The Forty Day Challenge: EASY Strength!

Another chapter in my ongoing celebrity crush bromance with coach Dan John… This time it is all about trying easier, not harder. How does the old saying go? Don’t work harder, work smarter? My hope is that this Dan John program will work as well as his other advice .

Finished the 6 week Mass program for giggles, and it was fun. Though I wasn’t giggling much during 5 sets of 10 heavy squats! But now it’s time to get back on the bike and build my base. So I’m going to change it up for another of Dan John’s programs, variously known as “Easy Strength,” “Even Easier Strength” and the 40 day challenge.

What?! How can strength training be easy, or easier? Isn’t the point to smash yourself in the gym? Isn’t that the only way to get swol, or even just stronger? I’ve seen Arnold and the gang in Pumping Iron and Dorian Yates in Blood and Guts, so it’s clear: No Pain No Gain, No Guts No Glory!


Maybe not.

Like what Maffetone did for endurance training by focusing on the bottom end of aerobic function to lift everything up, this program does for strength work. Perhaps adopting a “less is more” approach and using frequency over the long haul rather than intensity and a crash approach will work best. At least in my experience, high frequency but smaller “bites” keeps me healthy and motivated.

“If it’s important, do it every day, if it’s not important, don’t do it at all.” (stealing from Dan John, who stole it from some other dude)


Obviously, for Leadville, that means riding a bike, preferably off road. But so far this winter has been so wet I can’t even see the roads, much less the trails. And strength is important to. In the end, if you can get EASY strength, why opt for “difficult” strength?

The workout came from a suggestion/challenge from the famous Pavel Tsouline the “Evil Russian” who popularized kettle bell training. As former military, he was thinking about the needs of various spec ops folks and law enforcement types who need to be ready to go at any moment. They can’t be sore and beat up from training. And most of their training needs to be the skills necessary for their job. They can’t spend hours in the gym on a typical bodybuilder routine, and take the time to recover. Such an approach also applies to athletes of other sports, practicing the sport is most important, strength training is a complement, it shouldn’t interfere. So he challenged DJ to go easy, and do a simple workout nearly daily for 40 days and see what would happen. Good things did, and the forum chatter backs it up.

Enter the Program Minimum.

What is the minimum we need to do to get results? Stop there and get back sports skills.

The program is simple, pick about five total body exercises that cover the basic human movements, and train them 5 days a week, but very low volume, about 10 reps each. So 2×5 or 3×3. It has to be easy, since it’s done almost daily. The idea is for the strength to be built up gradually from the bottom, rather than blasting from the top end, and getting sore.

So, for me:

  • Deadlift– MMS was all about the squat, so it’s time to work the DL. After working with a MTB coach, I see better the importance of the Hinge movement.
  • Pull Up– Still working on being able to blast full bodyweight. Compared to other pulling movements, the old pull up is real total body event.
  • Incline DB Bench Press– Same but different. Not a regular bench press, not an overhead press, but in between. Using DBs will force my weaker side to catch up.
  • Leg Raises– DJ suggests the Ab Wheel as a tonic for the hingeing movements. I went with this classic.
  • Plank Circuit- Same one I’ve been doing.
  • KB Swings and Goblet Squats as a warm up
  • Loaded Carry– various, right now I like one sided waiter’s walks and rack  carries.


All basic movements (squat, hinge, push, pull, carry)are covered. Hopefully my strength levels will continue to creep up while not interfering with the aerobic development. It’s quite similar to Maffetone’s idea of “Slow Weights.” I’ll use a 10 day schedule or “week” for training, taking one day off completely every 10 days rather than every 7 days. When using Maffetone training I find I only need a day off every 10 or so days.

What’s the worst thing that could happen? Like with Maffetone aerobic training, the only potential downside I can see is that maybe I don’t improve as much as I could have by going really hard. That doesn’t seem too bad. Why train difficult if you can train easy and get ot the same place?

For those who’d like to learn more:



About vegpedlr

Plant powered off-road triathlete

Posted on February 9, 2017, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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