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20 Rep Squat Program: Build Mass with Squats

October 20, 2009

20 Rep Squat Program: Build Mass with Squats

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

Exercise Sets Reps
Behind-the-Neck Press 3 12
Squat 1 20
Pullovers 1 20
Bench Press 3 12
Bent-Over Rows 3 15
Stiff-Legged Deadlift 1 15

20 Rep Squat Program-Scaled Down

Exercise Sets Reps
Squat 1 20
Pullovers 1 20
Overhead Press 2 10
Power Cleans 2 5

20 Rep Squat Power Program

Exercise Sets Reps
Power Cleans 5 3
Squat 1 20
Military Press 2-3 12
Chin-Ups 2 Do Until Failure
Dips 2 10
Conventional Deadlifts 1 15

Big 3-20 Rep Squat Program

Exercise Sets Reps
Squat 1 20
Pullovers 1 20
Bench Press 2-3 10
Bent-Over Rows 2-3 15

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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