The 40-day workout redux (sort of)

I swear by the original 40-day program (40DW) by Pavel Tsatsouline, which in his own words is…

For the next forty workouts, pick five lifts. Do them every workout. Never miss a rep, in fact, never even get close to struggling. Go as light as you need to go and don’t go over ten reps for any of the movements. It is going to seem easy. When the weights feel light, simply add more weight.

Pavel Tsatsouline in conversation with Dan John

I chose the following lifts when I did my first ever 40DW a couple of years back — squats, deadlifts, bench press, press and kettlebell swings. And true to Pavel’s words the numbers went up in all the lifts.

I wasn’t aware of sensei Dan John’s version of the 40DW up until last year in October while I was recovering from a surgery. The program was a tad different from Pavel’s.

Week 1

Monday (Day 1) 2 x 5
Tuesday (Day 2) 2 x 5
Wednesday (Day 3) 5/3/2
Friday (Day 4) 2 x 5
Saturday (Day 5) 2 x 5

Week 2

Monday (Day 6) 2 x 5
Tuesday (Day 7) 6 singles
Wednesday (Day 8) 1 x 10
Friday (Day 9) 2 x 5
Saturday (Day 10) 5/3/2

The 40 Workout Strength Challenge, T Nation

As was expected, my numbers went up again. Out of greed I ran the program twice again this year. In fact, I’m right in the middle of the second one but all this while I’ve been missing one major point. Just like many folks do when they train heavy.

Both Dan and Pavel suggested that you increase the weight when it feels light. I never got to that stage as I would move the weights up every week. Just like a regular linear progression powerlifting cycle. Thankfully, there’s only so much you can increase when it comes to multiple sets of 5s. Even if it’s just a couple of sets, the increased weights are going to take a toll on you if you aren’t careful.

If you’re wise, you’ll stick with the lighter weights until they really feel light. If you’re like me (not quite wise) you would get creative and introduce cycling within the 40DW. And if you think about it, both versions of the programs focus on linear progression, albeit much slowly. At times, an experienced lifter can’t help but get stuck at some weight (trying to improve and hoping that it’ll eventually start to feel light) or feels a little inconsistent (heavy on Monday, feels super-light on Tuesday and OMG heavy on Wednesday). The options are quite limited from there: stay stuck or drop down a notch below. Some people even quit at this point stating that “it’s not working anymore.”

I think the challenge is with the approach. We need to introduce cycling with the 40DW to make it more effective. Please, not that cycling should be introduced as a measure to prevent burnout or getting out of the rut instead of a default approach. I believe both Pavel and Dan’s versions are awesome GPP programs and shouldn’t be modified ever.

Back to cycling, here’s what it looks like for a single lift. Just focus on the numbers. It doesn’t matter if it’s in kilos or pounds:

1RM: 200

5RM: 160

If you’re stuck with 160 for 2 sets of 5 for more than 3-4 sessions or if the weight feels heavy. Cycle the weights back to 70% of the 1RM, which in this case would be 140. You will continue to do 2×5 until you feel comfortable enough to bump it up. Of course, in about a couple of week’s time you’ll hit 160 and it’ll feel significantly lighter than your previous attempts. Why? That’s the power of (wave) cycling.

There you have it — a simple tweak of an awesome that will supercharge your strength gains.

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