High Rep Squats to Man UP!


Greg Leistner Dr. Ken

Above, Greg Leistner squats 500 lbs for reps as Dad, Dr. Ken spots

Sometimes you feel the need to kick your own ass.... At least I feel that way. I hope I am the norm and NOT the exception.

I gotta make sure I still have that mental edge and pushing yourself into new territories of pain through training, especially high rep squats, will push you over the edge, trust me 🙂

High rep squats are like the 'Man UP Medicine" - something about squats that cures almost everything in a WEAK Man.

I don't recommend doing these very often, maybe every 8 weeks or so. The first time I began experimenting with high rep squats was after reading about a guy named Vic Richards, he would squat for 1 - 2 hours, set after set. Sometimes reps were in the 20 - 30 range, other times, ALL heavy singles.

I was 14 years old, the Summer before sophomore year in high school and about to go to Israel for a month, so, without access to a gym, I decided I'd make up for lost time BEFORE I got to Israel, I must have squatted for an hour at least, totaling over 40 sets of squats.

It's good to be young and dumb.... sometimes 🙂

I do laugh at how if we hear such stories of squats for 20 or 30 sets we now have college kids running to the hospitals, suing the school and overall crying about the hard work.

When you're in your late teens / early 20s, you SHOULD be a F--in' SAVAGE. You should not be showing up to your Football camp out of shape.

But society today is all about blaming others vs self ownership. I always think of this when the college Football guys come back to The Underground during their winter break and deep down, I feel proud knowing they will head back to school Spring Semester in TOP shape.

Then, in my early 20s, my squat strength was at an ALL time high, sometimes squatting 495 for several reps. So, I decided one day to hit 315 for a minimum of 20 reps, I think I got 22 reps, that was FUN 🙂

The next challenge was to get 225 for 50 reps. I got to 45 or 46 and did a few forced reps to get me over the hump to hit 50 reps.

I then read about Dr. Ken's son, Kevin Tolbert, squatting 600 lbs for some 20 or 30 reps!

The video of Kevin doesn't exist (that I know) but after seeing Dr. Ken weighing 165 lbs and squatting 400 + lbs for 20 + reps, I don't doubt his adopted son, Kevin, was able to tear through 600. I was quick to remind myself, I am NOT strong enough, and, neither are you.

kevin tolbert

High rep squats WILL pack on serious muscle onto your legs, BUT, as an athlete, I would never recommend these to you IN Season.

In the deep off season, go for it, pick a day and think about 2 - 3 days beforehand. Your mind needs to prep up for this gut check.

The 20+ rep squats are tough on your body to say the least, so if you're gonna crush these, choose a time in your training calendar where you are prepared to be SORE.

Hit sleds and back extensions for recovery work the next 2 days!

I became reignited with fire to crank these again after Dan John incorporated them into his latest book, 'Mass Made Simple'.

High rep squats will render you immobile for at least 2 - 3 days with serious soreness. Trust me, I am posting this article on a Friday and the video was filmed on Monday 🙂

As an athlete, I believe in submax effort on the squats, leaving a rep or 2 in the tank (sometimes more), this way you are training for speed and strength and NOT training with higher reps and grinding the reps out which leads to excess muscle soreness.

ANYTHING that inhibits your ability to train in your sport and become better at your sport skill is NOT conducive to your training. This set of high rep squats was more of a mental challenge for me than anything else. It was a mental test, to make sure I could endure pain and push through the pain barrier.

The last time I performed this weight was for 35 reps, the next time I'll go straight to 50 reps as this leg soreness is BRUTAL the first 2 days. The way to get rid of the soreness is through light sled drags, foam rolling and regular movement to feed blood into the muscles.

What is my original motivation for high rep squats?

The inspirational vid below goes back to my early teens, check it below.....

I also remembered the story of Casey Viator going through his Arthur Jones, HIT leg workout of leg extensions, leg presses and 500 lb squats! I would read that story over and over again as a kid, so when I squatted, the picture was engraved in my mind like a movie.

casey viator chuck amato

Training for me goes beyond just the physical, I ALWAYS say this and of course the metrosexuals NEVER understand what it means to push the body to the limits and beyond.

I will ALWAYS need an ass kicking of some sort on a regular basis to remind myself what it means to train like a BEAST and keep that mental edge.

Question for You: What was the last workout you did that pushed your mind and body to the limit or near the limit? Drop a comment below.

In Strength,


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24 Responses

  1. The Iowa situation wasn’t training, that was just torture. It makes me sick to my stomach that some idiot that calls himself a strength coach would do that to anyone. That person(s) and the University should be punished for that BS.

    There is a good high rep squat routine that I have followed, tried and tested, the 20 rep squat program, I’ve done the routine, put a few of my athletes on the routine and it works.

  2. last summer i got on the super squats kick, did it for a few weeks and got my high rep squat up to 365×20, it was murder. I said I would get double bodyweight for 20 (405×20), but got derailed by a minor issue. Looks like I gotta keep that promise when I get back from Poland!

  3. Awesome post as always, Zach! It’s pretty tough to beat the high rep 20 rep squat routines (ala Randall Strossen’s Super Squats) for brutality. But brutal in another way is doing an 8×8 workout of the big three, benches, squats and deadlifts, with only 15 – 20 seconds between sets. Obviously it’s not heavy weight like the 20 rep squat routine but it’s brutal in a completely different way.

  4. Hey it worked for Henry Milo Steinborn and John Grimek.

  5. Hey I like that you put a disclaimer for any athletes and letting them know that while high rep squats are good for motivation, its better to not do them for sports training. I was ready to go all out and beyond when you put that. It proves you care for your athletes development and have no intention of killing them. I respect you at a even higher level than I did before, and that was pretty high itself. Keep posting awesome blogs, Zack!

  6. Michael M says:

    The first time I did “Squat and Milk” I was hurting big time. I picked (well calculated to the best of my ability) an appropriate weight, but in reality it was probably too much. By rep 10 I was questioning what I was doing. By rep 15 I was questioning every thing in my life lol. At rep 18 I said to myself ‘I can rack this right now and no one will know’, but then I remember somewhere in the reading of Squat and Milk (aka breathing or super squats) that you will be temped to rack but DON”T, finish the 20 reps and enter manhood. I am sure that is not what it said but that is how I interpreted it. After I finished the 20 reps and racked I almost passed out. I was dizzy and nauseous. I had beat up on my immune system so much that I ended up getting sick the next day (picked up your standard cold). At the time I hated the whole thing, but a few months later realized how great of an experience it was. I shelved doing this ever again until I saw Matt Wichlinski doing them on youtube (or some version of the 20 rep squat) with some ridiculous weight (of course). He motivated me to face it once again. I did the program for about a month and it really helped boost my 1RM squat and my overall ability to squat. Great post Zach. Peace.

  7. Zach How Are You Man?

    Just the other day the workout I was going to do involved dumbbell presses (2 dumbells), dips and close grip pull ups. Started off with the Dips and Pull ups. Once I did 5 sets of dips and pull ups alternating between them, stopped the dips and started dumbbell presses alternating sets with the pull ups.

    Just kept going back and forth presses and pull ups. Did at least 10 sets tell you the truth I lost count I was just so focused on the 2 exercises.

    But talk about feeling jacked.

    I loved it. I have to admit it’s been awile since I really pushed it like that but man it felt great. Kicked my butt. But loved every minute.

  8. Damn I love that clip from Pumping Iron!

    “Get SERIOUS!”

    Z, great points about separating MASS BUILDING and training for sport. I think more athletes need to realize this!

    Great knowledge shared bro!

  9. Hey brutha..GREAT JOB! I haven’t done high rep squats (20+) for quite some time..10 years ago a training partner and I would do sets of 20 squats, then sets of 10 leg press, then sets of 10 of leg curls or SLD’s for the hammies…couldn’t hardly walk for a week and the day after, drove to work and couldn’t get out of the car cause the legs were crampin so bad..last time I went there lol

  10. @Matt – Ur a TRUE BEAST…. I aspire to get to 50% of your BadAss-ness!

  11. @Dan – I remember those days of crazy bodybuilding leg workouts, and, then trying to walk upstairs to the locker room and pulling myself up by grabbing onto the hand rails!

    Those were THE days!

  12. @Joe, awesome work bro, ALL basics and sounds like Density Work – I LOVE training like that my man!!!

  13. It’s rare to see people pumping out high-rep routines these days, but even rarer to see them do them with good form. That video inspires me to switch up my training and life. As you said, consistency and hard work are the key.

    By the way, I love Dan John’s MMS. He makes everything so…simple.

    Continue kicking ass in the gym, Zach!

  14. Gregg ohhhhh shiiiiiz my man, 8 x 8 sounds SIC! GREAT idea 🙂 he he he

  15. @Michael M – awesome story, and YES, Matty W inspires us ALL – ain’t dat da truth!

  16. Great Stuff, Zach.
    Have you guys ever seen the Arizona State Wrestling “Plate Workout” pre-season that Shawn Charles puts those guys through?
    You haven’t seen brutal till you’ve seen or done this workout. It’s on Flowrestling.
    I remember 1988 seeing the 20 rep workout on Muscle & Fitness or something and doing (actually hesitatingly doing) the workout. It was a progression you went through for several weeks where you selected a weight you could do for 12 reps and you worked to do the 20 reps in as few “breathing sets” as possible till you got the 20. Then you would increase the weight by 5 lbs. and continue to the next challenge.
    I was 38 at the time at a bodyweight of 160 lbs. and in 10 weeks getting 275 for 20 reps! My greatest accomplishment squatting ever! Oh, and I worked out by myself in my homemade garage gym.
    I’m 61 now and still hit some pretty brutal workouts that my kids/clients have some doubts doing.
    Thanks for all the great info you provide, Zach.
    And one more thing. I don’t believe we should be questioning a strength coaches methods (e.g. Iowa) when we don’t have all the available info surrounding the training parameters.
    Crossfitters do stuff like this all the time in their daily WOD’s and they are definitely badasses!

  17. I tried to squat 315 for 20 reps, but lost control of the bar after 18…. did this last summer, a year after I blew out my right ankle…. missed senior year of high school football, but playing college right now


  18. Earlier this morning I cranked a killer lower body workout. Started out with heavy ass high reppin squats for 20 reps. This nearly killed my ass. Then I hit stiff leg off a block for 1 set of 15 all out. Then I grabbed my 125lb sandbag tossed her over my shoulder and went for a stroll around the block.
    I then gripped a pair of 70lbs dumbbells and walked up and down the flight of 20 stairs until I couldnt walk comfortably (or stand for that matter!). This busted the hell out of me. This workout was also courtesy of the evil genious Dr. Ken.

  19. I still do them but not too often because I’m approaching 54 in less than two months. — Since last November I have been training first time ever with a training partner in the almost 26 years and it’s with my neighbor who’s 25 years old, so I’m showing him the benefits of the high rep deep back squats. I sent him a video of a friend of mine who you all know is up on youtube doing 30 something reps with a huge weight, ” The Golden Eagle” before we hit the gym and he was psyched. — So if I can still do it, so can you younger folks, but it’s not easy, you got to be mentally prepared to do it also. —- Keep training hard and don’t take any short cuts.

  20. Breathing high rep squats are killer! Although you start hyperventilating with the higher reps it is a kicker. To avoid becoming light headed I will count instead of breathing.
    Safety squat front squats Deep baby!

  21. Love this sort of thing, death sets are god awful but soooooo rewarding! Not done them for a while but been inspired to power on again. That second pic speaks volumes as well that guy’s back in immense! A true beast!

  22. Great article. I’m a long time student of Dr. Ken from the time Dr. Ken owned Iron Island Gym in Island Park. As such, the 20 rep squat routine was just part of the workout. 20 reps squats are still a consistent part of my routine. In fact I was able to get 315 for 20 reps in August 2014 at 56 years of age. I doubt if I will ever get that again, but I didn’t think it was possible last year either. the 20 rep program builds strength as well as character. Thank you Dr. Ken.

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