Joe Mills’ 20/20 Workout: Perfect Practice Makes Perfect Weightlifting

“The woods are full of strongmen, but very few great weightlifters!” – Joe Mills

Joe Mills was a national level coach, weightlifter (1930s), and member of the Weightlifting Hall of Fame. Joe coached some of the best national level USA weightlifters like Bob Bednarski and Mark Cameron, and he was the head weightlifting coach at Central Falls Rhode Island Weightlifting.

One of Joe’s most popular programs was the 20/20 Workout. This simple, straightforward, and demanding workout could be used for snatches, clean & jerks, or even both within a single training session. Many coaches, such as Gary Valentine, World Masters Olympic Weightlifting Champion (2003 and 2013) and athlete under Joe Mills, taught me this routine firsthand at his home in Connecticut during my USA Weightlifting Advanced Coaching Course. After going through the full 20/20 Workout, I was committed to adding it regularly within my training routines and barbell classes — and sharing it with others.

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In this article, I will share with you how you can implement the 20/20 Workout into your training sessions, and what benefits you can expect from the grueling sessions.

How It Works

The 20/20 Workout is a valuable training protocol that coaches and athletes can implement within volume cycles, group settings, or during pre-competition phases. The workout consists of 20 lifts, starting at 70-75% of ones 1 rep-maximum. Every minute, an athlete will perform one repetition (EMOM format), ascending every five minutes in load (2.5-5 kilogram increases, with additional load increases every rep in the last five minutes). The goal is to be perfect, going 20 for 20. Once an athlete has expressed perfection in that 20/20 scheme, simple load increases of a few kilograms throughout are all that is needed to progress.

  • Minute 1 = 1 rep @ 70% RM
  • Minute 2 = 1 rep @ 70% RM
  • Minute 3 = 1 rep @ 70% RM
  • Minute 4 = 1 rep @ 70% RM
  • Minute 5 = 1 rep @ 70% RM
  • Minute 6 = 1 rep @ 70% RM + 5kg
  • Minute 7 = 1 rep @ 70% RM + 5kg
  • Minute 8 = 1 rep @ 70% RM + 5kg
  • Minute 9 = 1 rep @ 70% RM + 5kg
  • Minute 10 = 1 rep @ 70% RM + 5kg
  • Minute 11 = 1 rep @ 70% RM + 7.5kg
  • Minute 12 = 1 rep @ 70% RM + 7.5kg
  • Minute 13 = 1 rep @ 70% RM + 7.5kg
  • Minute 14 = 1 rep @ 70% RM + 7.5kg
  • Minute 15 = 1 rep @ 70% RM + 7.5kg
  • Minute 16 = 1 rep at heavy single
  • Minute 17 = 1 rep at heavy single
  • Minute 18 = 1 rep at heavy single
  • Minute 19 = 1 rep at heavy single
  • Minute 20 = 1 rep at heavy single

The goal is to perform perfect repetitions, increasing loads only when repetitions are still smooth, automatic, and explosive. The goal is to be perfect.

Optimal Training Intensities

The beauty of this program is that you get a large volume of lifts within the 70-85% RM range, with most of the loading being performed between 75-80%. According to Bob Takano’s training manual, Weightlifting Programming: A Winning Coaches Guide, average intensities for the snatch and clean & jerk are between 71-75% and 73-77% respectively (the stronger the athlete the lower average training intensities), making this protocol exactly what most lifters need to do to increase long-term performance.

Time Efficient

Despite being ONLY 20 minutes long, the 20/20 Workout is anything but easy. By performing one repetition per minute, coaches and athletes can get great training volume in for the snatch, and even clean and jerks, in the same training session. Furthermore, coaches and athletes can add in squat and pull strength work afterwards for a well-rounded training day to make training session time efficient and effective.

Perfecting Your Lifts

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As Mills used to say, perfect practice makes perfect weightlifting. While performing the 20/20 protocol, coaches and athletes can monitor one another, often making any tweaks along the way. The ability to promote automatic, fluid movement is key in weightlifting, making the 20/20 protocol a great tool to minimize time overthinking movements. Due to the short clock, athletes are forced to be very coherent of their set-up, mental mantras (coaching cues), and pull the trigger without hesitation.

“Don’t think, you’re ill-equipped!” – Joe Mills

Conditioning Component

Increasing work capacity and base conditioning levels is crucial as athletes increase training volume and intensities. The ability to recover faster, exchange oxygen more rapidly, and mentally recharge between repetitions will allow athletes to train harder and more frequently over time. By performing one repetition every set, you allow for roughly a 1:10 or 1:12 work to rest ratio, which enables sufficient recovery (sufficient for loads at these relative intensities) of the adenosine triphosphate – creatine phosphate system (ATP-CP), the primary energy system involved throughout weightlifting (however the prolonged training sessions do allow for other energy systems to be trained, such as aerobic work capacities).

 Build Confidence

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The ability to hit 20 straight repetitions between 70-85+% RM is a great confidence booster for many athletes. The ability to promote fluid, automatic, and explosive movement in a concise and timely fashion will help to prepare lifters for more advanced training cycles and even competition training. Coaches and athletes can experiment with their athletes to determine who does well under pressure, who overthinks lifts, and help to minimize potentially destructive over-analytic behavior.

Final Words

Coaches and athletes can use the 20/20 Workout for both snatches and clean & jerks. I personally use them after competition seasons, higher intensity training cycles, or during beginning stages of off-season programs to increase training volume and enhance base fitness. Additionally, the 20/20 Workout is great while traveling or in a time crunch and looking to get a solid lift in.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured Image: @mikejdewar on Instagram

About the author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Masters in Exercise Physiology from Columbia University in NYC, USA. Mike is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Club Coach (USAW2), and Performance Nutrition Coach. Mike is a sponsored ReebokONE Ambassador specializing in weightlifting, barbell and powerlifting training, and sport-specific strength and conditioning. Additionally, Mike is an Assistant Coach of Strength and Conditioning at NYU and the Co-Founder at J2FIT Human Performance in NYC, USA. Mike is the Founder of The Barbell CEO, a lifestyle brand devoted to the strongest coaches, entrepreneurs, and minds. Additionally, Mike is a co-host on The Fittest League Podcast.