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Do you ever feel like you just need to do a little something different? Do you like lifting heavy, but at the same time, really enjoy the pump you get from higher reps? Or maybe you’re just tired of the “same old, same old” of always doing sets of 8-12 reps? If any of this sounds like you, then 20 rep sets might be exactly what you’re looking for. A mix of heavy lifting followed by a serious pump, 20 rep sets could be your ticket to new growth.
20 rep sets are what you might think they are – sets of 20 reps. However, you’re not going to simply hit the gym and start cranking out a bunch of high rep sets with light weight. These only work when you’ve done some heavy lifting, first.
After a brief warmup, start your workout with a strength-based compound exercise. Examples could include overhead press, bench press, squat, leg press, deadlift, or even a row. Pyramid your way up to a max set of 3-5 reps, increasing the weight every set. Once you’ve done a set of 3-5 with as much weight as you can, it’s time for your 20 rep sets.
At this point, you’ll want to choose a second strength-based compound exercise that targets the same musculature as your first exercise. While you’ll obviously want the secondary to be a different variation, it’s a good idea to use a different implement too, if possible (see the suggested pairings below).
Using a light-to-moderate weight, crank out a set of as many reps as you can with a goal of at least 15 reps. If you can get 20 reps, go ahead and terminate the set. Rest for two full minutes, then repeat for a second set of max reps. The goal is to fall in the 15-20 reps range both times.
You may find on your first couple outings that you can’t hit 15 reps on the second set with the same weight. That’s ok – just push as hard as you can. Your muscular endurance will improve over the course of a few workouts and you should be able to soon hit at least 15 reps on your second set, too. Once you can do 20 reps on both sets, it’s time to increase the weight.
There are virtually countless exercise pairings you could use for 20 rep sets. Here is a list of suggestions broken down by body part. The first movement listed in each pairing is the one you’d work up to a max set of 3-5 reps, while the second movement listed is the one you’d use for your 20 rep set.
*Due to potential lower back fatigue, the first rowing movement is better done for a max set of 5-8 reps instead of 3-5 reps.
**Deadlift or leg press could be swapped in for squat in any of the above pairings.
How many times you should do 20 reps sets in a single workout or a calendar week will depend on your workout split, as well as your overall program layout. However, because they can be pretty intense, do them no more than 4-5x total in a week, and certainly no more than twice (once each for two separate body parts) in any one workout. Do them for a few weeks, and you should be seeing your weights going up and muscles getting bigger.