Add Serious Muscle Mass With 20-Rep Sets

Use this method from STACK Expert John Papp to increase your strength and size.

Three sets of eight to 10 reps of every exercise is outdated. It may have worked for awhile when you first started out, but at a some point you will see diminished results.

If you are an athlete looking to put on mass in the off-season or an average Joe looking to boost your lifts and build muscle, I have a rep scheme for you to try.

It's called 20-rep sets.

This method is employed by some of the strongest individuals in the world. It was made popular by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell. After adopting it, I have seen clients put on 2, 3, 4, even 5 pounds of muscle in 8-week programs, all verified by DEXA scans before and after the program.

Give it a shot and you will put on muscle mass! Here's how it works.

Step 1 - Start with a heavy lift

Pick a heavy compound movement, such as the Bench Press. Load the bar and hit heavy triples, doubles or singles as you work up to a max effort set. How many sets you perform depends on how high your max effort set is. The stronger your bench is, the more sets you will have to perform to work up to your max.

Once you reach your top set, it should be an all-out effort. There is room for variance in the amount of reps you consider your max-effort set. Sometimes I do one rep, but for others I may do 2, 3 or even 4 reps.

Step 2 - Immediately do a 20-rep set

After your max-effort set, immediately perform 20 reps of a variation of the compound exercise. For the Bench Press, you can perform Dumbbell Bench Press or Dumbbell Floor Press. Pick a weight that you can hit for a minimum of 15 reps and get started. Your goal is to hit between 15 and 20 clean reps with this weight.

If you can hit more than 20, you went a little light. Once you complete this set, rest for a minimum of two minutes, then repeat the 15-20 rep set one more time.

This method can be used with virtually any combination of a compound lift with a secondary, high rep variation. Here are a couple of my favorites that I use with my clients and myself. It's not a full list but can offer some great ideas and variation.

Bench Press


  • Flat Barbell Bench
  • Incline Barbell Bench
  • Barbell Overhead Press
  • Close Grip Bench Press
  • Floor Press
  • Seated Overhead Press


  • Flat Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Standing Dumbbell Arnold Press
  • Dumbbell Floor Press
  • Low Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Barbell Close Grip Bench Press
  • One-Arm Dumbbell Overhead Press
  • Squeeze Press



  • Barbell Back Squat
  • Barbell Front Squat
  • Safety Bar Squat
  • Box Squat
  • Any of the above with 2-, 3-, 4- or 5-second pauses
  • Zercher Squat (Insert Zercher link)
  • Barbell Deadlift
  • Deficit Deadlift (1 or 2 mat/plate)
  • Sumo Deadlift
  • Trap Bar Deadlift


  • Dumbbell Goblet Squat
  • Dumbbell Rear-Foot-Elevated Squat
  • Barbell/Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
  • Walking Lunges (Barbell, Dumbbell, etc.)
  • Heavy Sled Pushes/Drags (steps instead of reps)
  • Step Ups (Barbell, Dumbbell, etc.)

Don't forget: After your 20-rep sets, perform the rest of your workout. This is simply a way to increase strength and size gains from your compound lifts. And trust me, it works.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock