The 20-Rep Squat Program for Previous Faculty Dimension and Power

Inform an skilled lifter to do 20 reps of curls and so they’ll say it’s too straightforward. Inform them to do 20 reps of pull-ups and so they’ll say it’s too exhausting. Inform them to do 20 reps of squats and, in the event that they know their stuff, they’ll begin to tremble.

The 20-rep squat program has an extended and fabled historical past within the energy and health group as a result of it emphasizes the fundamentals: the basic barbell again squat, loads of exhausting work, and a good quantity of psychological and bodily endurance.

Credit score: Bojan656 / Shutterstock

This time-tested plan is typically known as “the squats and milk program” as a result of plentiful entire milk consumption usually thought of half and parcel with the large leg train. Right here’s a have a look at how and why this training strategy has been a dependable staple for almost a century.

The 20-Rep Squat Program

Historical past of the 20-Rep Squat Program

In right this moment’s age of fast fixes and coaching hacks peddled by on-line “fitfluencers,” it is likely to be exhausting to consider that one particular exercise program originated within the Thirties and continues to be promoted as a viable routine within the twenty first century. Nonetheless, that’s precisely the case with 20-rep squats. This system was first popularized again when Babe Ruth was calling his shot. It had a resurgence within the ‘80s and the plan continues to be a go-to answer for constructing measurement and energy comparatively shortly.

Coaching within the Thirties

From 1914 to 1935, Power journal, recognized informally as “America’s First Muscle Journal,” was a month-to-month publication. It featured health and vitamin recommendation collectively recognized on the time as “bodily tradition,” fairly than “bodybuilding” or “powerlifting” since these actions hadn’t but formally begun.

Mark Berry was the journal’s editor from 1927 till the its chapter in 1935. Berry was additionally an Olympic weightlifter and nationwide weightlifting coach for the 1932 and 1936 Olympic groups. He used the journal to advocate for, amongst different techniques, high-repetition barbell squatting for including muscular bulk and strength.

The coaching program was constructed round one centerpiece train — the back squat — with only a few extra workouts, primarily to deal with the torso and arms. Any such abbreviated coaching plan was carried out two or three days per week, permitting relaxation and restoration on the remaining days.

The minimalist coaching was complemented by high-calorie foods to gasoline muscle progress. Particularly breads, fruits, eggs, and good quaint milk. These primary staples had been usually obtainable to most households, at the same time as The Nice Despair rolled throughout the nation.

One of many first names related to efficiently implementing this mass-building routine was Joseph Curtis Hise, or J.C. Hise, a reader of Mark Berry’s work. Hise wrote Berry to announce his outcomes after diligently following the 20-rep squat program. Hise gained almost 30 kilos of muscular physique weight in 30 days, and would go on to be an revolutionary and influential energy icon in his personal proper.

Persevering with Berry’s work, coaching recommendation centered round high-repetition squatting can be echoed in widespread health magazines over the a long time to comply with. Most notable was Peary Rader’s Iron Man journal within the Sixties, the place energy advocate and columnist John McCallum would proceed preaching the protocol’s advantages. The coaching tides would possibly’ve ebbed and flowed, however the 20-rep squat program continued to be a mainstay within the weight room.

“Tremendous Squats” and the ‘80s Health Craze

The Nineteen Eighties had been a comparatively wild time within the health world. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sly Stallone made muscular physiques mainstream in Hollywood; legwarmers and leotards stuffed business gyms; and follow-along exercise videotapes made their manner into houses.

Individuals had been getting their coaching steerage from an array of newsstand magazines, VHS cassettes, and exercise books typically emphasizing aerobics and excessive calorie restriction. In a probable welcomed change of tempo, one e-book specifically hit the cabinets in 1989 — “Tremendous Squats” by Randall J. Strossen, Ph.D.

“Tremendous Squats” featured the eye-catching (although debatably correct) subtitle: “How one can Achieve 30 Kilos of Muscle in 6 Weeks.” This was a transparent testomony to the numerous features and comparatively brief timeframe generally related to the 20-rep squat program.

In his e-book, Strossen recalled the teachings of Berry, Hise, and those that got here earlier than him within the lifting world. He additionally re-introduced the 20-rep squat program itself, intimately, whereas presenting associated concepts such because the significance of correct weight-reduction plan, ample relaxation, and even a bit discussing the proper angle and mindset for the difficult routine.

Whereas loads of emphasis was positioned on the thrice-weekly coaching classes, simply as a lot dialogue was given to reasonable goal-setting, monitoring progress, and constructing the self-motivation and psychological toughness wanted to finish all 20 repetitions.

Greater than 30 years since its first printing, Strossen’s e-book stays on the “recommended studying” record of many energy coaches, private trainers, and skilled lifters largely to its continued relevance and relevant classes.

How one can Program 20-Rep Squats

The 20-rep squat program has just a few elementary, non-negotiable elements in addition to common ideas that would enable a level of flexibility.

Respiration Squats

Performing a typical set of 20 repetitions is normally a reasonably simple state of affairs. Whether or not it’s a push-up, lat pulldown, or dumbbell curl, you usually simply raise and decrease the load persistently till the set is accomplished.

Nonetheless, with the 20-rep squat program, you’re not merely performing a set of squats for 20 reps. You’re performing respiratory squats, so named as a result of deliberate, deep respiratory is a compulsory a part of the train method.

Quite than exhaling whereas exerting drive and inhaling as you decrease the load, or bracing your core all through the motion and shortly stealing a mini-breath between repetitions, a set of respiratory squats is completed with very intentional respiratory — totally exhaling and totally inhaling a number of occasions— between particular person reps.

This extends the general length of the set, maintaining the load in your again for minutes at a time. A protracted length set means your physique stabilizers are put by way of a very long time underneath rigidity which can assist to set off systemic muscle progress. (1) Apparently, and maybe not surprisingly, trendy sports activities science analysis has validated the potential muscle- and strength-building advantages of the sort of mid-repetition resting protocol. (2)

long-haired person in gym straining lifting weights
Credit score: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock

As one would possibly anticipate, a number of permutations of respiratory squats have been tried through the years, manipulating the respiratory patterns with the loading and repetition efficiency. Two main strategies have remained.

Respiration squats will be carried out with a number of deep breaths between every particular person repetition. It is a extra conventional technique, in keeping with Berry’s unique advice. After unracking the bar and organising your stance, take two or three deep diaphragmatic breaths earlier than performing the primary repetition. Upon locking out within the standing place, take two or three breaths earlier than performing the following rep. This sample is sustained till 20 squats have been carried out.

This method is similar to the “cluster rep” technique and helps to take care of efficiency for longer length units. The set of “20 reps” can nearly be approached as 20 particular person repetitions (with out racking the bar between every repetition). This may also help to make sure optimum method and focus. It additionally accommodates lifters of any energy stage and will be carried out with any weight, in contrast to the following respiratory squat different.

Carry out a 10-repetition most raise with customary method, taking deep breaths from reps 11 to twenty. This method requires the lifter to load their 10-repetition max (10RM) on the bar and carry out a simple set of 10 reps with a typical respiratory sample. Upon reaching muscular failure, fairly than re-rack the load, the lifter stands within the locked out place and takes three to 5 deep diaphragmatic breaths earlier than performing an eleventh rep.

Upon lockout, take one other three to 5 deep breaths earlier than rep quantity 12. Repeat this grueling course of till you get up with the 20 th rep, earlier than gratefully racking the bar. For a lot of lifters, this “do 20 reps together with your 10RM” technique is the more difficult model as a result of it requires taking the motion to muscular failure earlier than persevering with the set one arduous squat at a time. It’s not unusual for lifters to easily be unable to finish all 20 repetitions with this method.

Help Workout routines

Whereas the barbell again squat is the coaching precedence of any 20-rep squat program, extra actions are wanted to deal with the remainder of the physique.

Sometimes these actions deal with the higher physique with little to no added lower body exercises. Performing an extreme quantity of help workouts would enhance fatigue and reduce restoration potential with out contributing considerably to outcomes.

shirtless muscular person in gym curling barbell
Credit score: Paul Aiken / Shutterstock

Within the early days of Mark Berry and J.C. Hise, the squat was complemented by the behind-the-neck shoulder press, barbell curl, and barbell pullover. This barebones plan allowed lifters to focus their vitality on finishing the squat portion at the start, with the supplemental workouts rounding out a really simplified “full-body workout” by coaching the chest, again, shoulders, and arms with the chosen workouts.

Strossen supplied two detailed exercises in “Tremendous Squats.” The “primary routine” was fairly complete and included the behind-the-neck press, bench press, barbell row, barbell curl, squat, a pullover variation, stiff-leg deadlift, calf raise, and crunch.

The e-book additionally supplied an “abbreviated program” for lifters who had explicit hassle gaining physique weight on the expansive primary routine. This condensed program required merely the bench press, squat, barbell row, and a specialised pullover variation generally known as a “Rader chest pull” — primarily a standing, static/isometric train that mimicked the mid-point of a pullover.

The frequent thread with any help coaching was to primarily goal the higher physique with a “pushing” exercise, a “pulling” exercise, and a few kind of pullover. The pullover, specifically, was typically recommended to “increase” the lifters’ ribcage. Whereas there’s no anatomical manner for that to happen, the train does effectively goal the again, chest, shoulder, and triceps muscle tissues, making it a wonderful selection for general upper-body progress.

Two to Three Exercises Per Week

The character of the 20-rep squat program — full-body exercises performing the squat in every session — permits three concentrated coaching days with 4 days of relaxation.

For lifters with a poor recover capacity or those that carry out important bodily exercise exterior the health club (similar to a profession in guide labor or enjoying rec-league sports activities), two coaching days might yield higher general outcomes.

muscular person performing barbell squat
Credit score: Dragon Photographs / Shutterstock

This is usually a drastic change of tempo for these extra accustomed to coaching 4 or 5 days per week with a extra standard bodybuilding-style training split. Balancing high-frequency coaching (working the squat in every exercise) with ample general restoration is essential for steadily recovering and rising throughout the course of the plan.

This depth of the 20-rep squat set is so excessive that many lifters come to comprehend, “if you happen to really feel like coaching extra days per week, you’re not pushing exhausting sufficient throughout the respiratory squats.”

GOMAD: Gallon of Milk a Day

The 20-rep squat program isn’t designed for lifters who wish to get lean. It’s not even essentially for these trying to get into “bodybuilding form” by concentrating on particular person muscle tissues, or lifters who wish to transfer heavy weights and hit new PRs.

20-rep squats are used, at the start, to achieve muscular body weight. That requires an abundance of high-quality calories to maximise restoration, progress, and efficiency within the demanding exercises. (3)

One keys to reaching the mandatory (arguably extreme) calorie surplus is a behavior promoted for the reason that program’s inception: consuming a major quantity of entire milk day-after-day, along with three hearty, well-balanced meals. Consuming milk as an alternative of meals is a standard however extraordinarily counterproductive mistake made by some lifters new to this system.

Person taking milk out of refrigerator
Credit score: TommyStockProject / Shutterstock

Entire milk has long-been related to constructing muscle. (4) It’s full of extremely environment friendly protein whereas delivering usable carbohydrates and calorie-dense fat to spherical out a whole vitamin profile. It’s additionally a comparatively cheap manner so as to add energy in comparison with entire meals sources.

Liquid energy (these which might be drank fairly than chewed) are usually much less satiating, which might make it simpler for lifters to soak up sufficient energy when their urge for food would possibly in any other case be an impediment.

Berry’s preliminary advice was two liters (a half-gallon) every day, delivering 1,200 complete energy. Strossen took a extra drastic method, suggesting lifters start with a half-gallon every day and progress as much as one full gallon per day to assist important progress.

Advantages of 20-Rep Squats

Excessive-frequency squatting, high-calorie consumption, and constant exhausting work must be a dependable recipe for progress within the health club. Right here’s what you possibly can anticipate if you push your self with the 20-rep squat program.


This program is inherently related to packing on kilos of muscular body weight. When the exercises are adopted and complemented by an abundance of energy, the size can be shifting up.

Whether or not you’re trying to go up a weight class in a sport or making an attempt to construct a base of muscle, 20-rep squats are one of the vital difficult, and simplest, bulking routines the health world has seen in nearly a century.


Emphasizing a single raise — the again squat, within the case of the basic 20-rep squat program — is an efficient manner to enhance energy, method, and general efficiency of that train. Spending 4 to 6 weeks centered on the again squat as your main decrease physique train ought to carry over to improved energy features general.

muscular person performing barbell squat in gym
Credit score: Nestor Rizhniak / Shutterstock

The supportive muscle tissues of your core and lower back additionally get recruited for high-frequency coaching. As they adapt, you’ll construct energy and endurance together with the capability to tolerate a higher workload, making them stronger stabilizers to hold over to different lifts.

Psychological Toughness

This profit may not appear as obvious or goal as muscular measurement or energy, however respiratory squats are infamous for constructing psychological toughness with every consecutive repetition. Once you’re standing at lockout, supporting the load throughout your higher again and taking every deep breath, you’re convincing your self you could full only one extra rep.

Repeating that constructive self-talk rep after rep, and exercise after exercise, and week after week can have a net-positive impact in your general psychological method to challenges, within the health club and outdoors of it. After some weeks of performing 20-rep squats, a “common” exhausting set of deadlifts or bench presses seemingly received’t appear as daunting in comparison with the battle of high-rep respiratory squats.

Drawbacks of 20-Rep Squats

Whereas the 20-rep squat program has survived and thrived by way of generations of lifters, it’s not and not using a few inherent situation. Right here’s what to observe for earlier than tackling this long-established coaching plan.

Physique Fats Achieve

Any kind of “bulking” routine is commonly related to a level of physique fats acquire. Whilst you can’t essentially rush the method of muscle-building, you possibly can encourage it by offering your physique with an abundance of vitamins — significantly energy and protein — to create new muscle tissue.

As soon as the speed of muscle tissue has been met, extra vitamins can be shuttled towards saved physique fats. That is typically seen as a “needed evil” when the objective is general muscular progress. Whereas the physique might solely have the ability to construct as much as two to 3 kilos of muscle tissue per 30 days, a caloric surplus is an environment friendly strategy to obtain the tip consequence. (5)(6)

Earlier than starting the 20-rep squat routine, perceive that lean ab definition is neither the objective nor the tip results of this system. That could be a goal for a later date, however the 20-rep squat program itself isn’t a method to that particular finish.

Restricted Growth

Any kind of minimalist program — one which makes use of few workouts and/or few coaching days per week — will knowingly compromise on general potential growth as it really works alongside a extra usually environment friendly coaching plan.

person standing with barbell across shoulders
Credit score: Mongkolchon Akesin / Shutterstock

The 20-rep squat program isn’t for lifters trying to develop a essentially fine-tuned, completely symmetrical physique. It’s additionally not for lifters trying to goal muscle teams with a number of workouts per session for optimum progress in a particular physique half. Actually, sure muscle tissues might go under-addressed within the short-term as a result of comparatively restricted train menu of the exercise plan.

That is needed by design, for the reason that 20-rep squat plan focuses on the squat itself and solely a handful of extra workouts for a number of weeks. It’s acceptable that the triceps or the abdominals or the calves don’t obtain direct coaching throughout the course of the plan as a result of the main focus is on efficiently finishing 20 reps of the squat, a number of occasions per week.

Had been this system to be continued for a long-term, this might probably increase noticeable growth points. One advantage of the coaching plan being deliberately a short-term coaching part is that these developmental points by no means come to go.

Pattern 20-Rep Squat Program

Able to sort out this time-honored coaching program? Right here’s a plan that’s fairly in keeping with Berry’s unique routine. Use the unique respiratory squat sample — taking two to 3 deep breaths between every repetition within the standing, locked out place. Repeat the exercise three days per week, with a minimum of in the future of relaxation between every session.

As a constant technique of progress, add 5 kilos to the squat every exercise. For instance, if you happen to carry out 20 reps with 185 kilos on Monday, use 190 kilos on Wednesday, 195 kilos on Friday, 200 kilos the next Monday, and many others. If you happen to fail to attain all 20 repetitions in a exercise, repeat the load for the next session till profitable.

The Basic Exercise

Again Squat 1 x 20

Pullover 1 x 15-20

Romanian Deadlift 2 x 10-12

Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 x 10-12

Reverse-Grip Pulldown 3 x 10-12

Laborious Work All the time Pays Off

With almost a century-long lineage, calling the 20-rep squat program “a novel expertise” is an understatement. For some lifters, the routine is a ceremony of passage marking full-fledged entrance to intense weight coaching. For others, surviving just a few weeks of 20-rep squats is a bucket record merchandise to be carried out for bragging rights, if not measurement and energy. Whereas some health traits come and go, this reliable coaching plan will proceed delivering features for generations to come back.


Do I’ve to carry out again squats or can I exploit a distinct leg train?

If you wish to comply with the letter of the regulation, then sure, barbell again squats are the normal selection for 20-rep squats. If you wish to adhere to the spirit of the regulation, then any squat variation that means that you can safely push your self to your limits, and past, can be utilized with out sacrificing a lot (if any) progress.
Actually, J.C Hise didn’t use the basic barbell again squat for his spectacular transformation. He machined a slight curve to his barbell so it could sit extra comfortably and extra ergonomically alongside his higher again. A number of a long time later, the same “buffalo bar” or camber bar would turn out to be a considerably commonplace barbell design permitting squatters to scale back shoulder pressure and enhance higher again stability.
Following his lead, utilizing a security squat bar or cambered bar for 20-rep squats would completely be acceptable. Workout routines just like the
front squat could also be problematic as a result of holding the rack place for the prolonged length will seemingly make higher again and core fatigue a limiting issue fairly than decrease physique energy.
Equally, deadlift variations would seemingly trigger your grip and/or decrease again to be the primary muscle teams to fail, limiting your potential to securely obtain all 20 repetitions. Machine workouts just like the leg press or hack squat just about eradicate your higher physique completely, making them usually much less environment friendly as the main focus raise of the plan.

Do I actually need to drink a gallon of entire milk a day? Would skim milk or a non-dairy different work?

Keep in mind that the aim of the milk is a cheap, nutrient-dense, meals that’s extraordinarily straightforward to get down. A full gallon is definitely not needed — Berry advocated for half as a lot.
Low-fat milk choices could possibly be thought of, so long as you issue within the comparatively lowered energy they ship. A half-gallon of skim milk delivers 720 energy in comparison with 1,200 energy of entire milk, with out buying and selling the standard protein content material.
Non-dairy options similar to oat milk, almond milk, or soy milk would additionally present considerably totally different nutrient ranges — most notably, the standard protein that’s indispensable for muscle progress however severely missing in lots of nut-based milk options. With out sufficient high-quality protein, your physique received’t have the literal constructing blocks wanted to restore and construct muscle. (7)


  1. Burd, N. A., Andrews, R. J., West, D. W., Little, J. P., Cochran, A. J., Hector, A. J., Cashaback, J. G., Gibala, M. J., Potvin, J. R., Baker, S. Ok., & Phillips, S. M. (2012). Muscle time underneath rigidity throughout resistance train stimulates differential muscle protein sub-fractional artificial responses in males. The Journal of physiology, 590(2), 351–362.
  2. Tufano, James J.1,2; Brown, Lee E.3; Haff, G. Gregory1. Theoretical and Sensible Features of Completely different Cluster Set Constructions: A Systematic Evaluation. Journal of Power and Conditioning Analysis 31(3):p 848-867, March 2017. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001581
  3. Slater, G. J., Dieter, B. P., Marsh, D. J., Helms, E. R., Shaw, G., & Iraki, J. (2019). Is an Power Surplus Required to Maximize Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy Related With Resistance Coaching. Frontiers in vitamin6, 131.
  4. Roy B. D. (2008). Milk: the brand new sports activities drink? A Evaluation. Journal of the Worldwide Society of Sports activities Diet5, 15.
  5. Thomas, M. H., & Burns, S. P. (2016). Rising Lean Mass and Power: A Comparability of Excessive Frequency Power Coaching to Decrease Frequency Power Coaching. Worldwide journal of train science9(2), 159–167.
  6. Brett A. Dolezal and Jeffrey A. PotteigerJournal of Utilized Physiology 1998 85:2, 695-700
  7. Tagawa, R., Watanabe, D., Ito, Ok. et al. Synergistic Impact of Elevated Complete Protein Consumption and Power Coaching on Muscle Power: A Dose-Response Meta-analysis of Randomized Managed Trials. Sports activities Med – Open 8, 110 (2022).

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