You have probably heard of Dr. Yessis before, right? Well, today I want to discuss one of his more recent developments in training. Coach Ryan Bracius at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater first introduced me to the Dr. Yessis 1x20 strength training protocol earlier this year. Ryan, however, was introduced to the program by Yosef Johnson, the owner of Ultimate Athlete Concepts and the man who works directly with Dr. Yessis himself on the development and implementation of athletic principles derived from Russian literature and practice.
The program itself is simple: perform 15 to 25 exercises per day, using one set of 20 repetitions. The athlete performs the same workout every training day, but with increases in resistance after every successful session.
My first thought honestly was, "this is ridiculous." However, I didn’t give it a second thought and continued to have my youth athletes lifting on a two day, full body training program. Each day followed a similar training template with different exercises.
I didn't revisit the program until a few months later when I messaged Coach Bracius and asked him to explain in further detail what the 1x20 program was for. He went on to explain that the program involves doing the same workout every single day with one set of 20 reps on each exercise using every major joint action of the body. Once adaptation on that workout has stopped, you change the exercises or drop down to one set of a 14 RM. Again, having always done multi-set systems with my athletes for as long as I have been coaching, a single set of 20 still sounded ridiculous. Yet, I knew I had a lot to learn and was willing to give it a try.
I continued to read a bit more about it and finally started to view it from a different perspective. Essentially, the program isn't just about building maximal strength in youth athletes, it is about teaching kids how to lift effectively—while also building muscular endurance, strength, and proficiency of movement. Dr. Yessis developed this program on the belief that, in general, America relies too much on general strength and not enough on specific specialized exercises. By minimizing the length of the workout and maximizing the number of movements you perform, a simple one-set system can develop a sufficient level of general strength in athletes, allowing them to spend more time on specific strength and skills.
In Dr. Yessis’ book “Build A Better Athlete” he says, “in the early stages of training and especially for novices, you should do 15-20 exercises in a typical workout to cover all the major joints and muscles of the body. Because of the need for many exercises, only one set for approximately 15-20RM should be completed. Doing this develops base strength and muscular endurance, and as an extra bonus, you get stronger ligaments and tendons that create more durable joints.”
This sounds like what every new lifter needs. Consequently, every aspect of this weight training protocol for my kids began to click, and confirmed my growing belief that this is the perfect system for youth athletes.
Youth athletes do not require high intensity or volume to positively adapt to a workout. They will acquire positive adaptations almost every time they perform a lift—be it strength, speed, quality of movement, endurance, or general understanding of the purpose of weight training. With the 1x20 program, novice athletes will have similar strength gains to a multiple-set system. However, the athlete will be performing and improving upon a far greater number of exercises and joint actions when compared to a multiple-set system. Besides, showing a kid that he completed dumbbell deadlifts with 35 pounds for 20 reps three weeks ago where today he is using 75 pounds for 20 reps is an incredible confidence booster.
Motor patterns are best achieved through frequency and quality of instruction, and performing a movement multiple days per week will decrease time of learning and increase retention of the movements you are teaching. Each athlete will learn to master a specific set of exercises before moving on to a more intense program, and this progression happens at your discretion of the athletes’ development. This general strength and learning period is vital to the growth of the youth athlete.
After the general strength period, the traditional 1x20 program then leads into the development of sport-specific specialized exercises which utilize the same motor range of motion, joint angles, and motor pathways as those specific to the athlete's sport. That, however, is another article altogether. (see Read More)
I tried to figure out how I could use this program with my situation, as well as which athletes I would use it with. I made my first attempt at a 1x20 program, and it looked like this:
Athletes would perform this entire list every day. (Taking around 25 minutes to complete). With this workout, my athletes performed:
- 20 main lower body reps (squat)
- 20 main upper body push reps
- 80 reps of direct posterior chain work:
- 20 x hip extension
- 20 x knee flexion w/hip extension
- 40 x hip hinge
- 60 reps of upper back work
- 20 reps of single leg movements
In addition, we did various single joint movements at the end (time permitting).
I would record the weight each athlete used would then plan ahead for the next workout. Generally, if an athlete used a 30-pound dumbbell for Week One and successfully completed the set, then I would write in 35 pounds for Week Two. If that set was not up to standards, we would use the same weight the next session and focus on improving the quality of the set. The program is very adaptable and based on the specific athlete's progress. The main goal when designing the 1x20 is to try to work every joint and movement in some way on a daily basis.
By the time we performed the same workout 6 to 12 times, we had accumulated a large amount of volume with every plane of movement (and with increasing intensity) on a daily basis.
I now have five progressions of the 1x20 protocol that I have athletes perform, and each one has an increasing number and difficulty of exercises. Once athletes get through these progressions, we then move on to a more intense, traditional multi-set system. What's more, now that they have performed hundreds of repetitions of each movement, I can now trust them to perform the prescribed sets with solid technique.
WHO COULD USE IT
So, who exactly would benefit from a 1x20 system? Short answer: Everyone. Long answer: It depends on the athlete and the time of year he is in.
For professional and collegiate athletes, a one-set system with high exercise variety would help clear up imbalances by doing 15 to 20 exercises daily for two weeks. By varying the exercises to include mobility, single arm and single leg, prehab, single joint, and core exercises, you can prep the body quickly and efficiently for more intense training.
Powerlifters, much like athletes, could benefit greatly by using it after a meet to help correct any imbalances, rehab injury sites, and develop general mobility and stability through a solid choice of exercises.
This program's greatest benefit, however, revolves around its ability to build the general development and foundation of youth athletes. The simplicity of the program's design, combined with the rapid improvements in strength and proficiency of training, make this a program worth trying. It is not as ridiculous as you may think!