Home Bodybuilding 20 Rep Squat Program – for Massive Muscle Gains

20 Rep Squat Program – for Massive Muscle Gains

by Michael Davis

The 20 rep squat program, otherwise known as ‘squats and milk’, is not a program for the faint-hearted and will certainly sort out the wannabes from the serious lifter.

So, what is the 20 rep squat program?

Basically the program consists of commencing your workout with one set of barbell back squats for 20 repetitions followed by a range of exercises based on compound lifts.

The program is usually structured in such a way to be worked three times per week for example Monday/Wednesday/Friday.

Old School 20 Rep Squat Program:

  • Squat: 1×20
  • Pull-Over: 1×20
  • Stiff-legged Dead-lift: 1×15
  • Bench Press: 3×12
  • Bent-over Rows: 3×15
  • Behind-the-Neck Press: 3×12
  • Shrug: 1×15
  • Pull-Over: 1×20

Bodybuilding for Mass 20 Rep Squat Program:

  • Barbell Back Squat: 1 x 20
  • Dumbbell Pullover: 1 x 20
  • Stiff-Legged Dead-lift: 1 x 15
  • Dumbbell Pullover: 1 x 20
  • Barbell Bench Press: 3 x 12,8,6
  • Bent-over Barbell Rows 3 x 12,8,6
  • Overhead Barbell Press 3 x 12,8,6

In addition to the above program, you can throw in some extra sets for arms, chest, shoulders back and calves if you desire to do so.

This really isn’t necessary however because all the muscles are worked quite extensively as it is.

If you just can’t bear the thought of not doing specific exercises though – after all, I agree it’s a hard psychology to train week in and out with so much as not one barbell curl or triceps extension – then I have you  covered.

I developed a program which has worked very well for myself and others so I’ll include it here – try it out and feel free to make changes to suite your own requirements.

20 Rep Squat Program + Isolation Exercises 

Monday – Chest

The first train with the ‘Bodybuilding for Mass’ 20 rep squat program then complete the workout with these additional chest isolation exercises to finish:

Incline dumbbell press 3 x 8

Flat Bench Dumbbell Flyes 2 x 12

Wednesday – Back/Rear Delts

The first train with the ‘Bodybuilding for Mass’ 20 rep squat program then complete the workout with these additional back/rear delts isolation exercises to finish:

Wide-grip bodyweight pull-ups 3 x max

Bent over dumbbell laterals (reverse flyes) 2 x 12

Friday – Arms/Calves

First train with the ‘Bodybuilding for Mass’ 20 rep squat program then complete the workout with these additional arms/calves isolation exercises to finish:

Rope Hammer Curls 1 x drop set

Rope Triceps Pushdown 1 x drop set

Seated Calf Raise 1 x drop set

Of course, you may only wish to focus on one additional area such as building your back and shoulder width so therefore just do the Wednesday isolation program.

20 rep squat program

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Rest Guide for the 20 rep squat program:

After you complete the initial 20 reps for squats commence the dumbbell pull-overs without delay (have this set up ready to go) and yup, your body will be sort of screaming at you for this.

After the pullovers, get about setting up for the stiff-legged dead-lift and commence when ready with minimal rest, then hit the pullovers again.

Now have about a three-minute rest – use the time to set up for bench press.

For the remainder of the workout, rest for 90 seconds between sets of each exercise, and only as long as it takes to set up between exercises.

Warm-up Guide for the 20 rep squat program:

You may have your own preference when it comes to pre-workout warm-ups so I offer this as a guide only as to what I have found effective for myself and others.

Dynamic Stretching:

  • Torso Twists x 5 each way
  • Side reach bends x 5 each side
  • Full body extension (toes to high reach) x 5
  • Shoulder rotations x 5 each way (reverse/forward)

Seated Single-Leg Extension:                 

  • 1 x 20 – 30 each leg (lightweight moderate tempo)

I usually use about 23kg for these and go just a bit beyond the hindering phase of lactic burn though not quite to failure.

This is to prime the quads with blood and lactic buildup and prepare the muscles for the ensuing onslaught.

Barbell Back Squat:

  • 1 x 8 (using 50 – 60% of 20 rep work-load)

Rest for two to three minutes before going in for the 20 rep battle.

I suggest going through to completion of the second set of pull-over’s then doing an additional warm-up for the deltoids as well as each of the remaining compound lifts in turn.

Warm-up for Shoulders:

  • Dumbbell Internal/External Rotation 1 x 10
  • Dumbbell 90° External Rotation 1 x 10
  • Overhead Dumbbell Press 1 x 8
  • Bent Over Lateral Raises 1 x 8
  • Standing Dumbbell Front Raises 1 x 5

Warm-up for Compound Exercises:

  • 1 x 8 – 12 with 50% of working weight

Nutrition – Why ‘Squats and Milk?’

The 20 rep squat program is a Big program for Big results.

Thing is, to get those big results also requires eating big.

Now, that isn’t to say you go running off cramming yourself full of cheeseburgers and fries for the sake of calorie overload.

You need your calories to come from a selection of foods making up a good and healthy diet such as:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Grains and nuts
  • fruits and vegetables

Back when the 20 rep squat program first gained popularity, the notable lifters of the time would consume quite a lot of milk to help support the nutritional requirements such a demanding schedule placed upon their bodies.

Therefore, it wasn’t long before the program was tagged ‘Squats and Milk’.

In fact, the standard consumption for anyone wanting maximum results were considered a gallon of whole milk per day.

I still endorse this practice and when taking on the 20 rep squat program, or any like manner super demanding program, I personally go through up to three to four Litres of ‘Lite’ milk per day.

I choose ‘Lite’ simply because this meets my own requirements as I get my supply of ‘good fats’ from a variety of sources.

20 repsquat program results

How long is the 20 Rep Squat Program:

The program is designed to be worked three days per week as previously stated.  However, we all differ in our make-up when it comes to requirements for optimal performance and development.

It is quite okay to break the program into a two day per week schedule – say Monday and Friday – if you require a longer recovery period.

When doing the program three times per week the program is set for 6 weeks.

If you choose the twice per week path you will need to slog it out for 8 weeks.

20 rep squat program: the merciless path to Massive Gains 

There is no doubt about it – the 20 rep squat program is Hard as Hell to get through.  If you grit your way through it though, you will undeniably be rewarded with an incredible increase in Strength and Size.

High rep squatting is scientifically proven to increase the release of Human Growth Hormone, which directly promotes more lean muscle mass and decreased fat storage.

As hard as it is, I have never heard a complaint that the 20 rep squat program doesn’t deliver.

If you want to put on a good amount of size and get really strong quickly, then you need to bust it out for 6 weeks and take on the 20 rep squat program – Just Do It!

 Mind over matter: 


 Okay, I will tell you right upfront, there is no way you will conquer a 20 rep squat program without first having or developing a very strong mindset.

The most common thing to hear in the gym is ‘Oh crap it’s leg day’ or ‘Man I hate squats’.

If that’s you then you have no business attempting 20 rep squats.

Get your mind right – period.

When you decide the time is right and you’ve risen up all the mental strength of your inner Christ then expect the demons of doubt and surrender to be ever lurking in the recesses.

Brace yourself for each workout.

Keep a Positive Mental Attitude.

The first 6 – 10 reps are not too bad, 10 – 15 are brutal and from 15 through 20 you will really think you are having a near death experience.

The same with weeks; weeks 1 & 2 are manageable/weeks 3 & 4 are very demanding/weeks 5 & 6 will take you beyond anything you’ve ever felt before.

Breathing Squats:

This is another term given to high rep squatting and I need not go into too much depth of explanation – you will know why after your first set of twenty.

Basically, it goes like this:

  • Reps 1 – 6 are like usual (I usually take a deep breath at the top then do 2 – 3 reps then a quick gulp of air for each of the following 3 – 5 reps)
  • Reps 8 – 12 will require say two deep breaths at the top for each rep
  • Reps 12 – 15 about 3 quick gulps of air then a deep breath.
  • Reps 15 – 20 some quick breaths and a couple of deep breaths while silently chanting ‘Get ye behind me Satan’ as those mind demons come lurking from the shadows.

How Much Weight Should I Use?

There are a few different approaches for choosing an appropriate starting weight for a 20 rep squat program.

A common choice is to start with your current 10 rep max.

I can imagine your thoughts – ‘are you crazy…how can I do 20 reps with my 10 rep max?’

You will be surprised.

Remember, they are also called ‘Breathing squats’ – your set of 20 reps will take 3 – 5 minutes to complete not 30 – 40 seconds.

After you get to 10 reps you will slow down considerably, taking several breaths between reps until you reach twenty.

It is most exhilarating to accomplish 20 reps with what you previously thought crunched you out at 10 reps.

Another method is the way of ‘reverse engineering’.

With this, you take your 5 rep max and deduct 2.5Kg (or 5Lb) for each workout you will do.

Therefore, you would deduct 45Kg (or 90Lb) from your current 5 rep max (3 workouts per week x 6 weeks = 18 workouts.  18 x 2.5 = 45Kg)


Your current 5 rep max = 140Kg (or 310Lb)

Your starting weight for 20 rep squat program = 95Kg (or 218Lb)

Whichever method you choose, you will then aim at increasing the weight by 2.5Kg each workout.

As I said before, at the start this is not too difficult.  By week three it becomes quite challenging.

And yes, by the end of the grueling six weeks you can expect to be doing 20 reps with your previous 5 rep max or very close to it.

Yeeehaah, and that’s the GOLD!!!

Main points and common questions

This article has a lot to take in and I guess you’re quite pooped just getting through it, so here I’ll do a quick recap on the main points and answer some common questions.

Bodybuilding for Mass 20 Rep Squat Program:

  • Barbell Back Squat: 1 x 20
  • Dumbbell Pullover: 1 x 20
  • Stiff-Legged Dead-lift: 1 x 15
  • Dumbbell Pullover: 1 x 20
  • Barbell Bench Press: 3 x 12,8,6
  • Bent-over Barbell Rows 3 x 12,8,6
  • Overhead Barbell Press 3 x 12,8,6

How Much Weight Should I Use?

Your current 10 rep max or…

Your current 5 rep max less 45Kg (90Lb) example:

5 rep max = 140Kg means 20 rep squat = 95Kg

How much weight should I add?

Aim for 2.5Kg (5Lb) per workout.

How long does the 20 rep squat program go?

3 workouts per week for 6 weeks or…

2 workouts per week for 8 weeks.

Is the 20 rep squat program okay for girls?

Absolutely – weights aren’t sexist.

Can a beginner do the 20 rep squat program?

In all honesty, I would say no.

The barbell back squat is a compound exercise which means it incorporates a lot of muscles.  A strong core (abdominals and lower back) is very beneficial and proper form/technique is a must.

I suggest a beginner should work first on building over-all strength and conditioning before taking on such a demanding program.

Also, the 20 rep squat program could very well turn a beginner off ever wanting to look at a squat bar again.


So there you have it – a breakdown of the 20 rep squat program.

I hold no punches when I say it ain’t easy.

In fact, it’ll most likely be the toughest program you’ve ever tried.

However, I believe you can do it.

You know you can do it.

Just Do It!

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