20 Rep Squats – The Best Squat Program for Muscle Mass & Conditioning

the 20 rep squats program benefits

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The 20 rep squat program (also commonly referred to as the squats and milk program or 20 rep breathing squats) is one of the most effective methods for building a strong muscular body. Not only will 20 rep squats help add muscle mass to your legs, but you will also help you build muscle through your entire body with this squat program!

Regarded as one of the most effective programs that has ever been designed for increasing muscular size and strength within a short period, 20 rep breathing squats are generally underused because most people are legitimately scared of them!

However, I have done my fair share of 20 rep breathing squats, and I am encouraging you to try them if you are up to the challenge!

The 20 rep squat program was introduced by John McCallum in 1968, and was often referred to as “squats and milk” because lifters would be advised to drink a gallon of milk a day while on it to maintain a proper caloric intake for effective results.

Famous bodybuilder Tom Platz used the 20 squats program as part of his routine as he built some of, if not the biggest and strongest legs in the history of bodybuilding!

If you are up for the test, I cannot think of a single person who wouldn’t benefit from this rigorous style of training!

Check out this video of me performing 20 rep breathing squats with 155lbs. This is a small weight, but you can already see how much it takes out of me!

The 20 Rep Squat Program

20 rep squat results

A pure 20 rep squat training program will last for six weeks, and your goal is to add five pounds to the weight you do each training session.

The 20 rep squat program goes with 5lb increases per training session because adding too much weight, too quickly, will ultimately cause too much muscle fatigue and your body will tire out more quickly than it should.

Over 6 weeks, you will be doing more than enough total work, and adding too much weight is not necessary for maximum results.

How Does the 20 Rep Squat Routine Work?

If you decide to do a 20 rep squat routine, you will be squatting three times a week with one “max” set of 20 squat repetitions each workout.

During this time, your one set of 20 squat repetitions per workout is your main focus. You do not need to do too many assistance exercises, and I would even say that you should keep the overall amount of training you do to a minimum.

If you do the 20 rep squats routine, you are doing this gain a substantial amount of muscle mass in a short amount of time.

To figure out where to start from, try to figure out your 5 rep max (5RM) and then deduct 5lb from every workout for the period of six weeks.

For example, if your 5RM is 200lb and you train for three times weekly for a total of six weeks, then your starting weight should be 110lb, with a difference of 90lb. Your goal, therefore, would be that after six weeks you will be able to squat 20 reps with 200lbs!

You can also go with about 60% of your 5RM. Usually, that works out to be about the same starting place.

The goal for the weight you choose is that the first 8-10 reps should be relatively smooth, while the next 10 while require a few “breaths” before each rep.

It is essentially a cluster-set of 20 reps, without setting the bar back into the rack.

Before you start, you must understand that this routine requires the upmost personal discipline and will power because it will bring you to the point that will either make or break you. If you played sports growing up, you would understand this concept from pre-season conditioning.

This is not something you should try to do if you just enjoy going to the gym to get a nice sweat going. To do this program, you must understand that there are huge rewards, but it will not be easy!

Keys to Doing 20 Rep Squats Properly

20 rep squat routine results

When you are about to do your first of 20 rep squats, you need to have your mind completely focused.

When I am going through my time doing 20 rep squats, the first key is to make sure you warm up properly. For 20 rep squats, you definitely need to do a proper dynamic warm up. You need to make sure you have great squat form for every rep, and you need to make sure your body is mobile enough to back squat perfectly for 20 intense reps.

One of my favorite exercises for warming up  is the goblet squat. The goblet squat is a great pre-20 rep squat exercise because it won’t fatigue your muscles too much if you use a light weight, and it will strengthen your knees and ingrain perfect squat form. You can also do goblet squats on a BOSU Ball if you feel comfortable, which is another great way to warm up.

Doing BOSU Ball exercises is very good for your joints, and will help activate all the necessary muscles for your 20 rep squats.

Here is a video of BOSU Ball goblet squats:

After you warm up, it is time to do your set of 20 reps!

First, load the bar and get under it. Tense up, and lift the bar off the pins. Step back, and take a deep breath.

Prepare your mind for every rep, because it will be a difficult journey but worth every ounce of effort!

The further you get into the reps, the more your breath becomes an issue, which is why old school lifters often refer to it as the “breathing squats.”

This is also one of my favorite benefits of the program itself.

As a basketball player, every set of 20 rep squats which I do also acts as both aerobic and anaerobic conditioning.

When you get to the last few agonizing reps, you will be fatigued as much in breathing as squatting.

One of the main reasons why so much growth is stimulated during this program is that the muscles located in your upper body are constantly working to support the weight you are moving and to fill your lungs with air.

You should take in as much breath as you can between reps to ensure that you maintain complete focus throughout the set.

This incredible full-body stimulation releases a surge of hormones uncharted in almost any other training program!

This alone is responsible for a large amount of the muscle growth, and it is something that makes this program incomparable too many others.

Assistance Exercises to Pair With 20 Rep Squats

Although you don’t need many assistance exercises to go along with 20 rep squats, there are a few which work well!!

You should try to do a light set of pullovers for about 20-25 reps after your squats. As little as a 25lb plate will work perfectly, and you can also choose dumbbell or kettlebell if that is your preference.

There is no need to stress yourself with a heavy weight here, so find something comfortable and ensure that you stick to this weight throughout the duration of the program.

This can serve as a recovery aid, as it will work on opening your diaphragm for proper breathing mechanics.

You can also add other exercises based on your recovery ability, and I would try to include at least one pressing movement and one pulling movement for proper upper body and lower body balance.

A few exercises which I believe are crucial to the success of your 20 rep squat program are:

Listen to your body during the 6 weeks you do this program. Do not risk wearing your body down with unnecessary extra exercises, but add in additional simple, non-CNS stimulating movements at your own desire.

Dietary Tips for the 20 Rep Squat Program (Squats and Milk)

In order to get big, you definitely have to eat big.

During this program you will certainly consume lots of calories purposely, but do not waste your calories on junk food. You need to consider both the quantity and quality of the calories you are eating.

The 20 rep squat was initially known as the squat and milk program because milk was the nutritional secret weapon of the 20 rep squat program.

The ideal minimum quantity of milk that anyone who intends to make substantial gains off of this program should take was said to be a half a gallon of milk, while a daily intake of a gallon was regarded as the standard.

The reason why milk was consistently considered a great component of the 20 rep program is because it contains high protein which is needed to help build muscle and also prevent muscle loss.

Milk also contains calories, saturated fat, and carbohydrates which all can aid in helping your body recover well.

However, I personally am not a fan of drinking cow milk at all (goat milk is a different story).

My personal diet recommendation is a diet extremely high in fruits and vegetables, with plentiful amounts of fish. You can add in grains and other forms of carbohydrates at your own disclosure, but avoid gluten at all costs.

Calories as a whole are important, but having your body function at a high level during this program is even more important.  Feed your body the best nutrients possible each and every day for maximum results!

Safety Tips for 20 Rep Breathing Squats

As I have mentioned before, back squats are not for everyone, and they are 100% not necessary for you.

However, if you have the natural ability to back squat with proper form consistently and can repeat this motion easily, this program is absolutely for you!

I have covered correct squat form in previous articles, but just as a quick overview of some squatting cues to get the best from the 20 rep squat, the following points will be useful:

  • Your feet should turn out slightly to allow for a proper squat path, and your knees should track over the direction of your toes. You should not let your knees to buckle in at any time.
  • You should maintain a straight back, which should not be confused with upright. Contract your abdominal and core muscles to limit any possible rounding of the spine.
  • Maintain a reasonably close grip on the bar and squeeze your shoulder blades together, allowing for a proper resting position of the bar in a comfortable place on your upper back.
  • Push up slightly on the bar as if you were about to do a behind-the-neck press, and ensure that you do this before lifting the bar clear of the pins. This move serves two purposes: It will create a shelf below the traps where the bars will rest on, and the tension in the shoulders, and then your upper back will stimulate your upper body while keeping it rigid and safe.
  • Keep your abdomen tight throughout the entire movement to protect your spine and create more power through each rep.
  • Let your gaze be slightly upward or straight forward, as looking too far upwards will round your neck and compromise your structure, increasing the chance of an injury. Your body tends to follow your head so keep your eyes level throughout the set for a consistent squat path.

Concluding Thoughts – 20 Rep Squats

If you want to get an aesthetic physique, the 20 rep squat program can get you there!

Active recovery is more important than ever if you take on this program, so don’t be afraid to get out for low-intensity walking or bike rides, and even moderate amounts of swimming can be great.

I highly recommend that you give yoga a try during this time, and it can be an absolutely perfect post-workout activity to help improve your form and ability to squat consistently while relaxing your body overall.

You can also do daily stretching and use a percussive massage therapy gun like the TheraGun G4 Pro to improve muscle recovery as well..

You will also need lots of sleep; at least 8-9 hours of daily sleep is recommended.

Regardless of anything else, come into each training session focused and prepared to battle both the weights and yourself!

If you can work through 6 weeks of the 20 rep squat program, there is no doubt in my mind that any other train program will seem incredibly easy to you, and you will have the best year of gains of your life!

Remember always to be safe with the weights you choose and consult your doctor before attempting any type of new exercise program if you are nervous about what could happen.

Be safe and push yourself to the body you want!

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