The 20 Rep Squat Program: High Rep Squats Guide For Muscle Gain

It’s undeniable that the squat is one of the most foundational exercises in any strength training program.

Squats strengthen your entire lower body and core, giving you massive gains in your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and even calves.

However, while most people focus on lifting heavy with squats, there are also benefits to doing high-rep squats.

The 20 reps squat program is a high-rep squat workout program that is designed to maximize your strength by challenging your body to push through 20 squat reps.

So, what is the 20 rep squat program? What are the benefits of high reps squats and squatting for 20 reps?

In this article, we will provide a detailed guide to the 20 rep squat program, including the benefits and how to do the 20 rep squats workout to boost your gains and take leg day to the next level.

We will cover: 

  • What is the 20 Rep Squat Workout?
  • The Benefits of the 20 Rep Squat Program
  • How to Do the 20 Rep Squat Program

Let’s jump in!

A person doing a squat with a barbell and weight plates.

What Is the 20 Rep Squat Workout?

As the name describes, the 20 rep squat workout involves performing 20 reps of your squat exercise.

The kicker is that you use a weight that you normally squat for 8 to 12 reps, but you do 20 squat reps instead.

The way that this is feasible is by taking a pause at the top of every rep once you are standing back up right before heading into the next rep. 

Of course, the goal is to bang out as many of the 20 rep squats as possible without the added pause on top, but once your legs are on fire and you can’t keep up your regular squatting rhythm, you can take a brief pause after each rep to finish a 20-rep squat set.

The workout is also sometimes called 20 reps breathing squats since you are able to take a full breath or pause at the top of each squat. In this way, as “breathing squats,” the 20-rep squat set is sort of like 20 sets of single-rep squats sequenced together back to back.

The 20 rep squat program is said to be modeled after a workout in the training program of legendary bodybuilder Tom Platz.

Not only is Platz known for his ripped quads with an immaculate, chiseled, teardrop shape, but he was also able to put those strong legs to use, squatting 525 pounds for an incredible 23 reps.

A person doing a squat with a medicine ball.

The Benefits of the 20 Rep Squat Program

There are several benefits of the 20 rep squat program, including the following:

#1: Supporting Massive Gains

The process of building muscle is known as hypertrophy.

Hypertrophy is best achieved by high-volume training. This means longer sets with more reps and more sets overall.

Studies have found that strength training using high-volume sets with more reps is a more effective approach to building muscle than performing sets with fewer reps.

In this study, high-volume training was most effective at maximizing gains in muscle size but not necessarily in increases in muscular strength.

However, other studies have found that high-volume training with more reps is actually more effective than low-volume heavy training with fewer reps for maximizing strength.

A person doing a squat with a barbell and weight plates.

#2: Increasing Testosterone Levels

One of the key benefits of performing 20-rep squats is that you will induce a significant spike in testosterone, which is an anabolic hormone.

Studies have found that the resultant increase in testosterone following a weightlifting workout is greater after high-volume strength training versus low-volume strength training.

Testosterone affords many benefits to the male body, including increases in libido and sexual performance, as well as gains in muscle mass, bone density, and muscular strength. Higher testosterone levels may also support fat burning for optimal body composition.

Women also have testosterone, although at much lower plasma concentration levels.

Women who take on the 20 rep squat program will also see a boost in natural testosterone production, which, in turn, can help increase strength and lean body mass and support better body composition.

A person doing a squat with a barbell and weight plates.

#3: Increasing Muscular Endurance

When you take on the very demanding 20 reps squat workout, you will not only be building quad and glute strength, but you will also be improving muscular endurance.

The more reps you can eke out with good form in a set without rest, the more significant your improvement in muscular endurance will be. Muscular endurance refers to the ability of your muscles to continually contract and produce force without fatiguing.

By incorporating 20-reps squats into your leg day workouts, you can boost the ability of your leg muscles to perform at a high capacity in endurance activities like running, cycling, jumping rope, rowing, and playing tennis.

#4: Training Both Types of Muscle Fibers

One of the benefits of 20 reps breathing squats is that when you are pausing for a full breath after each breathing squat, you are essentially doing 20 single-rep squat sets in a row.

This pause allows your fast-twitch muscle fibers and ATP-PC system to re-synthesize some creatine phosphate and ATP between each set so that you can keep recruiting fast-twitch muscle fibers while the accumulated fatigue of the 20 reps squats also activates your slow-twitch muscle fibers and oxidative pathways.

In this way, you are simultaneously training both types of muscle fibers and energy systems, which makes for very efficient metabolic and muscular training.

A person doing a squat with a barbell and weight plates.

#5: Increasing Mental Toughness

Working out at maximum capacity is not only physically exhausting, but it is also very mentally taxing.

Your mind will start to try to convince you that you are completely bushed and can’t squeeze out another rep. Our minds and bodies like to seek out comfort and do not enjoy being pushed to levels of discomfort for a prolonged period of time.

By doing the 20-reps squat workout, you can develop incredible mental toughness and fortitude, as you will have to use your willpower to overcome the desire to quit at 12 reps when things start getting uncomfortably tough.

The one caveat here is that if you are experiencing genuine pain, you should not push through high-rep squats

It is still important to listen to your body, and if you are experiencing joint pain or muscle pain, or tremendous neuromuscular fatigue such that the risk of injury is high, it is crucial to cut your set at whatever rep number you are at.

A person doing a squat with a barbell and weight plates.

How to Do the 20 Rep Squat Program

So, how should you program the 20-rep squat sets into your workout program?

The 20-rep squat program is generally recommended to be taken on as part of a six-week program.

This means that you might focus on your high-rep squats as part of your program focus for six weeks before switching up your routine and working back down to lower reps.

It is not recommended that you do the 20 rep squat program for more than six weeks.

This type of workout programming with a squat emphasis is typically attributed to Dr. Randall J. Strossen. 

However, Dr. Strossen’s book, How to Gain 30 Pounds of Muscle in 6 Weeks, attributes this squat training method to his mentor Charles Poliquin.

There isn’t really a consensus about how often you should do 20 rep squat workouts during the training week; programming breathing squats depends on your fitness level, overall training goals, and the other workouts you’re doing.

A person doing a squat with a kettlebell.

It is generally recommended that the workout can be included in up to three workouts per week.

With this programming scheme, you should do one set of 20-rep squats per workout, adding five pounds to the bar every time. 

Other fitness experts recommend doing high-rep breathing squats just once a week since it’s so demanding. With this type of programming approach, you would do the breathing squats just on leg day once a week, increasing the load every week of the six-week 20-squat program.

Beginners should also just stick to once a week, using a much lower load, such as 50% of your 1RM.

Intermediate weightlifters can aim to do these squats twice a week, with about 55% of your one-rep max.

Advanced athletes can work up to three times a week for the 20 reps squat workout, using a weight that you would typically do for 8 to 12 reps or about 65% of your 1RM.

Overall, high-rep squats are certainly a demanding workout, so build up slowly, and don’t forget to add in plenty of recovery. 

Err on the conservative side and start with lighter weights and less frequent programming, and then gradually build up in intensity and frequency as your body adapts.

Not yet ready for the 20 rep squat program? Try our 30-day squat challenge!

A class of people doing a squats with kettlebells.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.