When I first started bodybuilding, I did the 20 rep squat program. It’s no surprise with that and the Smolov Squat Program that I was squatting 300 pounds less than 1.5 years later. I went from not being able to squat the bar (due to anorexia) to putting 300 lbs on my squat at just 155 lbs.
The 20 rep squat program is something all serious lifters should try to seriously get their squat numbers up. But, that’s not the only reason.
The 20 rep squat program is KNOWN for really testing your mental endurance. It’s known for making the most powerful bodybuilders throw up and forcing huge muscle growth.
Doing 20 squats in a row requires some of the highest mental fortitudes that anyone can muster. The squat is the hardest compound lift, as it requires constant concentration and activation of every muscle in your body.
Will you be able to test yourself? Let’s cover the whole program.
- 1 What is the 20 Rep Squat Program?
- 2 This Program Will Ruin You
- 2.1 First of all, your mentality is put to new extremes.
- 2.2 They call the 20 rep squat program the “breather”- because you spend more time breathing than squatting!
- 2.3 Lastly, the 20 rep squat program will give you HUGE leg muscle growth.
- 2.4 Warning! Do not eat right before you do this program!
- 3 You NEED To Dirty Bulk, (GOMAD) is recommended.
- 4 NEVER DO THE 20 REP SQUAT PROGRAM WITHOUT A SPOTTER/SAFETY RACKS!
- 5 Accessory Work
- 6 My Experience with The 20 Rep Squat Program
- 7 How Long Should I Do The 20 Rep Squat Program For?
- 8 Conclusion of the 20 Rep Squat Program
What is the 20 Rep Squat Program?
So what exactly is the 20 rep squat program? (other than pain and misery)
It’s kind of what the name implies, although I do understand that it can be a bit confusing. When I first read it I thought the program was completely different because there was no way anybody was doing 20 reps in a row. So I just figured it was something like 5 sets of 4?
Boy was I wrong.
This program is again, as the name implies. When you unrack that weight for the squat, you will do 20 continuous, brutal reps.
You will do this 3x-a-week, increasing the weight by 5 lbs every time. If you can’t increase the weight, just stay at your current weight and try again next time.
Many people across the net recommend that you start by doing weight that is 90 lbs less than your 5 rep max. This is an alright rule to follow, but I still recommend dropping it a little bit lower, perhaps 130 lbs lower than your 5 rep max.
The intensity of this program is not to be underestimated.
At first glance, you might not think that 20 reps isn’t that hard- but you’re in for a rude awakening.
This Program Will Ruin You
While many of us on programs like Arnold’s Blueprint to Mass or even Stronglifts 5x5 are comfortable with doing 5-8 reps, doing 20 reps is almost a foreign concept.
20 full reps of the heavy squat is actually going to ruin you. You will have no will left in you to even like continue existing. It will seriously make you sit down in the gym for a solid 10-15 minutes after just wondering where your life went wrong.
First of all, your mentality is put to new extremes.
Yeah, well, I’m not even sure if that mentality alone is enough to get this program done. You need something more. For the next few minutes, you’re going to be sitting there strapped with 270 lbs on your back and you’re going to be FORCING your body to lift it.
It won’t be something your body willingly wants to do, you’re going to go against every neuron in your brain forcing you to stop. You need to have that iron will to keep pushing as hard as you can.
Every single ounce of your body is going to feel like the entire world is crushing down on it. It’s up to you to resist and fight as hard as you can.
Again, every single time you go down, it’s going to feel like you’re going to collapse. But you have to fight it and push back up. You’re going to sit there desperately gasping for air wondering why you ever signed up for the 20 rep squat program and wondering why you ever made the choices in your life you did.
But you can’t give up. Every single rep, even if it takes you a full minute of breathing (we will get into that), you have to get back up and NEVER let your mindset falter.
They call the 20 rep squat program the “breather”- because you spend more time breathing than squatting!
Yep, you read that right.
I don’t think you’ve really done too many exercises where you spend more time just breathing and praying than actually lifting.
That’s all about to change- and it’s part of the reason this program is so powerful.
You see, when you force your body to basically get rid of every single last ounce of energy in the tank and then keep going, it has to grow. And this is way above just muscular growth, you are taxing your cardiovascular system incredibly hard.
When you normally do exercises, it’s generally pretty controlled and regular. This means your heart/lungs/diaphragm/core don’t have to grow that much.
Sure, they do grow over time naturally. But comparatively? The answer may surprise you.
The 20 rep squat program is about to give your body a haymaker.
While you’re standing up sweating head to toe, gasping for air desperately like you’re suffocating, flexing every muscle you can as you go back down and up- your body will grow. It has to.
Our bodies have evolved over millions of years to be able to adapt to the stimuli in our environment. And when you sit there breathing and waiting for your heart to pump the much-needed blood to your muscles, your body grows too.
Keep that in mind. When you’re on rep 15/16 and thinking it’s over, stop thinking. Just breathe in and out, wait for your body to do what it does, and prepare yourself again to take another dive.
Lastly, the 20 rep squat program will give you HUGE leg muscle growth.
Okay, I have been fantasizing over how much your cardiovascular system will improve and how tough of a man you’ll become after this program.
But let’s be realistic here, you’re probably looking at this program for massive leg growth. And boy is it going to give you some.
My legs literally EXPLODED on this program. I went from being ‘chicken legs’ to literally having the legs that were comparable to a greek god statue, but bigger.
My legs were incredibly massive, in fact, it made my upper body look incredibly small compared to the rest of my body.
Even in pictures of my wrestling singlet, you see that my legs can barely fit in there, but my arms are still like toothpicks. This program let me deadlift 300 lbs in just 6 months of lifting, and squat 300 in 8 months.
The general consensus is that 26-inch legs are beyond HUGE for a bodybuilder. In just 8 months, my legs had exploded to 22 inches. That’s just 8 months, all-natural.
Gains are expected. You can expect your squat to go up 50-80 pounds in just 2 months (and that’s for serious bodybuilders!).
Gains are expected on this program. And how would you not expect any?
You’re MASSIVELY overloading your body, but especially your legs. Your legs are basically the strongest muscle group in your entire body.
There’s a reason that wrestlers/MMA fighters focus on getting leg takedowns, your legs are strong enough to knock basically anybody off their feet- even if they weigh 300 lbs.
Squatting is a compound lift that activates every muscle in your body, but it primarily targets the leg muscles.
Just squatting by doing 5x5 twice a week will generally be enough to grow your legs consistently. Imagine doing the 20 rep squat program and massively overloading your legs- you’re going to see real, serious growth.
Warning! Do not eat right before you do this program!
I’ve seen this old trick happen before.
People go and eat a good ol’ snack before their workout, unsuspecting of what the 20 rep squat program can really do to your body.
Then suddenly as they hit rep 16 and start pushing up, they start blowing chunks on the gym floor.
Eh, I mean vomit is whatever, there will probably come a point in your lifting career you throw up- it’s natural. But many gym owners and other people in the gym won’t like this too much. And not a lot of people like throwing up either.
So, try to avoid eating before you do this program. I think 1 hour before doing the program is alright, but that’s still cutting it pretty close.
In my old days when I used to do the 20 rep squat program I wouldn’t eat 3 hours before, but then some may argue that you will be too tired to lift.
I recommend this:
- Don’t eat for 2-3 hours before you do the squats.
- In my experience, if I drink before doing the program I will throw up too. So I personally avoid drinking, but everybody is a little different.
- Perform the 20 rep squat program.
- Eat 10 minutes after you’ve done doing the squats.
That way you don’t have to worry about throwing up on the squats, but you’ll still have your energy in the gym.
Or, consider drinking a little C4 Sport Pre-Workout after you do your squats to quickly reenergize.
You NEED To Dirty Bulk, (GOMAD) is recommended.
The program officially recommends the (GOMAD) diet, which is the Gallon of Milk a Day diet. You kind of need to dirty bulk on this program.
I wholeheartedly agree, I don’t think you really understand how serious this program is until you do it.
Furthermore, lean bulking isn’t the most efficient method of gaining muscle on this program. When you tax your body this hard, your body under pressure will need to increase the muscle growth.
Without a high enough caloric nor protein intake, your body will just not be able to grow. This will result in you feeling horrible, feeling weak, and not growing any muscles.
Remember, you NEED to be in a caloric surplus to grow muscle. That’s the golden rule of bodybuilding. Without it, you will just stagnate and plateau and see no gains.
So don’t waste your time in the gym, make sure you’re eating. Plus, the 20 rep squat program is incredibly intensive on your caloric intake for the day. So be sure to account for that, it is an incredibly intense workout.
Don’t Worry About Putting on Fat Here
First of all, your body is going to be under so much stress that most of the calories you eat will just turn into muscle.
The thing is that all of these programs really burn a ton of calories, way more than usual programs do. Furthermore, it is way harder to recover from these workouts because there’s kind of this ‘delay’ period before you can workout again.
And even then, after the workout, you’ll typically find yourself just resting staring forward at a wall wondering where it all went wrong.
Seriously though, these workouts do bring out a ton in you which makes your TDEE higher. This means if you eat more, you overall have less of a caloric surplus, meaning you will put on less fat overall.
And for the purposes of this program, you want to be maximizing the amount of muscle you put on, the progression is VERY STEEP, so you don’t want to fall behind.
I Recommend Fairlife Milk, It’s Lactose Free
So I do have a lactose intolerance, which made the whole gallon of milk a day thing a little inconvenient.
However, there’s this milk called Fairlife Milk. It tastes way better than normal milk, has no lactose, and has more protein + calcium, but less sugar than normal milk. Basically, it’s milk for healthy people, but it still tastes really good.
I wrote a whole review on it here if you’re interested, but it’s definitely something I would recommend, especially if you’re new to the progam and want to put on weight fast.
NEVER DO THE 20 REP SQUAT PROGRAM WITHOUT A SPOTTER/SAFETY RACKS!
On the 20 rep squat program, you’re never going to have a good time if you try and do this without a spotter or safety racks.
I’ll tell you first hand, I did this program for 4 months straight. Every time, no matter how embarrassing it was, I had a spotter.
Not only will they motivate you (assuming you pick the right guy), but they will save you from the inevitable.
Failing on this program is like Thanos, inevitable.
I don’t care how shredded, jacked, or strong you are- doing 20 reps of heavy squats just has a small chance of random failure.
Whether it’s your central nervous system, muscles, mindset, or whatever- some days you’ll just fail after rep 15 suddenly.
The last thing you want is to be sitting half paralyzed with your spine suffering permanent damage because you didn’t want a spotter or safety pins.
No, I’m not exaggerating, if you fail a squat and can’t get it off of you, you can literally be paralyzed for the rest of your life.
Don’t be an idiot, get a spotter, and at the very least (even with a spotter), use safety pins to save you if all else fails.
While the program itself really only calls for 20 squats, I recommend doing some more accessory work to really secure that leg muscle growth and really push your gains further.
If you’re running a typical split like Push/Pull/Legs, continue doing that, but on each day- start out with the 20 rep squat program.
So let’s say you’re doing a chest day. Start off by doing the 20 rep squat program, then take a 10-15 minute rest break, then transition into your chest day and finalize it off.
In this instance, you don’t really need to do accessory work for the legs unless you want to. However, doing 3x8 leg extensions and 3x8 hamstring curls can only benefit you.
However, let’s say that this is a leg day for you. This is where you would just follow the normal leg day split after you get the squats done (do not do the squats again**) and follow it through there.
But, if you’re looking for a good leg day or just some general ideas of what to do after your program, here are some things I recommend:
- 5x8 Leg Extensions
- 5x8 Hamstring Curls
- 3x8 Calf Machine
- 5x8 Lunges
I don’t like deadlifting on this program, as it will probably evaporate any remaining energy left in your body and possibly even force a hospital visit. So, to keep your central nervous system’s sanity, just skip the deadlifts for now.
Don’t worry though, as squatting directly correlates to a higher deadlift. So if your squat goes up, so will your deadlift.
My Experience with The 20 Rep Squat Program
When I was just starting bodybuilding, I wanted to get strong fast.
Long story short I was going through a “break-up” and some kids at school were bullying me. I don’t like fighting (even though I do BJJ regularly?) and would much rather that I just had strength to scare them away so nobody has to get hurt.
Point is? I was anxious, sad, and wanted to just put on a ton of muscle fast.
So, I went to Google and looked up a way to get really strong fast. And that’s when I learned about the 20 rep squat program, otherwise known as the ‘squats and milk’ program.
At this rate, I was barely squatting the bar, and I weighed a measly 101 lbs soaking wet at 5 foot 7. (real strong guy ya know?)
Alright well, enough of that sob story. I got to work.
For the next 3 months, I went HARD in the gym with the 20 rep squat program. Every day I just hammered those squats out.
And to be quite honest, the results were incredibly surprising.
A kid with no muscle, no sports history, nothing- turns into a beast.
I had never been in any sports or anything, nor did anything really athletic my life.
I grew up as a gamer! I spent all my days playing League of Legends and other games. Not to say it wasn’t a good time, but, I really wasn’t the man that could lift things.
In no time, however, the 20 rep squat program started turning me into a beast.
In just about a month I started squatting heavy weight. I went from 45 lbs (I know, but it really was all I could do) to 185 lbs.
I keep eating, every night I ate and I ate and I ate. I wanted to be big. In no time, my legs were growing massively.
My pants weren’t loose anymore, and it was hard to put pants on because of how much my leg muscles had grown.
I was finally getting some strength, I felt powerful in the gym being able to squat so much. I finally felt like I was making it as a bodybuilder.
Every night, day after day, I kept doing the 20 rep squat program.
Yep, it wasn’t easy. So many times I stopped at rep 17/18 and ran over to the trash can to vomit. It happens!
There were a lot of times where I hit rep 18/19 and suddenly failed and dropped that weight at lightning speed.
And sometimes, I had to lower the weight or even deload.
I didn’t like it. But it was important to teach me how to lift properly.
But every day, I didn’t look forward to it at all. Haha, wasn’t going to lie to you there. I actually dreaded ending 5th-hour health class because I knew I was about to subject myself to torture.
Regardless, we made it happen.
This might be TMI- but when I would shower, I would feel how big my legs were getting. It kept motivating me to keep going to the gym, and it showed me that I was at least doing something right.
I think that’s why I still recommend this program to so many people.
You can go to the gym, spin your wheels, and get discouraged. But when you do the 20 rep squat program, you don’t really have a choice.
You’ll be so exhausted by the end of it that you’re going to be begging to eat any food in your house that you can. It really is a different program out there that not only makes you so hungry that you eat, but you can reliably see results every time you wake up the next morning.
And that was important to me. I didn’t want to know I was wasting my time in the gym. I wanted to know what I was doing was working, and the 20 rep squat program showed that quick.
How Long Should I Do The 20 Rep Squat Program For?
You should follow the program for roughly 3-4 months. I personally did it for 4 months, but I certainly don’t recommend anything above that.
The 20 rep squat program is tough enough as it is, there’s no need to be doing it longer than 4 months.
In fact, most programs recommend you switch up the program a little bit every 3 months to reduce muscle memory incidents so you are sure that your muscles are constantly growing.
So my advice? Do it for 3 months max. Then switch to a different program.
When Should I Come Back to The 20 Rep Squat Program?
Ideally? Never, haha. Just kidding. I would wait 8-12 months before attempting the program again.
This is one of those programs that takes a lot of time to recover from and you just don’t get the same results if you repeat it over and over.
If you’re looking for a way to increase your squat still, check out the Russian powerlifting smolov squat program, it’s very similar to this program and promises even more results.
Conclusion of the 20 Rep Squat Program
The 20 rep squat program is just one of those programs you need to do if you want to put on serious size, grow your entire body, and become a true seasoned bodybuilder.
I highly recommend you try it. Even if it’s not for the full 3 months, just try and do it for a week straight and see how much it can change you.
So get out there, and let’s get big. We’re all gonna make it!