Friday, March 8, 2013

The 100 Squats A Day Challenge: Body Weight Squats Get Kids in Shape in Less Than 3 Minutes. Plus: Will Sitting Around Kill You, No Matter How Much You Work Out?

I know this photo from borders sexism, but you must understand ladies: Men are simple and lazy folks and you know about the importance of squats, anyways, right?
No, you're not mistaken exercise and fat loss science (at least statistically your favorites) in a single blogpost. And as if that was not already enough, two of my favorites are also part of the game: For one thing the subjects in the latest study from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya, Kagoshima, Japan deals with ways to tackle childhood obesity and for another thing, the results are quite impressive, despite the ingenious simplicity of the approach the scientists used to improve the body composition, increase the fitness level and build muscle strength and size in their adolescent study particpiants:

Do 100-rep body weight squats everyday after school!

For the ninety 13.7 ± 0.6 boys who participated in the study this meant that they were squatting to parallel for roughly 3 minutes 4-6 times per week, without extra weight.

Now you are probably thinking about some of the pampered and fattened Chinese children and how a body weight squat for them equals your 5-RM max, right? As unfortunate as it may be that this could in fact be the case, we are talking about Japan, here - not China - and our young subjects were by no means sedentary couch potatoes. On the contrary, they were 100% average Japanese school boys from a pilot school in Kagoshima (Japan). There were kids who played table tennis (n = 12) and volleyball (n = 11), participated in track and field (n = 5), and Japanese archery (n = 8) in the active arm of the study and baseball (n = 24) and soccer (n = 22) players, as well as boys who were swimming(n = 5) and practicing kendo (n = 3), regularly. In fact,
"[t]he number of times participating in a week and duration involved in their athletic activities in a day were 5.0 ± 2.0 days/week and 2.4 ± 0.9 h/day respectively."  (Takai. 2013)
And what's more, all of the active students did take part in competitions at a regional level. The effects you see in figure 1 were thus not of the "Biggest Loser" variety.
Figure 1: Changes in body composition (left) muscle size and strength (right) in adolescent boys after 8 weeks of doing 100 body weight squats 4-5x per week  (Takai. 2013)
Ok, the total amount of body fat, the boys lost was not earth shattering, but contrary to the aforementioned "biggest losers" there was not much be lost in the first place; plus, and this is really important, whenever we are talking about body recompositioning in adolescents. The effect was highly squat-specific and not a result of a group specific growth spurt (body height increased 6-7% in both groups in the course of the 8 weeks.

Let's not forget: There is more to physical culture & health than fat loss!

I know that fat loss probably is the "sexiest" benefit the (almost daily) squat episodes had, but let's not forget about the rest, i.e.
  • increases in lean body mass,
  • increases in muscle thickness and strength of the knee extensors, and
  • improved vertical jump height. 
 Which are certainly enough to validate the scientists conclusion that this simple and above all highly practical "exercise regimen" is a ...
"feasible and effective method for improving body composition, the strength capability of the knee extensors and jump performance in adolescent boys." (Takai. 2013)
I guess few of you will consider themselves "adolescent boys" any longer. Thinking of my 90-year old grandpa who did his squats and push ups every morning and made the German Sports Batch with ease even in the summer before he passed away, I am however pretty sure that you will be hard pressed  to find a man or women of any age who would not benefit from something as practical and time-efficient as doing 100 squats every morning before they hop under the shower.
Watching TV & eating junk is only part of the equation; what's missing here is the lack of sleep kids don't get, when they watch TV canned with coke and energy drinks all night (learn more).
A primer on frequent activity!? If you look at the number of studies associating the time you spend in a sedentary state with health outcomes ranging from cardiovascular disease over diabetes up to stroke and Alzheimer's that have been published only within the last months, it becomes more and more evident that the four workouts you may be squeezing into your tight "sit on your but and work" schedule ain't enough to keep you healthy, as long as you spend most of the rest of your time sitting (worst of all in front of a screen; cf. Wijndaele. 2007; Mark. 2008; George. 2013).

Now this wouldn't be science if there was not someone with counter-evidence such as Chaput et al. or Kwon et al. (2013), who found that moderate-to-vigorous (MVPA; ≥488 counts per 15 s) activity could very well protect adolescents from getting obese - whether the same applies to old(er) individuals is yet another story. That this probably ain't the case is supported by a study that's less than a week old and was published in the electronic version of the renowned journal Diabetologia ahead of print. According to Henson et al. who used "objectively measured" activity levels, breaks from sedentary time and total physical activity and MVPA of subjects with increased type II diabetes risk "were significantly inversely associated with measures of adiposity, but not with any other cardiometabolic variables after adjustment for sedentary time and BMI" (Henson. 2013; see Celis-Morales (2012) if you don't believe that using accelerometers instead of questionnaires makes a difference)).

My best bet is that we will never get a definite answer on this chicken or egg question, but an "in office" or "launch break" mini-workout is certainly not going to harm you - the same goes for taking the stairs instead of the elevator, for using the bike instead of the car or for walking to the small supermarket around the corner if you just forgot to buy some tomatoes or whatever.
The only thing that startles me is the absence of increases in sprint performance. It's difficult to say, but if you take a closer look at the baseline sports the participants were engaged in, my best bet is that the 24 baseball and soccer players in the control group, or rather their sports-specific training regimen are responsible for the difference. On the other hand, if we expand on this thought of confounding factors that may skew the study results, we would also have to expect that these boys should have major "fat burning advantage" over their table tennis, volleyball and esp. Japanese Archery counterparts in the active group. That being said, on a level playing field, the effect size may, in fact have been even more pronounced if the scientists had simply randomized the participants to the squat ad control groups.

If you also have something to hold to and do underhand chins, you can do a whole and in fact very effective full-body even when you are traveling. I mean, you still remember that the underhand pull-up is a formidable biceps exercise, as well (learn more)?
Bottom line: Much in line with the astonishing fat loss results Smith et al. observed in already fit crossfit athletes (cf. "Crossfit Your Way Down from 16% to 8% Body Fat"), the study at hand provides further evidence in favor of "light" full body workouts or plyometrics (cf. "Building the Jack-of-All-Traits Legs Workout With Squats, Jump Squats and Body Weight Plyometrics"), not necessarily as a replacement, but rather as an adjunct / way to diversify your habitual routine.

Tweaks / adjuncts like these may well be able to rekindle and maintain constant progress - especially in terms of physical conditioning and explosive performance. Not to mention that adding 50 push ups and pull-ups to the equation would make a perfect "travelers workout", which can be performed wherever you can bring and install a doorway pull-up bar. And if you can't do 50 in a row, just use a rest pause technique: Do as many as you can, rest, take 10-12 deep breaths and continue counting from where you stopped in your previous "set" until you hit the targeted rep range.

  • Celis-Morales CA, Perez-Bravo F, IbaƱez L, Salas C, Bailey ME, Gill JM. Objective vs. self-reported physical activity and sedentary time: effects of measurement method on relationships with risk biomarkers. PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e36345.
  • Chaput JP, Lambert M, Mathieu ME, Tremblay MS, O' Loughlin J, Tremblay A. Physical activity vs. sedentary time: independent associations with adiposity in children. Pediatr Obes. 2012 Jun;7(3):251-8.
  • George ES, Rosenkranz RR, Kolt GS. Chronic disease and sitting time in middle-aged Australian males: findings from the 45 and Up Study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2013 Feb 8;10:20.
  • Henson J, Yates T, Biddle SJ, Edwardson CL, Khunti K, Wilmot EG, Gray LJ, Gorely T, Nimmo MA, Davies MJ. Associations of objectively measured sedentary behaviour and physical activity with markers of cardiometabolic health. Diabetologia. 2013 Mar 1.
  • Kwon S, Burns TL, Levy SM, Janz KF. Which Contributes More to Childhood Adiposity-High Levels of Sedentarism or Low Levels of Moderate-through-Vigorous Physical Activity? The Iowa Bone Development Study. J Pediatr. 2013 Jan 7.
  • Mark AE, Janssen I. Relationship between screen time and metabolic syndrome in adolescents. J Public Health (Oxf). 2008 Jun;30(2):153-60.
  • Smith MM, Sommer AJ, Starkoff BE, Devor ST. Crossfit-based high intensity power training improves maximal aerobic fitness and body composition. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Feb 22. 
  • Takai Y, Fukunaga Y, Fujita E, Mori H, Yoshimoto T, Yamamoto M, Kanehisa H. Effects of Body Mass-Based Squat Training in Adolescent Boys. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 2013; 12:60-65.
  • Wijndaele K, Duvigneaud N, Matton L, Duquet W, Delecluse C, Thomis M, Beunen G, Lefevre J, Philippaerts RM. Sedentary behaviour, physical activity and a continuous metabolic syndrome risk score in adults. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 Mar;63(3):421-9. Epub 2007 Oct 31.


  1. I actually do bodyweight squats, bridges, pushups, and pullups (when there is something to hang from), throughout my day. I never go to failure and probably do 100+ reps of each over the course of a day. I can say confidently that my recovery from my 4x weekly workouts has improved and the number of reps I can pump out has increased as well. Convict conditioning for the win!

    1. *lol* you will be laughing, but I did actually after writing this post do 100 body weight squats and must now say that doing that in the office, may not be ideal. It's freakin' hot there anyway and at around 60 squats I began to realize that this ain't childsplay *pun intended* if you go slow and controlled and don't bounce back from the bottom by just having your tendons do the job for you.

      Reminded me of one seminar last semester, where I demonstrated how you can measure the acceleration profile while doing squats and push ups using a Nintendo WII and nobody wanted to do the push-ups so that I ended up doing them myself

    2. lmao doing them by yourself, that's funny. Try these next time, they are little intensity techniques that will make you cry lol. For squats, only go down so thighs are parallel and come up but don't lock-out knees using a 2-1-2-1 tempo and flex your legs the whole time. For pushups do 5 second static holds at the bottom position. The burn is brutal.

      On a similar note, try some squat latters at the end of your leg days. Begin by doing as many jumping explosive squats as you can, then when you fatigue start doing full squats, and ending with parallel squats. Awesome metabolic finisher.

  2. I am a sedentary person and what I do is not eat during my "sedentary times of the day". Just some ocassional coffee. Do not know if this is good or bad but probably much better than eating or taking sodas.

    Also, does any one have data about diseasses and cardiovascular problems in people who is on coma or in a hospital bed during years? Could be interesting to see.

    1. the people in hospital have actually more problems with "not falling apart" - not losing all their skeletal muscle. With the tightly controlled tube feeding this is not so much of a problem, but it certainly becomes, when they get out and are "skinny fat"

  3. When I work with computer, I set software timer to signal every 20 minutes and do 20-30 squats. After my previous feats colleagues already thinking I am nuts, so I don't bother if someone see me doing this.
    But on the other hand running to smoke every 20 mins is pretty normal nowadays.

  4. They should make all kids do 50-100 squats in the morning before they start class. I would love to see a year long study on that with health, concentration in class and other interesting results. No doubt someone's human right's would be being trampled on and it would never happen.

  5. My hip flexors tighten up on me (or is it my iliopsoas, which a chiropractor said is very tight?) so doing 100 squats all at once might be impossible for me. I did ten sets of ten just now, interspersed with foot flicks to the butt followed by dorsiflexion (training for track) and developed a light sweat.

  6. Thanks so much for this amazing resource. I've been reading for the past few weeks, trying to determine the best workout and supplement regimen. I understand that with Adel's scientific approach there are no easy answers, but I'm curious to hear what you think of my synthesis.

    I'm a 6'5 43 year old man with good blood pressure & in decent cardiovascular shape, weighing around 94 kg. I'm currently swimming 30 minutes three times a week, and lifting once a week. I am interested gaining muscle, and am willing to cut back swimming a bit so as not to burn out.

    I am on an intermittent fast, and work out after the fast.

    I realize supplements aren't entirely necessary, but I can afford them, so if they help at all I'm willing to give them a try.

    1 hour before workout:
    5g creatine
    5g baking soda
    (taking this now - I feel like it helps with swimming & lifting.)

    30 minutes before workout:
    green tea
    10g of BCAAs
    3g of taurine
    1.5g of beta alanine (cycle 6 weeks on/9 weeks off)
    1 Tbsp coconut oil
    (Not currently taking any of these other than tea or coconut oil.)

    After workout:
    30g of whey in glass of whole milk
    1 banana

    I've never been a particularly heavy lifter. I've considered following the stronglifts 5x5 program, but based on Adel's recommendation, I'm beginning the following full-body workout (2x/week):

    Decline Bench Press (5-10 reps)
    Cable Cross (12-15 reps)
    Pull ups to the neck (5-10 reps)
    Narrow underhand grip pull-down to the sternum (8-12 reps)
    Bodyweight dips
    Kettlebell clean (10-12 reps - instead of shoulder press & deadlift)
    Squats (6-10 reps)
    Leg curls (10-12 reps)
    Donkey calf raise (12 reps)
    Leg raise (10-15 reps)
    Crunches (25 reps)

    I have a cheap EMS unit I bought after a shoulder injury (subluxation from bicycle crash). I've used it a bit on my back & like the feeling. I could incorporate it as well, if anyone has a suggestion. It seems there's increasing evidence for their usefulness when combined with strength training.

    Finally, I wonder if anyone could comment about the safety of ordering supplements from either of these sites?

    Are the hard rhino bodystrong brands OK? Or are they from unregulated Chinese factories, and likely to be adulterated with something like melamine?

    I know this is a lot, and perhaps too much to ask, but would anyone care to weigh in?

    Thanks again.

    1. Woah, well I suppose I could voice an opinion.

      The fasting/pre-WO/PWO stuff all looks fine. My only thing is to make sure you eat a whole foods meal roughly an hour after your PWO shake.

      If you want to build muscle, I would recommend lifting 3x/week if you are a beginner and 4x/week if you are an intermediate (lifting for more than 6 months seriously). Once you decide which category you fall into, go ahead and put together a routine you like and resubmit it for critique. 3x/week should be full-body or upper/lower split alternating ABA BAB. 4x/week should be upper/lower split.

      No opinion on EMS unit.

      If you want to order supplements online, I personally use

    2. Thanks, Primalkid. What do you think of the above routine three times a week? If I did it, how often could I swim (I'm a bit addicted)?

      I'll check out truenutrition. I appreciate the recommendation.

    3. Decline Bench Press 3x6-8
      Standing Military Press or clean 1x12-15
      Pull ups to the neck 3x6-8
      Row variation 1x10-12

      Squats 2x6-8
      Squats 2x10-12
      Leg curls 3x8-10
      Calf raise 3x6-8

      1) Switch the upperbody heavy and light exercises everyday. So if heavy bench and chins with light military press and rows is *A*, and heavy military press and rows with light bench and chins (or underhand pulldown if you can't do 10 chins) is *B*, then your routine would be ABA BAB week 1/2 respectively. Lowerbody would stay the same.

      2) I didn't include any direct arm work or shrugs because I don't think it is necessary for a beginner. Furthermore, arms get hit in multiple rep ranges from the compound movements.

      3) To gain muscle you need adequate recovery. As Adel once said, exercise is only the anabolic trigger. You can do light swimming (no pushing it) 3-4x/week for 20-40 minutes. If you eat some food beforehand, the increased circulation may even aid recovery and growth. However, be sure you consume enough Calories to cover the increased activity level.

    4. Thank you. This is exactly what I was looking for (and much less than I was doing). Are the two square different in kind, or only in weight/volume?

    5. Should be "squats." Ipad autocorrect at it again.

    6. Squats are different only in intensity. You could swap one of the squats for leg press, but I personally think squats work better because you move the weight with your body = better growth response and fullbody workout. So after some warm-ups do your heavy squats then drop the weight and do some more metabolic squats.

      Almost forgot, on the heavy exercises use X120 (explosive concentric, hold 1 sec, 2 sec eccentric, no pause at start postition i.e. as soon as bar hits chest on bench explode up again. Also, just because the concentric portion is explosive does not necessarily mean the weight will move quickly, it simply means to push as hard and fast as you can while maintaining form (the weight on the bar will inevitably make the movement slow). For lighter exercises use 2020 (control the weight and *feel* your muscles work).

    7. Great. Thanks. By extension I take it 2020 means controlled 2 seconds up, no pause, controlled 2 seconds down. (No need to respond if I'm right - I'm mostly clarifying for future readers....)

      Now to find a workout partner so I can lift with a bar to capacity. I've been using dumbbells.

  7. Hi PrimalKid,

    The prices at seem reasonable. I see they have a referral program with discount codes. I'd rather use your code, as you are the one who actually helped me.

    Looking at the nutritional profile of their whey concentrate compared to NOW whey isolate, it looks like concentrate makes the most sense. (NOW is 89% protein/4 mg cholesterol, TrueNutrition whey is 77% protein/30 mg cholesterol. But I'm mixing it with milk anyway.)

    I'm not sure if a BCAA makes sense, as it's in the whey anyway. Maybe I'm a bit too enthusiastic....


    1. I don't have a code. I appreciate the thought though. Personally, I just use *LYLE* which will save you 5%. If you have any supplement questions, feel free to ask.

    2. Thanks. I think I'll start with whey concentrate, taurine and beta-alanine. Probably a little silly of me, but I'm in my forties now, so it couldn't hurt. The supplementation should make up enough calories for the added activity.

      Not sure if my pride will let me swim too easily, but I'll try...

      Thanks again for your help.

    3. On workout days just get your extra calories from a scoop of whey and 2 bananas. Taurine is awesome and I recommend taking 2-3g daily (maybe 1g pre & post workout and 1g with dinner). Beta alanine is best taken pre-workout because it mainly buffers acid production (2-5g depending on tolerance).

      Also, no need to give up your swimming, just don't go super hard and impair recovery.

    4. Thanks again for all of your help. Not to take too much of your time, but if it's principally a buffer, do you think taking both baking soda and beta alanine would be excessive for a beginner? (Though I can definitely feel the effect of baking soda when swimming - pretty sure it isn't a placebo. I've been sprinting and resting in a HIIT fashion.)

    5. This is where Adel is going to have to voice an opinion. I would assume they would have an additive effect, but then again you can only produce so much lactic acid. Also, since you are not doing super high volume workouts this becomes even less of a problem. If baking soda works for you then stick with it. Add in the beta alanine and see if it makes a difference. If not, then don't buy any more.

    6. Thanks. Creatine, baking soda, taurine and whey are probably more than enough to start. I feel like a beginner wearing all the trendiest gym clothes.

      I'll add in beta-alanine once I earn it, and eat more chicken in the meantime.

      By the way, I ordered from with the code *LYLE*. It took 5% off the order, but that wasn't terribly clear at first - it only showed up by comparing the invoice prices with the subtotal. I've emailed suggesting they make things more obvious. (I'm only mentioning this for the sake of future readers of this thread.)

      I bought their "high quality" whey powder, which from the forums on their site seems to have a similar nutritional profile to their "super quality." It was remarkably inexpensive, though shipping was a bit steep. Still, it seems to be the least expensive whey from a credible source.

      I gather condensed whey is fine for those of us not too worried about fat & cholesterol content. Less of an insulin spike, more bioactive compounds, and cheaper.

      Thanks again. I really appreciate your help.

    7. *puh* I am relieved, I am still needed here ;-) Just kiddin' but Primalkid, you are doing such a great job in answering the questions that I did in fact become lazy *rofl*

      wrt to the beta alanine and baking soda, there is a difference in WHERE it buffers. The baking soda is a systemic H-Buffer, the beta alanine is an H-buffer within the cell. Their effect SHOULD be synergistic, but in all honesty, I keep taking the baking soda, because I feel much better on it (the opposite is the case for BA, which I have stopped taking alltogether, also because the real world performance increase is minimal / I did never notice anything but tingles and a rash, when I escalated the dosage)

    8. Not to mention that baking soda is *much* cheaper than BA (and doesn't make your face tingle lol)

    9. this is a little too "private" to be written out on a blog, but I remember when I first started experimenting with BA there were certain other parts of my body which began to tingle as well... that did subside with time, though ;-)

    10. Thanks Adel. I appreciate that you reviewed Primalkid's plan, and it was as good as it seems. I'm following it now (though adding brief HIIT rowing sessions between sets on the third workout before my rest day, as per your earlier post.) I feel like I'm taking it easy, but maybe I was trying to take it too hard.

      Good to know I can keep skipping the beta-alanine.

      I'd love for you to summarize research on EMS machines, for those of us rational enough to see them as a training supplement, not replacement. There's quite a bit on PubMed.

      You provide a unique service and it's very appreciated. I'm sure you must be quite a physicist, considering how good you are at synthesizing these studies; but I hope if you ever tire of physics you'll consider this a possible calling.

      The Internet could transform the way fitness and diet research is done, increasing its scope and helping to free it from the influence of supplement and pharmaceutical companies. Distributed studies of hundreds or even thousands of people matching specific criteria are possible. Kickstarter could fund research athletes truly care about. Home genome sequencing services like twenty-three and me could allow researchers to profile ethnic responses to diet and fitness regimens(and, should compelling differences emerge, might eventually even underwrite studies.) The focus of research could shift from analysis of disease to human flourishing.

      The author of such studies could probably sell a few books, or help produce a "Biggest Loser" style show backed by cutting-edge science.

      But physics seems to be pretty important as well. ;)