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Iron Man July 2010 Excerpt: The 20-Rep Squat Routine!

The 20-rep squat is without a doubt one of the-if not the-most demanding exercises you can do. You will definitely know what pain is after. Here's the latest excerpt for building legs. Learn more.

The 20-Rep Squat Routine
A Legendary Mass-Building Miracle


The 20-rep squat is without a doubt one of the—if not the—most demanding exercises you can do. You will definitely know what pain is all about after just one set! It’s also not all that common anymore. Why? Who knows. Maybe it’s just too tough. Most people don’t like regular squats, let alone doing 20 reps of some mutant variation!

Barbell Squat
Barbell Squat
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Barbell Squat
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History Lesson

Also known as “breathing squats,” the 20-rep-squat routine dates back to 1930. Originally, it was a simple, four-to-five-exercise full-body workout based around squats—but not yet 20-rep squats. Lifting pioneer J.C. Hise’s experience with that program was perhaps the most dramatic, and he had great success with it. Peary Rader, founder of Iron Man magazine, is generally credited with coming up with the first 20-rep breathing-style-squat routine, with the help of people like Hise.

Breathing squats are squats done for 20 reps with a weight you usually do 10 reps with. Instead, you keep going, and each time you hit failure, you take three to five deep breaths and continue until you get to 20.

While I have seen lighter-weight 20- and even 25-rep versions, the above is the most common. The original Iron Man routine looked like this:

  • Barbell behind-the-neck presses 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Barbell squats 3 sets of 20 reps
  • Barbell pullovers 3 sets of 20 reps
  • Bench presses 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Barbell curls 3 sets of 8 reps

It’s a rather simple routine, and it came along with a “formula for growth.” Now, much of the so-called formula was doing the breathing squats, eating a lot of food and drinking a lot of whole milk. In fact, that’s how the routine is defined by most proponents, including a book that claims you can gain 30 pounds of muscle by following it.

Part of the gain, however, is fat weight, largely because you drank so much high-fat whole milk on those early versions—as in a gallon or so per day. The routine has evolved over time to this more-recent version...

Get the rest of the article in the July 2010 Issue of Iron Man Magazine.

July Iron Man Table Of Contents