Super Squats – Review of the Legendary 20 Rep Squat Program

Supersquats is a book that Ironmind put out some time ago and was one of my formative influences for setting standards for what hard work is.

The title was eye catching enough for a 17 year old looking to find the fastest route of the world stage: Supersquats: How to Gain 30lbs of Muscle in 6 Weeks. My bullshit barometer was already finely tuned at that age, but Ironmind as a company carried more credibility than your typical newsstand muscle rag. Randall Strossen always emphasized simplicity in his products and publications, to the point that the company sold whey flavored whey protein (no artificial flavoring).

Many of the books published by his company were written by or about some of the early legends of lifting, guys and gals who gained world renown in an era that predated the saturation of corporate sales copy in the fitness industry. Ironmind also held Olympic lifting in the highest regard, offering training videos from Olympic training halls and photo prints of some of the most iconic lifts in the sport.

So how could a company that rooted itself in so much of the ‘good stuff’ offer up a book with such a seemingly phony sensationalist title? For 20 bucks + s&h I had to find out. After waiting for several weeks (these were pre-Prime days), the book came and I got to work.

The program boils down to a few stupidly simple recommendations, which I will cover in ascending order of importance.

  1. A Shit Ton of Calories (GOMAD)

Diet advice in the book amounts to a recommended 2 quarts of whole milk per day and a recipe for a 100g protein shake involving the following:

4 cups of whole milk
2 cups of powdered milk
1/4 cup of nutritional (bewer’s) yeast
1 banana
2 tablespoons of lecithin
1 tablespoon of wheat germ oil
1 large scoop of vanilla ice cream

I first took this down before an evening shift pushing carts at the grocery store and made it to 20 minutes before the end of that shift before shitting my pants. Maybe it was all the solutes, maybe it was the lactose, either way….. 10/10 would not recommend.

The milk by itself, on the other hand, was easy peasy. This actually kick-started my ‘fat jacked’ stage, which was the phase in my early 20s where I first looked like I had shoulders and traps, but also had an inexcusable gut from my reckless caloric intake. I would walk into the LA Fitness I worked at (I had a lot of odd jobs) with a gallon of whole milk in hand and stash it under the training desk where it would sit, un-refrigerated for my entire shift. I would take it down over the course of the day with a few gluttonous gulps in between each client, immune to the disgust and confusion from the rest of the corporate gym crowd.

Calories and protein are vital for fast growth and most lifters get way, way less than they think. Once you get a sufficient amount in and pair it with aggressive weight training, change is radical. The gallon of milk is probably not better than mimicking what any run-of-the-mill bodybuilder eats, but it works and it works fast. If you are a hard gainer who can handle lactose and doesn’t mind softening up for some explosive short-term gains, this might be worth a few months of your time. My willingness to get ‘fat-jacked’ led me to a 620 deadlift and 365 push jerk double as a natty 21 year old.

  1. Compound Barbell Movements for High Reps

Calories are vital but the mass built will only match the quality of the training stress. Compound barbell movements represent that stress.

There are plenty of methods that are proven to build mass, but the theme of ’30lbs in 6 weeks’ requires complete maximization. Compound movements stress multiple muscles at once, allow more load to be used than other movements and involve an element of coordination, all of which make them second to none when it comes to quick adaptation. For immediate surges in size and strength, pushes, pulls, squats and deads with a barbell provide the most absolute bang for the buck.

When you take these exercises and do them for repeated sets of high reps (with lots of effort), magic happens. This is not necessarily a secret, but it lacks a certain sexiness that most look for when it comes to cutting edge training wisdom. It also gets overlooked because it involves really, really hard work. To run through your whole body with many hard sets of 10+ reps in a single workout is much more taxing than what most trainees are used to, but that extra tax is what drives aggressive growth.

  1. A Single Balls-Out Set of Breathing Squats for 20 Reps

The money set of ‘Supersquats’ is a pure distillation of what the last section talked about. All of the qualities that make compound movements huge drivers for growth, barbell back squats have in spades. They have an added feature that makes them extra deadly; the lifter can recover at the top of each rep just enough to bang out another and this can be done almost indefinitely. This means each set of squats can feature extremely high density, meaning high load, high volume and high effort in a much shorter period of time.

Supersquats exploits this by an old-school tactic called ‘breathing squats’. The gist is to take a few deep, hard breaths in between each rep, using the top as a recovery point and getting some focus and motivation in the process. A set of 10 this way might take over a minute. The 20 reps they recommend? 2 minutes plus when you start getting into the weeds. This is exactly how they can prescribe you take a previous 10 rep max and breathe your way through 20 reps. It amounts to one giant density set.

I can’t stress this enough; that genuinely represents the Holy Grail of gains. The progress from high rep squats done with excruciating effort is consistent with what I experienced when I started training strongman; running through carry medleys and stone loads for time involved an amount of work that was mathematically higher than anything I could have experienced in the gym. The result was a lot of nausea and regret along with some of the fastest growth I had experienced in such a short period of time.

My first run at this workout destroyed me. The last 8 reps are a matter of pure will; the breathing makes you a ‘high’ kind of dizzy, your hands go numb and your lungs burn. You know you can get through it but the question quickly becomes, “do you even want to?”. The book offers some visualization tactics that work pretty well and can become a big asset to future hard endeavors. You have to have a crystal clear view of what you want and how bad you want it or else you will happily stop with 3 reps to go and criticize the program for being un-doable.

Aside from the insane growth in work capacity, thigh size and squatting strength, the big takeaway from Supersquats was work ethic and how little of it most of us have. Waking up on time and doing the bare minimum is par for the course, but many of us leave plenty on the table in day to day pursuit of our goals and don’t realize it until something else forces us to kick it up a notch. This became the gold standard for hard work.

I strongly recommend any late novice to mid-intermediate try this; even if it doesn’t represent a long term sustainable plan. It is too aggressive for those with elite levels of strength (recovery takes too long to bounce back from high-effort linear progressions like these), but damn if it doesn’t work well for those on the way up. Add to that it’s role in conditioning you to really, really hard stuff and it gets an easy win as a ‘bucket list’ program.

I urge you to read Supersquats to get it from Randy Strossen’s mouth, but here’s the full run-down:

Press Behind Neck – 3 sets x 12 reps

Squat – 1 sets x 20 reps supersetted with Pullovers – 1 set x 20 reps

Bench Press – 3 sets x 12 reps

Bentover Rows- 3 sets x 15 reps

Stiff-Leg Deadlift – 1 sets x 15 reps

Pullovers – 1 set x 20 reps

The above routine is the ultimate ‘hard gainers’ routine and is done 2-3 times a week.

3 thoughts on “Super Squats – Review of the Legendary 20 Rep Squat Program”

  1. Was there a recommendation for training percentages for all the other lifts (Press’s, Pulls, etc)? Or is it just winging it? I haven’t found anywhere online where anyone says how much I should be deadlifting or benching while on this program just the amount of reps.

    1. No percentages, just a weight you know you can handle for those reps. I don’t believe the book recommends progressing those lifts with the same 5lb jumps as it’s hard to progress all lifts linearly at the same time and the 20 rep squats take a lot of recovery juice you. If I ran it again, I might even step load by keeping the weight on those exercises the same for several weeks before trying to add weight.

Leave a Reply