Dispel the Dogma and Find the Gems

A few days ago, my buddy Bret Contreras wrote up a summary of John Broz’s training methods over on T-Nation. I’ve been following Broz and his athletes closely for the last year and a half, and he’s never failed to impress. Whether you agree with his methods or not, you can’t argue with his results.

My own experimentation with daily training started when Broz’s comments convinced me to give it a good try. Over the years, I’ve always found that I respond better to more training, but less “intensity” in each session. By intensity I don’t mean weight on the bar as a percentage of maximum. I mean effort. I mean exhaustion. Typical wisdom says you need to throw all your energy into your workouts and leave yourself crawling out of the gym.

I’ve never liked doing that. The only lift that’s ever responded well to that is the deadlift, and even there it’s hit or miss. Pressing and squatting like more frequency. The thing is, I was stuck in my own dogma for years. Don’t train more, you’ll burn out. Don’t do more workouts, your body can only handle so much. Don’t try that, the Bulgarians were on drugs and anyway they all got hurt (Never mind that I don’t know anybody to whom this has happened, as all these stories of certain doom seem to come from third or fourth hand sources, but that’s never stopped the internet).

There’s such a stigma against “overtraining” that nobody ever bothers to try the thing and see what will happen. We’re told that our bodies — bodies which evolved in conditions so harsh that you can scarcely imagine — will fall to pieces if we put forth more than the barest minimum of effort. And, as bizarre as that sounds, almost everybody falls for it. We assume the conservative, do as little as you can position as a default without even understanding how ridiculous it is.

Reading through Broz’s comments, you can’t help but get motivated. Seriously, if you need motivation to lift, go talk to John Broz. After edging towards higher volume for years, thanks to Pavel and Anthony Ditillo and Steve Justa and that side of the fence, I finally said to hell with it, I’m going to try it for myself.

My history with injuries is not a happy one. I’ve done degrees of damage to both shoulders, not to mention more recent muscle tears in both legs thanks to squatting briefly and infrequently, just like we’re supposed to. I figured, I’m already a mess, so what do I have to lose if the Bulgarian arrangement really does mangle me?

Last year I spent five months training heavy five days a week, took a few months off to diet, and now I’m in my fourth month of squatting heavy six days a week. The results?

I feel better. Everywhere. I’m almost always sore somewhere, usually the legs, but the incidences of catastrophic injury have dropped to zero. No soft tissue pains, no warning signs of imminent tears or ruptures. Even my poor shoulders, which have long stunted my bench strength, cooperate more when I load them six days a week.

Remember how I said I’d dieted? I was walking around at 90-91 kg. Not terribly fat, but fatter than I cared to be. I spent three months dieting and got down to a smidge over 81 kg (around 180 lbs, a weight I haven’t seen since 2002). This crushed my strength, as I wasn’t giving it too much attention. Squats were way down, which I expected. So was the deadlift, which I didn’t (it takes a lot for my pull to drop).

In April I got motivated to lift hard again, so I ramped the training back up and went at it. Long story short, I’m sitting around 84-85 kilos most days (mostly from creatine bloat) and squatting 170 kg for a few attempts on my heavy days (meaning I put on a belt and try a little harder), up to 160 for a few singles on my lighter (unbelted) days. That’s double body weight as a casual unequipped lift, done with my high-bar Olympic style to boot. Not world-class, but I’m happy with it as a step along the way.

The best part is that there’s no signs of slowing down. Progress is gradual and hard-won, but it never seems to stop as long as you keep showing up for the sessions. I’ll be back over 400 pounds as a casual daily max within a few weeks, and at a lighter body weight on top of that.

I even look better now. After dropping so much weight, I was pretty flat. After a few months of this I’ve evidently built back a reasonable base of muscularity, I’ve got shape in places I didn’t have before. Frequency doesn’t build muscle? Maybe. But I can’t argue with being able to eat junk food without worrying where it’s going.

I’m sharing all this thanks to Jim Wendler’s response to Bret’s article. As expected, telling the community of internet lifters that they can squat to a max twice a day every day generates a whole lot of ill will. For every person interested in what’s going on and wanting to know more, you get 10 people slamming Broz, his lifters, and his ideas. Everybody on the internet knows that the human body wasn’t designed for more than two or three hours of intense exercise every week.

I highly respect Jim’s views and always listen to when it comes to training. He made several good points in his response, and I want to focus on a few that really spoke to me.

Look at the overall IDEA of the training, interpret it and see how you can apply it to your own training. To me, it’s not about squatting every day or doing two workouts a day. It’s about realizing that the human body is much more capable of stress than most of us think.

This is quite possibly the kernel of the issue and almost nobody gets it. I’m interested in what Broz has to say for exactly this reason. I don’t squat twice a day. I’m not an Olympic lifter. I’m interested in Broz’s methods because I want a big squat and Broz produces big squatters that squat the way I squat. I’m interested in these methods because there’s precedent for lifters in the past getting brutally strong using similar ideas.

So what if I’m not a weightlifter? So what if Broz doesn’t train powerlifters? Broz makes big squatters and he does it using unequipped high-bar squats. He uses methods that cross-reference with other historically strong guys. That’s all I need to know.

What you should be taking away from this is that you can handle and thrive on far more than you think. That most of your feelings of soreness and tiredness and overtrained-ness are psychological, not physical limitations. That you actually can train hard and make it work without falling to pieces.

You should be realizing that if you just get out there and train, instead of worrying about whether you’re training too much or too hard, you might get somewhere. Maybe it’s not too much training that’s responsible for you not getting anywhere.

I think what he is doing is awesome – he and his lifters are strong. Whether or not he produces Olympic Gold is not relevant to me. He is doing what he believes in and doing it with passion.

If you still subscribe to outdated Hardgainer ideas and the idea that training can be reduced to a mathematical formula based on supercompensation, it’s no wonder you’re offended by even the suggestion of squatting to a max every day. Your ideas on diminishing returns will practically slap you in the face for even considering that more workouts can lead to more progress.

Somewhere, this is being discussed and someone is whining about it. It won’t work. It can’t work. Most people don’t need that much. Only elites need that much. I don’t know about you, but I’m not content to be mediocre. I’m not content to scrape by on the bare minimum, especially not after the bare minimum has proven itself to cause more injuries and less progress

And that’s the whole point. I’m digging this system because I can make it work. I’m endorsing it because it’s worked very well for me and it stands to reason that it can for others. It’s compatible with my preferences and my body responds well to it. That should be the end of the argument. Nothing else is relevant, not the least of which your notions of how things should be working.

The psychological aspect of training — doing what you enjoy, doing what gets results despite the science — has been overlooked, walked over, and stomped into the mud. That needs to stop. Results matter. Enjoying your training matters. The subtle and unquantifiable effects of atmosphere and positive outlook all matter, and they matter more than your choice of workout routine.

We need more of Broz and more people like him to push the envelope and challenge the dogma. My interest has never been about a program or a particular method of training. It’s about simplifying the process, training as hard as you can with the lifts that matter and as often as you can pull it off. It’s about finding what you respond to and what you enjoy doing, above all else.

It doesn’t get any simpler than that — or, as I’ve found, any more productive.

8 thoughts on “Dispel the Dogma and Find the Gems”

  1. After reading much of Abadjiev's literature (what's floating around the internet) and materials John Broz and Glenn Pendlay published I believe the underlying message is quite clear. It's not about squatting so many times a day or training 13 sessions a week or hitting different rep brackets or benching 3 times a week BUT maxing out a deadlift only a few times a year or any of the specifics these individuals divulge. The underlying principle is to improve your maximum strength in a specific lift or task practice it heavy and often. To improve further realize you will need to devote more training sessions per week. Eventually working up to daily sessions with circa-maximal weights. Very importantly, I believe the key indicator that you are "doing it right", is that you will feel that you are doing too much. You will feel that you are about to get hurt. I think that feeling is EVERYTHING.

  2. I think that this should be an eye opener for a lot of people. There are too many people out there stuck on ONE way to train and that's it.

    Regardless of whether or not this is the best way to train for everyone (probably not, just because one size does not fit all, nor do people have similar goals), it should still make people realize that they need to experiment with themselves.

    Go out and change your routine and see how it goes. Record your progress and try to be un-biased. If it works, then keep it. If it doesn't, see if you're doing something wrong or drop it.

    Great article to remind everyone to keep an open mind =)

  3. Great article, I see that John Broz is the new trend these days

    Tell us your results with the program after a while Mat, and possibly the routine that you will use

    Have a nice day

  4. Here, here. I loved Jim's response and I'm glad you're highlighting it. BTW, people were asking in the comments on the T-Nation article about how to make this work for powerlifting, so I posted a link to your "Bulgarian Training for Strength/Powerlifting" post in which you lay out your method. Hoping some of the cantankerous internet crowd found it…

    I've been training based on that system since the beginning on June, when I went abroad for work (to Malaysia) and found myself in a hotel right across the street from a gym with a perfectly good squat rack that no one ever uses. I've messed with the system as I've seen fit, learning that I should have listened better to some of your advice (you should add a line in there that says, "No, seriously, you hard-headed dumbass, you don't HAVE to do a billion back-off sets if it's not happening that day") and modifying other aspects to fit my style (I prefer the low-bar squat with a just-outside-hip-width stance, and I deal just fine with deficit deadlifting twice a week). The bottom line, though, is that I put 20 lbs on my squat in the first month, and I think I undershot the end-of-the-month PR attempt. Granted, my PR is now 192.5 kg, nothing earth-shattering, but still.

    One modification I'm playing with and really enjoy is compartmenting my back training into a fewer number of days. I agree with Christian Thibaudeau, a fellow proponent of frequent, non-grinding squatting: the back just seems to like what he calls "fatigue loading" better. Training it five times a week seems to just make it too tired when I go to bench, and then I have more trouble controlling the bar. Instead, training my back twice a week, on days I bench, with lots and lots of volume seems to work just fine. Just my two cents.

    Thanks for systematizing this style of training and making me believe it's possible. I won't have as much time when I go back to the States and start grad school again, but I'll stick to it as much as I can. Keep on preaching it!

    • James that's awesome to hear. You've really got the idea, and I'm glad you're finding it so useful.

    • Hey James,

      Which part of Malaysia are you currently at ? I am currently experimenting with it as well and will be great if we can exchange some ideas on it !

      Thanks
      Klaus

  5. Great post Matt. I have been toying with the idea of this type of training, although more along the lines of 3 heavy total body days, with 3 days of "assistance" type work in between (direct arm work, abs, etc.), set up similar to how Jamie does it over at CnP (I know that isn't his exact setup, but he's outlined something similar in the past). I look back on when I first got into S&C, and the strength coach I learned from was big into Olympic lifting. We used full-body workouts, focusing on the big lifts, for up to 5 days per week for football. In my own training, I was doing something similar, with a bit more emphasis on the Olympic lifts, and saw the biggest strength gains of my life (for instance, being able to do pullups for the first time in my life, despite them not even being in my program).
    I also really love Jim's quote about figuring out how to apply these things to your own training. When I first got out of college, I thought I had it all figured out, and anything that was different from what I had learned simply wouldn't work. Then as I got a bit older and not so fucking stupid, I realized damn near everything has something to offer, if I take the time to figure out how I can make it work with what I do, or perhaps even where in the training cycle I use it.
    Anyway, keep up the great work, I really like your site and your take on things.

  6. Contrary to your experience Matt, I did the Broz method for about a month and half. I had a lot of soft tissue pain, it was a bitch to go through foaming rolling on my legs everyday and I got quad tendonitis about 4 weeks in. It did put 40 pounds on my PR though. I'm not sure what I did wrong, but when my quads heal I'm gonna give it another try but I think I will start with squatting 3 times a week and increase frequency slowly.

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