Few would argue how puke-inducing the barbell squat is but it’s also one of the best exercises there are for maximizing your leg size and strength by the same token (so, no puking or feelings of nausea will ever be in vain).
But more specifically, it’s the high-rep squats where grown men would rather be anywhere else than stranded under a heavy barbell. So, the takeaway message here is that squats can be freakin brutal.
But those who can endure the pain will reap the rewards in the form of bigger quads, hamstrings, and glutes. And don’t worry, you’ll become stronger as a result not only physically but your mental fortitude will be put to the test as well. Not to mention, having to endure 20 reps on the squat will force you to maintain correct lifting posture and motor patterns for optimal performance. Plus, you’ll improve your overall work capacity.
The focus here should be time under tension and really focusing on the stimulation of your leg muscles which is where the growth comes from and that’s why bodybuilders, especially, incorporate high-rep squats on leg day. And squats are also thought to boost testosterone levels which is the muscle-building hormone, so… it’s a win-win for you.
So without further ado, let’s talk about the extremely effective 20-rep squat program (and we assume you already know how to execute the squat)…
Note: This routine outlined below is ideal for people who have a decent amount of training experience as it involves squatting three times per week during a six-week period. Although, you can adjust it to best fit your level of training experience.
And this is an example of a variation.
How it works…
Before you begin, you’ll need to determine your starting weight but first, you’ll need to know your back squat 5-rep max. To do this, test out some weight and make your best estimate.
Then, since you’ll have 18 squat sessions over the next 6 weeks, you want to subtract 2.5kg/ 5lbs for each workout (18 in total) which equals 45kg and voila… this is going to be your starting weight for the 20-rep squat program so don’t forget it.
But then… after you’ve completed one set with this starting weight, you’ll add 2.5kg back to the bar every set thereafter (18 in total) for 6 weeks. So, for example, you’ll do 20 reps for workout 1 with the starting weight. Then for workout 2, you’ll add back 2.5kg to the bar and continue this pattern for each session.
So, by the end of the 6 weeks, you’ll perform 20 reps with your 5-rep max weight which was determined before you began the program.
Now, as for how to perform these reps, you can power straight through if you can mostly in the beginning but for most people that may not be likely as you continue to add weight. But that’s why it’s often referred to as 20-rep breathing squats because you take a few moments to breathe in between each rep all the way up to 20 reps… but you’ll never rerack the barbell.
Every set should involve your full effort to ensure you squeeze out every little bit of muscle stimulation possible because at the end of the 6 weeks you’ll want to know that you gave your everything.
Ok, Well… What Next?
You’ll get to work… but we don’t expect you to just squat three times a week and not do anything else. So, we’ve devised a plan which includes beneficial exercises for the CrossFit athlete in addition to the squat sets. Choose a weight that you know is challenging for each exercise and which will bring you to within a few reps of failure.
Here’s an example weekly workout structure:
Day 1: Workout 1
Day 2: Workout 2
Day 3: Active recovery/rest
Day 4: Workout 3
Day 5: Active recovery/rest
Day 6: Workout 4
Day 7: Active recovery/rest
Example 20-Rep Squat Workout Plan
- Power clean 2 x 4 (2-min rest)
- 1 x 20 squats
- Straight arm cable pulldown 2 x 12-15 (1-min rest)
- Incline dumbbell press 2 x 12 (45-sec rest)
- Tricep straight bar pushdown 2 x 15 superset w/ Barbell curl 2 x 12-15 (no rest)
The link example shows rope pushdown variation.
- Hang clean 2 x 4 (2-min rest)
- 1 x 20 squats
- Cable lat pulldown 2 x 15 superset w/ close-grip push-ups 2 x failure (no rest)
- Barbell hip thrusts 2 x 12 superset w/ bodyweight cossack squat 2 x 12 (45-sec rest after each superset)
- Hanging leg and hip raises 2 x 20 superset with reverse planks 2 x 45-seconds (no rest)
- Power Snatch 2 x 4 (2-min rest)
- Barbell overhead press 2 x 20 (use a relatively heavy weight for 5 reps and perform a drop set until you’ve completed 20 reps).
- Pull-ups 2 x 10-12 superset w/ pushups 2 x 15 (no rest)
- Face pulls 2 x 15 (30-sec rest)
- 1 x 20 squats
- Incline dumbbell press 2 x 12 superset w/ chin-ups 2 x 12 (no rest)
- Chin-ups 2 x 12 superset w/ hammer curls 2 x 10-12 (30-second rest between superset)
- Lying leg curls 2 x 20 (perform a drop set by performing 10 reps to failure then drop the weight and complete the remaining 10 reps).
- Hanging leg raise 2 x 12 superset w/ cable woodchops 2 x 12 (no rest)
And that’s it! It’s not a program for the faint of heart but in the end, you should see an improvement in the size of your legs if your effort, nutrition, sleep, and hydration are all on point for the entire 6 weeks. 20-rep squats are no doubt one of the best ways to spark growth in your wheels and this program will ensure you really push yourself harder than you ever have.