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

Inform an skilled lifter to do 20 reps of curls and so they’ll say it’s too simple. Inform them to do 20 reps of pull-ups and so they’ll say it’s too laborious. 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 a protracted 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 laborious work, and a good quantity of psychological and bodily endurance.

Credit score: Bojan656 / Shutterstock

This time-tested plan is usually 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 take a look at how and why this training strategy has been a dependable staple for practically a century.

The 20-Rep Squat Program

Historical past of the 20-Rep Squat Program

In at present’s age of fast fixes and coaching hacks peddled by on-line “fitfluencers,” it could be laborious to consider that one particular exercise program originated within the Nineteen Thirties and continues to be promoted as a viable routine within the twenty first century. Nevertheless, 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 rapidly.

Coaching within the Nineteen 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,” quite 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 ways, 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 further workout routines, primarily to deal with the torso and arms. Such a 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 gas muscle progress. Particularly breads, fruits, eggs, and good quaint milk. These primary staples had been typically accessible 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 practically 30 kilos of muscular physique weight in 30 days, and would go on to be an progressive and influential energy icon in his personal proper.

Persevering with Berry’s work, coaching recommendation centered round high-repetition squatting can be echoed in standard health magazines over the a long time to observe. Most notable was Peary Rader’s Iron Man journal within the Nineteen Sixties, the place energy advocate and columnist John McCallum would proceed preaching the protocol’s advantages. The coaching tides may’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 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 crammed industrial gyms; and follow-along exercise videotapes made their method into houses.

Folks had been getting their coaching steering from an array of newsstand magazines, VHS cassettes, and exercise books typically emphasizing aerobics and excessive calorie restriction. In a possible 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: “The right way to Acquire 30 Kilos of Muscle in 6 Weeks.” This was a transparent testomony to the numerous beneficial properties and comparatively brief timeframe generally related to the 20-rep squat program.

In his e-book, Strossen recalled the teachings of Berry, Hise, and people who 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 loss plan, ample relaxation, and even a piece discussing the right angle and mindset for the difficult routine.

Whereas loads of emphasis was positioned on the thrice-weekly coaching periods, 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 “prompt studying” record of many energy coaches, private trainers, and skilled lifters largely to its continued relevance and relevant classes.

The right way to Program 20-Rep Squats

The 20-rep squat program has a couple of basic, non-negotiable points in addition to normal rules that would permit a level of flexibility.

Respiratory Squats

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

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

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

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

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

As one may count on, a number of permutations of respiration squats have been tried through the years, manipulating the respiration patterns with the loading and repetition efficiency. Two major strategies have remained.

Respiratory squats will be executed with a number of deep breaths between every particular person repetition. This can be a extra conventional technique, in keeping with Berry’s authentic suggestion. After unracking the bar and establishing 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 keep up efficiency for longer period units. The set of “20 reps” can virtually be approached as 20 particular person repetitions (with out racking the bar between every repetition). This can assist to make sure optimum approach and focus. It additionally accommodates lifters of any energy degree and will be carried out with any weight, in contrast to the following respiration squat different.

Carry out a 10-repetition most carry with normal approach, 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 an easy set of 10 reps with a typical respiration sample. Upon reaching muscular failure, quite 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 along with your 10RM” technique is the tougher 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, further actions are wanted to deal with the remainder of the physique.

Sometimes these actions concentrate on the higher physique with little to no added lower body exercises. Performing an extreme quantity of help workout routines would enhance fatigue and reduce restoration means 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 firstly, with the supplemental workout routines rounding out a really simplified “full-body workout” by coaching the chest, again, shoulders, and arms with the chosen workout routines.

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 specific 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 referred to as a “Rader chest pull” — primarily a standing, static/isometric train that mimicked the mid-point of a pullover.

The widespread thread with any help coaching was to primarily goal the higher physique with a “pushing” exercise, a “pulling” exercise, and a few sort of pullover. The pullover, specifically, was typically prompt to “increase” the lifters’ ribcage. Whereas there’s no anatomical method for that to happen, the train does effectively goal the again, chest, shoulder, and triceps muscle mass, making it a wonderful selection for total 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 vital bodily exercise exterior the gymnasium (resembling a profession in guide labor or enjoying rec-league sports activities), two coaching days might yield higher total outcomes.

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

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

This depth of the 20-rep squat set is so excessive that many lifters come to appreciate, “if you happen to really feel like coaching extra days per week, you’re not pushing laborious sufficient through the respiration 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 seeking to get into “bodybuilding form” by focusing on particular person muscle mass, or lifters who wish to transfer heavy weights and hit new PRs.

20-rep squats are used, firstly, 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: ingesting a major quantity of entire milk daily, along with three hearty, well-balanced meals. Ingesting milk as a substitute of meals is a typical 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 filled with 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 method so as to add energy in comparison with entire meals sources.

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

Berry’s preliminary suggestion was two liters (a half-gallon) every day, delivering 1,200 whole 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 vital progress.

Advantages of 20-Rep Squats

Excessive-frequency squatting, high-calorie consumption, and constant laborious work ought to be a dependable recipe for progress within the gymnasium. Right here’s what you’ll be able to count on 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 shall be shifting up.

Whether or not you’re seeking 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 crucial difficult, and simplest, bulking routines the health world has seen in virtually a century.


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

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

The supportive muscle mass 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 larger 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 respiration squats are infamous for constructing psychological toughness with every consecutive repetition. If you’re standing at lockout, supporting the load throughout your higher again and taking every deep breath, you’re convincing your self which 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 total psychological method to challenges, within the gymnasium and out of doors of it. After some weeks of performing 20-rep squats, a “common” laborious set of deadlifts or bench presses probably received’t appear as daunting in comparison with the battle of high-rep respiration squats.

Drawbacks of 20-Rep Squats

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

Physique Fats Acquire

Any sort 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’ll be able to 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, further vitamins shall be shuttled towards saved physique fats. That is generally seen as a “needed evil” when the aim is total muscular progress. Whereas the physique could solely be capable of construct as much as two to 3 kilos of muscle tissue monthly, a caloric surplus is an environment friendly solution to obtain the top end result. (5)(6)

Earlier than starting the 20-rep squat routine, perceive that lean ab definition is neither the aim nor the top results of this system. Which may 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 sort of minimalist program — one which makes use of few workout routines and/or few coaching days per week — will knowingly compromise on total potential growth as it really works alongside a extra typically environment friendly coaching plan.

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

The 20-rep squat program isn’t for lifters seeking to develop a essentially fine-tuned, fully symmetrical physique. It’s additionally not for lifters seeking to goal muscle teams with a number of workout routines per session for optimum progress in a particular physique half. In actual fact, sure muscle mass could 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 further workout routines for a number of weeks. It’s acceptable that the triceps or the abdominals or the calves don’t obtain direct coaching through 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 elevate 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 authentic routine. Use the unique respiration 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 not less than at some point 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. When you fail to realize 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

Arduous Work At all times Pays Off

With practically 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 a couple of weeks of 20-rep squats is a bucket record merchandise to be executed for bragging rights, if not measurement and energy. Whereas some health developments come and go, this reliable coaching plan will proceed delivering beneficial properties for generations to return.


Do I’ve to carry out again squats or can I take advantage of a special leg train?

If you wish to observe the letter of the legislation, then sure, barbell again squats are the standard selection for 20-rep squats. If you wish to adhere to the spirit of the legislation, then any squat variation that lets you safely push your self to your limits, and past, can be utilized with out sacrificing a lot (if any) progress.
In actual fact, 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 might 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 period will probably make higher again and core fatigue a limiting issue quite than decrease physique energy.
Equally, deadlift variations would probably trigger your grip and/or decrease again to be the primary muscle teams to fail, limiting your means to soundly obtain all 20 repetitions. Machine workout routines just like the leg press or hack squat nearly remove your higher physique fully, making them typically much less environment friendly as the main focus carry of the plan.

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

Do not forget that the aim of the milk is a reasonable, nutrient-dense, meals that’s extraordinarily simple to get down. A full gallon is actually 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 diminished 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 alternate options resembling oat milk, almond milk, or soy milk would additionally present considerably completely different nutrient ranges — most notably, the standard protein that’s indispensable for muscle progress however severely missing in lots of nut-based milk alternate 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 below stress 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 Buildings: 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 Vitamin5, 15.
  5. Thomas, M. H., & Burns, S. P. (2016). Growing 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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