Thank you for the invaluable resources you provide through CFFB and Talk To Me Johnnie. After reading the post “Legs Too Large? WTF?” I began to wonder about utilizing the 20-rep max. In the paraphrase, Mark Rippetoe uses the example of an 80% 1 RM for a set of 20 reps. My question to you is: do you recommend using a 20 rep max from time to time on the squat and if so, how often? I imagine that doing a 20-rep max using about 80% of 1 RM would put the legs out of commission for a good 2 days.
First, if you can do 20 reps with 80% of your 1 RM, you are a better man than me.
Second, what are your goals? If you are goal is to put mass on your legs, 20 rep squats will do just that. The problem is the 20 rep squat does little, in my experience, with top end strength.
So decide how and when you want to use it. Maybe just a 6 week training block early in the off-season to drive some mass into the legs or as a change-up for a few weeks to change the training stimulus. But understand what you are training by doing the 20 rep squat program.
To understand how it affects strength and muscle fibers, lets apply Dr. Fred Hatfield's muscle fiber test.
- Find your one rep maximum on the back squat
- Rest 15 mins
- Perform as many reps as possible with 80% of your 1 RM
- Less than 7 repetitions – fast twitch (FT) dominant
- 7-8 repetitions – mixed fiber type
- More than 8 repetitions – slow twitch (ST) dominant
Using the Hatfield muscle fiber test to examine your 80% for 20 reps would place you pretty far on the slow twitch end of the spectrum. Being predominantly ST is not a good place to be if playing football, lifting heavy weights or sprinting for cover from gunfire is in your job description.
Here is an accounting of my personal run in with the 20 rep squat program.
A few years ago, under recommendation from Rip, I did a linear progression with 20 rep squats. I started week 1 with 315 lbs x 20. Each week I added 10 lbs and kept on for 10 weeks. At 10 weeks, I was at 405 lbs and thought; 405 lbs for 20 reps would be a solid mark. The first rep was pretty easy but every rep after that felt like an Anderson Silvia front kick. Somewhere around rep 17, the white stars I was seeing turned black, and I caved like a Chilean coal mine. While I was 3 reps shy of my goal, I was decently pleased with 17 reps. Just like any other asshole that has lifted weights, I start calculating my 1 RM based off what I could handle for the 17 reps. I figured I was good for at 600 lbs, if not 650 lbs.
I decided to take a full week to recover; I ate great, slept 8 plus hours a night and even managed to grab a few naps. I entered the gym on Monday and started working up to a 1 RM. Somewhere around 500 lbs I starting moving like old people having sex, slow and careful. I barely hit 525 lbs for a single and I say barely because the lift took me about 5 seconds to complete.
I was defeated.
I had expected to set a new PR and was 100 lbs off my expectation and well below my previous personal best.
What was the problem? Where did I go wrong? You don't have to be a genius to know for the last 2 1/2 months I had been training nothing but ST fibers and muscular endurance. And as it turns out, you need to have some efficient FT fibers and a ton of ATP for limit singles.
Ivan Adadjiev is the former head of the Bulgarian Olympic weightlifting team. His "Bulgarian" training system was built on the foundation of high intensity with maximum weights and folklore. He believed near limit singles put the skeletal muscle fibers at maximal efficiency. While the contrasting style of training of multiple reps caused the muscle fibers to grow in mass, it made them less efficient when the time arrives for PR attempts. With another disadvantage of repetitive training with sub-maximal loads being an increase in the number of mitochondria produced in the muscle cell which will actually deplete the muscle fiber of ATP.
Or to simply put, form follows function.
If you want to get good at lifting heavy weights you need to lift heavy weights. If you want to get good at lifting lots of reps, than train with lots of reps.