Mass Made Simple…Lite

For those of you who want a “lite” version of “Mass Made Simple,” I put together a few ideas from here and there for you. It’s a simple approach, but it has merit.

The “Ten Secrets to Building Mass:”

First, although there are truly no real “secrets,” here is the overriding principle: Mass building, like fat loss, has to be done at the exclusion of everything else. A guy with 14 inch arms will ask me about a mass building program, but worry to death about his “six pack” (meth addicts have six packs, for the record), his cardio, his “game,” and about five other things. Once you get 16-18 inch arms, I will allow you to worry about all those other things.

Second, there is a need to spend time under the bar. This has been called a number of things in the past few years, but you have to find ways to load your body and move the weights for up to several minutes without releasing the load (putting the bar down or resting on a machine). This program is going to be based on this insight.

Third, Great White Sharks seem to be big and eat “big.” Killer Whales seem to eat big, too. Alpha predators don’t seem to count calories. You are now going to stop worrying about every calorie like a college cheerleader. On a mass gaining program, you must eat. When I put on forty pounds in four months my freshman year in college, I used to some sandwiches BEFORE dinner so “I wouldn’t be so hungry during dinner.” Think “Shark Week” when you sit down to eat and warn the others at the table not to reach across your plate.

Fourth, you must master “resting.” I know that there is this urge to do this and that and this after every workout, but for a mass building program you must learn that cardio is changing channels with the remote. If you don’t sleep eight plus hours a night, it is going to impact your mass gains. Many famous bodybuilders have advocated the “Muscle Nap,” a long nap in the afternoon to simple gain muscle. Remember, you grow while you rest. Pick up basketball games are not rest!

Fifth, this is a difficult point for many: bulking programs have very few movements. Well, let’s put this way: GOOD mass building programs have few movements. When I had my most success with mass building the number of movements is always around seven or eight TOTAL movements. Learn to love them.

Sixth, although people have gained amazing mass on lower reps (1-5) for most people (and mortals), the load needed to gain mass on a low rep program is “difficult.” So, until you handle a 400 bench, 500 squat and 600 deadlift, you are going to need reps to get your load into your workout. There is something magical about mass gains around the 5-10 range and the last century of strength enthusiasts will bear this out, too.

Seventh, I got good advice that I promptly ignored about two decades ago: never do less than ten reps in the Back Squat. There are people that can ignore this advice (powerlifters mainly) but for the bulk of the population this is wise advice: each and every time you load up the bar on your back, get ten reps in. It gives you your time under load and seems to stimulate the whole body…and the appetite!

Eighth, there is something that every experienced trainers know and few beginners: the answer to the question: “how long do you rest between sets?” The correct answer is “it depends.” An advanced lifter might take a year to recover from a record lift while a new lifter is recharged and ready to go literally seconds after doing a machine movement. For mass building, think “around” three minutes for the Squat and Bench and 90 seconds for the other movements. Again, your mileage may vary.

Ninth, I would always suggest leaving “one or two in the tank.” In nonlifters terms, always finish a set knowing you could have done a few more reps. We all love the images from “Pumping Iron” with all the forced reps, but for most guys who need mass, well, you just aren’t there yet. It’s better to get an additional set or two than it is to roast on exercise.

Tenth, finally, I have a bit of “old” old school advice: save yourself on a building program. Wear extra clothes so your body doesn’t have to use resources to stay warm. Park closer. Find shorter routes to everything. Sit more. Remember, this is not a lifetime plan but a short focused fiery attempt to gain mass. Keep your eye on the doughnut and, well, eat it.

The Program is based on an older successful concept of training that repeats the same exercises daily, but with focus on certain bodyparts each workout. For example, as you will be focusing on squats on Workout C (lucky you!), you still will be repeating the movements from Workouts A and B. There are several excellent reasons for this:

First, mastery of the movements is a key to mass building. You will not be making great gains if you have to tell yourself to “bend elbows” when you Bench Press, in fact, you may kill yourself.

Second, the best movements for mass building are a very short list and you need to do them. A lot. I wish it was more complex than that.

Finally, the best tonic for soreness is to do the movement that got you sore in the first place. Enjoy!

The Exercises:

Double Clean and Press:
Two dumbbells, one in each hand. Stand tall. With a bit of a hinge clean the bells to the shoulder. From the shoulders, press both to lockout overhead. Return to the bells to the shoulders and reclean the weight. Press and continue. Each “Clean and Press” is one repetition, so a set of ten is ten cleans and presses total. Do NOT do ten cleans THEN ten presses, you will gas out trying to do this.

Back Squat: we will be doing the Back Squat, “the King of Exercises,” each and every workout. There is no more important movement to master than this whole body movement in your search for mass.

Straight leg deadlift
: this is a “tonic” throughout the program. With soft knees and a light weight, lower the weight down about “sock” height and stand back up. Try to feel it in the hamstrings, not the lower back. If you have any issues, don’t do this movement. It is a post squat tonic, not a training movement.

Pull Up: The Pull Up serves double duty as a great lat builder and perhaps the best ab machine I know. I have yet to find someone who can do 20 plus Pull Ups, but can’t dominate any test of abdominal strength.

Machine Back Row: in the past few years, I have changed my tune on my machines. The standard Barbell Bent Over Row is marvelous, done correctly. It’s that whole issue with “done correctly” that I find issues with in the gym. If your facility has a good machine that doesn’t stress your lower back, please use it.

Bench Press: with the dumbbell Clean and Press in the first part of the workout, the Bench will take care of all your other needs for upper body mass and pressing.

Barbell Curls:
I hate how the barbell curl is maligned. I have always thought that the strict curl is a window into the general strength levels of an athlete. I once saw a guy strict curl…strict, no back bend or elbows sliding behind the lats…with 225 pounds. It remains burnt in to my vision. Funny thing, he also had really, really big arms. Go figure.

Farmer Walks: my answer to the world’s worst strength question: “if all you could do is one movement, what would it be?” If you have the courage to push the weights up to half bodyweight in each hand and trudge bravely “out there,” you will discover that there is not an inch of your body that won’t have an opinion about what you just did!!!

First Week Break In workout (Three workouts to familiarize you with the movements and get a sense of the poundages for the future)

General warm up. Keep it around five minutes and do what you need to do to get a little warmer, every joint a bit looser and have the general feeling that you are ready to go.

Dumbbell Clean and Press.

This is the lift that is going to sneak more results into this program than practically anything, save the Back Squats.
Go to the row of dumbbells and pick two very light bells. Do an easy set of five Clean and Press. With a short rest, slowly progress up the rack, grabbing heavier and heavier bells. Do not struggle with any of the presses as that would indicate we have gone too heavy. For most people, around 35-50 pounds is going to be the target weight for this movement in the beginning. Remember this top weight.

Back Squat: If you have no experience with this movement, find someone who can help and practice the movement. If all you do is master the Back Squat, you will magically find the mass you are looking for in your physique. If you do have some experience, I want you to do three sets of five with the weights going up each set, but well within your capabilities.

Straight leg deadlift: for most people, grab the empty 45 pound bar and perform one set of twenty reps after the squats. It should feel invigorating.

Machine Back Rows: again, we are practicing here. In three or four sets of five, find a weight you can do five solid reps without a bunch of hitching or tugging.

Pull Ups. Real pull ups are a great ab exercise and lat exercise. I would suggest jumping up on the bar and seeing how many sets it takes to get to ten. If it takes one, you are doing fine. It takes me two: a set of eight and then a double.

Bench Press: most people have an idea what a set of easy five reps should feel like in the Bench Press. Find a comfortable weight that you can do a set of probably eight reps without too much struggle.

Curls. Get a sense of what five strict reps are going to feel like with a barbell. Don’t do them in the squat rack, by the way. Add weight until you realize that curls with a barbell are much harder than you thought.

Farmer Walks.
Grab two serious dumbbells. I have high school sophomores start with 85 pounders, but your mileage may vary. Simple stand talk, eyes neutral and go for a walk. Keep an eye on your surroundings. Be sure to put the dumbbells back into place at the end (this is the hard part!). I suggest learning to walk up to 100-200 yards.

After the initial break in week, strive for five weeks of the following.

Workout A, usually Monday, Back Focus.
Warm Up
Dumbbell Clean and Press
Strive for 3 x 5 with your manageable dumbbell. Keep the rest periods short.

Back Squat:
3 X 10, add weight to each set. Over the weeks, strive for bodyweight on the last set here.
Straight Leg Deadlifts:
1 x 20 with the empty barbell

Machine Back Rows:
5 x 5 really trying to hold the squeeze in the finished position. Go as heavy as you can get five reps in.

Pull Ups:
How many sets does it take you to get to 25 reps?

Bench Press:
3 x 5. The last set should still keep a couple of reps in the tank.

3 x 5. Keep your eye on slowly increasing the weight on the bar here. Although adding reps is tempting (“I feel the pump!”), mass gaining is all about load.

Farmer Walks:
One set with heavy dumbbells. Try to make your walk end in front of the racks. You will thank me later.

Workout B, usually Wednesday, Press focus

Warm Up
Dumbbell Clean and Press
Strive for 5 x 5 with your manageable dumbbell. Keep the rest periods short.

Back Squat:
2 X 10, add weight to the second set. This is a set up workout for Workout C.
Straight Leg Deadlifts:
1 x 20 with the empty barbell

Machine Back Rows:
3 x 5 really trying to hold the squeeze in the finished position. Go just a little lighter than in Workout A.

Pull Ups:
How many sets does it take you to get to 15 reps?

Bench Press:
5 x 5. Warm up with a few easy reps before you start counting the sets. All five sets should be relatively heavy.

3 x 10. It’s okay to feel the burn and pump today.

Farmer Walks:
Two sets today. Walk out as far as you can from the rack and put the weights down. Then, simply return them!

Workout C, usually Friday or Saturday
Warm Up
Dumbbell Clean and Press
Strive for 3 x 5 with your manageable dumbbell. Keep the rest periods short.

Back Squat:
5 X 10, add weight to each set. Plan the workout so that set four is bodyweight and set five is just a bit more. This last set is the one that makes or breaks your training.

Straight Leg Deadlifts:
1 x 20 with the empty barbell

Machine Back Rows:
2 x 5 really trying to hold the squeeze in the finished position. Go as heavy as you can get five reps in.

Pull Ups:
How many sets does it take you to get to 12 reps? The goal would be one set.

Bench Press:
3 x 5. The last set should still keep a couple of reps in the tank. Rein it in a little today.

2 x 5 plus one set of ten. The best of both worlds in the curl today: a little strength and then finish off with getting some blood in the biceps.

Farmer Walks:
Strive for a heavier bell each week here. Make yourself push this movements to the limits here. Walk a long ways, stop, refresh and try to go a little farther. I always had a target or goal to get to. Now, of course, coming back…

After six weeks, one week of break in and five weeks of A/B/C workouts and lots of food, assess your progress. I strongly suggest you begin the program with a before picture and it is well advised to finish with an after. Bodyweight gains depend on a lot of factors, but I have seen common sense programs and approaches to be far better than some of the voodoo that I see often on the web.

  • Bojer

    Really amazing job! It really seems like this program is a lot easier to do for the average person compared to MMS, but it is still very hard work and i’m sure it would yield great results. Will be sure to try it this spring and hopefully get to my goal weight of 200 pounds.

  • James Marshall

    Reminds me of some articles from 20 years ago. But time under the bar requires effort. Researching seaweed supplements for breakfast that produce instantaneous results, costs money.
    Seems like effort is harder to come by now than money.

    Great to see your approach Dan.

  • tyler wall

    I should print this out and give it to 90% of the people at the Golds I train at….

    PACKING ON SLABS is the name of the game

  • Antti

    Is there any suitable alternative for farmer walks in this program? I frequent a small gym and walking around in a really small circle would be awkward.

  • Jeff Ford

    I’ve done farmers walks in my basement, 10 paces, turn, 10 pace, turn. Not ideal, but it works. Plus you have to hang on a lot longer to make all of those turns, so you get bonus grip work

  • Dr Steve Tucker

    Just found your blog – what a phenomenal resource! Have been looking for a new full body 3x/wk routine to ease me back into training after shoulder and hip injuries and this one looks perfect – actually excited to get back to the gym… Starting Friday this week. Will keep you posted. Cheers!

  • Chris Allen

    I’m on my fourth week of this workout, including the warm-up week. It’s been great! My weight has not changed much, but I feel bigger.

    Unfortunately, I’m not very good at chin-ups yet. If I tried to do 25 straight chin-ups, the workout would last for two hours, and the number of sets would approach 25. So when I can’t do any more of them, I wrap a big rubber band around some posts at about knee height on the power rack, then stand on it and finish off the rest of the reps – top half only. I can see strength improvements even just over these four weeks. Now, I can do three whole reps in a row, good ones, even. Mostly. I can feel myself getting stronger.

    I read a lot of fitness blogs, and every other one has a new “program.” Especially blogs on T-Nation. Yours makes sense, Dan. Thanks for providing it.

  • Dr. John Coktosin

    Had I seen this first I probably wouldn’t have bought MMS. But I look at it as kind of a trade off. This program looks much more do-able for a 45+lifter looking for intensity but not insanity.

  • Jordan

    Is the squat weight set in stone? I’m fairly light weight I’m a college sprinter for the 100-200m I weigh 192lb and I’m 6’2″ I can squat right around 405lb regulation depth for a one rep max. But a few sets of squats with just a little over my body weight doesn’t feel very heavy since I am fairly light and have decent leg strength. Just curious if I should adjust or just keep the same weights. I am loving all other aspects of the program though. In fact I have never read an article or program from you I didn’t like. I’m a big fan of all your work. Thanks coach D John.

  • john

    I echo a similar question :)
    Being only 5″6, and weighing 155lb…the squat weight
    Has been moving up after 4 sessions on the program as is fairly easy at bodyweight load.

    I can knock out 20 pull ups + 1 x 5 to make it to 25 on the monday. Is this
    The right loading? Or should i add weight? Or is it when you can do
    25 pull ups that external weight is added ?

    Love your articles, and read never let go in about a week :)

  • Jason Morris

    I had to stop 3 workouts short… I think I jumped weight too fast on over head press and bench, and have cause some pain to my joints. I managed to up my bench 3 rep max 60 lbs 185 to 245 after 6 month of no benching(yes ass down, and touching the chest). I went from kb over head press at 44lb to the 70lb for one set of 2-3-5. The Complex at its heaviest has been done with 125lbs for 3 sets of 5. I think where I went wrong and got injured was a 20lb jump for my bench by workout 6.

    With squats (before i finish the remaining workouts) I’m at 5 sets to get 50 reps of 205. I’m finding higher reps easier to hit a couple sets in. I miss dead lifts, as I had hit a 365 lb max right before starting this program.

    I’m a pro Peanut Butter Sandwich! My being Vegan(for 6 years) this was a very simple add in for calories and protein. I have put on 10 lbs since January 25, starting off at 205.

    Thanks for all of your great writing Dan! It really helps sift through all the fluff.

  • Socco

    Great program that i am planning to do for 5 weeks starting next Monday!

    i injured my lower back last year and have replaced Back Squats by Rear-foot elevated split-squats (RFESS). After 3 months the results are really good.

    Question: how would you fit RFESS into this program?? Keep the same sets/reps (per leg) as the Back Squats?? or lower or increase the volume?? for reference: i can now RFESS 175lbs for 6 reps at 200lbs bodyweight and my lower back has stopped hurting.

  • Matyof

    Hi Dan,

    in your book, “Mass made simple”, you advise to lean out first. I’m going to do the velocity diet before bulking, should I do the “transition phase” after the 28 days of skip it and go to your program?

    Thank you for your help,

    Maitiú Ó F

  • fitpartizan

    Yeah I should have read this way before I started the program, I’ve been going WAY too heavy on the deadlifts (it’s my favorite lift) however I was wondering on A day’s – can I replace the back rows with sumo deadlifts? I’m an amateur powerlifter so I’d like to keep developing my skills in the sumos

  • Greg W

    Just completed this program. Loved it. Managed to go from 170lbs to 178lbs. Ate more consistently and added in more carbs post workout but wasn’t a huge increase in food. I’ve actually lost fat (took a green tea extract, may or may not have helped) and become more defined in the process.
    I’ve been training consistently for 4 years (37 YO) so to add this weight in 7 weeks i’m pleased with. I also had to drop the squats after 5 weeks (added pull throughs instead) due to a foot issue so i wouldn’t be surprised if i’d added a couple more lbs.
    Oh yeah, I got a fair bit stronger too.
    I’d done the easy (easy or simple?) strength prior to this do this was the perfect follow on.
    I think i might just do DJ programs for the foreseeable future :)

  • phil a buster

    i cant pull up yet..too fat

  • phil a buster

    i cant pull up me

  • George Morcos

    Hey Dan,

    Can I add some heavier deadlifts like 2×5 or something? Would it affect the results of the program? Thanks! Love your work!

  • BillWill

    I am trying to find some more forums/discussions about this program. Just started it this week and I really like the look/feel of it. Would be great do discuss with others.

  • Ash

    Can I add in front squats and oly lifts on Tuesday Thursday? I like to train 5x a week and rest on weekends. I get plenty of sleep to recover.

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