“But, this is how I know you didn’t do it…”

Sometimes, I answer too many questions. My wife, as many of you know, was/is a Hemingway…yes THOSE Hemingways…and I need to practice talking like Uncle Earnie:
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You see, it comes to this sometimes: people ask me questions because their mouths can formulate noises and these noises can heard by my ears to make my brain work. The questioner has the ability to literally ask anything as my friend Crazy Jerry used to say: “You have a Toyota in your nose.” You can say the sentence, but it means nothing.

I have this believe that you can only train HARD in blocks of two, four, six and, maybe, eight weeks. Then, you slide back to “medium.” For dieting purposes, the great ones get it: Atkins Two Week Induction is genius. Chris Shugart’s Velocity Diet of 28 days of practically nothing but protein shakes works. After those short intense bouts with food, you are different: celery becomes butter and carrots are candy. It’s hard to live normally like that. Now, we all know that the best diet and exercise program for fat loss is found in the book, “The Road.” I enjoy telling people it is a delightful comedy…

Most of the time, you need to do those wonderful workouts that I love to call “Punch the Clock” workouts. I suggest doing all the basic human movements, work on your issues with corrective work as you need it, improve your technique on one or two exercises, break a good solid sweat and get the heart rate up and pat yourself wisely on the back. As I said in a recent interview, most people have three hard workouts a year: Monday, Wednesday and Friday of the first week of January and they put it off again until next New Year’s Day.

I think 200 easy workouts a year or even as few as 150 (three times a week with a little vacation) trumps those three hard ones each and every time. Of course, with “easy” and “hard” and “medium, your mileage may vary, but you get the point.

Oh, I LOVE hard workouts. I have dozens of them that I can give you. But, well, that’s the issue. My program, Mass Made Simple, is NOT the kind of thing one should attempt lightly. I get emails with “I can’t squat,” “I don’t have a bar,” or “I don’t want to lift heavy” and, frankly, this is not the Mass Made Simple Mentality. I think it would be possible to do MMS twice a year as a teen. After that, once a year would be a lot. It takes a lot of time, energy and discipline to do this program and it is a sell out system for six weeks.

I’m not sure you can do this and recover from hip surgery. I’m just guessing here, of course. This would be hard to do when on vacation. It would be really hard to do if you have six kids during Christmas.

What’s my point. There are natural times in the calendar year where you should train HARD. Find them on your calendar and highlight them. I don’t think it should be more than four months a year with the months broken up somehow (two blocks of two, for example). Maybe it is only two months a year for some of you, too.

It doesn’t mean that you don’t train the other eight (or whatever) months a year! Those other months you literally “train” not “work out.” This is Punch the Clock time!

What brought out this rant? Well, this weekend, a guy asked me the classic question: “Dan, if the Big 21 (see below) is such a good workout, why don’t you do it all the time?” I laughed out loud and answered with the title of this blog. There is NO way you can do the program “all the time.” It is 63 reps PER workout of the Olympic LIfts. The hands are stunned during Workout Seven to the point that some of my athletes hands get an orange hue. The traps are so sore the second week that a pat on the back can feel like a taser.

Having said that, when I get athletes to actually do the program, amazing and stunning things happen a few weeks later. When I announce to the kids that the “Big 21″ is coming up, the experienced kids know to wipe their slates clean.

Folks, this is what a hard program should be about. I’m in good company on this. In the past year, I have had the chance to sit with the best minds in strength and, to a person, there is an agreement that you can only train “hard” in narrow windows. Oh, you can train and it is great to do it. But, to really ramp it up, we have to ease up a lot of other things…like life. How long does it take to get this knowledge? Jamie Jones shared this photo:

You must begin at an early age.


Now, I think this little fella is starting a bit late on his education, but this is better than most.

So, what I am I saying? Get a twelve month calendar. Find your “crazy” months and “X” them out. Find the months that you can devote a lot of emotional energy and time to train and highlight them with a green highlighter (yellow is fine, too). The months you aren’t sure about? X them out, too! Find those “best” months to train hard and think about how you are going to attack it. Diet? A program? A challenge? I don’t care, but it is nice to have a month to prep for a hard month (as you will see if you take this advice).

When that time approaches, attack it with everything you have KNOWING that the program has an end point. Enjoy the fruits of your labors when you finish. Then, come back to the gym and “keep on keeping on” for a while. If you do the “Big 21,” the first time your weights will be either way too light or way too heavy. Take a couple of weeks to recharge and try it one more time. If you think you will want to do it again THIS year, you are a better man than me, Gunga Din.

I will include the Big 21 from my book, Never Let Go
Cinderella’s Stepsister Syndrome

I call this problem — the problem of trying to follow a program that fails to fit any of your equipment needs, exercise issues, volume or intensity issues, or your personality — the Cinderella’s Stepsister Syndrome. In other words, the shoe don’t fit!

A few years ago, I spent far too much of my life trying to explain to a father that his daughter couldn’t possibly follow a program I use for my athletes called “The Big 21.” She wasn’t strong enough to do the basic program. But, since my athletes did it, his daughter should be able to do it, too. First, let’s look at the program.

The athlete does three exercises (each and every day) for three workouts a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) for three weeks (week one, week two, week three) for a total of nine workouts. The three exercises are: clean and press (you clean the weight and press the weight for every rep), snatch, and clean & jerk (you clean the weight and jerk the weight for every rep.)

It’s so simple that it confuses people. You do all three lifts, in that order, every workout. I’ve probably lost the bulk of my audience, but this is so important. The key to the workout is the rep and set scheme, and the built-in weight increases.

The most confusing part is this: each workout, add five pounds to the opening weight. After three weeks, opening weight will be 45 pounds more.

Reps and Sets

Opening weight x 5
Add five pounds x 5
Add five pounds x 5
Add five pounds x 1
Add five pounds x 1
Add five pounds x 1
Add five pounds x 1
Add five pounds x 1
Add five pounds x 1
Total Repetitions: 21 (You see: The Big 21!)

So, and this is all math related now, if you want to finish with 225 on the last workout’s last rep, you start with 145 on day one. Let’s look at those two bookend workouts:

Day One:

145 x 5
150 x 5
155 x 5
160 x 1
165 x 1
170 x 1
175 x 1
180 x 1
185 x 1

Day Nine:

185 x 5
190 x 5
195 x 5
200 x 1
205 x 1
210 x 1
215 x 1
220 x 1
225 x 1

For the psychos out there:

Day two starts with 150 and ends with 190
Day three starts with 155 and ends with 195
Day four starts with 160 and ends with 200
Day five starts with 165 and ends with 205
Day six starts with 170 and ends with 210
Day seven starts with 175 and ends with 215
Day eight starts with 180 and ends with 220

Here’s what you’re still missing: that’s for one lift! You still have to do two more each day! The Big 21 is 63 reps of full body, explosive, big lifting. Just writing it down gives me wrist cramps.

What kind of Physical Capital does it take to do this workout? Let’s look:

1. Equipment: One bar, a 310 pound set. So, it’s easy and cheap for equipment.

2. Do you know how to do the lifts: the clean and press, the snatch, and the clean and jerk? If you don’t, honestly, please, don’t do The Big 21 workout!

3. If you answer “yes” to both questions, can you do them with the weights suggested?

4. Finally, do you have the ability to stick to a program for nine workouts and hate the last three?

As a lark, I figured out the lightest a person could do this workout with a traditional Olympic bar set up:

Day One:

45 x 5
50 x 5
55 x 5
60 x 1
65 x 1
70 x 1
75 x 1
80 x 1
85 x 1

Day Nine:

85 x 5
90 x 5
95 x 5
100 x 1
105 x 1
110 x 1
115 x 1
120 x 1
125 x1

For the record, the dad who wanted his daughter to do this workout couldn’t figure out how “to make it work when she can’t snatch 85; so how will she snatch 110 in a few weeks?” You see, Mr. Cinderella’s StepSister, the shoe don’t fit.

And that’s the whole point: all too often, the shoe doesn’t fit!
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  • Jenny Latto

    fantastic Dan, Just what I needed to hear, I am planning to increase my strength this year and if I hadnt read this may have continually tried to strength train the whole year. Also I did MMS and whilst I enjoyed it, and I did get gains, it was not done at the right time (coming off a two year injury hiatus) so while the Big 21 sounds fantastic its not for me at this time. thanks again for this timely reminder of the shoe not fitting (just yet)

  • matty

    It hurts and it works.
    Nice one

  • Ethan

    The “all-in” approach every now and then sounds like a great idea. Any ideas about another program for a football player not doing the full olympic lifts?
    Okay to switch for power clean, power snatch and front squat?

  • Colin

    Perfect timing. Winter is the time to go hard in your training! The nights are long for ample rest. The food consists of big roasts and soups with magical restorative properties. The cold air is the perfect refreshment after a heavy squat session. Get in all the hard work now so you don’t feel so bad skipping a workout to go swim in the ocean on a perfect summer day.

    In addition, I’m a big fan of Wendler’s 5/3/1 in terms of being able to go hard for a period of time, and “punch the clock” for a while. I generally just do prescribed sets or slightly more reps during the 5 week, go balls out in the 3 and 1 weeks, and then take an easy deload week. So it’s always 2 hard weeks followed by a rest week followed by an easy week. And if life is busy, there’s no problem just going in and hitting prescribed sets and leaving. You can “punch the clock” for a couple months just doing that but still putting good work in.

  • Christopher Kamper

    Hmm, I might give this a shot come April, after ski season. Do you use the same weight for all three exercises? Seems you’d have to pick the weight very carefully if you do.

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