David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.
One of the best ways to gain a lot of muscular body weight very quickly is with the 20 rep squat, or “Super Squat” routine.
This is an “old school” method of training that has been around since the 1930’s (although the term “Super Squats” was not coined until much later); and it’s not uncommon for novice lifters to gain 20 – 30lb of muscle in 6 – 8 weeks when they first use it.
The method involves doing just one set of squats for 20 reps (after warm-ups). This is followed by a set of pullovers for 20 reps, plus 2 – 4 additional exercises. And the routine is performed two or three times per week for a period of 6 – 8 weeks.
But it’s the way the squats are performed that’s important. If you don't do them in the correct manner you won't get the full benefits. So in this article I’ll describe the 20 rep squat routine, and I’ll also give you a couple of sample workouts that you can use to get started with straight away.
20 Rep Squats
Squats are one of the most valuable exercises you could ever do, and without doubt the very best exercise there is for developing the legs. The quadriceps responds well to all rep ranges, but higher reps are particularly good for hypertrophy. And what’s more, by doing high reps you’ll give your metabolism a boost and create an internal environment that will cause growth to occur throughout your entire body.
It is important to squat with proper technique and depth if you want to get the best results however. So make sure you get down to at least parallel on every rep (top of thigh parallel to floor), keep a neutral spine, and drive up through your heels, exhaling forcefully as you reach the top position.
20 rep squats are great for all levels of trainee, although I would not recommend them for absolute beginners, simply because your technique needs to be just right before you do them. So if you are just starting out stick to 3 sets of 5 – 8 reps for a while before you attempt a routine of this sort.
How to Perform Your Set of 20 Squats
The way you perform your set of squats is as follows:
First do two or three warm up sets to make sure you are properly prepared for it. Then select a weight that you could just about do 15 reps with if you pushed to your limit. But you are going to do 20 reps with it.
Do your first 10 reps in the normal manner and then pause and take two or three deep breaths before doing another rep. Continue this way until you complete the 20 reps. But if you find you need to take more than three breaths between reps as you progress through your set, that’s fine. Take as many breaths as you need as you near the end of the set.
Then rack the weight and immediately do a set of 20 pullovers while you are still out of breath.
The Original 20 Rep Squat Routine
Although there are several different versions of it, the original 20 rep squat workout routine looked something like this:
- Press Behind Neck 3 X 10 – 12
- Squats 1 X 20
- Pullovers 1 X 20
- Bench Press 3 X 10 – 12
- Bent-over Row 3 X 10 – 12
This has been described as “the ultimate hardgainers routine”, and it should be done three times per week until recovery becomes an issue, after which it should be done just twice per week.
The 20 Rep Squat Routine - Improved Version
And here is my improved version of the routine:
- Squats 1 X 5; 1 X 20
- Pullovers 1 X 20
- Bench Press 3 X 8 – 10
- Bent-over Row 3 X 8 – 10
- Overhead Press 2 X 8 – 10
- Squats 1 X 8; 1 X 20
- Pullovers 1 X 20
- Parallel Bar Dips 2 X 10 – 12
- Chin-Ups 2 X 8 – 10
- Power Cleans 2 X 6 – 8
Again train three times per week, alternating the two workouts, but if recovery becomes an issue reduce it to twice per week (so each workout is done just once per week).
Do this for at least 6 weeks (but up to 8 weeks if you are still improving), adding 5lb (2.5kg) to your 20 rep squat set each workout. Then give it at least three months before returning to the program.
Diet and Recovery
Apart from the squats, the other vital part of this program is the food. That is you need to eat to build muscle. Originally it was suggested that you drink at least 4 pints (and up to twice that amount) of milk each day. Fortunately, these days we don’t need to do that. Just have 3 big whey protein shakes per day, and apart from that eat as much good wholesome food as you can. Plenty of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats – and don’t forget your fruit and vegetables.
And of course get plenty of rest and sleep. At the very least 8 hours sleep per night, but 9 would probably be better. Don't overdo the cardio and other activities either, as this will impair your recovery. Save your energy for your training.
So that’s the 20 rep squat routine. It’s tough – perhaps tougher than anything you’ve ever done before. But the results will be well worth it. So why not give it a go, and let me know how you get on in the comments below.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
David (author) from Birmingham, UK on December 17, 2019:
You are welcome Toni. Yes, you could do high pulls, or just do seated dumbbell shoulder press for two sets of 10 - 12. Merry Christmas to you too.
Toni on December 16, 2019:
Hello! Thank you for your informative arcticles.
Is there a substitute for power cleans?