The 1×20 Training Program: Who is it For and How Does it Work? by Ansley Bucknam

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[This is a guest post by Ansley Bucknam. Ansley is a senior at Meredith College, currently working towards her bachelor’s degree in food science and human nutrition. Ansley grew up in Charleston, SC playing soccer and is now on the track and field team at Meredith College. She has a background in Crossfit and Olympic Weightlifting and is currently participating in the Athletic Lab Internship Program. Ansley hopes to pursue physical therapy school following the completion of her undergraduate degree.]

What is the 1×20 Program?

“Building a better athlete is the ultimate goal of the 1×20 training process.” -Dr. Yessis

Developed by teacher and sports performance trainer Dr. Michael Yessis, the 1×20 program, in its early stages, is exactly what it sounds like: 20 reps working to technical failure, 15-20 sets of the exercises completed 3 times a week. The program should take ~ 60 min and be done at a 60-80% difficulty level. Efficiency in exercise and skill technique is the basic premise of the program, so give or take on all of these parameters in order to sustain proper technique.

The objective is to target all the joints and muscle groups and their actions in an effort to develop motor learning. With strength training (or any sports related skill), the more you do something, the faster the adaptation comes. A big highlight of the 1×20 program is that it keeps reps high but intensity low. Many argue that strength adaptations cannot occur without high intensity training. While this may be true for elite athletes, untrained or youth athletes do not need as high of an intensity to develop strength.

How does 1×20 differ from other strength development programs?

One way the 1×20 differs from other high intensity strength programs is by ensuring that the strength training components are done with as effective execution and technique as possible, rather than as much weight as possible. Dr. Micheal Yessis notes that there are many strength training programs that can develop strength gains but fall short in developing overall athleticism. This is where the 1×20 training program prevails in developing youth athletes. Too often, we assign strength to the top of the list for success in a sport. While strength does greatly increase ability in sport, it is only one factor. We need to focus on all pieces of the puzzle.

Having 15-20 exercises in the session not only allows for general strength exercises, but also for sport specific exercises related to agility, speed, power, neuromuscular coordination, and jumping. With the 1×20 training sessions being 60 minutes or less, there is also leftover time to work on reaction time, acceleration, change of direction, and strategy if these are not already incorporated into the 1×20 specialized exercises. Strength is just one aspect of many that aid in overall sport performance and the 1×20 allows for skill acquisition in all areas of sport, not just strength.

Potential benefits of a 1×20 training program

  • Greater motor learning
    • More reps with varied movements = more learning
  • Gives youth athletes a training foundation
    • This coordination sets them up for success in their sport in the years to come
  • Increased capillary growth
    • Allows for more efficient circulation, and thus recovery and adaptation
    • Increased blood flow capacity also strengthens tendons and ligaments
  • Time efficient (~60 minute sessions)
  • Coordination
    • The emphasis placed on proper technique translates over into increased coordination
  • Less injuries
    • Many injuries occur due to:
      • Inadequate recovery time
        • Because of the low intensity nature 1×20, excess muscle fatigue can be avoided
      • Insufficient strength in minor muscle groups
        • The emphasis on technique and the working of all muscle groups helps to prevent compensation and subsequent injuries
  • Muscular adaptations in terms of strength and endurance
    • Intensity is low enough in beginning reps to improve muscular endurance; strength development occurs during the higher intensity final few reps
      • Endurance is crucial for most athletes:
        • Baseball player pitching for an entire game
        • Any track event longer than say, a 100 meter race
        • Soccer players running for 45 minutes
        • Less taxing on the central nervous system
        • Less muscle soreness

Progressions

Long Term Progressions:

Coach Ryan Bracius said in an interview, “1×20 is more of an evolving concept and thought process than it is a system.” Outlined further in Dr. Yessis’ book, the program has phases or levels.

Levels I and II are used by younger athletes in developing technique, general strength, and muscular endurance. Levels III and IV are transitional phases that start to incorporate greater intensity and sports specialization. As a technique is mastered, the intensity is increased by adding weight and decreasing reps or by upping the amount of sets (or both). In levels III and IV, an athlete in a sport with a greater strength demand would drop down to a 1-2 x 14 RM program while an athlete in a sport with a greater emphasis on endurance would increase the reps to 25-30. Level V is the highest intensity and specialization in which many athletes will begin to progress out of the 1×20 style of training.

In its final stages, 1 x 20 would be used for technical purposes, learning or relearning a movement, or in rehabbing an injury. The 1×20 is not intended for youth athletes to do forever, but if it is working, then continue to utilize it. Most often, the athlete will progress to higher intensity and lower reps, but initially, the 1×20 is utilized in developing proper technique that the athlete will carry throughout their career.

Week to Week Progressions:

How does a coach know when to rotate an exercise out or adjust intensity? If an athlete shows no improvement for three workouts in a row, the coach needs to change the intensity or movement. Generally, in younger athletes, alter the movement; in athletes over 12 years old, adjust the intensity. If a college athlete starts to plateau after 6 weeks, a coach could adjust the intensity by transitioning to speed strength training, velocity-based training, and jump training.

For larger muscle groups, such as the quadriceps, increase the amount of weight used. For smaller muscle groups, such as the triceps, increase the rep number. These incremental increases will provide subtle, not overwhelming, changes for the nervous system which are advantageous in avoiding training fatigue short term and in evoking muscular adaptation long term.

Limitations to the 1×20 Training Program

A traditional 1×20 program will most likely not increase absolute strength, speed or explosiveness in a highly trained individual if used in isolation. If utilized in highly trained athletes, the 1×20 program serves a very specific purpose.

  • Purpose 1: Modifications in technique or learning a new skill
  • Purpose 2: Coupled with high intensity programming on recovery days or in the off season
  • Purpose 3: Rehabilitation of a specific muscle or muscle group

The 1×20 program in Rehabilitation

Following general rehab and clearance by a medical professional, a coach can examine the origin of the injury and build a more sport specific 1×20 rehab program. Exercises in the 1×20 rehab program can be used to target specific sport actions in order to prevent reinjury.

Using 1×20 in the rehab process allows for correction of technique that may have contributed to the initial injury and strengthening of the area, simultaneously solidifying the movement patterns in the nervous system to combat the psychological aspect of injury. Yessis notes that, “not only must the muscles be trained to be sufficiently strong but they must also be strengthened in the same way that they are used in execution of the sports skill.” Because of this, sport specificity must be utilized for selected rehab exercises.

1×20 Programs For Hitting Sports

In hitting sports, some players need to re-learn or fine tune certain aspects of their swing. Using the 1×20 to develop greater flexibility and strength through their core is essential and will translate into a more explosive hip and shoulder rotation. Using the 1×20 for this as opposed to a traditional strength cycle rep scheme allows the athlete to learn the new movements and work high repetitions while also having time to work on other aspects of the sport.

In essence, the 1×20 allows for a breakdown of a proper swing through varied specialized strength exercises specific to the sport. Yessis found that for athletes involved in swinging sports, “most players have insufficient rotational ability of the shoulders and hips, and also do not have an explosive wrist break prior to full extension or abduction of the arms and ball contact.” To relearn correct aspects of the swing, a baseball player could utilize exercises such as a banded or landmine hip rotation to develop the rotational hip ability required for a swing or pitch. The player could utilize wrist flexion exercises, arm abduction/adduction, and triceps extension to fine tune the upper body aspects of the swing. This is one way the 1×20 program could be utilized with higher level athletes.

Current Studies

Below (Figure 1) is an example 1×20 program designed by Micheal Zweifel, a CSCS that has coached players at the collegiate and professional levels. He conducted a study examining the effectiveness of a 1×20 program on his collegiate baseball players. The program was nine weeks long with training sessions three days a week. The 1×20 program started with 1×20 reps for four weeks and progressed to 1×14 reps for three weeks, and 1×8 reps for two weeks. The control group followed a standard strength training program that included a “3-week block of hypertrophy, 3-week block of eccentric and isometric, and 3-week block of power and specificity of transfer” (Zweifel 2016).

What Zweifel found was that the 1×20 was superior in terms of efficiency, allowing the athletes additional time post workout to implement individualized recovery or prehab/rehab exercises. The 1×20 program displayed comparable, if not better results, for vertical jump, broad jump, and 20 yard sprint following the 9 week cycle. The program fell short; however, in terms of its translation to sport, Zweifel concluded that this was due to the lack of specialized exercises in his program design. This specialization should have been included, seeing as Yessis emphasizes the importance of sports specificity in elite athletes on the 1×20 program. As with any study, further research is needed on the topic of 1×20 and its effectiveness, but Zweifel reported being impressed with the outcomes of the 1×20 in his baseball players. To read more about Zweifel’s study, click here.

Figure 1: Zweifel’s 3 day 1×20 Program

Conclusions and Further Research

Further research is needed to state with certainty the effects that a 1×20 strength training regimen can have on athletes, but the variations of the program used and its success seen thus far in youth, collegiate, and professional sports is promising. The success seen in developing physical and technical abilities in youth athletes also raises the question of its potential efficacy in novice gym goers or the elderly population. Further research would need to be conducted to test the effectiveness of the program in these populations.
As outlined throughout, the 1×20 program has many benefits in the youth athlete such as motor learning, capillary action, decreased soreness, and muscular adaptation in terms of both endurance and strength. The program can also be utilized in high level athletes for skill acquisition or modification, recovery days, or in rehabilitation from injury.

References

  • Bracius, B., Bracius, R., & Hester, K. (2020, April 16). Ryan Bracius and the 1×20 Method of Strength Training in College Football. Retrieved October 03, 2020, from https://simplifaster.com/articles/ryan-bracius-1×20-strength-training-method/
  • Olson, S. (2013, December 19). A Case for 1×20 Training. Retrieved October 03, 2020, from https://www.elitefts.com/education/training/workouts-programs/a-case-for-1×20-training/
  • Olson, S. (Producer). 2020 June 8. Strength Coach Pro [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from: https://www.strengthcoachpro.com/podcast/
  • Yessis, M. (2014). The Revolutionary 1×20 Strength Training Program. California, USA: Sports Training Inc.
  • Zweifel, M. (2016, November 30). 1×20 Training vs Traditional Training In Collegiate Pitchers. Retrieved October 03, 2020, from https://www.building-better-athlete.com/blog/1×20-training-vs-traditional-training-in-collegiate-pitchers
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