Strategies for Implementing the 1×20 System


Strategies for Implementing the 1×20 System

How to get started.

I have previously written twice about the 1×20 Program Here and Here. In summary, the 1×20 program relies on training the entire body, joint by joint, to strengthen every potential action the body will perform on the field. Strengthening every joint, plane and range of motion increases the body’s ability to acquire sport specific actions more easily, and sets a great training foundation for more intense and specific training that follows.

In addition, by doing only a single set of the exercise every training day, as opposed to 2 or 3 sets 1x per week, you increase the amount of exposures (and thus adaptations) to that action. This helps with motor learning via frequency, and strength via repeated stimulus.

The 1×20 doesn’t place a great emphasis on some lifts over others like most training programs, it’s the comprehensive program which is designed to develop the athlete in total, rather than focusing on a few specific exercises and developing those. This program relies on two great assumptions:

  1. We are building athletes, not weight lifters. Everything we do must have a direct effect on the athletes ability to play, or a direct foundation for future training which will have a specific transfer effect.
  2. Exercise selection and progression is far more important than the set and rep scheme used. Training and strengthening motor patterns will have a greater effect on the athlete than varying set and rep schemes for general movements.

However, believe me when I tell you I completely understand any hesitancy to implementing the protocol in full. This doesn’t mean you can’t try it in spurts! Without further ado, an explanation of the original system, as well as strategies for implementing aspects of the 1×20 system into your training.

Original 1×20 Training System

The original way to implement the 1×20 system is exactly as it sounds, pick 15-25 exercises (both multi and single joint) that train the entire body, and perform them three times per week. Exercises can be both specialized (movements that specifically duplicate what the athlete does on the field) and general (movements that build a general level of strength, but do not replicate specific actions performed on the field i.e. squats, bench press, rdl).

The athlete does a single set of ~20 reps each day, however this number can also be a repout. The goal is to add weight, and continue to perform 20 reps of the exercise, or keep the weight the same and perform more reps every time. By tracking both the weight and the reps, you can see when progress stops on certain exercises.

When progress stops, you rotate in another exercise. Only change exercises when you see progress, or adaptation, stop. You can keep some the same if you are continuing to see results, while changing out other exercises.

When progress stops in the 20 rep scheme, you can then increase the intensity to 1×14, followed by 1×8. Only after you’ve tapped the ability for a single set to increase strength should you move to multi set. The minimum adaptive threshold theory states we shouldn’t do any more than necessary to get better, and the slight increase in intensity should continue the development of strength necessary to become a better athlete.

Sure, we could do five sets of five at much higher intensity, but each set will have diminishing returns on the last set, and the end questions remains the same: are we training powerlifters or athletes? What is our ultimate end goal, an increased squat, or increased athletic and movement ability? And why train higher intensity if we don’t need to in order to get results?

You can also manipulate the reps to stay within a range, instead of 1×20, it could be 1×20-25, or 1×14-17. The weight stays the same for every exercise within that rep scheme, weight increases and start from the beginning of the rep range. While this model is very simple, it is very effective, and really allows you to spend more time on more exercises. In addition, as a coach it will allow you to spend more time researching better exercise selection and motor pathway development. An example of a 1×20 system used with some of my athletes:

As far as exercise selection, that is based on your personal preference and the time of the year. In addition, the beautiful thing about 1×20 is the simplicity of it. If an athlete is struggling in a specific area, just like any other program you can add a few more exercises for that area. As we all know, training should become more specific closer to season. With the Yessis method of training, this means rotating in more specialized training exercises (more on that later) and rotating out or dialing down intensity on general exercises.

1×20 Accessory Blocks

The simplest way to implement the 1×20 program is have the athletes perform their traditional multi-set main lifts, followed by multiple twenty rep exercises as accessory work. Take all the “accessory” work you would have your athlete perform over the week, and have them perform all of them with 1×20 every training day. The fact that you are only performing one set of each will allow you to perform (and thus adapt to) far more exercises than doing multiple sets of only a few exercises.

If you are on a 4 day split, you can alternate the accessory work via upper and lower (so you would be performing all upper accessory work on both upper days, and all lower work on the lower days).

Multi-set main lift with 1×20 specialized accessory work.


1×20 Training Day

Using the full 1×20 training day, you would take one of your “normal” training days and completely substitute it for all 1×20 work. Pick 15-20 exercises, including your main lifts and many single joint movements you don’t traditionally hit on your main program, and do 1×20 for each. Dr. Yessis does a great job of outlining the movements you can use in his book Revolutionary 1×20 Training System. Examples of these movements can be standing leg adduction and abduction, ankle inversion and eversion, hip medial and lateral rotation, straight leg and bent leg standing band pawbacks, knee drive, calf raises, etc. You can also do traditional lifts in the 20 set rep system here as well.

This can fit into traditional periodization models many coaches currently use. Consider a tier system with team sports, it could look like this:

TLU – Monday

Clean Effort

Squat Speed

DB Bench Volume

LTU – Wednesday

Front Squat Effort

Snatch Speed

Bench Press Volume / Effort

1×20 – Friday

1×20 Squat

1×20 Bench

1×20 Rear Leg Elevated Split Squat

1×20 Chest Supported Rows

1×20 Cutting Exercises (5)

1×20 Straight ahead speed exercises (4)

1×20 Sport specific and single joint movements

This method will also work with Triphasic training components. Perform the 1×20 accessory work following your eccentric/isometric exercises, or even implement the 1×20 into that triphasic protocol using more exercises under the tempo you are training. While it wouldn’t be true block periodization anymore (Block periodization was built for elite trained athletes, how many of us have those?), it would be extremely effective in terms of strengthening the various joints and movements needed for success while still maintaining core principles of Triphasic training.

1×20 Training Period – Early Offseason

With this method, you could use the 1×20 program as an entire GPP phase. Considering GPP is building a solid foundation, it makes sense to train every single joint, plane of movement and range of motion equally. Perform 18-25 exercises daily, 3x per week with a day dedicated to field, speed, cardio or jump work as you see fit. If you wanted to get creative with your team, perform your big lifts early as a team, followed by stations of 20 rep exercises. Remember, the exercises and reps stay the same as long as there is progression, and for certain exercises you can perform a 20+ rep out rather than stopping at 20. You must trust your athletes for this, and always emphasize technique within the movements. One month of 1×20 will build a fantastic base of muscular endurance and joint by joint strength on which future, more intense training can be used. The program will look exactly like the original 1×20, however exercise selection is of course dependent on your preference, equipment, athletes and time available. 

1×20 Training Period – Peak

Much like the 1×20 for Early Offseason GPP, you can also use the 1×20 as a peaking method. Remember the Yessis system emphasizes exercise selection over all else, so you must focus on specialized exercises that place emphasis on on-field transfer. Improving the squat and bench a few weeks out from competition is no longer the goal, strengthening the patterns in which the athlete will be performing on the field is(along with speed of contraction and rate of force development, which can be handled via specific running and jumping programs). This includes both linear and lateral movement specialized exercises, sport specific exercises, and maintenance of the general strength multi-joint lifts. View the example above to see a multiset main speed lift, followed by movement and sport specific accessory lifts.

Train all movements 3x a week using a 1×20 scheme, while performing either maintenance 1×20 or 1×14, or speed versions, of the big lifts such as squat and deadlift.

Lone Ranger Approach

This is what Jeff Moyer did on his EliteFTS series the Dr. Yessis Project (that’s not a band).

Basically, take a few athletes aside and put them into the 1×20 program full bore, and see what happens compared to the rest of your team. He initially started with just a few athletes, until the results they were getting in both strength and playing ability increased so fast, he abandoned the experiment and put his entire team on the 1×20 system. Take a look at what Jeff did after consulting directly with Dr. Yessis for more information on implementation of a 1×20 program, including the results his team gained.

So what is the takeaway? Give it a true shot, with emphasis on exercise variation and specificity. Its extremely variable and easy to implement into whatever you are currently doing, and you will probably have the same observation as nearly everyone else who has tried it: my athletes have never looked this good.

About the author 

Steve Olson, MS, CSCS

Steve is a strength and conditioning coach, gym owner, and founder and CEO of Strength Coach Pro. Prior to founding SCP, Steve owned Excel Training Designs, a company created to help coaches better learn and use Excel for programming. Steve also owns a strength and conditioning gym in Cary, NC, and has his bachelors and masters in Exercise Science.

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