My Experience with Dan John’s 40-Day Workout Plan

The subtitle for this article could be “How I went from bombing on the bench at 315 to hitting a personal best at 345 in two months,” but that would be a bit wordy. This is my story on how I did just that.

I started lifting weights in my early teens, using the York concrete-filled plates down in my parent’s basement. I competed at football, cross-country running and skiing, and track during my high school years. I fell off the wagon so to speak in college and didn’t touch a weight again until my mid-twenties. Then I spun my wheels for several years, following the muscle magazine’s workout of the month, until I came across some articles from Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell. I was immediately hooked on lifting heavy weights for low reps, and after a couple years, I entered some local push-pull (bench press, deadlift) competitions.

The old competitive spirit was back, and I read everything I could get my hands on regarding powerlifting. Over the summer of 2003, my daughter and I would watch the Strongman shows on television. We would sit in awe watching the “monsters” flip tires, lift stones, and pull trucks like they were little toys. Finally, in June of 2005, I took the plunge and entered my first Strongman competition. I finished in the top ten of a field of over 30, and more importantly, I was hooked on competing once again!

I managed to place second in a competition later that fall and then won a competition in August of 2006. The 2007 season started slowly with the nemesis of every strength athlete—injuries. Over the winter, I developed tendonitis in both forearms, which really limited the training that I could do. At a competition in June while preparing for Ontario’s Strongest Man, I twisted my collarbone during a 275-lb farmer’s walk. That pretty much did my season in. I did one more Strongman competition, finishing fourth overall in August.

I entered a push-pull meet in early December, where I promptly bombed out on the bench press at 315. Finally, on December 29th while training with our crew, I hurt my lower back/SI joint while training Atlas stones. I knew I had to back off to let the injuries heal while still trying to maintain some semblance of strength.

I had read about the “40-Day Workout” from Dan John and filed it away deep in the folders of my computer. Since it was the start of the New Year, I decided I’d try something new. I bounced the idea off a couple training partners, and they sounded skeptical at best! You should really read the 40-Day Workout, but the premise is that you pick several exercises and for the next 40 days do the same workout. I wanted to redeem myself from the bench press bomb out in December so I picked bench press and chin-ups initially. My back was feeling ok so I also added in Romanian deadlifts. The set/rep scheme would be 2 X 5 with a starting weight that felt “too light.” If you’re a percentages guy then somewhere in the 50–70 percent range should be close. The weight would increase by five pounds when it felt right to do so. For me, this worked out to roughly every fourth session. An update to the original plan is to do a “heavy” day once per week. For me, I’d work in the 3 X 3 set/rep range. I also made a point to do every rep as perfect as possible. I had to fix the “butt off the bench” syndrome for starters.

As a baseline, my training log shows that on December 27th, I benched an “ugly” single at 325. My butt was off the bench, which is one factor that got me at the meet earlier in the month. I also did a chin-up the same day with 50 lbs attached at a body weight of 220.

My log entry on January 4th shows the following:

Bench press: 2 X 5 X 235 (felt heavy)

Chin-ups: 3 X 3 with 25 lbs

Romanian DL: 2 X 5 X 135

I also included some additional exercises whenever I felt like it including seated dumbbell cleans, kettlebell swings, blast strap push-ups, band work, and hanging leg raise holds.

After the first week, I had some conflicting thoughts on this plan. First, it seemed way too easy. I could blast through the three core lifts in less than ten minutes. However, that meant even after a long day, I knew I could get down to the basement, do what I needed to do, and get out pretty quickly.

Halfway through the plan at day 20, my log shows:

Bench press: 2 X 5 X 260

Chin-ups: 2 X 5 X 35

Romanian deadlift: 2 X 5 X 195

I travel a lot for work and luckily I didn’t have anything come up until the end of January. I managed to find a hotel in Columbus with a decent gym attached where I could stick to my plan. On the 28th, I also made my way out to London, Ohio and met Jim Wendler at EliteFTS’s world headquarters. He invited me to train that night at the Compound III, and I didn’t hesitate to accept. This place is awesome! I had a great session. I tried the new hack squat machine and pushed the Prowler back and forth until I felt my lungs coming up. Jim also coached me on my bench press (flare and push back over my face), which made an immediate improvement.

That trip took me 75 percent of the way through the plan, and the end was in sight. On day 39, my log shows:

Bench press: 2 X 3 X 225, 1 X 3 X 315, 2 X 3 X 300 (sets X reps X pounds)

Chin-ups: 5 X 45, 5 X 35 (reps X pounds)

Romanian deadlift: 2 X 5 X 245

I finished day 40 on February 9th. I had a work trip to Vegas for a couple days and then I planned to test on the 16th. I warmed up and got to work.

Bench press: 2 X 3 X 225, 1 X 275, 1 X 315, 1 X 345 (PR), missed 365 halfway up, then did a bottoms up 315 off the pins

Chin-ups: 1 X 35, 1 X 50, 1 X 65, 1 X 80, 1 X 85

So I had a 20-lb increase on the bench press over what I did in training at the end of December. However, this time my butt stayed on the bench, and I had a good pause on my chest. Compared to the December competition, I’d say it was closer to a 40- or 50-lb improvement. I think I was even more thrilled with the bottoms up 315! The chin-up with 85 lbs attached was 35 lbs over my best at the start of the program. I maintained my body weight at 220 throughout.

This is a simple program, but it’s also quite effective. The daily repetition trains your brain and muscles to fire in a specific pattern (hence my focus on near perfect reps). The increase in weight is gradual too. You don’t notice any individual jump until you look back at your log over the 40 days.

I liked this program so much that I started a second round on February 17th using the box squat, snatch grip deadlift (standing on a three-inch block), and overhead press as my core exercises. I wanted to maintain my progress in the bench press and chin-ups so I just do 2 X 5 on those every four days or so. So far at the halfway point I’ve progressed from 2 X 5 X 225 on the box squat to 3 X 3 X 335, 2 X 5 X 245 on the deadlift to 3X 3 X 345, and 2 X 5 X 135 on the overhead press to 3 X 3 X 180. As for starting percentages, that was 52 percent for the squat, 50 percent for the deadlift, and 66 percent for the press.

Once the snow melts, I’ll be ready to start training the events again with my eye on a first competition at the end of May. Wish me luck!

Elite Fitness Systems strives to be a recognized leader in the strength training industry by providing the highest quality strength training products and services while providing the highest level of customer service in the industry. For the best training equipment, information, and accessories, visit us at www.EliteFTS.com.

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