeks ago, an exercise that had an incredibly-unproportional impact, leaving me with the worst muscle soreness I'd ever experienced, by a very wide margin. It wasn't until the 13th day after this simple exercise that I got through the whole day without feeling its painful effects.

This exercise, which involves nothing more than simple bodyweight squats, was introduced to me with the name Death by Squats.

It's simple: Start a timer, then do two squats during the first minute, at whatever pace you like. During the second minute, do four squats, then six, then eight, and so on, increasing by two squats every minute until you can't perform all a minutes' requisite squats.

Generally speaking, I've got strong legs. I do a lot of long-distance cycling (100+ miles at a time), and many lessons at the gym include squats and lunges. It's common to do 50+ squats as a small part of an hour's routine. No big deal.

However, a lot has conspired to drive my fitness level down this year. In imagining what this exercise might be like, I thought that 40 squats in a minute wouldn't have been much of a challenge last year when I was in my best shape, but knew that I'd probably not get to that point (the 20-minute mark) in my current condition. Anyway, I gave it a try.

The whatever pace you like naturally meant for me that I'd do them quickly, then rest for the remainder of the minute. At first it felt silly, as the first minute's squats are done in three seconds, so I just stood around waiting for the next 57. Actually, during the early stages, I filled the waiting time with some simple tidying, such as putting laundry away. Such was how unchallenging the start was.

I was still fine by minute 10, finishing its 20 squats in about 25 seconds. At this rate, the 20-minute mark didn't feel so far away. But oh, how my hubris would soon be revealed. The insidious nature of this exercise is that while the amount of work increases, the amount of rest decreases.

Soon I was struggling. I was also struggling to keep my balance in the pool of sweat that had formed on the hardwood floor under me.

As fatigue slowed down my pace, the ever-increasing number of squats left less and less time to recover, and I finished the 15th minute's 30 squats with less than 10 seconds to catch my breath. I knew I'd never finish 32 squats in the next 60 seconds, but thought I should at least try to see how far I got. I finished 26 of them. Having failed to do the allotted number, I was done.

All in all, I'd done 266 squats in 16 minutes.

My legs were absolute jelly. I'd experience this while cycling, such as after an explosive effort on a short climb, but in those cases control would return in a few minutes. This time, I was still shaky in the evening, 12 hours later.

The muscle ache the next morning was monumental. Every movement hurt, giving me a certain that must have been great exercise satisfaction. In the past, muscle aches the next day are helped by light exercise, just to get the juices flowing, so I went out on very light bike ride. Oddly, I could cycle just fine, but when I got off my bike I could barely move without crippling pain.

I'd hoped that the light movement would have helped relieve the muscle ache, but the pain on the 2nd day after was unlike any I'd ever experienced. And on the 3rd, it was almost unbearable. I literally couldn't stand from a chair (or from the toilet) without plotting tactics on how to support myself on the way up. Attempting to walk down a set of steps was frightening, even while holding the rail, as I simply lacked the physical control to guarantee the legs wouldn't buckle.

Somewhere around this time I started to feel that the name Death by Squats wasn't as appropriate as Suicide by Squats, since it's something I did to myself. But then I realized that even more appropriate would be Botched Suicide by Squats, since I wasn't actually dead and so I was feeling pain and paying the price from what I'd attempted.

Sadly, Botched Suicide by Squats doesn't roll off the tongue so well, so Suicide by Squats it is.

The 3rd and 4th day after were the worst, but then it started getting better. The 13th day was the first that I felt no effects.

I have no explanation for why such a short little exercise had such a dramatic impact. It'll be interesting to see whether I see the same results next time.


All 3 comments so far, oldest first...

Generally speaking, I’ve got strong legs. I do a lot of long-distance cycling (100+ miles at a time), and many lessons at the gym include squats and lunges. It’s common to do 50+ squats as a small part of an hour’s routine. No big deal.

You’re confusing a two different concepts here. Being able to do a lot of a particular action over a period of time is endurance; strength is the ability to produce force against an external resistance (to use Mark Rippetoe’s useful definition).

Because of the different muscles tissue types involved, it is hard to to have both good endurance (Type I, slow twitch) and good strength (Type II, fast twitch) simultaneously:

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muscle
* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow-twitch_muscle
* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast-twitch_muscle

The number of rep(etition)s you do in a set determines the type of stress the muscles experiences, and thus what type of muscle fibre the body creates: 3-5 reps develops strength (Type II), 8-10 gives bulk (Type II, for body building usually), 12+ for endurance (Type I).

Some videos that may be of some use:

* “Strength and Endurance”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-XYS7wYz2I
* “Should your training be sport-specific?”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MO-GAXlvSw

Warning: Mark Rippetoe is both opinion and (at times) colourful, but he knows a lot about strength training and worth a least a cursory look at. His book, “Starting Strength”, is pretty good.

I do both when I cycle…. the endurance is obvious in a 200+km ride, but I also do short, explosive segments where I put out 1,000+ watts for five seconds or so at the start. Few people around here can keep up with me on an intense climb that takes less than a minute. My squats in the gym are only endurance (I do only bodyweight squats), which is what I see the Suicide by Squats as being. In any case, the info you cited is all good stuff, but I don’t understand what you think I’m confusing, nor how this explains the almost-two-week effect it had on me…. —Jeffrey

— comment by David Magda on September 23rd, 2017 at 11:39pm JST (2 months, 19 days ago) comment permalink

so should we get a group of cycling kyoto guys together at the river some time and get everyone to give it a try?

— comment by Yifen on September 27th, 2017 at 1:57am JST (2 months, 16 days ago) comment permalink

I heard two separate people I work with talking about this last weekend. Funny enough, both people mentioned it in context of asking for Ibuprofen.

Despite the fact that they were hobbling AND your description of the pain was quite convincing, I thought I might try it. See, I knew it wouldn’t be as bad for me as it was for them and you, because all of you are in far, far better shape than I.

And that turned out to be correct. You see, I reached the jelly-legged exhaustion stage while you would have still been in the folding socks and glancing at the watch waiting for the next minute. So I ended doing far, far FAR fewer squats. I was still plenty sore the next day, but I just hadn’t done the sheer number required to probably tear muscle fibers and cause the complete debilitation you experienced. However, in my low state of fitness, it’s still enough of a workout to actually do me good. I managed the last two days – I’ll try to continue. I doubt I’ll ever reach your state of extreme strength and endurance, so I’m unlikely to injure myself.

— comment by Marcina on September 27th, 2017 at 9:03am JST (2 months, 16 days ago) comment permalink
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