20 Rep Squat Program

The 20 rep squat program is one of the oldest lifting programs there is. It was introduced by John McCallum in 1968 and was originally coined “Squats and Milk” because old school lifters would drink a gallon of milk a day (GOMAD) while on it. Tom Platz used 20 rep squats as a staple in his routine and had some of the biggest and strongest legs on the planet.

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For this routine you will be squatting 3 times a week with one set of 20 repetitions each workout. Your goal is to add five pounds to your 20 rep max each training session. This program is only 6 weeks long so you have to go all out every training session. To determine your starting weight, figure out your 5RM(5 rep max) and subtract 5lb from every workout from the 6-week period. If your 5RM is 300lb and you train three times a week for the six weeks, your starting weight would be 210lb. The difference is 90lb, so your goal after 6 weeks will be to squat 20 reps with the 300lb. It sounds made up, but a lot of elite lifters and strength coaches can vouch for it’s authenticity, including Mark Rippetoe.

“Trust me, if you do an honest 20 rep program, at some point Jesus will talk to you. On the last day of the program, he asked if he could work in.”- Mark Rippetoe

This routine is not for the mentally weak individual. It will test your will power and bring you to a threshold that will either make or break you. One of the reasons why this routine works so well is the “breathing squats”. Generally around rep 15 or so you’ll be out of breath, legs burning, telling yourself this was a horrible idea while you stand there with the weight on your back. At this point the reps come few and far between as you muster up the strength to squat out another rep. These last few reps result in the strength and hypertrophy that make this routine legendary.

There are many variations of this routine to choose from, pick one that fits your skill level. Remember you are going to be doing this three times a week. The classic Monday, Wednesday, Friday works good with this, but if you feel you simply cannot recover lower it down to two days a week using something like Tuesday, Friday. Beginners may also want to use the “scaled down” version and start off lifting only twice a week from the get go.

squat

The Original 20 Rep Squat Program

Exercise Sets Reps
Behind-the-Neck Press 3 12
Squat 1 20
Pull-Overs 1 20
Bench Press 3 12
Bent-over Rows 3 15
Stiff-legged Deadlift 1 15

20 Rep Squat Program-Scaled Down

Exercise Sets Reps
Squat 1 20
Pull over 1 20
Overhead press 2 10
Power clean 2 5

20 Rep Squat Power Program

Exercise Sets Reps
Power Cleans 5 3
Squat 1 20
Military Press 2-3 12
Chin-ups 2 do until failure
Dips 2 10
Conventional Deadlifts 1 15

Big 3-20 Rep Squat Program

Exercise Sets Reps
Squat 1 20
Pull-Overs 1 20
Bench Press 2-3 10
Bent-over Rows 2-3 15

 

You can make your own variation of this routine as long as you leave the squat untouched, the reason being it is the foundation of this program. A good variation should include at least one pushing, pulling, and stretching movement. You should stick with basic movements such as the bench press, pull-ups, military press, pull-overs ect. A good approach if you’re starting out is to do one set of each three times a week. Once the six weeks are up you should switch over to a heavier program such as a basic 5×5 routine. The high rep work will leave your body primed for a low rep program due to the increased muscular endurance and the break away from heavy weights.

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The Milk

milk

Gomad, or gallon of milk a day, has been a method used by weightlifters for decades. It is a technique used to gain vast amounts weight and strength quickly. It fits with the 20 rep squat program so well because all of the extra protein and calories make it ideal for recovery. If you can manage to do gomad for six weeks you will definitely reap the full benefits of the 20 rep squat program. You are still fully capable of making progress without it as long as you are eating enough and meeting your protein requirements (at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight everyday).

Benefits of milk

-High Protein. You need protein to build muscle & prevent muscle loss. 1 gallon of whole milk contains 120g protein. 80% casein, 20% whey.

-High calories. You can eat as healthy as you want, but if you’re not giving your body the tools it needs to grow stronger then it can’t no matter how much protein you consume. Could you build a house of cards without any cards?

-High Carb. The dextrose in whole milk spikes insulin, a muscle building hormone which tells your body to move the proteins into your muscles.

-Saturated Fat. Increases testosterone levels, which means more muscle & strength. Don’t believe the cholesterol myths: saturated fat is healthy. Contrary to popular belief dietary cholesterol doesn’t effect blood cholesterol.

You can read more about the benefits of milk here.

Common Questions

What happens if I fail to get my set of 20 reps?

Don’t worry about it just rest up and throw on the same weight as last time and go for 20 again.

What happens if I miss it a second time?

You will want to consider only using a 2 day split instead of three at this point.

Is there a variation I can use for circuit training?

Yes there is all you really have to do is fit in your one set of 20 rep squats. You will most likely want to do these first. You can try something like the example below:

-Squat: 1×20
-Pull-Overs: 1×20
-Circuit training:
-3 rounds of bodyweight Chin-ups, Dips, and Sit-ups.
-Everything is taken to failure and 1 min rest is taken between exercises.

Can I go longer than 6 weeks

If you feel you can and are still making progress than yes. The 6 week limit is there because that’s how long most people last both mentally and physically.

How long until I can do this program again?

The rule of thumb is to wait another six weeks.

Can I add in more upperbody work?

If your recovery ability permits you to then by all means add what you want. The squats themselves will also work your upperbody.

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36 thoughts on “20 Rep Squat Program”

    1. Hi,

      As someone who has completed this a few years back, I can confirm its one of the most satisfying workouts you can possibly do, I added 14lbs body weight in 6 weeks.

      I started with 40kgs for 20 reps and finished on 100kg for 20reps as that was my target weight. Yes I know its not a lot in the grand scheme of things but it just goes to show how much can be achieved in a short space of time. I was 48yrs old at the time, the one thing I noticed is that maybe 1 in every 4 or so was easier than expected, and maybe 2 in 4 were harder than expected, all were hard however and the relief of completing the set felt great, Well after about 5mins or so after I got my breath back and a huge smile on my face. What can I say apart from its the hardest physical thing you will ever do. Give it a go as everything else you will ever do pales into insignificance. One thing to note you must warm up a little and get some blood into your legs before you start, also if you feel a strain just stop and start again the following day, don’t ever give up.

  1. I did the 20 rep squat program and on the first day I shit my pants. I was humiliated at the gym. I would not recommend it to anybooooody.

  2. Do I the same formula for starting weight for the other exercises? Do I increase the weight on those 5lbs each training session as well?

  3. I did a variation of this program and loved it! After 20 reps you feel every inch of muscle the squats work. I did it twice a week for about four weeks before I missed a set of 20. I plan on using another routine for about four weeks then going back to a 20 rep 3X a week routine,this time with the milk included.

    1. A belt is an absolute must, in my opinion. I didn’t use wraps, but I never use them. You need to intake a lot of breath between squats, so the belt shouldn’t be too tight or you won’t be able to get the breath.

  4. I’m looking at doing this once I finish my current routine and I see this goes hand in hand with doing the milk program as well. However, I am lactose intolerant, is there anything else that you guys could advise to keep the cals etc up instead of consuming milk?

    1. I am too a lactose intolerant yet I started it today. I started it with little more than 1 litre of milk and after few days I will double this amount and within 10 days I will drink 1 gallon. In the morning I faced lil loose motion after the first glass of milk but den I added some flovour to it everytime and I am very f9 ryt now at night. Thank u and lets hope for the best

    2. People are lactose intolerant, because their body doesn’t produce the digestive enzyme lactase. However, most people who are lactose intolerant can drink raw milk without a problem, because lactase naturally occurs in milk, but is killed during pasteurization, so if you can get raw milk, you can probably drink it without a problem. If not, you could always get a lactase supplement, and take it with the milk.

  5. For each example variation, is that all the working out you are supposed to do for those six weeks? Sounds kind of dumb but I’m a beginner. Just wondering about the other 4 (or 5) days of the week.

    1. dont worry about not training on those days. Especially if youre a beginner. just stretch and do some light cardio e.g swimming for 20minutes. you will see reults pretty fast as long as your diet is right

  6. This workout does work, however it is not for the feint of heart. Many people jump right in and attempt to do 20 reps when the truth of the matter is they couldn’t do 25 deep knee bends (bodyweight only) without sucking wind afterwards for 10 minutes. There are different variations to this workout as it has been around since the early 40′s. It is based on the “Split Set(s) and Series workout out from back in the day and was very popular with prize fighters looking to build mass, strength and stamina all at the same time without having to rely on periodization or training cycles and most times used the “Samson progression system”
    A book came out a few years ago titled Super Squats and gives the basic rundown of his version with directions to add “5 to 10″ pounds every workout, which doesn’t last very long , results in failure or worse injury and the very least discouragement. The article here uses the “take your current 5 rep max weight reduce it by 5 pounds for every session method. which is fine and you end up doing your 5 rep max weight for 20 reps at the end of the program works for some, one can say well I got stronger, in a sense this is true but all you really did was get good at squatting 300 lbs Did you gain overall body mass? Because that is the point of this routine. Hers how they did it back in the day , I feel this is the best way for one to get into this routine because most people are not used to a full bodyworkout because of the “bodybuilding routines “that dominated gyms for years . First a thorough warm up , deep knee bends side bends push ups etc don’t kill yourself just get the fluids moving. The squat progression is this: 3 times a week Mon,Wed Fri the first week you take your 10 rep weight and do 3 sets clean strict sets ! week 2 keep the same weight on the bar and do 15 reps again clean strict reps then strip half the weight off and go right into another 15 reps week 3 you keep the same weight and do 20 reps on Monday wed add 5 pounds and again just 1 set of 20 reps Friday add 5 pounds (week 4) Monday add 5 pounds and go back to 3 sets of 10 the following week( week5) a set of 15 then strip the weight to half as the first time and then week 6 20 reps add 5 wed and so on

  7. The only bad part is the milk. That much milk is a disaster for your health and gut. Especially the kind you buy in the supermarket, full of junk in it. Skip the milk and go with alternative protein sources, although for mass, carbs are more important than protein, so make sure you take in enough quality carbs, and keep the protein at 2gr per kg, that’s all you need…

  8. I know you’ll all disagree but just doesn’t seem like enough leg work, one set of squats. I know twenty good reps is a killer but I’d feel I haven’t done enough still. I train legs twice a week at the moment, squatting both days, I don’t know if it’s just me but I’d feel I’m not doing enough volume. Please excuse me of this sounds silly.

  9. Program works. Ideal for young athletes- benefit of rib-cage expansion when under 18.

    I have performed off-on for 30 years- you will mentally give out before the body. I also varied with 1 x week for 20 rep when playing sports (current program I use for my 16 y.o son who plays football, basketball, lacrosse) and only real ‘off-season’ is summer.

    Great program from Dr. Ken titled ‘rugged man’, he gave he paper copy back in ’89 when he made guest visit to Army football workouts with now Raven SC. Bob Rugucki. I have not been able to find a digital copy of the rugged man, but is is based on 20-rep squat plus core lifts- deads, stiff-deads, pullover, pull-up, row, press, bench, curl.

    give it a try before over ‘assessing’ the science.

  10. Should I be doing only this program and nothing else? I.E. after i finish my 20 squats, should I not do any other quad exercises (lunges, leg extensions)? What if I don’t train my upper body on 20 squat day like the program suggests, but instead finish a leg routine and train upper body on other days? Is that not recommended?

  11. I’m starting this program for the second time. The first time was (a) shockingly successful, and (b) the most miserable thing I have ever done in my entire life. For six weeks I had nightmares every night of the next day’s lift and my stress levels went through the roof. But I ended up lifting 20 of what I could only lift 5 of six weeks before. That’s the program: it works, and it sucks. Only undertake this program if you’re willing to pay the psychological cost. And, yes, I’m doing it again.
    I am not doing the milk again. This may have worked in the 70s, and it may work for some people, but not for me. Yes, I gained 20 pounds, but it was nearly all fat – I had a bloated belly and not much more, and it wreaks havoc on the digestive system. (Note: to the guy who shat his pants – yes, this will happen, especially if you’re doing the milk – you need to empty your bowels before squatting every time.) Most people should not drink this much milk. You do need a lot of calories to feed the hypertrophy, but there are probably better ways to get them than milk.
    As other guys have noted, this program has one goal. To get you to do 20 of what you can now do 5 of. It will do that. It will not necessarily increase body mass, and it will not necessarily increase your single rep max. I was surprised at how little it affected my single rep max – I only got about a 10-15 pound gain.
    As for combining this with other accessory lifts: trust me, after 20 rep squat, you will not feel like doing anything else. I usually dry-heaved for five minutes, and I’ve seen other guys vomiting in the bushes. You will want to go home and sleep.

  12. LOL, It was not introduced by John McCallum in 1968 ,it was introduced by Mark H.Berry in the 1930′s and further popularized back in the 30′s by Joseph Curtis Hise! Please if you are going to right an article about something like this do not connect it to your face writer of bodybuilding stuff but tell the truth as to who introduced it!

    1. Joseph, of you are going to bash the way someone is WRITING an article you might want to use the correct spelling of the word write. It kind of destroys your opinion if it looks like you should go take second grade writing class again. LOL!! Anyways great program! I have two weeks left and i have made insane gains.

  13. Can you apply 20 reps to every compound exercise? Or what type of program do you recommend along with 20 rep squat?

  14. I DID this routine a year a go ,however i couldn’t do 3 times a week and add weight idk why so i did 2 times a week. M y starting weight was 225 and also i did this routine for months which is probably why i tore my hamstring.I got addicted to this routine at first you hate i then you get high from all the adrenaline if your really doing it all out .I remember when i first did 225 for 25 i felt euphoric at this point i went to once week the other days i did normal bb .Well after about I’m guessing 5 months i was a t 295 i must add my hams were tight and i wan doing mobility work which i do now every day look up limber 11 by joe defranco .I also warmup at 30 min at 3.5 on treadmill trust me you must do these things because when you get to a heavy load and your resting for ten seconds and do another rep there is a chance of injury.ON my 17 th rep i tore my hamstring stage 2 tear i did ghrp6 and in 3 months i was ok .I may go back to this routine in a few months I’m a little scared cause i train insane on this i love to push myself nothing else will test your mind as these squats it has helped me in all areas of training and life . I know this sounds dramalike but try it you will see .OnE final note my legs barely grew which is weird considering 225 for 10 to 295 for 20 but what was odd the rest of my body grew a lot i gained 20 pounds in 4 months then stopped butnmy legs looked the same oh well i always had chicken legs so it could be genes

  15. Just curious, why are there high reps for the bench and the military press? I know you continuously add weight to the squat but why not keep the reps lower? Any response would be helpful.

  16. I am on week 4 of 6 with this. I recommend finding your 5 rep max and subtracting 45 kilos, then increasing the weight by 2.5kg each time with 3 workouts a week. I found the first few times were hell, then it got a touch easier, and now I am getting back into the dark place as I approach the end. Honestly, the main difficulty so far is the sheer pain of having the weight on your back for that long, as opposed to the actual lift. I’m not very experienced – only been lifting for about 10 months – so there is no reason to be intimidated by the programme, but be warned that it will take you right to the edge. I usually add a bit of chest work and pull ups after the squats. Generally stick with high rep (10-15) stuff to build a bit of size.

    Few warnings.

    - I wouldn’t try this unless you are 100% ready mentally. Every time. My only failure so far was going into a session early in the morning because I had to go away with work for the day. I wasn’t really up for it and only managed 11 before having to rack it. Came back a few days later with a more positive attitude and nailed it.

    - DO NOT NEGLECT THE PULLOVERS you’ll notice each programme above has pullovers immediately after the squats. This is to open your chest up as after 20 squats it will have compressed pretty badly. Make sure you are getting a big range of movement right over your head to the floor. The one time I skipped these because I was in a hurry the next day felt like someone had taken a claw hammer to my chest.

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