[00:00] Introduction/About Dan John
[03:57] Misconceptions of Mass Building
[10:32] The Mass Made Simple Program
[19:21] Heavy Weight With High Reps
[31:14] End of the Podcast
Ben: Hey folks, it’s Ben Greenfield, and if you’ve been listening into the podcast recently or perhaps been following the Twitter feed, then you know that during this off season for my triathlon training, I’m actually using a new training program. It’s a program called “Mass Made Simple”, and the reason I’m doing that is because I want to put a little bit of mass on my body. Not just mass but power and strength and speed too, and for any of you listening in who maybe want to try a new workout or learns how to build strength or build power or even put on a few pounds or put on some curves, the guy that I have on today’s call is going to really fill you in on everything that you need to know about how to do it. He’s a guy that I personally trust quite a bit when it comes to this stuff. I own just about every book that he’s written, and he’s a real wealth of knowledge when it comes to getting, as I like to say, strong like a bull.
So his name is Dan John, and Dan is a lifter. He was actually an All-American discus thrower as well, and he’s competed at very high levels in Olympic lifting, he’s competed at the Highland Games, he’s competed in Pentathlon for weightlifting, an event in which he actually holds the American record, and he’s not only a writer and a lecturer and a coach, but he’s someone who does quite a bit of studying too. He’s actually toward the Middle East, exploring the foundations of religious education systems of all things, and his books are books that we’ll link to in the show notes, but they include things like “Intervention”, “Never Let Go”, “Easy Strength” which he co-wrote with a guy named Pavel Tsatsouline and then also this program that we’re going to talk about today called “Mass Made Simple”.
Now before we jump into the show with Dan, let me mention to you that this podcast is actually sponsored by Audible. So over at audiblepodcast.com/ben, you can grab pretty much any book, and since we’re talking about strength today, I want to tell you about one of my favorite books that you can actually download on Audible. It’s called “That Hideous Strength”, and actually, it doesn’t have a lot to do with fitness, but it’s a fiction book. It’s part of a trilogy written by a guy named C.S. Lewis, and I’ve personally read that trilogy almost ten times, and you can actually listen to any books from that trilogy or the whole thing over at audiblepodcast.com/ben, but that one’s called “That Hideous Strength”. Check it out on your next road trip, your next airplane ride or your next long bike ride. So that being said, let’s turn to John, or Dan John. Dan, thanks for coming on the call.
Dan: Hey, my pleasure, really appreciate it.
Ben: It’s always hard to interest somebody who has two first names.
Dan: Yeah, it’s been that way since I’ve been born, and I say I cannot tell you how many times someone said which last name is it, John? They kind of roll their eyes and say your last name, and it’s like okay, yeah. You’re the first on this, okay? And then I get to be snotty back at them, so we’re set really.
Ben: No, it’s actually not too bad, they’re monosyllabic, and so that makes it easy. So you know, there are a ton of mass gain programs out there, Dan. I’m sure that you’re aware, like they’re kind of a dime a dozen on the internet. You know put on muscle here, put on muscle there, but for you I know you’ve been in this a while, you’ve been steeped in weight training and mass building, and I’m sure that you’ve seen lots of mistakes out there and I want to start right there because I think that’s really important for people to know that there are ways to do this the right way and way to do this the wrong way. So what do you think are the biggest mistakes that people make when they say want to put on some mass, get a little bit thicker, put on some curves, put on some muscle, etcetera?
Dan: Right there, number one. They say that sentence, but then they start using the word but, but, but, but. So if you’re into gaining mass, you got to toss everything else out of the way for a while. I mean I actually feel that way about fat loss too, but if you’re into gaining mass, you got to make a commitment. Rarely more than six weeks, I’m just not sure if you can keep doing this beyond six weeks, seriously, but you can’t say “Dan, I want to put on 30 pounds of mass but I want to also keep my six-pack, run a marathon and climb the Himalayas, learn to and explore other things.” The hardest part is you have to circle the calendar and say I’m going to build mass right now because you need to. You need to sleep heavy, you need to eat heavy, you need to train heavy, and so that’s being number one.
Number two is people, they fall in love with.. well how would I explain it? When you first start gaining programs or do anything, you have those loving, first-time weeks. You make massive improvements. With the mass-building program, you can improve your mass by doing leg extensions and leg curls, but the problem is you just don’t have enough total load on the body. So the problem with the true mass-building program is going to hurt like hell, I mean you have to put the body in a situation of alarm, and then give it massive amounts of rest and nutrients.
Ben: I can attest to that, having started. I’m two-weeks into your program right now, and my wife has commented that she’s never seen me before as scared, so to speak, to go to the gym. [laughs] So yeah, it is uncomfortable.
Dan: And so that’s why I just face six weeks. You know, if I’m working with a football player, we might get one a year, and either maybe high school or maybe the freshman-sophomore college, if we were to get two of these in the year, but it has to be a big skew. If you’re a football player trying to get bigger for the fall, you also can’t be working on your sprint and you can’t be working on your agility at the same time. It’s got to be all in, and that’s number one. And the number two, of course, is not only do you have all-in, but you have to spend some quality time getting crushed by the movements.
Ben: Yeah, and you talk about that a little bit in your book. You know I don’t remember if you talk about it in “Mass Made Simple” or in your book, I believe “Interventions” but you mentioned about how people who want to put on size, who want to put on mass a lot of times have to almost be lazy and stop moving so much, like moving and moving and moving and twitching and doing all these other things, just because you simply go so catabolic that you can’t put on mass that quickly.
Dan: Yeah, and well you know, I mean it’s not as famous. It’s ice to me if I’ll intern that…
Ben: So you’re basically not engaging in cold thermogenesis, you’re trying to keep that from happening?
Dan: Yeah, you’re savvy, and it’s great to do it this time of year, if you like college football. I mean your job is to get on a couch and watch the whole game, and it sounds weird, but again, what most people miss on everything. Mark and my interns, we joke about this all the time. We’re doing a 20-day program right now, and Mark mailed it perfectly the other day. He says well you know, it doesn’t work, it’s only 20 days. It just doesn’t matter. You know, in the big turn of things, I started lifting weights in 1965, so that’s a while ago. You know, these six-week programs that come along, two-week programs, you know I don’t know how many years. It’s almost 48 years up I’ve been lifting weights, I mean how many six-week programs is that?
That’s a lot, so I guess the big key is we’ve got to start having the courage to just say this is a quality I want to improve. I’m going to dedicate the next four, six weeks to improve in it. Now, for example, if you have someone listening in who wants to do a triathlon, but say they come from a running background, and they’re not very good at swimming. Well my argument would be why don’t you give yourself on a swim team for a couple of months and really step up that real gap. Well won’t my running go down? Well of course it will, but you know how to run. You don’t know how to swim, that’s killing your triathlon, and that’s funny ’cause I say that, but I’m sure you would understand that perfectly. But you say that and you look at people, well it’s the same when it comes to things like mass building. Okay, I’m rambling a little bit here.
Ben: Yeah, no I hear you, and you know of course there’s a big elephant in the room here because I know that some of our listeners know I’m going through your program, but I’ve still got this three-week triathlon camp I’m doing over in Thailand, and I’m actually doing a couple of triathlons, and they’re kind of smack-dab in the middle of the “Mass Made Simple” program and I want to tell our listeners two things. Number one, when Dan is talking about mass, he’s talking about the best possible scenario, putting on mass as fast as possible, if you are trying to pursue two simultaneous goals like I kind of, sort of am doing right now. You know, it’s going to be until after those triathlons where I actually get the true results that I really want when it comes to mass building, but I’m at least trying to familiarize myself with Dan’s program leading up to that.
Now the other thing is that I’m only swimming once a week, biking once a week and running once a week, and that’s it. So you know, I’ve cut my volume down significantly to the point where I’m just touching those triathlon disciplines as little as possible and then really focusing on this mass gain program. So Dan, what are the main principles behind “Mass Made Simple”. It’s a lot different than other workouts that I’ve been through, and I know that it’s not just kind of throwing around willy-nilly in terms of when you say to do what. So what are the main ideas behind the program?
Dan: Well there’s three, it’s in the weight room there’s three ideas. The big thing, of course, everyone talks about it, the high rep squats if you’re into workouts. The goal is to squat, deep squat your body weight for 50 reps on the last day, and everybody that has done it has gotten back to me and said I never thought I could do it. High rep squats put such a systemic hit on your body that it’s just hard. If you haven’t done them, it’s a moot point. When you’re doing reps with a load, say 200, 225, whatever, for 10 or 15 or 20 reps, your body has to just constantly find new places to put the stress, and that’s what we’re kind of trying to do here. So what we’re trying to have you onto that bar, I think the first time I did 50 with 225, I mean who knows what it actually was, but I think it was about a four minute thing because the last 20 reps just took so long, each one.
You’ve never seen anyone do it before, and so I was in uncharted territory and my spotters thought it was hilarious. So if you’re on a load for two or three or four minutes, you know your body has to step up on a level of adaption, and that’s pretty unusual. And the second element a lot of the people miss, it’s the middle part of the workout, when we do that simple complex. A complex is a series of exercise followed with one bar. You never put the weight down, and you move through a set of eight, doing six rows, cleans, military back squat at point.
Ben: Although I got to say these complexes were you’re moving from one exercise to the next, you just said set of eight. You know I’m two weeks into the program, I don’t think I’ve done as more than five yet, so you start with fewer than that.
Dan: Right, oh yeah.
Ben: Because eight would crush me right now with the barbell complexes.
Dan: Right, and so what happens is that’s another thing where here you are moving load again. Well I’m guessing you’re probably around a minute-and-a-half, two minutes to finish each complex?
Ben: I’m closer to four because literally I will even with the, oh I’m sorry. I was thinking about the high-rep squats. The actual complexes, yeah. They’re around two minutes or so.
Dan: Okay, so once again, you know we’re in a nose. You throw the load all over the body, and again, I find complexes kind of mentally easy, emotionally easy because it’s just like oh, I’m just doing three, I’m just doing five.
Ben: Alright, you’re splitting it up, and once again for the listeners, what are the main moves in the complex, the main exercises that you’re doing in typical barbell complex?
Dan: Well I actually write a lot about that, but okay. For example, you do five dead lifts followed by five power cleans, five military presses. Bring the weight to the back, do five back squats, do five good mornings. Flip the weight back over and do five rows. That would be a very simple one, and the thing is you don’t let go of the barbell all the time. So you know, your grip does rest in the squats, your grip rests here and there. Your lower back is engaged a lot, but then there’s moments where it kind of lose, yeah. So what you’re trying to do is make that body swim though a lot of it.
Ben: Yeah, it’s taxing. I mean I feel like I’ve run an eight-hundred-meter when I put down the back to have to barbell complex, like it’s a full body burn.
Dan: Yeah, and it comes from the Eastern Europeans. Vasily Alekseyev, the great Soviet lifter, his coaching was based on that, on just complexes. Those of us who’ve been in the Olympic lifts kind of rediscovered them a while ago, and they’re fabulous way to train I’d say start to peak for me. And then the third part though is just those upper body moves. We do a bench press everyday, and we do a one-arm press everyday and an exercise called bat wings to make sure the rhomboids are still awake.
Ben: Bat wing is what they’re called?
Dan: Yeah, the bat wings. That’s when you pull the weight up into your armpits, and then the Bird-dog, just every day exciting to bird-dog. It’s great value, and I think you should do it every day, no matter what. But we needed some kind of movement to kind of connect. I like this bird-dog as an assessment.
Ben: It’s also a nice break in the middle of the program too, because I believe you start with bench press. Then you’ve got your single-arm presses and some other moves, and then you’ve got your bird-dog which is not loaded, so it’s not quite as difficult.
Dan: Right, so that’s the exercise part, but really, the other of the main ingredients is setting it up so that you’re constantly… You lift weights on day one, and then you take two days off. Well you take one day off, another day where I call a recharge where you use this and you now move around a little bit, it doesn’t have to be much, but those are the two days that I keep telling people that are most important. You know consciously during those two non-lifting days, focus on the process of bulking, so that when you get to the weight room, it’s only 14 workouts for six weeks. But you have to lay it on the line for most of the 14 workouts, and you have to kick yourself emotionally ready. So take the time off, don’t get exhausted. Sit around, eat your food, you know?
Do what you need to do to practice these little things. I got these little ideas like eat like an adult or wear a sweater all the time, eat excessively, that would be the first. And then the third element of a course is this idea of each week we have a little tweak, a little intervention, and I think a lot of people missed that in the six weeks. You’re going try a different way of taking either protein. We do try creatine in the third or fourth week, like for example, protein before you go to bed, protein when you first wake up, protein before you train, protein after you train. Those are the basic tweaks we’ve all learned about, but what I’m asking you to do, add one each week to see how your respond to it. Because we’re individual enough, like for example, I’ve got people taking this protein before workout, and I get sick, I get nauseous. Okay, good. That’s fine, don’t do it for the workout and say oh, is that it? Yeah, and what one works for you, oh man protein before I go into bed. Good, now for the rest of your life, you got this little thing in your pocket.
For example for me, protein before bed, that’s the new rubber duck, but for you, you might say well protein after the training. That’s the greatest thing, everyone should do it, the whole world should do it, but there’s a whole bunch of people. I don’t know what to work for, so you kind of get the chance to tweak and figure out long term what works for you. Now when you say one thing that’s in the book too, the thing that don’t think works for you might be something that you revisit later on, away from the program. For example, you get up in the morning and the first thing that you do is drink a protein shake. And during the six weeks that you tell me it didn’t work for you, well mind it’s not going to work for you now, but it might work for you away from this six-week experiment because you fought well. Well sometimes, you just keep throwing variables on it, and you can’t really see it. In the research, there’s some good research about having protein with the half-an-hour is a good thing, but it might not be a good thing to renew six weeks.
Ben: And for a lot of people, it’s the type of protein too. I mean that I’ve found that a whey protein just destroys a lot of people, and some people actually do better on like a vegan protein mix with like pea and rice and hemp and stuff like that, and then some people are just buying ten-dollar cans of protein at GNC that are full of crap, and that’s why they feel bad doing something like the protein approach, post-workout. So that depends too.
Dan, you have an interesting approach that for me as an ex-bodybuilder, we used to use a lot of kind of medium weight and medium reps for hypertrophy, for putting on size. And in this book, you’ve got heavy weight, high reps. I mean you’ve got things like 20 to 30 rep squat sets. Why is it that you went that route, I mean when some of the other manuals encourage more like a medium weight and medium-rep? Like a 10 to 15 rep range with the medium weight versus like a 30 rep range with a heavy weight.
Dan: Well, that’s just in the squat. It isn’t 16 now. I mean I go to gyms all the time, and I see who do medium weights, medium reps, medium sets, and they look like they’ve never lifted weights in their life. You know these guys read every magazine, and they’re on podcasts all day long, and they look like they’ve never trained. Here’s the cheek, and it’s funny because it goes back to the day, it’s Vince Gironda. It’s not high reps with light weights, it’s not low reps with heavy weights, its high reps with heavy reps, and I thought those were great. Hold on a second, oh sorry.
Ben: Bless you, that was good podcasting right there.
Dan: Yeah, sorry about that, but it’s high reps with heavy weights, and that’s really the key and I’ve always believed that to gain mass. And here’s the thing, it’s going to hurt. Here’s the thing about back squats, you can do one more rep. I mean I don’t care how many you’ve done, you can do one more, and I find this out when I was an Olympic lifter. My PR back squat is 605 for three reps, and I always people the true story. The reason I never went heavier is that I could see in the mirror the faces of my spotters, and they were freaked out. So when your spotters are afraid…
Ben: That’s a sign that you’re pushing around some serious weight.
Dan: Yeah, but people say why three? And I was like well I got it once and it wasn’t that bad, and I did it again and then I just did it again, and the funny thing is some of them throw at a hundred dollars right on the bar. I’ll probably ‘cause on the fourth one and really, there would be a thousand for five and ten thousand for six, but you can always do one more back squat. But you know, you asked a good question, and back in the day with Delorme & Watkins, you know they pretty well prove that ten reps, three sets of ten is the best thing to do for hypertrophy. But in the book, they also notice, they note that power athletes, and they can’t believe it, do as few as five, so I think we have to be careful about saying that true hypertrophy work comes from those eight to twelve to fifteen reps because frankly, we don’t know. We still don’t, and I think this is the key. I think that in a year, if you want to truly keep getting more massive, you have to play with the number of things. First off, you have to be really strong going into a bodybuilding phase because you want to have weight that hits you hard. You know, for example, if we’re both doing a bodybuilding routine and you’re doing three sets of ten with 135 and I’m doing three sets in a curl and I’m doing three sets of ten with 225 in the curl, I mean there’s not a person listening who would agree that I’m getting a much bigger hit than you are, right?
So most people come into their masculine phases, sometimes too weak, and that’s why I like that in the book. You know there’s week one, there’s week two, you kind of tune it up a little bit with your squats, then you’ve done most. It’s only 95 pounds for a set of 30, right? And we say this on as we had this conversation. We’re both, just 30, but you know 27 and 28 and 29 is alright, right?
Ben: Yeah, that’s why I ask. I mean I’m getting up into these rep ranges. Once you get above 20, you’re almost like standing there under the bar for 10 seconds, 15 seconds before you do your next rep, just mustering up the energy to go into the next rep.
Dan: Right, and think about how you feel 24 hours later, and that’s the key.
Ben: Well you know squats too, there’s a lot of. I was wondering if you would kind of program so many squats into this just because of the endocrine, you know? The hormonal response to squatting. There’s some pretty good research out there that shows a really nice testosterone and growth hormone response to the squat move, specifically.
Oh well, I mean we’ve known this in the weightlifting world. I mean you go back to Perry Raver back in the 40s and 50s, who was the head of the original Ironman with his high-rep squat and downhill protocol. That was his answer, and he changed it into high-rep clean and jerks, but that didn’t work out very safely for anybody. But I mean we’ve just known that for a long time, that is just My Coach or some stuff. If there was a question about your body mass, it was to the squat rack you go. And as you mentioned, we’ll run with it, but you know one of the things that I found in my programs that work best is when you are a little afraid to go do the workout. I got an Olympics lifting program called the Big 21, and we’ve always joked that you know you got the weights right is when you can’t sleep before a workout, eight to nine, because you’re so worried about the workout. That fight or flight response has value. Now how long does that have value? I argue two to six weeks.
Ben: Yeah, and I think a lot of people hear that too, and you get crossfitters who are going through that everyday, and I think that’s where you get into dangerous territory is you have that defensive fear cortisol, running from the line response, and you don’t have that two to three days of recovery or easy work in between. It’s just like every single morning, rolling out of bed to head to the box to do that WOD. I think that’s where it gets dangerous.
Dan: Well and you can see it. With those injury rates, I mean even in scaled down tests, they have a 16% injury rate, and in the military, they were up to as high as 50% injuries. Fifty, you know that’s civil war level of injuries for Americans, and for a workout, I don’t think it is. When you get into the 50% injured rate, I think we have a problem here.
Ben: And you’d actually think this is interesting, I tracked my heart rate variability, which is a measurement of the strength of your nervous system or the stress response of your nervous system, and I’ve played around it with a little bit. I’ve worn my little heart rate strap while I’m doing things aside from just lying in bed, which would be normally when you measure something like this. I’ve measured it when I’m running, I’ve measured it when I’m lifting weights, I’ve measured it when I’m walking around the house and when I’m working, and it’s always low once you’re out of bed. But the one thing that drops it rock bottom, meaning that you get almost a complete loss of heart rate variability and almost like this overworking of the sympathetic nervous system is the squat exercise. That single exercise, and I think it’s because it’s such a defensive position. You’ve got this scary weight on your back and you’re dropping down, you’re pushing your posterior chain out behind you. You know, it’s amazing when I hook it up to heart rate variability. I could be sprinting up a hill and nothing comes close to the squat in terms of the nervous system activation.
Dan: And here’s the thing too, so this is important for your listeners. The squat stresses you massively which is why I argue two to six weeks of something like this. Don’t try to extend it, I’ve had people say if it’s so good, why don’t you do it again? Because I can guarantee on week 12, well for one thing your body would just start to cheat. Your body would figure ways around your idiocy, but beyond the other side is what you’re talking about right here. I think you can get away with it about six weeks tops, and then all of a sudden, what you just mentioned, the cortisol is going to start running up it’s ugly flying up and it won’t win back.
Ben: Yeah, and what I plan on doing is going through your entire six week program and then taking one to two weeks of complete cleaning up recovery detox, that type of thing. It can do like an adrenal reboot, and then I actually want to do another round of it but I’m going to be putting in a break in between the two sessions.
Dan: No, I agree with it. When I do this for football players, well you would just call it bodybuilding, but I have other names for these things just to keep it exciting, but it’s two weeks that’s just junk really. Junk training, it’s not even training, it’s more like I’m going to the gym, and then from there, we would probably try to move to something like working on speed or something like that. A totally different quality so that the mass carries over a little bit, and then you do some more specific stuff, do another mass program, have a little recovery, and then it’s time for the season, you know? So yeah, it happens fast.
Ben: Yeah well, for people who want to check out “Mass Made Simple”, I’m going to put a link in the show notes. Probably the other book that I’d recommend most for those of you listening in that I also really like by Dan, is “Interventions”. That’s another good one, but I’ll link over to Dan’s Amazon page, so you can kind of check out all of his books. And also he’s got a really good website to over at Dan John. It’s danjohn.net, right Dan?
Dan: Net, yeah.
Ben: Yeah, danjohn.net, so check that out. I’ll put all the notes and resources for this episode over at bengreenfieldfitness.com. I would invite any of you who want to, whether you’re male or female and you want to put on some curves or put on some mass or put on some size during this winter season, it’s kind of a perfect time. You can eat food, and turn it into muscle which is fun. Just head over there, grab the program and join along with me as we do this. So Dan, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.
Dan: Oh, my pleasure. I love your site, I like those PDFs and the audio, the video, how I start my morning, what I eat for lunch, I thought those were really fun, and how I get ready for bed. But those were pretty good, I got a kick out of those. You guys walking around with the glasses.
Ben: I’m glad somebody’s watching that stuff.
Dan: I try to keep up, yeah.
Ben: Cool, well folks, that’s going to about wrap it up. Remember to visit audiblepdocast.com/ben to grab a free book of your choosing, and until next time, this is Ben Greenfield and Dan John, author of “Mass Made Simple”, signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com.
Meet Dan John, author of several bestselling books on muscle mass, strength, power and pretty much anything that has to do with making yourself strong like a bull. See that picture below? That’s Dan pictured with “Judy,” – his loveable field pack with 150 pounds of rock salt.
That is what Dan calls a “Carry” – and it’s just one of his underground training methods to get you to be able to build mass and get strong fast.
As you may have read in my article “Exactly How I’m Going To Pack Solid, Strong, Powerful Mass Onto My Skinny Triathlon Body This Winter” or heard in the podcast “Top Workouts To Do This Winter“, I’m actually using a 12 week variation of Dan’s short (and simple) mass gain e-book…
…appropriately titled “Mass Made Simple“.
The Mass Made Simple Interview With Dan John
During today’s audio podcast with Dan, you’ll find out:
-the biggest mistakes people make when trying to build mass…
-the shockingly simple but effective principles behind mass made simple…
Get The Low Carb Athlete – 100% Free!Eliminate fatigue and unlock the secrets of low-carb success. Sign up now for instant access to the book!
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
Top of Form
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-Why Dan preaches heavy weight, high reps for mass when so many other manuals encourage medium weight, medium reps for hypertrophy…
-Why something called a “barbell complex” is so potent and effective for strength, power and mass…
-Why squats are one of the best exercises you could ever do, and why you’re probably doing them wrong…
-How a mass gain program could be used by an endurance athlete or triathlete who wants to get stronger or more powerful…
-And much more!
Additional Notes & Resources
Now I have to admit, although I’m doing Dan’s entire 6 week program this winter, taking a week to recover, then doing the entire 6 week program one more time, I’m adding a few components so that I stay fit enough to throw down a triathlon at the drop of the hat.
-one added, hardcore “power swim” each weekend (40-60 minutes in the water)
-one added, hardcore “Sufferfest” bike each week, along with riding my bike to the gym for each workout
-two short runs, tennis or basketball games each week to maintain running speed.
And of course, my usual biohacks, including things like daily cold thermogenesis, morning Core Foundation routines, and elevation training tricks. I put my entire plan on TrainingPeaks (my software and workout logging weapon of choice) including the nutrition I’ll be using, supplements, and each detailed daily workout…
…so if you care to join me on my mass-gain journey based on Dan John’s principles, in which myself and everyone who joins me will be posting before/after photos on the BenGreenfieldFitness Facebook page (and getting prizes for the best mass gain results) – then simply…