Blog 42 – 20 Rep Squats – The Exercise Where…
… everything is awful, and the total reps don’t matter. (Am I supposed to put quotes around that with parenthetical inserts to appropriately reference Who’s Line Is It Anyway?, or did I just imply the appropriate reference by asking? Hopefully, their lawyers aren’t reading this or, if they are, can appreciate the attempt.)
Anyway, back to the blog. I’ve talked previously about how little prescribed reps actually matter (All of you who are new to my blogs and opinions, don’t jump down my throat yet.) and what we are really searching for is a stimulus that drives adaption in our bodies. Reps just happen to be the easiest way to communicate that intended stimulus. This also means that the number of reps MUST be an over prescription because if we prescribed too few reps then we aren’t driving said adaptions. And with varying levels in ability, experience, body types, et al. in every class, that prescription must be an over prescription for all levels. (for those Smarty Pants out there asking smugly, “What about a 1-rep max?” This also applies there. Think about it this way: some times we hit it and sometimes we don’t but we go through the process to drive adaption regardless of a completed rep.
If this is true (and it is) then as we expand the total number of reps to say, I don’t know … 20, reps become less and less important because there will be more variation to where each member in a given class/group arrives at the appropriate stimulus. Some may get there at 12, some at 15, some at 19. Remember the goal is over stimulation to drive adaption. If we get to 20 and think to ourselves that you could have gone heavier, then you DEFINITELY should have. I will also acknowledge that it is hard to come to class and interpret the numbers on the board – frankly, that’s the coaches’ job – but as always I will continue to give you permission to take control of how your body feels.
This, then, begs the question “what should a “20 rep squat” feel like?” Well here are a couple checkpoints that may be helpful:
- *unracks weight* “WOOO! 20 Reps! Here we go.”
- *a few reps in* “20?! Shit, I could do 40! This feels great!”
- *a few more reps in* “Uh oh.”
- *loses control of breathe* “WTF, Nigel?!”
- *time slows down … legs start to feel like Jell-O* “How in the world am I going to finish?”
- *after a few more reps* “I got this. 1 at a time. Just breathe.”
- *finishes a few more reps* “That was awful. I can’t wait ‘til next week!”
If you hit all of those phases and get to 17 reps, you have ABSOLUTEY done the prescribed work. Remember, the goal in training is to test the boundaries of what you are capable NOT to repeat safe patterns. It shouldn’t (and can’t) be about utilizing a loading just to say we accomplished the rep scheme. That will never drive the adaptions we think it will.
And believe me, Nigel knows that as well or better than anyone. He’s not giving you a gold star for total reps. He’s giving you a gold star for effort.