The “Promised” 18 Week Protocol
I continue to be a huge fan of Pavel’s two “do this” workouts:
- The template from “Power to the People,” and,
- The Program Minimum.
Both involve only two exercises. For PTTP, it is the deadlift and the bench press. The PM is the Swing and Turkish Get Up. Recently, Pavel has changed the PM just slightly, rather than doing two days a week of Swings and two days a week of TGUs, he is having one do three days a week of both.
And, of course, I love this stuff. The following is a “cut and paste” regarding one of my favorite programs, with some new additions:
If you have read any of my work, you will notice that I tend to be pretty “goal focused.” In fact, my eyes light up when I work with someone who has a clear, finite goal. As a strength coach, I think I can support just about any goal from fat loss to a career in professional sports, but I am far better if the person I am working with has clarity about where they want to end up in this process. Having the vision, the goal, immediately puts us on the path towards it.
Now, we may not make it to this lofty perch. That does happen. I know that not every person who bought “Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder” ended up winning Mr. Olympia and going on to a career in Hollywood and politics. But, I know this: that same book provided a lot of guys with a framework for training and brought the basics, like squatting, pressing and rowing, back into bodybuilding.
So, what do you do if you can’t train six a days a week, count every macronutrient and have a full time support staff wipe off your sweat between sets? Many of us talk about “real life” a lot, but few of us discuss how to deal with our goals and vision of ourselves and the reality of the constraints of life. Well, for the past twenty years, I have been sharing a program that took me a few years to master that has allowed progress with only two training sessions per week. In fact, in several cases because of the lack of gross overtraining, people have actually progressed FASTER than with traditional grinding programs.
The interesting thing about only training twice a week is that the joints seem to love it. Certainly, you are “healing” five days a week, but there are few opportunities twice a week to do something stupid that wrecks you. I also argue this: even if you don’t need to train only twice a week, occasionally throw this into the mix. Why?
One: your exercise selections have to be “tight.” You literally can’t do several dozen exercises for multiple sets twice a week. So, you will probably focus on the basics and, almost inevitably, doing the basics is right.
Two: only going to the gym twice a week is going to free up some time to do a better job with shopping, food preparation and cooking. It is a theme I have been beating to death recently, but I’m not the first (nor the last) to say this: you can’t outrun a jelly doughnut. Crappy cheap calories are going to hang around your waist a lot longer than you think. If you don’t believe me, just walk around the mall or amusement park and observe the love handles, muffin tops and jelly bellies of most people. Yes, they are Children of God, but they need to stop eating crap calories.
Three: This is the point that broke my heart about twenty years ago, by the way. When I discovered that I was making amazing progress in the gym by just training twice a week, I had to look myself in the mirror and ask: “What the hell are you doing those other days a week in the gym?” Well, I was having a lot of laughs, playing pranks on my friends, experimenting with stupid stuff and basically making myself a nuisance. I wasn’t really training!
As I have noted before, my friend, the late Goran Swenson, gave me a little program and challenged me to take it seriously for a few months. It was this simple two day a week program:
I asked him about reps and sets. He shrugged and told me that I should keep the reps high in the Bench Press and Front Squat (basically sets of eight and ten which I thought was insane) and just get some solid sets in on the two quick lifts, the Power Clean and the Snatch. I made the best progress of my career and ended up throwing very far that season with the “least” work I have ever done. Over time, I did make one small change and added the Bench Press to both days as I could easily recover from workout to workout.
My good friend, and one of the world’s most intelligent strength coaches, Pavel Tsatsouline told me recently about a two day a week Powerlifting program. Simply, this is it:
Indeed, you can bench hard twice a week and still get in a whole body workout.
1. In the Bench Press, keep adding weight with big jumps for ten reps, then on the last (fourth) set get “as many” with a serious weight.
2. The Deadlift will follow the “Rule of Ten.” With a movement like the DL, even though I know some make progress with much higher reps, I prefer you keep the total reps “around ten.” So, a great base workout would be Five Sets of Two adding weight for each set (ten reps). Another workout, my personal favorite is 5-3-2, again increasing weight. Certainly, two sets of five and three sets of three work with this rule, too. Keep the load high, but the volume low on deadlifts.
3. For Back Squats, I would recommend one of two things: either mimic the Bench Press routine and do increasing sets of ten or do what I recommend for my trainees who want to gain lean body mass: do one high rep set. I discussed this in detail in my book, “Mass Made Simple.” You can really push high rep squats once a week for fairly long periods of time.
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Now, let’s look at this in detail.
After a little warm up, the first lift will be the deadlift. There is no movement in the gym that is more total body than the deadlift and a max lift here can beat you up for weeks. If you are not good at deadlifts and have no issues with spine health, I would strongly suggest you make this a key movement in your training.
- Two reps in the deadlift. Add Weight
- Two reps in the deadlift. Add Weight
- Two reps in the deadlift. Add Weight
- Two reps in the deadlift. Add Weight
- Two reps in the deadlift.
If you just keep tossing on 45s, that workout taps out at 495 for two and that is solid work for anybody, anywhere.
Feel free to follow my sets and reps and load, but this little idea of benching for tens seems to work for most people.
135 for ten reps
225 for ten reps
275 for ten reps
315 for “as many” (Have a good spotter)
Either do three to five sets of ten repetitions adding weight each set with only the last set being even close to maximum, or try the ideas I outlined in Mass Made Simple with the easy warm up sets and the one set of thirty.
Three sets of ten with the weight increasing each set and a final heavy set of “as many.” Be sure to have a good spotter. This has always been the set that indicates to me that I am making progress in my program.
So, what do you do on those five days off? Well, I suggest you shop well, cook your meals, eat your veggies, live life and take care of business. What has always amazed me about training twice a week is how good my joints feel and how much energy I seem to have to do all the other important things in life.
Well, there you go: that’s enough for a lifetime.
But, wait…call now and get this!
I have been thinking about extending this out…a lot.
First, I read on the Dan John Q and A at the davedraper.com forum (seems like a nice place to visit) that the squat and the pull up were the first “primal moves” (Thank you, Peter and Tim!). It got me thinking: would it be possible to “plan” a program of minimalism?
Basically, how about an 18-week program where you just “explore” your body? I like the idea of starting with squats and pull ups. If they are the first things you do, great. If not, I can’t think of two better movements that get better with focus.
So, Weeks One and Two:
Squat and Pull Up!
For both, I would suggest doing five days a week. These lifts seem to improve with repetitions. I don’t care what kind of squats you do, but if you use the barbell, play with the idea of the rule of ten: ten reps only.
So, try doing 2 x 5, 3 x 3, 5 x 2, 5-3-2, and the tonic workout one set of ten. Don’t max on this program as you will have plenty of time to do that. For pullups, try this idea:
If you are under ten reps (honest pull ups not that crap you see online): 1-2-3 reps, waved over the two weeks. So, sometimes just do one wave (1-2-3), but then add waves, up to five or six. You can do these between sets of squats to save time. “Waves” are like chains and ladders, but you stay with one weight.
If you can do more than ten pull ups, do 2-3-5 with the same idea. If you can easily do pull ups for high reps, you MUST add load…however you can do this task.
So, five days a week for two weeks you will do a squat variation and pull ups.
Weeks Three and Four
We will stick with the squat. Yes, you can change your variation, from front to back to overhead, but you really don’t need to do that now. The other lift will be the TGU. I love TGUs as singles: one left and one right. Again, wave this up and down and have at least two days in the two weeks where you do ten right and ten left. Don’t stress on how you juggle the other days.
Weeks Five and Six
It’s time to finish up on the squatting. If you NEVER missed an attempt in the last month and focused on clean technique and pushing the load up, simply continue on and enjoy the fruits of squatting multiple times each week. Do NOT forget doing one set of ten easy, literally 40% of your max, at least once, if not twice, every two weeks.
And now: we press. I don’t care what you do, but follow the rule of 25 here: 5 x 5, three sets of eight, or my favorite, 2-3-5-2-3-5-2-3. If you are benching, have a good spotter. Now, you are pressing five days a week, so don’t be stupid: have easy days (at least two days a week of light practice with the movement). Pressers press, but you have to have lots of easy, some medium and some heavy and hard. Figure it out over two weeks.
Congrats. You are done with squatting for a bit. Now, I would continue doing Goblet Squats as a warm up for the next 12 weeks, but don’t take it too far.
Weeks Seven and Eight
Deadlifts. I love them. Sadly, the bar is on the floor. Try this: get a rack, or some lumber, and raise the bar up to your patella tendon. This would be about one inch or so below the knee for the anatomically challenged. That’s where I want you to deadlift for the next six weeks. Sure, do what you want, but try this!
For the next six weeks, live as close to you can to the Rule of Ten on the DL. More easy days that heavy…hint, hint, but you will figure that out. If you take my advice, you will get goofy strong.
These first two weeks, revisit the pull up. Just follow the 1-2-3 or 2-3-5 protocol. Don’t forget to add weight if it is too easy.
Weeks Nine and Ten
Deadlift and TGU. This is going to be a fascinating two weeks. Go “back to back” on these: one set of DL, one set of TGU. Keep good notes about how you feel.
Weeks Eleven and Twelve
The program I could spend my life on: DLs from the knees up and heavy pressing. When in doubt:
Warm up with Goblet Squats, Swings and TGUs. Then, do DLs from the Knees (Rule of Ten) and a press variation (Rule of Ten). Then, finish with TRX pulls and big mobility stretches. It’s like mustard and biscuits. Mmmm.
Weeks Thirteen and Fourteen
Swing time. Hey, lets do 500 swings a day! Or not. Get a lot of reps in here. I like this idea for the first two weeks:
1 Pull Up
2 Pull Ups
3 Pull Ups
Do that five times…or two times or three times or four times…but get the swings in! You can certainly wave the numbers here: 500, 100, 300, 400, 200 through a week, but dig in and swing!
Weeks Fifteen and Sixteen
Same Swings as before but toss in the TGU. Honestly, one left and one right is MORE than enough between sets of swings as you will discover. In fact, one left TGU between the 10 and 15, one right between the 15 and 25, and both after the 25 is a lot. A lot!
Weeks Seventeen and Eighteen
Swings and Presses. Try this:
I love this workout. Love it!
So, there is an 18-week template for you to explore. Note that I fall in love with certain parts of it, but the parts I am quiet about should be the weeks I focus on.
Dan, I can’t train five days a week.
Dan, I can’t train three days a week.
Dan, I don’t know how to squat.
Dan, the weights feel light, what should I do?
Add more weight.
Dan, these are two lifts a day. Can I do this on the One Lift a Day program.