20 Rep Squat Cycle

A 20 Rep Squat Cycle…completing it…is a feat for anyone to accomplish!  Anyone with an established 1, 3 or 5 rep max for the low bar back squat can participate. Those without the tested loads or who are new to squatting should not participate. After completing one cycle, an athlete must rest/recover a full cycle from this program (or longer) before attempting it again.

mark berry

The 20 Rep Squat Cycle was developed in the 1930’s by Mark H. Berry and can be found in his book the Mark Berry Barbell Courses. Mark Rippetoe says, “Trust me, if you do an honest 20 rep program, at some point Jesus will talk to you. On the last day of the program, he asked if he could work in.” Here’s a pretty good run down of the details of the program, to save “words” and retyping: 20 Rep Squat on GymTalk.com

We are only going to squat!  So, don’t freak out when you see the list of movements below the squat.  And it’s that full set of movements that allegedly packs on 30 lbs of muscle (plus a gallon of milk a day) in 6 weeks (lifting three times a week). Our programming may include a few accessory movements and a lot of gymnastics strength work, but it’s not designed to be a technique program. Please heed that warning.


Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday we will squat. This cycle/series literally takes 3-6 minutes to complete once you’re warmed up. We’ll ensure, with a prescribed warm up, that you are warmed up before you get under the bar and warm your squat up. Generally, 1 set of 10 with an empty barbell is a great start. You will have a starting load for the first session. Our recommendation for warm up is:

1 x 10 at 40% of your starting load

1 x  8 at 60% of your starting load

1 x 5 at 80% of your starting load

After that, paired up on the racks, you’ll each go from the rack for a set of 20 reps.

That’s it. You’re done. By week two, we’ll be on a roll.


If you have a 1RM or 5RM LBBS, we’ll use that as your starting point. We will test you at the beginning of the program. If you don’t have a 5RM, you can estimate it at 65%+ of your 1RM if squatting in the class, but if this is a dedicated program, you must establish that 5RM and not estimate. This is the number we use for our training loads for a set of 5.

Once you have your 5RM, you’ll determine your starting load for the 16 lifting sessions by subtracting 5 pounds for each lifting session.

5# x 16 sessions is 80#

You will subtract 80# from your starting load (5 RM or estimated 5RM).  That will be your first day, first load squatted 20 times.

Each lifting day of the cycle you’ll add 5# to your squat. By the end of the cycle, you’ll be squatting your 5RM 20x!

For example, we’ll use Coach Paul.

His OLD 5RM (actual, not estimate) is 335# (the first time he went through this program)

 335# 5RM
– 80#
255# starting load

Day 1 of the cycle (likely a Monday), Paul will squat 225# x 20.
Day 2 of the cycle (likely a Wednesday), Paul will squat 230# x 20.
Day 3 of the cycle (Friday), Paul will squat 235# x 20… and so on.
Day 16 of the cycle (8 weeks in), Paul will squat 335# x 20!



A:  Talk with your coach. If you are a seasoned athlete and have just missed our testing days, day 1 of the cycle will start with establishing a 5RM before we hit the 20 reps.  If you are newer and not comfortable (or we’re not comfortable with you) establishing a max, we’ll help you estimate a load to work on either at 20 reps or 3 sets of 10 – working on technique and/or load/endurance. We require you be a seasoned squatter to do the 20 Rep Cycle.


A: You have a few choices, but the best is probably to skip that day and pick up the next day, simply adding 5# and continuing the cycle from the next lift.  You could make it up on an Open Gym day, but the days aren’t ideal: Thursday/Saturday, especially since we’re lifting Monday/Wednesday/Friday. If you miss two days, same deal: add 5# from the last squat and continue. Do not lift 2 days back-to-back!


A:  Read THIS.  LBBS is superior for building strength in the posterior chain and is easier on the knees. It simply makes sense to use this squat with this type of a program.








Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.