Widowmakers: The Squat Workout That Will Leave You Wishing You Were Dead

Much has been made over the years of all the things Arnold and his bros would do during training. They were the ultimate bros. Arnold and his boys would eat, train, eat some more, train more, and somewhere along the way they’d stay hype and get chicks.

It was like a meathead bros dream paradise. Which probably explains why Arnold is considered by many to be the Ultimate Bro King.

One of the aspects of Arnolds training that gets talked about, but very rarely duplicated, is widowmakers. These were made famous in the documentary Pumping Iron, where we see Arnold and Ed Corney busting out high rep squats with some serious fucking weight on the bar.

We need to get back into a world where bros incorporate widowmakers.

What exactly are widowmakers?

Squats are a kick ass exercise, this much we know. Widowmakers, or 20 rep squats? That’s a special type of sadistic pain that only truly out of their mind bros can get down with. Which probably the reason Arnold loved them so much.

The goal is to make you feel like your wife will soon be a widow. Whoever made that sort of moniker up is a sick bastard, and I’d like to shake their hand.

Widowmakers require a blend of strength, stamina, and grit. They’ll kick your ass by rep 8-10, leave you feeling more gassed than a mile long run, and have you wondering if your gym has a wheelchair ramp exit.

They’re an exceptional tool when it comes to building muscle, and shedding fat. When you push yourself through the pain of a heavy 20 rep set on squat, the hormonal response that follows is unmatched. This hormonal response is a key to building muscle, and also helps you shed fat. Not to mention that whole squatting heavy for 20 reps, that does a pretty good job of shedding fat as well.

There’s also an indescribable primal rush that comes from pushing yourself that hard. It’s almost like getting in touch with your inner caveman, which I happen to think feels fucking awesome.

Additionally, you’re likely not used to all of that volume when it comes to training legs. Meaning that you’ll barely be able to walk the next day, and soon after you’ll need to buy new shorts because your thighs have grown so much.

How to do them:

Widowmakers don’t require a ton of special gear, a special stance, or anything at all like that. They require a squat rack, and some testicular fortitude.

In order to go through it, I’d suggest pick a weight that you normally get for 12-15 reps. Remember, this is a widowmaker set. It’s not supposed to be a tea party you pansy, it’s supposed to suck. You’re supposed to push yourself.

  • Give yourself 3-4 sets to warm up, making sure you get to depth on every single rep, and maybe work in a few pause reps as well.
  • Go for broke. Bang out all 20 reps. Choose whatever pace you like. I prefer a consistent tempo throughout the entire set, instead of getting after it like Speed Racer in the beginning and tiring myself out too much by the end of the set.

Once you’ve hit all 20 reps, you’ve conquered the widowmaker. Here’s where the real fun begins. Next week, increase the weight by 5lbs, or maybe 10lbs if you’re feeling some sort of crazy. Then repeat.

For example:

  • Week 1: 20 reps at 225lbs
  • Week 2: 20 reps at 230lbs
  • Week 3: 20 reps at 235lbs

This can go on for a while, but not forever. Progress isn’t linear, and if you’re fortunate enough to get linear progress then enjoy it. It won’t last forever.

The beauty lies in the struggle. Obviously if you can rep out 225lbs for 20 reps, then you’ll be immensely stronger with that weight on your back. Your endurance capacity will also increase significantly, and this is where the real benefit comes in.

If growing in size and strength is your goal, you need endurance. Otherwise you won’t be able to train at a high level for an extended period of time each day, which seriously hurts your potential for growth.

Building endurance capacity through widowmakers works two fold. You’re squatting with serious weight, which aids in growth. And by working 20 rep sets you’re forcing yourself to adapt and gain more endurance.

Widowmakers are best done once per week. There’s no need to do them multiple times per week, though you will undoubtedly get better results if you trained legs multiple times per week.

If you’re incorporating widowmakers, then it’s a wise move on your part to make the other training sessions more strength focused. Think 3-5 reps.

All in all, widowmakers are one of the most underutilized training tools that exists today. Especially in the world we live in. Sometimes the best thing for your training is getting back to the basics, and copying what the best did. Just make sure you’ve gotten your will and testament taken care of. These are called widowmakers, after all.