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Monday, August 19, 2013

Mass Made Simple: A Reader's Review

I'm calling this a "reader's review" because I haven't actually put the program outlined in Mass Made Simple into action. If I ever end up using it, I'll be sure to share those experiences.

Mass Made Simple: A Six-Week Journey into Bulking
Dan John
On Target Publications

I picked this book up for two reasons. One is the completeist junkie impulse that made me such a sucker for Magic:The Gathering as a youth (this was the only print book of Dan John's I hadn’t read). The other is that, aside from one very flawed and very abortive attempt in my early twenties, gaining muscle mass is something I've never actually tried to do. I don’t know if I’m likely to attempt it any time soon, but I thought it might be interesting to find out how to do it if I wanted to. Or if a client wanted to, which could also happen.

The Basics

Mass Made Simple is Dan John's most straightforward work; one hundred and sixty pages devoted to a single program, and designed solely to add as much lean body mass as possible over the course of six-weeks. That's it.

The simple nature of the book, however, unscores some of its brilliance. This book turns out to contain a number of gems that have nothing to do with gaining lean body mass at all. There’s some gold to unpack in here.

The Thing Itself

Mass Made Simple is a small, spiral bound book, a seemingly odd choice with an excellent rationale. The last forty pages of the book consists of a workout log for every DAY of the program (including rest days), and the spiral binding means that you can easily flip the book open to the page you're on and leave it there while you're at the gym. Much easier than trying to bookmark pages and hold them open while you’re wokring through your lifts.

The inside is nothing particularly fancy. Black and white text, with a feew black and white stills of Coach John performing some of the movments from the program. Aside from some of the squat drills, the pictures aren’t terribly detailed, and if you aren’t familiar with the lifts required for this program, this probably isn’t the place to start. (The lifts are primarily barbell lifts, for the record.) If you know how to squat, bench, clean, and press, you should probably be fine.

There is some text in here that is duplicated in Intervention. Maybe in Easy Strength as well. That’s okay. It’s still good information.

What's Inside

The book opens with a discussion of Coach John's principles behind bulking--the ideas that inform the structure of the program, followed by a quick discussion about the question of whether or not getting bigger is actually good for you. Coach John then breaks down the mental side of bulking, goes through an overview of his approach, followed by a day-by-day breakdown of the entire training program. It's very simple, straightforward, and to the point. I’ve seen Coach John refer to this as his “Do THIS!” book, and that is a pretty accurate description. There’s not a lot of guess work that needs to be done to follow this program.

The program is primarily based around barbells, with a few dumbell or kettlebell movements thrown in. The equiment requirements aren’t terribly outlandish…I’m pretty sure I could get through just about all of these workouts in my local YMCA. If you have a barbell, a bench, and a squat rack, you’re pretty well good to go. A training partner might be a good idea.

The mainstay of the program focuses on high-rep barbell squats. Like, up to fifty squats in one set. With your own bodyweight. As Coach John is famous for saying, it’s simple, not easy.

The program also includes supplementation and nutrition advice (eat a lot), though it’s expressed in very general terms. If you want a cookbook, buy a cookbook.

Does the program work? I have no idea, not having tried it myself. There’s a lot of testimonies online that suggest it does, and honestly, I see no reason why it wouldn’t. I mean, eat a lot, spend a bunch of time under load, and rest as much as you can. It seems pretty reasonable to me. If you’ve decided that you need to pack some mass on your body before winter hits, this might be the program for you.

That said, the book is worth reading even if you’re not immediately interested in bulking up, for a few reasons.

To begin with, this book is a great example of putting principles into action. A lot of coaches, in both the fitness and martial arts industires, like to talk about using a principles-based approach, but sometimes people get so lost in the principles that they lose track of how to implement them. The program in Mass Made Simple not only follows the principles outlined in the book itself, but also from ideas presented in Never Let Go as well.

One of the principles that this program sets up is the idea of the weekly tweak. This will make more sense if you read the book, but essentially, the program is designed so that each week, you make some small change to your diet or training habit. Rather than trying to make sweeping changes in an instant, you make small ones each week until they accumulate. I know, I know, it's not a new idea, but again, it's well implemented here. The "eat like an adult" rant, appliles to everyone, regardless of whether they’re trying to gain mass or not (possibly more so if not).

Honestly, seriously, you don't know what to do about food? Here is an idea: eat like an adult. Stop eating fast food, stop eating kid's cereal, knock it off with all the sweets and comfort foods whenever your favorite show is not on when you want it on, ease up on the snacking and, don't act like you don't know this, but eat vegetables and fruits more. Really, how difficult is this? Stop with the whining. Stop with the excuses. Act like an adult and stop eating like a television commercial. Grow up. (from Mass Made Simple)

The recharge or refresh concept could be added to any workout program or protocol. I can’t remember if this is in Intervention or not.

Who Should Get This

The obvious answer is, anyone who wants to add lean body mass. I mean, that's what the book is about.

Strength coaches and personal trainers looking for a mass building program for their clients could benefit from this as well. Honestly, even if you don’t have a client who fits that bill rigth now, the book is wortwhile. You might have that client some day, and, as I mentioned above, some of the ideas are transferable to other programs (though Intervention is probably more useful on that score).

Mass Made Simple for the Martial Artist

Martial artists, in my experience, have a really weird relationship with size and strength. I’ve got a bunch of ideas about why, but in short, there’s a tendency to dismiss the value of being bigger and stronger within a lot of the martial arts community. I would encourage any martial artist reading this not to just dismiss the possible value of this book out of hand, however.

The program could be useful for a competitive athlete looking to move up in weight classes. I know, I know, everyone always wants to cut weight, but there are exceptions (my first boxing coach routinely used to move UP to try to fight at heavyweight, presumably because that’s where the big money is).

There is a line of thinking that being bigger and stronger is a deterrent to criminal violence. I’m not sure I buy that line of argument (though I’m not sure it’s wrong either…I don’t have enough evidence either way), but if you believe that to be true, then you could do worse than psending six weeks out of your life to make yourself more of a hard target.

Let’s face it…all else being equal, the bigger stronger fighter has an edge in a fight. It may not be the deciding factor, but it helps.

The potential downside for martial artists with this program is that the program requies you to take six weeks off from your training. However, I’d submit that taking time off is something more martial artists should do more often. It’s funny…every time I’d take a vacation, enforced or otehrwise, I’d come back to the gym sharper, faster, and more energized to train. I’ve had plenty of other training partenrs over the years make the same observation. You go on a family trip for two weeks, don’t train, eat like a pig, come back, and start kicking the crap out of everyone on the mat. Somehow, we keep forgetting that lesson, but it seems to me that taking six weeks out of the year to get bigger and stronger before coming back to the dojo, gym, or whatever could have an amazing effect on your performance. It’s worth considering, anway.

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