Even Easier Strength

Even “Easier Strength”

Years ago, when I first met Pavel, he challenged me to do a “40 Day Workout.” I followed his simple instructions to a “T:”

“For the next forty workouts, pick five lifts. Do them every workout. Never miss a rep, in fact, never even get close to struggling. Go as light as you need to go and don’t go over ten reps for any of the movements in a workout. It is going to seem easy. When the weights feel light, simply add more weight.”

So, I did exactly as he said. On the 22nd workout, alone in my garage gym, I broke my lifetime best Incline Bench Press record that was 300 for a single. Without a spotter, in a frozen garage, I benched 315 for a double. All the other lifts went through the roof and I was as amazed then as I am now.

It is “too easy.” In fact, it is so easy that I have had to break it down into literally dozens of pages of article to make it as simple as possible! And, the more I try to simplify it, honestly, the more lost some people become about the program.

I am not entirely convinced that I am a genius, but somebody has to prove to me why I followed those simple instructions so easily and vast hoards of trainers can’t seem to follow the concept without the obvious answer is that I have an unrivaled intelligence. Or, perhaps, I just can follow simple rules.

So, I came up with “Easier Strength.” I didn’t want to but I was exhausted explaining to people that “Three Sets of Three adding weight each time” meant to do “Three Sets of Three adding weight each time.” So, my frustrations, I think, lead to even more clarity.

Let’s start with an advanced experienced trainer who has “never” done any Loaded Carries. (In three weeks, I will be a genius as the Farmer Walks alone will change everything.)
There are a few “rules” before we begin:
1. Never miss a rep!
2. Follow the “Rule of Ten” for the appropriate lifts for an advanced lifter; if Patterning needs to be done, do it as often and as much as necessary; and, use the rules of 15-25 for the appropriate half body lifts.

Advanced athlete’s warm-ups:

10-25 Goblet Squats
75 Swings (Sets of 10-25; really grease that Hinge Movement)
1-5 Get Ups (Half Get Ups are fine as is the Kalos Sthenos variation)

“Easy Strength” for an Experienced Lifter
Week 1
Mon (1) 2 x5 Tues (2) 2 x 5 Wed (3) 5-3-2 Fri (4) 2 x 5 Sat (5) 2 x 5

Week 2
Mon (6) 2 x 5 Tues (7) 6 Singles Wed (8) 1 x 10 Fri (9) 2 x 5 Sat (10) 5-3-2

Lifts for the above:

Press Movement
: Change the lifts every two weeks, “Same, but Different.” So flat bench press, incline bench press, and military press can be exchanged for each other after every two-week block

Pull Movement: Either do Bat Wings in combo with the press, two to three isometric holds for about ten seconds every workout, or simply skip this and get the work in from the other movements.

Hinge Movement: There are two options here depending on need: either pick a deadlift variation (and rotate it every two weeks, for example, thick bar deadlifts, snatch grip deadlifts, clean grip deadlifts, orthodox deadlifts, Jefferson Lifts or Hack squats) or do kettlebell swings in the 75-100 range. (These options will all cover the need for pulling, too.

Squat Movement: Again, ideally one would alternate movements after every two weeks, front squats, back squats, overhead squats, zercher squats or safety squats are all fine.

Loaded Carry: Vary the distance EVERY time, and probably the load…if you can.

Important Note: This is not the “Order” of the workout. More on that later…

The workouts

Two sets of Five: it should be easy and be like your second or third warm up lift in a typical workout. The idea, the “secret,” is to get THIS workout to feel easier and easier!

Five-Three-Two: Five reps with your 2 x 5 weight, add weight for three, then a solid double. Make the Double!!!

Six Singles: I don’t care how you do this, but add weight each set. No misses!

One set of ten: the day after six singles, very light load for ten easy “tonic” reps.

Example Workout for an Experienced Lifter:
Monday, Day One.
Incline Bench Press: 165 for five reps, 165 for 5 reps (300 Max Single)
Thick Bar Deadlifts: 185 for five reps, 185 for 5 reps (265 Max Single)
(This is the Pull and the Hinge Movements…an advanced lifter)
Front Squats: 185 for five reps, 185 for 5 reps (405 Max Single)
Farmer Walks: 105 with each hand, 100 meters out and back (three stops)
Ab Wheel: five reps.

Day Two can be heavier or lighter depending on mood and feel. The important thing is to show up and get the movements in. If one day is too hard and compromises the next day, that is fine as long as you lighten the load and continue getting the reps in without compromising speed.

Day Three “should” begin with the five rep number from the usual 2 x 5 workout, then add some weight for three, and finally add some weight for two. Be sure to get the double. Most people on the easy strength program find that this workout is the test for how things are progressing. The weights begin to fly up on the double and that is good, but stop there. Remember, this is a long-term approach to getting strong and don’t keep testing yourself. Save the big effort for, well, never.

Day Four and Day Five are the most confusing days. Again the load on the bar “depends” on how you feel. If the efforts feel easy and light, “nudge” the load up. Here is the secret (again): the goal of this program is gently raise your efforts (load) on the easy days so that the bar feels light. If you start out lifting a weight, say 205 at one effort level and in a few weeks you are lifting 245 at the same perceived effort and speed, you ARE stronger.

After a day of rest, Day Six is going to feel easy and it should be like that. Get the reps in.

Day Seven has a simple rule: you will do six singles adding weight EACH rep. So, it can be five pounds or fifty depending on how each single feels. It is NOT a max effort on the last set, it is the sixth single. If the loads feel heavy, just add five pounds. If the bar is flying, add more.

For people who come from the tradition of “smashing the face on the wall,” Day Seven is confusing. Your goal is to determine the load on how the weight feels. If it pops right up and feels light, toss on the plates. If it doesn’t, respect today and realize that you are going to have plenty of opportunities to get stronger in the future.

Day Eight is a “tonic” day, the way we used to use the term. Go really light and just enjoy ten repetitions. It can be as light as 40% of max (or lighter if you feel like, too) and just use the movement to unwind after yesterday’s heavy attempts.

Day Nine is often the day when people see the reasoning behind the program. This is the day where the weights seem to often be just “far too easy.” That is the sign of progress in this program. I remember actually thinking I misloaded the bar and I had to double check my math as the bar seemed to be far too light to be right.

Day Ten is often the day where people “test” themselves a little and this can be fine as long as you feel like going after it. Again, don’t miss.

Week Three, Option One

Now, the original program designed by Pavel demanded that you repeat Weeks One and Two for three additional times. Oh, and it works well. By Week Five, I was a machine on the lifts and broke lifetime Personal Records, smashing my Incline Bench Press record by fifteen pounds (and doing it for two reps, not just a single) and crushing my old Thick Bar Deadlift record (from 265 to 315). This is staggering improvement. So Option One is to simply keep on keeping on.

Week Three, Option Two
I like this one more for most athletes. You make small changes to the movements, from Bench Press to Incline Bench Press, Thick Bar Deadlift to Snatch Grip Deadlift and Front Squat to Back Squat. This is Pavel’s “Same, but different” approach. That small change seems to keep enthusiasm high for the entire Eight weeks.

Week Three, Option Three
I have a few athletes doing this now and I believe (maybe “hope” is a better word) that this is the better option for speed and power athletes. It is both a “deload” week and week filled with more metabolic challenges.

Day One
Push Press or Push Jerk (“Rule of Ten”) Five sets of Two, adding weight each set, is a great workout.
Litvinovs: After doing a Hinge or a Squat movement, either sprint, sled or prowler immediately after finishing the first movement. In a gym setting, this can be difficult, but I have done this outside with great success with just a kettlebell and a hill. The complete article will be in the appendix.

Day Two

Left Hand Only!
• Waiter Walk
• Suitcase Walk
• Single Arm Front Squat (Kettlebells are best)
• Suitcase Deadlift
• One arm row on the TRX (or suitable device)
• One arm Bench Press.
Reps, sets, load, time and every other factor “depends.” The idea is to push the stability and symmetry muscles and movements. There is an odd metabolic hit to these moves as one sweats a lot more than expected doing this. So, for example, this can be done with a single Kettlebell in a park (which is wonderful, by the way) and the athlete can challenge various aspects of training and get a good workout while also practicing mastery of body position and dynamics.

Doing just one side also frees up the mind a little bit. It is pretty obvious what you will be doing in a few days so you can experiment a bit and play the edges of tension and relaxation as you train.

Day Three
Push Press or Push Jerk (“Rule of Ten”) Five sets of Two, adding weight each set, is a great workout.
Litvinovs: After doing a Hinge or a Squat movement, either sprint, sled or prowler immediately after finishing the first movement. In a gym setting, this can be difficult, but I have done this outside with great success with just a kettlebell and a hill.

Day Four
Right Arm Only!
• Waiter Walk
• Suitcase Walk
• Single Arm Front Squat (Kettlebells are best)
• Suitcase Deadlift
• One arm row on the TRX (or suitable device)
• One arm Bench Press.

At the beginning of Week Four, the athlete will mix up the variations in the basic movements (Push, Pull, Hinge, Squat, Loaded Carry) and progress along using the same rep and set template in Weeks One and Two.

After finishing the program (Weeks One and Two repeated four times total; Option Three would be a twelve week program), fully assess mobility, basic strength levels and the program vis-à-vis your goals. I would suggest maybe an FMS screen and blood tests, too, but costs can be an issue.

Now, the workout itself does NOT necessarily go in this order:
Warm-Ups
1. Push
2. Pull
3. Hinge
4. Squat
5. Walk/Run/Sprint under load
Correctives

In fact, I think the real insight of the past ten years for me is understanding the role of perceived strengths and weaknesses by the athlete in their training system. It has changed the way I view “programming.

Simply, divide the TIME involved in workout in half. So, yes, it will involve math. If each day is an hour workout (about right for most strength programs), the total time for strength training in the above template is five hours a week. I think elite athletes can train in the weight room up to ten hours a week, but that would mean actual athletic training would be upwards of forty hours a week (including film, games, and all the rest. And, “all the rest” can be a lot of time for a professional).

My simple method is this: divide the time in half. The first half of every training session would be devoted to the perceived strengths that the athlete has in the five basic human movements. This time would also include mobility and flexibility correctives. It is an aspect of human nature that I have come to simply acknowledge: if I reward you with what you do well, you will do the little things like correctives.

The other half of the training time will be dedicated to weaknesses or omissions. Since the athlete will be learning some new skills and movements, all energy has to be devoted to mastering the new tasks. I remember well learning to squat deep with Dick Notmeyer and every set and rep was stressful physically, mentally and emotionally. It flat out hurts!

Some movements, like the warm up movements of Goblet Squat, Swing and Get Up, also serve as correctives for many athletes. If the athlete is learning the squat, a set of Goblet Squats in between a set of Bench Presses is actually quite instructive. It develops the pattern certainly, but it also gives some extra time to master the movement. If you ever give this an honest try, you will be amazed at the simplicity of this game-changing tweak.

Correctives can be those Kettlebell moves labeled in the warm-ups, but it also includes any specialized mobility work like we would find in the FMS library of movements. It can also include foam rolling and general flexibility work, too. So, instead of resting between sets, you are actively battling your issues.

It doesn’t always work perfectly with time as advanced athletes often have few weaknesses in the weight room. But, almost universally, they ignore Loaded Carries and struggle with squat depth. So, finishing a workout with Squats and Farmer Walks or Predators is going to be exhausting and it might be the right time to simply rest.

And, just a short note here on recovery. Do it.

  • http://shrogers.com Steve Rogers

    “I am not entirely convinced that I am a genius, but somebody has to prove to me why I followed those simple instructions so easily and vast hoards of trainers can’t seem to follow the concept without the obvious answer is that I have an unrivaled intelligence.”

    Well, as Einstein said: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

    I’m sure you have the 99% covered, and the 1% is looking good.

  • http://7242734530 Shawn Reed

    Dan – I would like your permission to post this article on the Dicks Sporting Goods Certified Fitness Trainer blog as a reference. We are launching a line of performance based products under the brand “Protocol”. I feel very confident that you will like our initial assortment and ideas around making a big impact with the High School Athlete. Many of our closest friends (RKC and FMS) really support the concept.

    Shawn Reed, RKC

  • Christopher Kamper

    Dan, two questions: (1) if you do other activities after these workouts (i.e. a run, swim, row, or crosfit-type routine) would that be detrimental (I am guessing not as long as you allow for recovery); (2) would this work for the olympic lifts, like if you did the three olympic lifts and the carries or something (I know that is only 4 lifts and not 5 …)

  • Christian

    I can not wait to see it finished and all put together!

  • http://health4ni.com/ Scott Brady

    Great article Dan. The timing is great as I’m just finished with a 6 month Wendler 531 prog. I feel a little beat up to be honest and like the sound of this 40 Day prog. So I’m going to give it a go.

    One question: can loaded carries be incorporated into this program (either in the same session or earlier/later in the day)? I just wonder if it will be too much given the high frequency of the prog.

    Many thanks

    Scott

  • http://health4ni.com/ Scott Brady

    Ok, I’ll get my coat. Just re-read it a few times and doing loaded carries at the end is recommended.

  • Bryan Stanley

    Great simple idea Dan, as I always stop by your site along with gymjones. Can this program done simpler in the sense one arm lifts? Limited resources-apartment dweller, and will double the time it takes to do the program as working one side/one limb at a time. Do have an adjustable DB. Any thoughts appreciated.
    Cheers
    Boone

  • Steve Gurtowski

    Hi Dan,
    Here’s something I’ve been doing for the hinge movement and it’s working well. Thought I’d share…
    16kg kettlebell snatch: 1 minute each arm, 1 minute rest: 3 sets at about 14 reps per minute.
    20kg kb clean: 1 minute each arm, 1 minute rest: 3 sets at about 12 reps per minute.
    24kg kb swing: 10 swings each arm: 3 sets
    total: 216 hinges

  • Tim

    Aloha Dan,
    Love all of your content, love “Never let go” and enjoy your take on everything health and fitness. My question is what the heck is a bulgarian goat bag swing? There is no active link on the pdf and my googlefu has prooved, not worthy. Can you help shed some light on the goat?
    Mahalo from Hawaii

  • Tim S.

    Tim, this is a fellow Tim.
    I just went through the RKC Level II and I was fortunate to be on Dan John’s team. The Bulgarian goat bag swing, as he showed us, entails holding a weight such as a kettlebell against your (braced) abs and then hinging into your hips like you would during a deadlift or a swing. All you do is return to a tall and tight standing position and then repeat.

  • Jesse McGill

    Love this Dan. Going to start today.

  • Jordan. O

    I’m slightly confused on the load. I get that it is done by feel. But is it supposed to feel light and extremely fast like a ballistic lift like say 60% Of a max or should it just feel like a nice solid lift without grinding or stalling like say 80% of a max? I’m thinking it’s the later but would love your clarification on it. Thanks.

  • Zenon

    doing day 7 tommorow! loving it so far.

  • Søren Wahlgren

    Hi Dan

    Thanks for the article, it’s been a real inspiration for me. I’m thinking about putting something together incorporating weightlifting movements so I’ll keep the squat, press and pull, and exchange the hinge and the explosive movements with an oly lift and a heavy oly pull. My thoughts in this regard are how many reps you’d suggest for the oly movements? 5s and 10s doesn’t seem appropriate for those types of lifts and 2 worksets yields to little volume. I thought about just flippind it around so I’d do 5×2 on the 2×5 days, work up to a heavy double on 5-3-2 days, keep the singles day as it is and something light on the 1×10 day, haven’t figured that one out yet.

    Again, thanks for the article :)

  • Ryan Holmes

    Hey Dan,

    How would Power Cleans work in this program?

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKkHJMj2kZ4 Raphael Wetzel

    I simply want to say I am just newbie to blogs and really savored your page. Most likely I’m want to bookmark your website . You actually come with really good posts. Thanks a lot for sharing with us your webpage.

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  • Zenon Garnett

    I think this is my favorite over all program. Did it a year ago and am rehashing it again. slightly modified version but i feel great doing it! I’m going to keep doing it and see how long i can go and still see benefits.

    this time around i am doing only 3 main movements instead of 5, and then i do 3 assistance movements. Its a bit less taxing and allows for more variety. I am also doing 30 min of cardio afterward. Anyways I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • http://danjohn.net Dan John

    That is perfectly fine, of course…

  • Martyn Grant

    done this last year and made incredible gains. I was training at hom so done heavy Kb sntaches in place of deadlifts ( only had kbs and pullup bar ). This time round i have a barbell and doind 2 x 5 deads daily at around 80%. Kb press for 2 x 5, 5 x 2 etc, pullups same as Press, Pistols doing less reps – 6 total, body levers 2 sets and Captain crush grippers 2 x 5. feel like i could lift much more but training smart and remembering i can do more tomorrow. I love to train this way now as it gives me plenty energy to do other stuff and still get strong

  • Rob Beauchamp

    Dan,
    As ever great stuff – after thirty years of lifting I now realise the simple stuff I started with is all I ever needed! Been doing this for a week now and I feel great, strong, (leaner), tighter yet more flexible particularly in back squats, which I have avoided due to lower back injury – movement was not the problem hip mobility was. I would humbly suggest the inclusion of the Barbell Glute Bridge or Hip Thrust for the hinge, having read Bret Conteras work on its efficacy and importance in developing Glute strength. I have both your books and now apply a park bench and bus bench approach to my training cycle, of which MMS Lite will be a bus bench six weeks. Thanks for another classic!

  • Federico Aldam

    Hello Dan! My name is Federico and I am from Argentina! wanted to ask you for a beginner workout program. I mean, where should I start, as I have lots of things to address (strength, mobility, flexibility,etc). I am 6 ft 6 in, 105 kg (an awful body composition, so I know I need to clean up my diet fast), working as an orthopedic surgeon (3rd year of residence) with 3-4 24 hs shifts every week (that actually extend for 36 hours because we have a regular 12 hs workday post 24 hs shift). As you can see, not lots of time to commit to training, but willing to do.
    My main problem is that I need a minimalistic way of training (strength training, stretching, mobility included in a 45-60 min workout, to ensure I can mantain it during the year; 2 times per week better than 3 because of obvious reasons) and as a regular western worker, I lack the mobility everybody else does (speaking in general): t spine, hips, ankles; and have to awaken certain muscles: rhomboids, glutes, etc.
    I had a shoulder surgery (impingement in 2007 and never regain the strength).
    Another thing I wanted to know, as I have never strength train before for more than 3 months in a row, is how to do progressive overload. I dont think I am able to jump 5 kg between each session. Should I stick to any load until it feels quite comfortable and then increase the weight (doing the same or less reps than I was doing until i build it to the desired reps)?
    I know the questions are stupid, but I would love some guidance.
    Is there any chance to contact you directly and hire you to desgin a program for me?
    My email is federicoaldam@hotmail.com
    Thank you very much

  • Camilo O’Kuinghttons

    I’ve been doing this program since December. Back Squat 2X5, Press 2×5, Pullups 2×5, Snatch EMOM 10, and leg lifts 2×5. That’s a hinge, push, pull, explode and core. Occasionally my CrossFit has us test our 1RM in various movements. Since beginning this program I’ve PR’d in OHS, FS, BS, Clean and Jerk. I think it’s a great program for an older guy like me (48). It’s amazing. Thanks Dan. (edited for grammar)

  • Stuart Edward Hughes

    Try two sets of five, same as the rest. If it doesn’t work for a while, use the same weight for three sets of three.

    If you opt for the latter, 3/2/1 on the heavier days.

  • Joseph Tang

    Hey Dan,

    Just wanted say I have now done a 103 day variation of this and still going strong (on my 3rd cycle). Though some of the lifts haven’t flew up, the fact I have hit PRs on some whilst essentially training daily has been an eye opener for me. My ability to recover has improved, I feel generally more prepared to lift in most days. It was never my intention to go past 40 days, but its been a fascinating experiment.

  • Will Sellers

    I’m 50 years old and haven’t exercised regularly since I was in my 40’s
    due to knee injuries. I recently came across your article in Men’s
    Health about the 5 essential movements and it made complete sense. I
    want to build functional strength and mobility. Is this 40 day
    challenge advisable for me?

  • Michael Shiva Best

    As a programming beginner, struggling a bit with the complexity of certain periodization programs, this article is one of the most interesting I’ve ever read. I can’t wait to implement this program! Does anyone have insight on how often they would run through this cycle? Back-to-back, or would you alternate with other strength and hypertrophy work? Thanks!

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