20 Rep Squats

I was looking through some of my old workout books and came across “Super Squats” by Randal J. Strossen.  I did this routine more than once over the years. Without a doubt, it is the most difficult system I have ever tried.

Something that bothers me about my workouts is the concept of failure.  Its always a question.  Did I push hard enough?  Did I stop too early?  These questions are very difficult to answer.  After all, unless you drop dead, what is failure?

That is one aspect of the 20 rep squat system that gets overlooked.  Failure is not the issue – overload is.  No one in their right mind would take their 10 rep max weight and do 20 reps.  If you complete the set there is no doubt that you went to the wall.

I train alone in a home gym with no partners.  No one to yell at me to get that last rep or two.  Sometimes it leaves me wondering if I’m training as hard as I should. As brutal as the 20 reps are, they leave you with no doubt that you accomplished something.

Its been many years since I gave this routine a go.  Time for another try.  What will it do for a 40-something weight lifter.  I’ll let you know.

In the mean time, here are a few good articles I found on the subject.

20 Rep Squats – a aggregation of lots of good info about the 20 rep squat routine, as well as spelling out the pain in no uncertain terms.

20-Rep Squats: The Brutal Path To Massive Gains! – a great article with an optimistic tone.  This one gives a good overview of the diet involved  and another good tip about trying not to shit yourself.  Fun, fun!

20-REP SQUAT TRAINING – the great thing about this article is that it points to a few people who experienced fantastic growth with this method.

The 20-Rep Squat Routine: Old School Strength Training – another blood and guts description of the method.  Author refers to the system as the 20 rep challenge.  I’ve never thought of it in that context.  Almost like you do it on a dare.

THE MYTH BEHIND SUPER SQUATS BY RANDALL J. STROSSEN – in the interest of fairness, give this article a read to get a negative view of the program.




Variables and What Really Matters

To bounce or not to bounce?

That’s my thought as I begin my Monday morning squat routine.  What is the correct way to do the turn around?  Pausing at the bottom of a squat seems like the death break.  A bounce feels like a cheat.

I hate cheats.

I’m not talking about collapsing into a squat.  I control the weight on the way down.  It is only in the last little bit of the negative portion of the rep where the speed picks up in anticipation of the turn around to go back up.

My next thought is that this debate is a waste of time.

Lift heavy things in good form.  That’s the point.

Don’t misunderstand.  I hate bullshit sets where guys struggle, the form goes out the window and anything that gets the weight up is good.  I believe that you need a weight that you can own.  But rep speed and the bounce / turnaround are just two of a multitude of variables that have an impact on your workouts and your progress. Few of the variables move the needle very much. Guys like me should not waste time thinking about them.

Lift Heavy

Good Form

Don’t Think Too Much


Sleep and Its Effect On Your Health – August 11, 2015

Lately I’ve been running into lots of information about sleep and its impact on your health.  Below is a list of a few podcasts on the topic.  Give them a listen and improve your training!

Sleep Deprivation Equals Brain Damage – The Chalene Show

Important points from this one:

  • Sleep deprivation can be more detrimental than smoking
  • The importance of REM sleep
  • What brain scans can reveal

The Key to POWERFUL Sleep for Ultimate Human Performance with Shawn Stevenson – Lewis Howes

This one covers:

  • Training in the morning
  • Why the water you drink probably sucks
  • Cravings
  • Caffeine curfews
  • Impact of devices

Why Sleep Matter With Dan Pardi – the Jay Ferruggia Show #49

In this one you will hear about:

  • Sleep and cancer
  • “Complete” sleep
  • Circadian rythms
  • Light rythms
  • Go outside!


How Many Calories To Gain Weight?

How many calories do I need in order to gain weight?

I’ve grappling with that question for about 25 years. Ever since I got started down this path. I’m a lot like many kids who grew up in the age of Lou Ferrigno as the Incredible Hulk. I always wanted size like Lou but I turned out more like Bill Bixby.

Many times over the years I have calculated the number of calories I need. In the old days I got it from books and magazines. In my latest attempt I turned to the internet and started with this article that I found on Bodybuilding.com.

No matter what fitness topic I search, the top four or five results are always Bodybuilding.com.

But I digress.

We start out with an estimate of my basal metabolic rate, which I gather is the calories I would burn if I did absolutely nothing. The result for me at 5’11”, 165 lbs and 47 years old is 1,683. That’s slightly less than the “rule of thumb” number of 11 calories per pound. Bottom line, my bmr is in the range of 1,700 – 1,800 calories per day.

I do more than nothing every day so 1,800 calories will not cut it.

Further research indicates that anywhere from 150% to 200% of bmr is what I need. That brings me to somewhere between 2,550 and 3,600. Quite a range.

What to do, what to do, what to do.

The accountant in me would determine the number of calories that consume each day and adjust from there based on movements in the scale. A logical approach if not for the number of variables that go along with calorie counting.

First, you would need a food scale in order to accurately weigh your food.

Second, calorie information is hard to apply. Are we talking about cooked chicken breast or raw? Does the cooking method have an impact?  Does medium rare differ from well done?

Third, activity levels differ from day to day? After I all, it seems obvious that more calories are burned in a squat workout than a bench press workout.

Then there are other variables such as the amount of sleep you got last night and even the weather.

Calories are tough to figure exactly. The approach is not to use it as a scalpel but as an axe. Ballpark estimates serve us much better. A chicken breast is a chicken breast for our purposes (approx. 250 calories). The practical approach is to gather these estimates and bundle these individual food estimates into a calories per meal estimate. I shoot for the right number per meal. I look not so much at the number of calories consumed today, but the number consumed this week or even this month. Over a long period my estimates should serve me well.

How many calories per meal? Based on the results obtained above I’ll start with 2,600 calories per day. My daily eating consists of a green smoothie first thing in the morning, an afternoon snack and four other primary meals.

I estimate the smoothie to be 200 calories and the snack (usually a can of tuna) is another 100. That leaves 2,300 calories. Make it 2,200 as I take coconut oil in my coffee. That leaves 550 calories four times a day as the goal.

Bulking – July 2015

Gaining weight is easier said than done. Let me rephrase that, gaining muscle is easier said than done. Novice bodybuilders in the home gyms out there know what I am talking about. At 5′ 11” 165 lbs, the idea of bulking is a no brainer. The problem is the fat that goes with it. Although it comes with the territory of a bulking cycle and is well understood in the beginning, the feeling you get when your clothes start to fit tighter around the waist sucks.

How much fat should you expect to gain during a bulking phase? “None” would be a great answer but that would also be unrealistic. Read a few books or articles on the subject and do some research in the popular bodybuilding forums and you will find estimates of the amount of fat you can expect. Those estimates on muscle/fat gain range from 75%/25% to 50%/50%. Taken in isolation, those numbers sound reasonable. However, its important to think those numbers through and consider the consequences

  • you will gain fat as you gain muscle, and
  • the gaining ratio is probably disproportionate to your current body fat %.

So even if your gains are in line with the optimistic end of the estimates, unless you are 25% bodyfat to begin with, your bodyfat % will go up. That’s the part that is hard to wrap your head around when planning to bulk. Adding a quarter of a pound of fat in exchange for three times as much muscle seems like a great trade off. In reality, it probably is.

In my case I started my most recent bulk at 12% body fat. Five lbs later, that number has climbed to 13%. That’s a gain ratio of a little more than one to one. Not great but a reasonable result and one that is in line with the conventional wisdom. Reality – I had to buy some new clothes. The shorts that fit comfortably last year do not fit as well this year.

My approach to this bulking phase started with a plan for a calorie surplus and a goal of gaining muscle. A better approach would be to get more specific about the acceptable range of weight gain on the basis of muscle to fat ratio. Plan for both the best and worst case scenario and place your expectations in a range of possible results.

Here’s a question – is it even possible for me to do better than 1 to 1. In other words, are we genetically programmed to add weight in a specific ratio. Is it my genes that determine how much fat I gain or do

I have some control over it?

The moral – prepare yourself and go in with your eyes open.

Here’s a great article on bulking – http://strengthunbound.com/bulking-complete-guide-for-beginners/

Avocados Can Save Your Diet – July 2015

Avocados can save your diet.

Before I began eating them on a daily basis it was very difficult to stick to a restricted calorie plan for any significant length of time. Avocados help. The ain’t ice cream, but I like the taste, I like the texture and I like what they do for your body.

Bodybuilding Nutrition Now by Skip Lacour is where I first read about avocados in the context of bodybuilding. Most of the meals he recommends are salad and chicken. Not much of a surprise. Not too interesting.  That’s what you would expect on a diet used by a bodybuilder preparing for a contest.  However, what is interesting about the diet is his use of fats. By adding some avocado to his salads he was able to stimulate additional fat loss and break through a plateau.

I leave it to the reader to follow up on the nutritional aspects of avocado. I did some reading and found all sorts of information regarding carotenoids, heart health, monounsaturated fats and insulin. Good luck sorting through it all. To me, it is irrelevant. As an unprocessed food that tastes good it meets my requirements for adding to my meal plans.

The biggest problem I have with avocados is getting them when they are ripe. If you are planning on making a batch of guacamole you may have to buy them a few days in advance. The reason is that they have to be ripe. A firm avocado is not ready to eat. After it passes the squeeze test it will keep for a while in your refrigerator. Ripe avocados at room temperature will not last long.

Try making a batch of this black bean salad and leave it in the fridge for a few days.

Another tip I found – try them frozen. Check out this article and just ignore the part about chocolate pudding and chocolate chip cookies, at least until your cheat day!

It Time For A Warm Up Routine – July 2015

The third rep!

Put the weight down.

I’ve felt that pain before, but now I’m old enough to know that its a bad idea to try to fight through a muscle strain. This wasn’t even a work set. It was during warm-ups. At least its what I refer to as warm-ups which is a few light sets prior to the work sets.

I train first thing in the morning on otherwise cold muscles. Since I had never having taken much interest in the subject of warming up properly, I decided to do a bit of research and came up with these resources for developing a warm up routine:

  1. Warming Up or How to Replace Your Autonomic Nervous System by Rob Wagner   I like this one a lot. Wager gives some very specific recommendations. Of particular interest is the discussion of mobility drills.
  2. A Stretch Routine That’s Actually Doable by Dean Somerset  The recommendations are similar to those of Wager, but include some foam rolling before the mobility and warmup stuff.
  3. 9 Fun And Effective Ways To Warm Up by by C.J. Sower. A good resource with opinions from a few different trainers.
  4. Bulletproof Your Body: The Ultimate Warm-Up or The Ultimate Warmup for Lifting Heavy both by Anthony J. Yeung. Similar recommendations to those above. Like Somerset, Yeung also recommends the foam roller. I may have to invest in one.
  5. The Best Dynamic Warmup for Any Workout by Mark Barroso.  Another good full body warm up with a list of dynamic warm up exercises.

A summary of the actual routine is available here.

The Workout Plan for the Week of 7/6/15

Squat Warm Up (for 215 x 5 x 5)

General Warm up

1×10 Hydrants      

1×10 Scorpions      

1×10 Iron Crosses     

1×10 Crunches

1×10 Prisoner Squats

Specific Warm up

2×3 Box Jumps (24″-36″ box)        

2×3 2-Leg Tuck Jump

Squats: 107.5x1x5 (50%)         

129x1x4 (60%)

150.5x1x3 (70%)

Bench Press Warm Up (for 165 x 5 x 5)

General Warm up

1×10 Arm Circles       

1×10 Scorpions          

1×10 Sit Ups       

1×10 Jumping Jacks

1×10 Push Ups

Specific Warm up

2×3 Clap Push Ups

2×3 Med Ball BP

Bench Press: 82.5x1x5 (50%)

99x1x4 (60%)

Deadlift Warm Up (for 275 x 5 x 5)

General Warm up

1×10 Extenders        

1×10 Rockers        

1×10 Hyperextensions         

1×10 Hulas

1×10 Wood Chopper (with 10 lbs plate)

Specific Warm up

2×3 Vertical Jumps for height

137.5x2x3 (50%) Hang Clean

Deadlift 137.5x1x5 (50%)

165x1x4 (60%)

192.5x1x3 (70%)

220x1x2 (80%)