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20-rep Super Squats for Kettlebell Pressing Power

December 10, 2003 12:13 PM

I have been an avid user of PTP (Power to the People!) style training and KB's for almost two years now. I was mostly fat and pretty weak and weighed 230lbs. when I first started PTP in December of 2001. My deadlift at the time was 135lbs. and I could not even press a 35lb. bar overhead for a single rep. My previous experience with weights up to that point was the all too familiar mullet philosophy. Needless to say, I was not making much progress.

Enter Pavel's training philosophy through an article in Muscle Media about Russian Arm Secrets. I read it, applied the knowledge and was immediately amazed at the results within one session. "Note to self, this Pavel is somebody worth listening to." When Pavel came through Albuquerque, in February of 2002, he brought a 1.5-pood kettlebell. Up to that point, I had only read about the kettlebell in the back of his PTP book. But the minute I picked it up, I knew I had to get one. A week later I started my first kettlebell training session with my first 1-pood.

Fast forward to July 21st, 2003. My bodyweight at this point had dropped to 194lbs., and plateaued for 3 to 4 months. I had made considerable progress in strength and endurance. My deadlift was up to a 5RM of 280lbs. with a 1RM of 305lbs and I could snatch the 1.5-pood for up to 20 reps per arm. I was capable of strictly military pressing the 1.5-pood for 5 reps at this point as well. Military pressing the 2-pood eluded me. I had sort of side pressed it once the previous year in the fall with my stronger arm; however, the form was extremely ugly so I never really counted it. I was plagued with tendonitis in the left elbow, a result of going too hard, too fast with snatching the 2-pood. I laid off presses for several months. Instead I focused on the deadlift and lots of swings. In fact I didn't get back into military pressing the KB's until April's RKC certification. The tendonitis has not come back, and I am a lot smarter now about taking on more than I can chew.

Through the discussion site I became interested in all publications strength related, and Dr. Randall J. Strossen's book Super Squats certainly falls into this category. The program is to do one set of twenty reps of squats for 6 weeks, along with a few supplemental exercises. In between these squatting sessions, you drink lots of milk (2 quarts a day is the program minimum). Along with the milk, one should eat lots of good wholesome food with lots of protein. Keep the junk food to a minimum. Every session you add 5 lbs to the bar and do 20 reps. The routine has also been called 'the squats and milk program'.

I became interested in this program for two reasons. First, I believed that I had come to a point where in order for me to burn fat more efficiently, I would have to put on some more muscle. Second, I wanted to be able to handle the 2-pood for high repetition snatches and clean and jerks. I could execute a few at this point, but felt I needed to pack on some usable muscle to be able to take the abuse of throwing around the 2-pood. I had read various articles about Olympic lifters employing the squat to develop more power. The squat was not an exercise I was in the habit of doing. I had been a faithful deadlifter up to this point, and couldn't even tell you what my squat 1RM was.

Dr. Strossen states that when starting this program, one should start with a weight that can be squated for 10 reps. I started at 135lbs. for two reasons. One, I never really squatted at this point, and two, I believed that by being a bit more conservative on the weight, I allowed myself room for correction of form. Up to this point, I had done plenty of research on proper squatting form, from reading articles by Dr. Fred Hatfield, Rob Lawrence, reviewing old photos of Paul Anderson, to watching Pavel's squatting form with two kettlebells in the racked position in his More Russian Kettlebell Challenges tape. I had recently purchased a power rack for my garage gym, and felt that I was ready to go.

Dr. Strossen lays out two different types of programs in his book, both of which are built around the 20-rep squat. The first one is for people who exhibit a good response to a great amount of training volume. The second routine is an abbreviated program for hard gainers. I opted for the second routine as it was shorter and I know for a fact I am a hard gainer. The abbreviated program involves 4 exercises:

Bench Press 2 x 12
Parallel Squat 1 x 20
Chest Pullovers 1 x 20
Bent over rows 2 x 15

I substituted the Military Press for the Bench Press and Bodyweight Pullups for the Bent Over Rows. Also, the rep scheme for pullups would be the ladder style for the sake of volume. For the Military Press I used the 2-inch diameter barbell, known as Apollon's Axle. This bar weighs 33lbs, and like Strossen's book, is available at, but I'm sure just a regular Olympic bar would work just as well.

My first session on July 21st, 2003 looked like this:

20 Rep Squat Routine, Session #1
Military Press with Apollon's Axle:
43 lbs x 2 x 12 reps

Parallel Squats:
135 lbs x 1 x 20 reps

Chest Pullovers:
10 lbs Olympic plate x 1 x 20 reps
*The purpose of the pullovers is to stretch and expand the muscles of the ribcage, so a lot of weight is not necessary, which would defeat the purpose of this exercise.

BW Pullups:
1 (total of 20 reps)

Initially on the first 5 weeks of this routine, I took a day off between each session, with the exception of the weekends, in which I took two days off in between. So a typical week would be:

Monday (session 1)
Tuesday (rest)
Wednesday (session 2)
Thursday (rest)
Friday (session 3)
Saturday (rest)
Sunday (rest)

Each session I added 5lbs to the bar for the set of squats. I gradually added weight to the 2-inch diameter bar, 2.5 lbs each time for the military presses. The weight was kept rather conservative on the 2-inch diameter bar because it was new and I was experimenting more than anything to see how my wrists responded to gripping the thick bar. By session #16 on August 26, 2003, I squatted 210 lbs for 20 reps. I had managed to add 5 lbs to the bar each session and complete each set with crisp form.

During this 6-week cycle some interesting things happened. First of all, I gained about 31 lbs, while keeping body fat gain low. Remember, my initial bodyweight at the start was 194 lbs, and by August 29, 2003, I was at 225 lbs. I did not take any body fat measurements. It was clear by the reflection in the mirror that I had added muscular size to my shoulders, back, arms, chest, glutes, and legs. The second thing that happened, measured in a qualitative aspect, is my focus on the 20-rep squat grew extremely intense as the weeks progressed. You would think that as the weight got progressively heavier for each session, I would end up writhing in a heaving sweaty mess on the floor after I racked the weight. Instead, the reverse happened. The first few weeks, after finishing a session, it wasn't uncommon to rack the weight, and while holding onto the bar, slowly descend to my knees and roll onto the floor. I would lay there on my side, lungs burning and heaving, sweating, with no energy to defend myself against my Rottweiler, Nietszche, who looked rather eager to just bury me like one of his bones. By around week 4 or so, this started to change.

I began to develop an extreme focus as I ground my way through 20 reps of progressively heavier squats. My better half even told me that my expressions had changed. At the start, I had more of a pensive, somewhat apprehensive expression before I got under the bar for my set of squats. By the 14th or 15th rep, my face would start to contort in pain as I struggled to make each rep. As the later weeks neared, a steely-eyed gaze firmly set in determination began to rule my face. She said she could see it in the eyes, especially as I got around to the 14th rep. I had learned to fight through the pain and focus in order to finish each rep. This was evident in how I responded to the increasing poundage. Most people, mullets maybe, would be inclined to just give up. Instead of giving up, I found myself focusing on breathing deep and keeping perfect form while going into the hole. My form became more crisp and snappy, like Marine recruits, ready for their final drill in the 12th week, just before graduation. Unlike before, where I used to lie writhing on the ground afterward, I now had the energy to stay standing and enjoy the moment of having finished my set of 20. I cannot express enough on this aspect of the routine. The increasing intensity of focus is truly something to behold and can be attained only from the simple experience of doing the routine.

The only problems I encountered are the lower back being assaulted from the mere aspect of having to stay contracted to support me through 20 reps, and developing very tight hip flexors from actively pulling myself into the hole on each rep. This was an oversight on my part. I should have been more proactive in employing Pavel's Relax Into Stretch methods throughout the entire routine. I would advise others who plan to take on this routine to stretch on rest days. It would also help to throw in a few windmills and Turkish Getups with a light kettlebell on the rest days to keep one in the groove of these exercises. To say the least, I was able to reverse all the tightness within a couple weeks time after finishing the routine. There was some muscle cramping after finishing the routine, but this went away after a few days of going back to the Warrior Diet.

Now, remember what I said about my lack of Military Pressing prowess with the 2-pood kettlebell. On a mere whim, on Saturday, August 30th, 2003, following the end of the routine, I grabbed the 2-pood, and strictly Military Pressed the beast for 3 singles with each arm. The weight just sailed up, with the same sort of assurance and snap that I had always had with the 1.5-pood. Needless to say, I was amazed and pleased at this little gem. I continued to GTG with the 2-pood for the following days, making sure that this wasn't a fluke.

After another week had passed, I decided to find out what I could deadlift. On September 7th, 2003 I performed the following with the deadlift:

135lbs x 1
225lbs x 1
295lbs x 1
315lbs x 1
335lbs x 1
345lbs x 1
365lbs x 1
385lbs attempt, got the bar about 2 to 3 inches off the ground, but it stalled.

My new deadlift max was 365lbs for 1 rep. I may have been able to do better had I chosen to do a PTP cycle first, peaking at the end and then going for a 1RM. As a matter of fact, it's advisable to do a peaking cycle before going for a 1RM, for safety's sake. I was advised of this by Pavel after reporting my new gains on the forum. Future 20 rep squatters, be sure to take note of this advice. I consider myself lucky to not have been injured while going for my 1RM in the deadlift without a previous peaking cycle.

The last thing I noticed is how easily I can snatch the 1.5-pood kettlebell. The 1.5-pood, now feels much like the 1-pood. I'm happy to also report that snatching the 2-pood is coming with more ease. The added ability to snatch the 2-pood for several consecutive reps and many sets, a goal I had mentioned before, will be a mainstay of my future KB training. The bottom line is, more training volume with the 2-pood KB.

The 20 rep squat program is over. I am certainly sporting a bigger frame, with added mass in the shoulders, back and legs. I know in respect to my new personal bests, that I am miles from a competitive powerlifter, or even an amateur Olympic weightlifter, but I can appreciate the newly found power I have in respect to handling the heavier kettlebells and pulling more in the deadlift. I also firmly believe that I learned a great deal more about myself and what I am capable of doing by grinding through the 6 weeks of the 20 rep squat routine, much like I did one time almost ten years ago on a little hill in Camp Pendleton, known as The Grim Reaper. I highly recommend this routine for any individuals who would like to add some usable mass to their frame, or individuals who may have hit a plateau in their training, and want to add some power to their kettlebell lifts, or someone who is simply just curious about what they are capable of accomplishing. Give this routine a try. Like me, you just may surprise yourself.

Monty H. Singer, a former Marine, is a Specialist serving in the U.S. Army Reserve, and an RKC certified instructor. His personal training business, Will To Power: Albuquerque's Kettlebell Training Resource, is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He can be contacted at or by calling 505-228-9744.