weightlifter preparing for squat excercise

20 Rep Squat Program: Build Mass with Squats

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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.

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 each exercise for ever day you’ll be training. 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 its authenticity, including Mark Rippetoe.

Trust me, if you do an honest 20 rep program, at some point god 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 due to “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.

There are many variations of this routine to choose from, so 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.

Tip: Beginners may also want to use the “scaled down” version and start off lifting only twice a week from the get-go.

The Original 20 Rep Squat Program

Behind-the-Neck Press312
Bench Press312
Bent-Over Rows315
Stiff-Legged Deadlift115

20 Rep Squat Program-Scaled Down

Overhead Press210
Power Cleans25

20 Rep Squat Power Program

Power Cleans53
Military Press2-312
Chin-Ups2Do Until Failure
Conventional Deadlifts115

Big 3-20 Rep Squat Program

Bench Press2-310
Bent-Over Rows2-315

You can make your own variation of this routine as long as you leave the squat untouched since 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, pullovers, etc. 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.

A Gallon of Milk a Day

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 of 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 body weight every day).

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. Could you build a house of cards without any cards?
  • High Carb
  • Saturated Fat

20 Rep Squat Program 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 and go for 20 again.

What happens if I miss it a second time?

You may want to consider only using a two-day split instead of three.

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 push-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 then yes.

How long until I can do this program again?

The rule of thumb is to wait another six weeks.

Can I add in more upper body work?

If your recovery ability permits you to then, by all means, add it in.

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  • Daniel

    Do i still do one on leg day, where i would include leg presses, lunges, and leg extensions?

  • Eric Smith

    This is more of a full body work out and very taxing on the body as a whole. so one moment per body part should do it giving the compound movements

  • Ben

    Could you do this program on a split?for exqmple squat, deadlift and row Sunday Tuesday and Thursday and , bench and do pull ups Monday Wednesday and Friday?

  • David

    I am somehow sceptical about this… only 1 set 3x a week? that means 60 squats/week. No way this is going to add much mass to your body in 6 weeks. I feel like better option would be to devote 2 days/week to high-rep squats (doing 5-6 sets) with some additional exercises like leg extensions.

    • David

      You can’t knock it until you try it. I never got 315lbs up on the squat rack until I did this program. Then I got it for 3 ass to grass. My jeans were damn near splitting from the size of my thighs.

    • Aj

      Try it ,if u can do more leg exercises after u didn’t go hard enough

  • mac

    rhino lifting with jauggernaut did 3 sets at 20 same weight same day with 2-4 min rest in between now thats a bitch……5 lbs is all ya wanna add

  • Jim Brewster

    Good article but you’re way off on the history. The routine got it’s start in the 30’s and was popularized by Peary Rader (founder of IronMan). By the 60’s, it was already a decades old routine.

    • josep2

      Wrong it was started by Mark H. Berry in his “The Mark Berry Barbell Courses” and was really promoted by Joseph Curtis Hise

      • Jim Brewster

        “So, where the heck did this monstrosity of a routine come from? For that, we must travel back to the 1930s. The 20-rep squat began life as part of Mark Berry’s Deep Knee Bend System. His routine was simple – 4-5 exercises done as a full body routine with the whole thing based around high rep squats. J.C. Hise, a young lifter under Berry’s guidance, had great success with this routine. With his help, Peary Rader, Ironman magazine founder, began promoting it heavily in Iron Man and is primarily the man credited with coming up with the first 20 rep, breathing style squat routine.Fast-forward to the late 1960’s and you have John McCallum, who shouted out the benefits, followed by 1989’s “Super Squats” book by Randall J. Strossen, who claimed you could gain 30 lbs. in just 6 weeks on the program.” Taken from The 20 Rep Squat Program by me.

    • John

      It was Joseph Hise who developed the 20 rep breathing squat program

  • Could I use tbar rows instead of barbell rows for the scaled down version?

  • Saf

    Hey, looking to start this program within the next few weeks. What weight do you use for the other excercises? Do they also add 5lb every workout or is it a set % of my 1RPM?

  • Salvador

    Il put my two cents in here. I used this program to get back into the swing of things after not squatting for years and having back surgery. My 5rm was 275 when i first walked in the gym. This was actually probably generous, i know i could not have done 5 reps with it. I chose this as my starting weight because i was stubborn and wanted to squat it for 20 in six weeks. Which i did. Now i am working my way through my own program for the next six weeks, which by the end of i should have a 5rm of 330. At which point i will run squats and milk again with the goal of 330×20 at the end, and a 1rm of about 440. Obviously i dont know if this will work, but my current 1rm is about 375. The program is alot of fun to work through. If your a masochist. Also, i literally jist did the squatting. One set, 3 days per week. I ignored all of the other prescribed things and did my own routine. The squats are great for your squat, but u dont need the rest of the program as long as u have something that is currently working for u.

  • Braden

    What should I do if I get to my five rep max quicker than 6 weeks and can not physically go higher? I am actually five or ten pounds over my 5 rep squat max

  • Kris

    What should be the 6 weeks target if you go for two workouts per week? Still add 5 lbs per workout and not reach the 20 reps for your original 5 reps max weight after 6 weeks OR add more weight per workout to still reach 20 reps for the original 5 reps max weight after 6 weeks?

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