If You Want To Get Good At Something, Do It Every Day

The title of this blog is a quote from one of my favorite coaches, Dan John. There’s something beautiful about finding simplicity in a complicated objective. There’s a simple formula for achieving your goals: Hard work + consistent work. I’ll take the liberty of adding to Dan’s maxim:

If you want to achieve something, work hard at it every day.

In the spirit of that, here are some simple workout plans from Dan John. While I don’t follow exactly any of these programs currently, they are perfect for someone transitioning from your usual magazine promoted training programs, like the traditional body-part split training that 99% of gym-goer’s have been doing and getting disappointing results from for decades. The principals of these workouts do relate exactly to how I train now.

Keep in mind that these programs have real value, but as I see it these are temporary programs and the perfect stepping stone to the more advanced training I’ll present in the future. Give yourself a little time to quickly warm up and perform some dynamic (not static) stretches before these workouts.

Program 1

This is, like the other programs presented here, an unconventional workout by modern “fitness” magazine standards, but that’s a poor standard to judge a workout by. Concentrate on getting your form perfect and learning to strain. This is a learning and adaptation phase.

Do these workouts with a day’s rest in between. You can do Workout A on Monday, Workout B on Wednesday, and Workout C on Friday, or keep it going every other day. The reason I don’t advise the daily or even twice daily schedule I’m fond of for myself is because the higher repetitions here require more recovery.

  1. Dumbbell Curl and Press(Advanced: Barbell Clean and Press)
    • Workout A: 3 sets of 5 reps, with 90 seconds rest
    • Workout B: 5 sets of 5 reps, with 90 seconds rest
    • Workout C: 3 sets of 5 reps, with 90 seconds rest
  2. Goblet Squat(Advanced: Front Squat or Back Squat)
    • Workout A: 5 sets of 10 reps, with 3 minutes rest
    • Workout B: 2 sets of 10 reps, with 3 minutes rest
    • Workout C: 5 sets of 10 reps, with 3 minutes rest
  3. Chest-Supported Row or T-Bar Row(Advanced: Pendlay Row)
    • Workout A: 5 sets of 5 reps, with 90 seconds rest
    • Workout B: 3 sets of 5 reps, with 90 seconds rest
    • Workout C: 5 sets of 5 reps, with 90 seconds rest
  4. Pullup(Use varying grip widths)
    • Workout A: As many sets as it takes to do 25 reps (rest as needed)
    • Workout B: As many sets as it takes to do 15 reps (rest as needed)
    • Workout C: As many sets as it takes to do 12 reps (rest as needed)
  5. Bench Press(use varying grip widths)
    • Workout A: 3 sets of 5 reps, with 3 minutes rest
    • Workout B: 5 sets of 5 reps, with 3 minutes rest
    • Workout C: 2 sets of 5 reps, with 3 minutes rest
  6. Farmer’s Walkwith dumbells or trap bar (Go as far as you can without dropping weights)
    • Workout A: 1 set
    • Workout B: 2 sets, with 90 seconds rest
    • Workout C: 1 set

Ironically this program made it into Men’s Health between their trillion useless ab articles. Here’s the article in Men’s Health that went along with this workout. It’s worth a read.

Program 2

This is the “Southwood Program” from Dan John [2]. It’s an incredibly simple but effective program to be performed in its entirety three days a week:

  • Power clean – do 3 sets of 8-6-4 descending reps with increasing weight
  • Military press – do 3 sets of 8-6-4 descending reps with increasing weight
  • Front squat – do 3 sets of 8-6-4 descending reps with increasing weight
  • Bench press – do 3 sets of 8-6-4 descending reps with increasing weight

You don’t miss a single body part and it’s simple to learn. It also focuses solely on our biggest bang for the buck compound exercises and allows for enough reps to learn the movements.

Program 3

Don’t have time right now to go to the gym more than twice a week? Try Dan’s “King of Less Training Programs”[2]:

Day One

  • Bench press – 4 sets of no less than ten reps until the last set.
  • Squat – 4 sets of no less than ten reps until the last set, which will be 30 reps (ideally with your bodyweight

Day Two

  • Overhead Press – 4 sets of no less than ten reps until the last set.
  • Deadlift – 4 sets with 5 reps (over time as you get stronger work down to 2 reps with maximum weight)

The rules:

  • For guys, only 45 and 25 lb plates, for women no smaller than 10 lb weights!
  • No less than ten reps on every set of bench, overhead press and squat until the last set when you do as many as possible.
  • No less than five reps on every deadlift. Over time as you get stronger work down to 2 reps with maximum weight over the 4 sets.
So, the bench press the workout was sets of ten and keep adding weight, until the last set where you grind out as many as possible. Here’s a bench example of Dan’s from 1993 when he did this same basic program:
  • 135 x 10
  • 225 x 10
  • 315 x 10
  • 365 x “as many”
That’s it. It’s the minimalist’s minimal workout.

A Brief Look At My Current Training

Currently, my training is similar to the programs above, with a similar exercise and set template, but with 1-3 reps on all of the big compound movements, done almost every day and sometimes twice a day. I also do a lot of variations of these lifts (like zercher squats, front squats, reverse bench presses, push presses, curl to press, etc…), and add in some heavy pulling sometimes (like Pendlay Rows) and strongman workouts (tire flips, sled drags, stone work, etc..). I also throw in random assistance exercises (for example pullups every time I walk by the pullup bar, band pull-aparts, high rep curls, dragon flags, ab wheel roll-outs etc…). Some days are bodyweight only days to refresh me and get the blood flowing to all of my muscles without loading my spine with a lot of weight. I promise more information in the future on exactly how my training has evolved and how it works so well for me. (Want to skip ahead? Go to Chaos and Pain. This site is NSFW with very graphic images)

References:

  1. John, Dan. “Rule’s For Big Gains.” Men’s Health. 21 Nov. 2011. Web.
  2. John, Dan. “40 Years of Insight.” danjohn.net. Dan John, 06 Aug. 2011. Web.

Jonathan

Jonathan Mielec is the Owner of Form From Function LLC, and the author of the blog at formfromfunction.com, as well as an ISSA Certified Master Trainer, NPC Physique Competitor, and Powerlifter.