As mentioned in my last article, gyms may or may not be opening again depending on where you live. In fact, I might’ve even offered a very basic routine for those of you who are preparing to head back to the weight room with the goal of rebuilding your very strength foundation. But there’s always more than one way to skin a cat, and just maybe that previous routine might not be the most exciting way to help you grow. Maybe you don’t need or want to do deadlifts based on your goals. So this old school routine is for the bodybuilders out there!
The 20 Rep Squat Routine
I first heard about the 20 Rep Squat Routine in Stuart McRobert’s classic Hardgainer bible, Brawn. The Squat alone is stressed to the max in McRobert’s book. Here are a few reasons why this routine is so revered:
- It’s basic: Most variations of this routine are full body routines. And for the most part, they consist of solely compound exercises. And as I’ve said numerous times, there’s no better way to get more bang for your buck than full body routines consisting of compound movements.
- Real Cardio: it’s no secret that the Squat is the exercise that burns the most calories. But it also increases your heart rate more than any other exercise, which inevitably leads to an increase in your metabolism. Imagine performing a top set of 20 breathing squats – and you’re absolutely taking your time between every single rep. If you don’t feel your heart pounding near the middle of that set you’re doing it wrong.
- Massive Growth: high reps for legs are far more effective for your quads thanks to the extra growth stimulus it provides. If you stand and walk all day then your legs need extra stimulation to grow. This will without question provide systemic growth for the entire body.
The routine was first addressed in the classic book Super Squats: How To Gain 30 Pounds Of Muscle In Six Weeks, by Randall J. Strossen Ph.D, and was innovated by John McCallum; but according to Stuart McRobert, Iron Man Magazine founder Peary Rader used the 20 Rep Squat Routine in the 1930’s to gain 80 pounds within a year and eventually become a weightlifting champion. Some golden era bodybuilders such as Tom Platz turned his own legs into practical weapons of destruction because he used this approach…or sometimes double!
Before I start I must stress that, from my own experience using this routine, this is far more of a mental game than it is a routine. If you’re not focused, you won’t be able to last past the fifteenth rep, especially if you’re new to this.
I’m intentionally providing you an abbreviated version of this routine which can be found in Brawn because I want you to focus on maximum growth stimulus, especially if you’re just starting over or if you identify as a Hardgainer. You will only perform one top set of squats after a few warm up sets. Make sure that your top set is not too hard, but is still challenging, it’s the only way this will work.
There are a few ways to perform this routine. You can perform the following three days a week:
Squat – 1×20 (top set only) immediatley followed by breathing dumbbell pullovers
Bent Over Rows
I’m letting you decide the rep schemes for everything to following the squat. I could easily prescribe 3 set of up to twelve reps; but I feel like this part of the routine should be determined by instinct, especially after a brutal squat set of 20. Also, if you feel like the squat is draining your ability to progress on the bench press, you may precede the squat with the bench press if you need. Also if three days a week proves to be too much, simply perform this twice a week instead
Here’s another version based on a variation I developed in 2011 based on my schedule and recovery time.
Squat – 1×20 (top set only) followed by breathing pullovers
This is essentially an upper body/lower body split. But since I’m trying to stress abbreviation for the sake of growth stimulus and recovery, if you can’t get in three days a week due to commitments of any kind, this might be an optimal option.
The first routine in particular should just be performed for six weeks. Any attempt to continue past that could potentially lead to physical and mental burnout.
This is a fantastic routine for beginners all the way to advanced lifters. A recommendation I’ll make right now is to try to squat your bodyweight for a top set of 20. I pulled that one off a year ago and saw great results in not just the size and shape of my quads, but the carryover it provided as an accessory move to my heavy sets during my main squat day as well as my deadlift strength.
Make no mistake, it’s an absolutely brutal routine, but put in the work and you’ll love it!
McRobert, Stuart. Brawn. Nicosia, CS Publishing, 1991.