An old time routine consisting of 20-rep squats has been successfully used to put on size and improve strength in a short amount of time, even for the hardest gainers. Also known as “breathing squats,” the workouts focuses on high-repetition squatting 2-3x/week combined with a higher caloric intake, traditionally consisting of 1 gallon of milk/day, among other calorie sources.

First explored by John McCallum in 1968, the book Super Squats by Randall J. Storssen was released in 1989. It outlines a 20-rep squatting workout that claims to put on 30 lbs. of muscle in just 6 weeks. This overly basic program has you in the gym no longer than 3-hours per week—great for anyone leading a busy life. However, I should mention it’s by no means easy.

20 Reps of Hell

There are several versions of 20-rep squat workouts. Each workout would start with a basic warm-up followed by the heavy set of 20-rep squats immediately followed by 20 pull-overs to expand the rib cage and to add size to the chest. Some rules on the squat are as such: squat as deep as possible for maximal range of motion (try to touch your hamstrings on your calves) and lifting belts are not allowed. Remember, half-reps will only get you half the results. It might be obvious for some, but back squats are recommended as more weight can be used. Also, the bar can “rest” on your back between reps.

Sounds simple enough but there is one catch—the weight you’ll use for the 20-rep squats is your 10-RM (rep max). Doesn’t make sense does it? That’s why they are referred to as breathing squats—the pain, metabolites accumulating in your legs and your cardiovascular system get pushed into overdrive as you grind out one rep at a time after completing 10 reps. Big gulps of air fill the time between reps as you mentally and physically prepare for the next rep. In the subsequent workouts, you would add 5 lbs to the heavy squat set, aiming to complete all 20 reps.


Squats and Milk (With a JK Twist)

Here’s a 6-week, 20-rep squat program that incorporates Olympic lifting variations and old-school body building methods. You’ll workout 3x/week, performing full body workouts.

Here’s a sample training week:

Sunday – Rest
Monday – W/O 1
Tuesday – Rest
Wednesday – W/O 2
Thursday – Rest
Friday – W/O 3
Saturday – Rest

The workouts can be broken down as follows:

A) Power focus
B1) 20-rep Squats
B2) Dumbbell Pullovers
C1) Super Set – Compound Exercise
C2) Super Set – Isolation Exercise
D) Isolation Exercise Drop Set Method
E) Isolation Exercise 21’s Method

For circuit C, perform the first set of the compound exercise followed immediately by one set of the isolation exercise. Take the recommended break and repeat for a 2nd set.

For circuit D, start with a weight you can do 3-5 reps with. Drop the weights down as you fatigue for 3 consecutive drops.

For circuit E, used a moderately heavy weight and perform 7 bottom half reps. Next, perform 7 top half reps. Lastly, perform 7 full range of motion reps.

To determine your starting weight for the 20-rep squats, take your current 5-RM and subtract 5 lbs for each scheduled workout. So, if your current 5RM is 315 lbs and you are planning to train 3x/week for 6 weeks (18 workouts), you should begin with 225 lbs. (18 workouts x 5 lbs per workout = 90 lbs). Subtracting 90 from 315 gives you 225. Attempt to add 5 lbs. to your squat every workout.

NEXT: The Workouts

Use the accompanying exercises to stimulate the muscles involved and to get a good pump, but don’t let these exercises kill you.

As far as nutrition goes, eat a slight calorie surplus to support muscle growth. As the old time body builders used to do, you can also drink a gallon of milk throughout the day.

Workout 1

A) Power Clean 3×3; (2 min rest)
B1) 20-rep Squats 1×20; (no rest)
B2) Dumbbell Pullovers 1×20
C1) Barbell Bench Press 2×10-12; (no rest)
C2) High Cable Flys 2×12-15; (90 sec rest)
D) Triceps Rope Press Down Drop Set 2 sets (60 sec rest)
E) Biceps EZ Curl 21s 2 sets (60 sec rest)

Workout 2:

A) Snatch High Pull 3×3; (2 min rest)
B1) 20-rep Squats 1×20; (no rest)
B2) Dumbbell Pullovers 1×20
C1) Bent Over Row 2×10-12; (no rest)
C2) Bent Over Fly 2×12-15; (90 sec rest)
D) Hip Thrust Drop Set 2 sets (60 sec rest)
E) Calf Raise 21s 2 sets (60 sec rest)

Workout 3:

A) Hang Clean 3×3; (2 min rest)
B1) 20-rep Squats 1×20; (no rest)
B2) Dumbbell Pullovers 1×20
C1) Pull Up 2×10-12; (no rest)
C2) Facepull 2×12-15; (90 sec rest)
D) Military Press Drop Set 2 sets (60 sec rest)
E) Cross Body Hammer Curls 21s 2 sets (60 sec rest)