Monday, January 31, 2011

Squats n Milk

Many years ago Randall Strossen wrote a book called Super Squat: How to Gain 30 pounds of Muscle in 6 weeks.

Sounds good right?

Basically, you do 20 rep breathing squats, with some pullovers and drink 9 dairy farms worth of milk a day, in a nutshell.

In case you never ran across the squats n milk crew

Breathing squats are squats where you take big deep breaths between each rep in order to well, breath heavier.  Anyone who has ever done a 20 rep set of squats will tell you, this really isn't required.  The "Golden Age of Lifting" crowd will tell you that you take the big breaths to help with rib cage expansion.  Thus, why you do pullovers after the squats.  So you can make your rib cage bigger.  A bigger rib cage means a bigger frame, is the theory.

Maybe this actually does/did work for some people.  To me, I never understood the need for the big deep breaths.  When you do 20 reppers, you breathe heavy and hard enough without that shit.  The only thing I saw happening with 3 deep breaths was hyperventilating and getting light headed.  This doesn't seem like a smart mans way to squat to me.

Anyway, 10-12 years ago "squats n milk" became a mantra for all skinny "hardgainer" types.  And it became the answer to all training related riddles.

"I want big arms"

"squats n milk"

"I want a big bench"

"squats n milk"

"I want to look like Arnold"

"squats n milk"

"I want a threesome with a my girlfriend"

"squats n milk"

"Two chics at once...squats and milk man"

Basically, it was like the "Direct TV hates puppies" syndrome.

"Time Warner offers this service free.  Hundreds of dollars worth compared to Direct TV so you could be spending those hundreds on dog food.  Puppies loves dog food, therefore Direct TV hates puppies."


No, wrong.  Of course.

The idea was.  But what got lost in it, by the dogmatic, was that the simple message was "do the big lifts, eat a lot of food, work hard, and you'll get big.

No, to the dogmatic, it was literally "squats n milk".


It didn't matter if you wanted a bigger bench or bigger arms or a better deadlift or wanted to increase your overhead press.  Everything had to start with squats and milk.

I don't know if it was intellectual laziness or dumb training advice or a real belief that high rep squats and milk cured all training woes and cancer.  But shit got ridiculous.

I remember one particular message board guru who railed against me because I said you can get big and massive without doing squats and deadlifts.  He even went so far as to call me to tell me I couldn't say that.


I'm here to state, that's still a truth.  If you never cared about a big squat or deadlift, you could do all sorts of lifts and still get as big you could get, from a genetics standpoint, without ever doing them.  This is not blasphemy or sacrilege.  Lots of bodybuilders get big as hell without doing lots of squats and/or deadlifts.  In fact, many of them don't like squats or deadlifts from the fact that they don't always do the job that a bodybuilder might be looking for.  If your hams need more work then stiff legs may be the better tool.  Barbell rows and chins/pulldowns work just fine for filling out the rest of your back.  And plenty of guys have built impressive wheels laboring on a leg press instead of under a bar.

I'm not saying squats and deadlifts are overrated either.  They are still, IMO, the most economical movements you can do, and still the two best exercises in terms of demonstrating lower body and overall strength.  However it doesn't mean they are requirements for building mass.  And this kind of talk infuriated the squats n milk crew.

Just from an observational standpoint, you can't tell what kind of training philosophy someone has

I also never understand all that work for a big ribcage.  Some people say it's because you can fit more muscle on a bigger frame.  This is bunk and bullshit.  That is a genetically predetermined at birth.  Lots of guys with big frames are naturally thin, and don't fill out very well.  Anyone who has ever been around basketball players has seen some of these guys with huge frames, side wide shoulders, long clavicles, etc but these guys are walkings sticks.  And they eat like they won't live to see the next morning.  On the flip side lots of "small framed" guys carry a shit load of actual muscle.  Your frame doesn't really have anything to do with how much muscle you can or will carry.  Yeah I know, lots of really huge guys have huge wrists and ankles, etc so forth and so on.  Everyone knows that "farm boy big" dude that has like 19" wrists and baseball mits for hands.  So what?  You can't train for that either.  You got what you got.  Spending that much effort to increase your ribcage by the smallest fraction seems galactically stupid to me.  Especially when the return on your investment  isn't anything guaranteed at all.  You're probably not going to expand your ribcage.  And again, who the hell gives a fuck if you can?

From an aesthetics standpoint, there isn't anything magical about making a bigger rib cage.  A lot of that came from those old side chest shots you'd see where the guy had a big rib cage and somehow, that was impressive.  So wanted that as a look.  No one in bodybuilding gives a shit about rib cages, so I never understood the reasoning.

Not the look I am going for

So what was so magical about it?

It was really just hard work, and eating.  It doesn't really matter where the hard work comes from.  You give me pathetically skinny 10 guys, and I can force feed the shit out of them and get them big as hell in a year.  And I can do it without any of them ever back squatting or deadlifting.  I certainly sure as shit would never use a breathing squat to do it.  Some guy using a light weight to squat, so he can breath deep a whole bunch, isn't going to make half the progress of a guy that piles on as much weight as he can for medium-high reps on other leg movements like leg press or hacks or whatever.

In the end, it's really all about weight on the bar.  The rest is bullshit.

Squatting to get big arms will not work as good at building big arms if you don't bench, dip, chin, curl, row and concentrate on moving big weights there too.  You can grow a big ass upperbody without ever squatting or doing leg work.  Don't anyone tell you that's not true because everyone knows guys that have stick legs and massive upper bodies.  So which is it?

Again, a lot of it was witch craft.  The dogmatic squat n milk guys know you can build big arms without squats, however they didn't want the noobs turning into douche bag beach lifters.  Guys that walk in and bench and curl every workout.  And I find this to be noble.  I had to run an asshole out of the squat rack this past week for curling in it on my squat day.

But at the same time, taking a hard line stance or being dogmatic about something will only paint you into a corner and sooner or later you get exposed as a fraud.  Or at least your advice does.  Once you've been doing this long enough, you will know bullshit when you see it.

So do squats n milk actually work?

Sure.  For some people I suppose.  But I've never met a really massive strong guy that swore by breathing squats.  I've always heard the legend talk about some guy in a gym that did em that looked like he was a former Mr. Olympia and shit like that.  But in 21 years of doing this shit, I've never talked to a guy that impressed me physically that said he owed it all to breathing squats.  Generally it's the same shit.  Squat heavy, pull heavy, press heavy, do some fun stuff, eat a shit load of food.  That's your recipe to get as big as possible.

Milk?  Yeah, lots of us drank the shit out of some milk to build mass.  Works good.  In my teen years I relied on food for the most part.  Shakes weren't as tasty then and often bloated me up too much, allowing me not to eat as often or as much.  Now there is a whole "don't drink milk" crowd crying like bitches about how we're the only animal that drinks the milk from another animal.  Which is also bullshit, but I don't feel like ranting about that now.

Nothing wrong with milk unless you're lactose intolerant!

Now high rep squats work.  But my personal opinion is that they work better as a supplemental piece to your training.  After a hard set of 3 to 5, for example, or after some singles.  As the main stay I think they have some draw backs.

For one, I don't think that beginners or relative novices get as much out of them as they can.  Mainly because the form breaks down, they get injured a lot, they cut depth when it gets hard, and they flat out don't have the ability to train with enough intensity to get the return investment on them.  New guys need to learn the movement, get a feeling for what their groove should be like and do a lot of volume real often with it until it's all pounded into stone.

Guys who can knock out a good looking set of 315 x 5 on squats are probably advanced enough to benefit from a high rep back off set.  225x20 or something like that.  But shit like 135x20 and shit like this, I feel, is really a waste of time.

IMO high rep squats and deads are really advanced techniques that beginners and novice trainers should not be messing with.  You can make plenty enough gains doing set of 5-12 for years when you start before you need to resort to high rep sets.  I also don't think the benefit of doing sets of 20 in the squat are as great until some real weight can be thrown on the bar.  225x20 is kind of a minimum standard but really 250x20 is probably even better.  An even better thought is that you probably don't even need high rep squats until you can squat 405 balls deep without a belt.  Just my opinion.  It doesn't mean you can't throw in a high rep set here or there, but a "widow maker" with 155 pounds is pretty much laughable weak sauce.  My wife has done 135 x 20 and she's 120 pounds with an artificial hip.  So let's keep things in perspective here.

Let me also add that because of the leverages you are born with, some people may be able to do high rep squats and benefit like crazy (Tom Platz) and some people may not (tall lanky guys).

I've written plenty of beginner routines and you will never find a 20 rep squat set in my beginner routines.  There's no reason for it.  A basic 3x10 works just fine.  Why complicate shit?

You should definitely complicate your milk and add as much shit as possible to that however.  I recommend starting with a basic chocolate syrup.


  1. Ie. high rep squats:

    Yesterday I took a break from my regular 5-3-1 program since it was the start of a new cycle, and decided to do squats with my bodyweight on the bar. 19 minutes and 30 seconds later I had done 105 ass-to-calves reps with no belt. It equalled out to about 5 reps per minute. Now, today I can tell you my legs are destroyed, and for 20 minutes yesterday, I was breathing hard and my heart was pounding.

    Goal now is bodyweight on the bar for 150 reps, or about 30 minutes. Then it is on to bodyweight on the bar for 300 reps...or 10 a minute.

    I havent had legs and glutes this sore in a LONG time.

    Just a bit of mixing it up.


  2. I've done shit like that many times Rick.

    It's like banging a hot stripper.

    It's always fun when you're doing it. But the aftermath makes you wonder if it was worth it.

  3. Hey Paul,

    I've read your advice for longer limbed lifters concerning tht 20 rep squat...i've read your whole blog and didn't catch a programm for us tall guys. Do you have something like that in mind? Or at least some trainings tips, general exervices to avoid etc.?

    greets from germany

  4. That depends on if you are powerlifting or not. If so, obviously you have to squat. If not, you can always use something like the hammer strength squat which is good. On machines like that, high reps are fine right off because it does the balancing for you.

    If you feel fine squatting, then squat. If it feels awkward work at it. Get your stroke down and find your sweet spots. Push the poundage slowly. Then after squats use a squat machine or the leg press to really get after it on.

    The thing here is, you work the groove and feel of the squat but you use a supplementary exercise to get the quads stronger as well. Because with tall guys, the low back always takes an even bigger beating because the quads have to push so far. SO by staying medium weighted on the squat, and pushed the weight and reps hard on something like that leg press.

    Tall guys with long arms and legs do require a little bit different methods to get better on the big 3 if they aren't proportional for them. Which is usually the case. Not everyone is Kaz.

  5. For me it was, as it has been lately, more about self discovery. I just wanted to see if I had it in me to do it.

    Let's face it, sets like that are more mentally crushing then physically.

    However, I do think this kind of training, now and then, lends itself well to grappling. Granted, the legs take most of the beating, but the ability to keep going when the mind says stop is a very powerful tool.

  6. The mind will always quit before the body....

  7. I just read up on the whole "ribcage expanding" thing yesterday and saw that picture you posted.
    I also just wrote a blog about squatting, haha.
    Good post.
    I agree with it- most beginners don't need ultra high rep squats.
    A rep scheme that I have found to be successful for beginners is 5 sets of 3.
    Sounds a little heavy for beginners, but it worked for me and my (untrained) girlfriend enjoys it.

  8. One of the fastest ways to gain size and strength in the entire body is by following the squats and milk program.Thanks for posting.

  9. Great article - I've spent many years convinced I was a hardgainer and I've done a lot of 20 rep squats. I wish I'd taken it with a pinch of salt and tried something else from time to time. The more I look at this stuff the more things seem to ring true - I watched Ronnie Coleman's DVDs the other night. The volume is big but his routine seems to be ... pick a big exercise and work up to a heavy set (squat, deads, bench or variations) then do some back off sets of similar movements for higher reps ..... this sounds familiar !

  10. hey paul, i started doing paused reps on the squats and benches (we already talked briefly about it) and i don't really know how much weight to use or how many reps i should be trying for. could you go over that briefly pretty please? didn't know where else to ask this. thanks.

  11. Adam - Triples are a good place to start for squats. Weight wise, for bench it can be your heaviest set. You can do pause bench for all reps on bench regardless really.

    Phil - Right. That's pretty much how I've always trained. Big set, then the back offs. It works.

  12. Hey Paul:

    Awesome post, I am at a point where I can hit 405 for a double with decent depth. Nothing special of course but I have always been dissapointed with the size of my legs espescially quads and calves. I do the 5/3/1 BBB template and after my work set I generally do 5 sets of close stance "breath squats" with very light weight (1plt 15 reps) to somehow try to activate hypertrophy. All this is doing is making me sore...Im not seeing any results asthetic wise.

    Do you have any advice as to how activate hypertrophy in my quads? Im not a BBer or even a powerlifter, I always seem to ride in the middle of things.



  13. High rep squats

    High rep leg press

    Lunges by the 100's

    If it's just quad size you are after and you're not built for squatting, the leg press for high reps works wonders. I mean sets of 30-50 all out.

    Again, more weight on the bar and more reps with that weight. That's the end game.

    Personally I won't lie. I'm not the best guy in the world to ask about leg size as my legs were so big as a kid I could barely wear off the rack jeans. And they were 28" when I was 18 years old. I've always been heavier in the ass and legs than upperbody. Squatting and leg pressing also worked for me. But I did bust my ass on em too.

    One good way to cover all the bases is to include a lot of difference movements so that way your quads are getting hit from a lot of different angles. So in case one movement is more low back or hamstring dominant something else will put more work on the quads.

    For example...

    week 1 -
    calves - 1x20
    squats - 5/3/1
    leg press - 1x50
    leg curls - 1x30-40 rest/pause style

    week 2 -
    calves - 1x20
    squats - 5/3/1
    smith machine front squats - 1x5, 1x15-20
    single leg curls - 1x20-30 rest/pause

    week 3 -
    calves - 1x20
    squats - 5/3/1
    lunges - 150 total reps
    stiff legs - 1x8

    This way after squats you are using a different movement to hit the quads. Thus doing some bodybuilding while keeping the squat as the mainstay. This is better IMO, than working 1 movement pattern over and over again for size, because the same muscle do the brunt of the work over and over. This won't "fill you out". There is a reason all bodybuilders do a variety of movements and there is in fact merit behind that.

  14. Awesome, I will definitley incorporate this into my routine. Thanks again!

  15. Let me know how it goes MTA.

    Make sure every week you try to beat the reps/weights on those second exercises as well. Run this for three months and let me know.

  16. I absolutely will, thanks again

  17. Big proponent of the squat + milk. Started with 95lbs on the bar and made it up to 250 x 20. After 5 years of lifting in which I moved from 145lbs to...150lbs I final gained just like they promised. By the time I was doing a measly 165x20 I'd gone to 170 at 5'8" with a lowly 6.5" ectomorph wrist. By the time I burned out I made it up to a fat 198 and dialed it back to a fit 190. Huge change in my body though nothing elite by any means.

    So mostly I would say you're high on crack for not thinking light weight high reps can't bulk you to hell and back. As a nurse/emt I also know rib cage expansion is possible as it is a common side affect of long term COPD.


    A) When I did 20 reps + milk it was the 1st time I'd squatted. For all I know sets of 5-12 + milk would have done the same damn thing. That caveat only occurred to me a couple of months ago (face palm). I stopped leg extensions and started squats and suddenly grew. Maybe 20 was the number--just the fact that I started squatting.

    B) Leg Press. When my pain threshold got good at 20's I could basically take a 6-rep weight then rest-pause it (the breathing) to 20. Transfer of that marathon rest pause style to the leg press where the bar isn't crushing your ability to breath? It could kill you and I think you're correct: that old leg press would build monster wheels.

    As a side note though when I switched to low rep squatting (<4 reps)I did loose mass. Upper body low reps were fine though. Strange.

    Plus, thinking I was doing 1 set to failure (instead of a rest pause system) I wasted almost a year trying HIT. Man that was a long post--you must have struck a nerve, lol. Good blog.