The 20 Rep Squat

For no particularly good reason I want to write about something that has already had endless words written about it and that I probably won’t contribute much meaningfully “new” to the topic on.  But so it goes.  That topic is the 20 rep squat (sometimes called more specifically the 20 rep breathing squat).  This is kind of the original rest-pause training, an entire book has been written about it although if you gain 30 lbs in 6 weeks, it’s not gonna be mostly muscle, and I imagine most have at least heard of it.

But I’m hoping not to make this just the same old generic article that everyone has seen.  Yes, I want to look at the 20 rep squat in a general sense, in terms of how it is done but I also want to look at variations and a couple of things about it that many may not be aware of.  I’m sure, as is my wont (what the hell does that even mean), I’ll tangent into some other random stuff too.

What is The 20 Rep Squat?

So what is the 20 rep squat, anyhow?  Based on the name you’d think it was just some generic set of 20 repetitions but that’s not an accurate description.  As stated above, it’s really the first rest-pause approach (that I know of anyhow) and you will typically see something to the effect of “Take your best 10 repetition maximum weight and grind out 20 reps” with it to describe that set. Let’s look at that first.

By definition, you can’t do 20 repetitions with a 10 repetition maximum (RM) weight.  If you could, it would be your 20 RM.  And this would be true if you were using that 10RM weight in a relatively continuous, no major rest between repetitions way.  But again this is rest-pause training and that’s not how the set is meant to be done.  But even here there are two traditional ways that the set has been done.


The Hypertrophy Zone

It was the mid 90’s, I was a fresh-faced college graduate with a BS in kinesiology (ok, technically physiological sciences but they changed the name in my junior year) and therefore thought (no, KNEW) that I knew everything there was to know about everything.  Hahahahaha.

At some point, I would go to take the USWF Olympic Lifting Level 1 Certification.  Two oddities stand out from that. First was that the guy teaching it told me that his son had studied piano with my mother; and here I was, the son of two musicians taking a training certification.  I have no idea what that means but it must mean something.

The second point, that is actually relevant was that Wes Barnett (then one of the US’s top lifters and hopefuls) was there to demonstrate.  He was a big dude and I asked the coaches what he did for muscle growth.  They told me that he would just do lots of sets of 5.  This, of course, blew my all-knowing mind, I knew that the hypertrophy zone was higher than that.  How could sets of 5 get it done?  Clearly there was more to the topic than I then understood.

A Little History About the Hypertrophy Zone

For many years, it was generally asserted that 8-12 repetitions was the hypertrophy range.  Shockingly, I never ever found an actual reference to support it.  Usually it was one book citing a book by another author which would then cite a reference paper that they had written which would cite the first book; it was one big circle jerk of referencing.  But bodybuilders of the day typically talked about working in that, or occasionally higher repetition ranges (because the pump is like coming and coming and coming).  But that’s just broscience, amirite?

Now, I have a theory about where 8-12 reps actually came from.  If you get way back into the history of the weight game, you see a lot of recommendations to do 3 sets of 10.  This assuredly came out of some of the early work of DeLorme (look it up, folks) but it shows up a lot in earlier books.  I suspect that what happened is that guys would sort of lose count during their sets; hell I can barely get past 8 without losing focus.  So sometimes they would do 8 and sometimes they might do 12.  Boom, the hypertrophy range became 8-12 going forwards.


Split Routine Sequencing Part 2

I want to continue from last week’s article about split routine sequencing, where I focused only on two-way split routines and some of the issues that come up in terms of sequencing the different workouts, and look at three-way splits.  In this situation, the body is split into three different “parts” (in terms of muscles worked).

Once again I’m making a couple of assumptions in what I’m going to look at.  The first is that someone is only training four days per week without weekend.  This honestly doesn’t change that much in a practical sense whether you add a fifth day or allow weekend training.  It’s a touch more flexible but the same basic problems crop up.  The second is that each muscle group is being trained roughly twice per week or every fifth day.

For the most part, with a three-way split and four workouts per week, you end up hitting everything about every fifth day.  If you allow for more workouts per week, for example 6 days per week, you can get everything twice/week.  But this raises issue with having a life and people not wanting to generally live in the gym.

If someone wants to hit everything only once/week (and while I have previously been critical of this, Brad Schoenfeld’s research on the topic has made me reconsider it).  There can still be problems but they become a lot less of an issue here.

I want to emphasize, since some people seemed to miss this, that I can’t possibly cover every possible approach to splitting a routine (someone asked me about some specific split but my goal was never to cover every possibility) or frequency or days of the week. By the time you get to three-way splits the possibilities become increasingly endless and allowing for more days per week or whatever makes the number of possible variations insane.  Rather, try to focus on the principles of what I’m talking about, issues you may not have considered in terms of the order that you work a given muscle group within a week’s time.

So let me look at some different approaches to the three-way split along with issues that come up with sequencing.


Split Routine Sequencing Part 1

Since I seem to write about exercise and training relatively less frequently (odd given that I started out in exercise physiology), I wanted to put down something that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while which has to do with split routines.  For anybody not familiar with the term, this is just any routine that splits the body into different muscle groups or bodyparts.  This distinguishes it from full-body routines (where the entire body is worked all at once in some form or fashion).

But I’m not just going to write another generic article about split routines; there are plenty of those around.  Rather, I want to talk about an issue regarding split routines that I think is often overlooked which has to do with the sequencing of the actual workouts within a week and some issues that can crop up if people don’t take certain things into account.

I’m not going to try to cover every single type of split routine that can be set up, there are just too many variations.  Rather, hopefully by the time you’re done with this and see what I say about the types I will discuss, you’ll be in a better place to think about how you set up the split routines or what issues to at least consider when designing them.

Primarily I’ll focus on two way split routines where the body is split into two distinct parts although I’ll try to look at least one or two three way split routines where the body is split into three parts.  I’m going to assume that the trainee is targeting a body part frequency of roughly twice per week or at least every 5th day; by the time you go to hitting everything once per week a lot of this tends to matter less.  I’m also going to assume that the trainee is avoiding weekend training although it honestly doesn’t change that much in the big scheme of what I’m going to discuss.

Let me say up front that there is no perfect split routine or split routine sequencing.  Every one has it’s advantages but every one brings it’s own set of disadvantages to the table.  So a lot of picking a split along with how you sequence the workouts depends on your own strengths and weaknesses or personal preferences.


DOMS and Muscle Growth

Since I am flummoxed (yes, flummoxed) at what to write about this week, I’m going to address something in brief (for me) that came up on my Facebook group which has to do with the role of soreness, or more accurately delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and growth.

This has been one of those ideas floating around for years and I still see posts about people feeling as if they didn’t have a good workout if they don’t get DOMS or actually chasing DOMS.  That is, based on the belief that DOMS equals growth, DOMS becomes the end-goal.  When growth and progress should be the end goal.

This led me years ago to develop what I call the Blunt Force Trauma Theory of Hypertrophy.  Since you want to be sore, I will beat you with a hammer all over your body.  Growth should ensue.

What is DOMS

As the name suggests, DOMS refers to or at least is thought to represent the delayed muscle sorenss that occurs after training.  It’s frequently seen in beginner trainees (with something called the repeated bout effect causing it to dissipate fairly quickly) and after eccentric training of various kinds.

By eccentric I mean lengthening contractions, when your muscles are lengthening under load.  Lowering a weight that you’ve just lifted is one type but there are others.  Running downhill is notorious for causing DOMS and this is due to the muscles lengthening during impact under heavy load.

The phrase delayed-onset has to do with the fact that DOMS typically doesn’t hit until ~24 hours after training peaking at 36 hours.Despite some very early (and still held) ideas that lactic acid build up from training was the cause of soreness.

The fact that DOMS peaked this much later made it clear that it wasn’t: lactic acid (or whatever, it’s more complicated than this) dissipates about 30 minutes after training.  No way could it be relevant 36 hours later.  I was taught this in the early 90’s and it stuns me that people still hold to the idea that lactate is relevant in any form or fashion.