Multi-Cycle Program Review–Boss Barbell Strength Method (networkingguruGeneral)

Intro: Hot on the heels of my last review, I thought I would go ahead a review this program, since I’ve now run it for two mesocycles. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Boss Barbell Strength method (hereafter referred to as BBSM) is Dan Green’s own program. I started lifting at Dan’s gym, Boss Barbell Club (BBBC) last year as I was running through the last few months of DoggCrapp. When I finally gave up on DC training, Dan suggested I give his system a try, and was kind enough to lay out the template for me, so I did.
What follows is a review of it from my understanding of it, which is not quite complete. Most of what I know of the program has been from a few hours’ worth of Q&A here and there with Dan, along with my initial template setup from him. In other words, the layout I describe should be pretty accurate, but the reasoning for why he chose specific movements and so on may be flawed, since I don’t profess to completely understand all of the subtlety in it yet. If you want the info straight from the horse’s mouth, hit Dan up on Facebook, or check out his thread onAnimal’s forums (which I suggest reading through anyway…it will be the best few hours you are likely to spend).

Rep and Set Scheme: The basic layout of the program is five or six days a week (I did five). Normally, it’s split up with lifting on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, but I did it M-F (I did Sunday’s lifts on Thursday), which Dan said was fine. Before I go through the split, I need to kind of describe the layout of each day, as that will make the split make more sense. Essentially, each day you have a main movement, some secondary movements, and some accessory movements. The main movement is a powerlift or a really close variant, the secondary movements are usually heavy compound movements that are related to the main movement, and the accessory movements are usually more isolation or bodybuilding style movements just meant to add some volume. Since Dan is a powerlifter, the goal is to get stronger, but there’s a lot of volume for muscle growth as well.

So, with that in mind, my split was as follows:

Day Main Movement Secondary Movement Accessories
Monday High-Bar Squat Paused High-Bar Squat, Romanian Deadlift Pull-Ups, Curl variant
Tuesday Paused Buffalo Bar Bench /Paused Wide-Grip Buffalo Bar Bench Close-Grip Bench/Paused Close-Grip Bench, Seated DB Press/Military Press DB Flyes, Skull-crushers, Triceps Pushdowns
Wednesday Front Squat None Row variant, Farmer’s Walks, GHR situps, Seated Side Lateral Raise, Shrugs
Thursday (Sunday) Paused Bench Speed Bench, Paused Wide-Grip Bench, DB Incline Bench T-Bar Row, Seated Side Lateral Raise, Dips
Friday Deadlift (conventional) Deficit Deadlift, Stiff-Legged Deadlift Chins, Kroc Rows

Note: Dan’s a big fan of DB presses, and you are supposed to work in DB presses and Military presses on your chest days, but due to an injury, I had to drop them in my second cycle.

If you want to see how it’s structured, probably the best way to do so is to check out my log on WeightXReps, but here’s the basics:
Everything is structured in A/B weeks. On the A week, you will generally do 3×5 on your main movement, and often 3×5 on the secondary movements as well. On the B weeks, you will generally do 2×6 on the main movement with the same weight as the A week. Secondary movements often stay the same sets/reps as the A week. When you move to the next A week, you increase the weight by 2-3% and hit 3×5. This cycle continues until you are either ready to peak (3-4 weeks out of a competition), or can’t complete all the reps with a new weight.

If you are peaking, Dan has a whole different approach for the 2-3 weeks leading up to a meet, which I’m not going to delve into, but basically involves dropping the sets and reps while really cranking up the intensity (and usually setting some 2-3RM PR’s in every lift). Otherwise, you drop the reps by 1 per set (i.e. 3×4 instead of 3×5) and keep moving forward. When that gets to be too much you do it one more time (dropping to 3×3), and run that out. Once that is finished, you begin a new cycle, starting a bit under your last best 3×5.

Dan suggests hitting a 1RM test somewhere in each cycle to prepare you to move more weight, regardless of which way you go.

On the lifts themselves, the main and secondary movements don’t change much, though a few (such as the Paused Buffalo Bar Bench and Paused Wide-Grip Buffalo Bar Bench for me) will swap out on A/B weeks. Also, some of the movements (main and otherwise) use higher rep ranges (8 reps is common on Buffalo Bar work, for instance).

The accessory movements are a different animal, as they don’t progress at a linear pace like the rest of the lifts. The goal for the accessory work is just to get volume in, so while you are always trying to improve, you aren’t always adding weight. Often, something like a 4×12 range is listed, and the goal is to hit 4×12, of course, but that doesn’t happen the first week with a weight, usually. So the first week might be 12,10,10,8, and then the second week 12,12,10,8 and so forth until you can get all 4 sets of 12. When that happens, you increment the weight by 2-3% (or the smallest possible increment, in the case of DB’s).

Also, Dan likes to change the accessories as much as possible. To paraphrase him, one type of row is as good as any other, more or less. He likes to keep them changing to keep things fresh, but I haven’t seen him write a ton of different variations. He seems to like a handful of variants and just rotates them.

Hopefully that gives you an idea of how it’s structured, but the big thing to take away is it’s a high-volume, high frequency, mid-to-high intensity routine with a lot of different exercises. I found the volume to be brutal, but survivable on a cut. Time-wise, if I rush I can get in and out in an hour, but most days I spend an hour and a half in the gym taking ~5 minute breaks between work sets.

Diet: On diet, Dan doesn’t prescribe anything specifically, though he does say he usually has people lose weight while eating more when first starting. I started around 20% bodyfat, so I had no choice; I had to cut.

For cutting this time, I finally found a method which was pain-free, at least until I got to ~14% BF. Basically, I used Intermittent Fasting, fasting from 8 PM to 11 AM, and training fasted (at around 8 AM). At 11, every day I ate 2 cooked pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, prepared as always with McCormick’s Grill Mates. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I added to this 1 cup of cooked basmati rice. At ~3PM, I then ate 2-3 large apples. At ~5PM, I ate 2.5 oz. of Cabot Light Sharp Cheddar Cheese (which is excellent, BTW) and 5 oz. of baby spinach (raw). Finally, when I got home at ~7:45 PM, I ate two cans of Pure Alaskan Salmon Fillets.

This generally kept me at ~500 cal/day deficit through the week. On the weekend, I ate the same chicken for lunch, but skipped dinner and instead made homemade, unbuttered popcorn with light oil. 24 cups of this is about 800 calories, and completely fills me up. My calorie total on the weekends thereby stayed at about a 700 calorie deficit.

Occasionally I would need a cheat meal, with these getting more and more common the leaner I got, but mostly, I could go at least a month without one until I hit 14% or so in bodyfat.

Supps: Liquid vitamin D (4000IU a day), creatine (~5g a day), and a multivitamin.

Review The best thing I can say is it exceeded my expectations. Coming off of DC training, I was very depressed at my state, and this turned things around considerably, though not without a lot of pain. In that regard, the worst thing that happened was I reinjured my AC Joint by using too much of a ROM on DB movements towards the start of my second cycle. Because of this, I had to work around the injury, which involved pulling almost all DB movements and eventually even front squats. Still, my results were pretty decent.
Keep in mind that I had never done belted high-bar squats before or paused benches when looking at before and after numbers. Also, these are not really RM’s, these are my work weights, but the first week felt just as brutal as this week, so I should have gained a similar amount on my actual RM’s.

The bottom line is, in four months, while cutting about a pound of fat a week, I increased my work weights by 35-75 pounds in each lift, and actually gained 7.2 pounds of muscle (almost a half a pound per week). So the objective results are pretty stellar, and greatly exceeded my expectations. Dan did tell me that most guys on his program drop fat and gain muscle while eating at a surplus, but I really didn’t believe him; I was pretty disillusioned with 2+ years of difficulty since my injury, not to mention a very depressing trial of Doggcrapp. However, this has definitely made a believer out of me.

Now, for a subjective review, the things that stood out the most to me as ‘blowing up’ on this program were my delts, lats, and quads, in that order. I noticed more striations and a lot more ‘thickness’, overall, in my delts as the program progressed. My lats kept getting bulkier and bulkier, which is a trend that I expect (and hope) to continue, considering that the program has you doing some kind of heavy pull (and often multiple heavy pulls) three days a week. Finally, my quads kept getting more defined, and despite dropping weight, never dropped in size.

However, subjective impressions can be misleading, and since DEXA also separates mass differences based on body part and side, I actually have data to analyze.

It turns out that my initial impression of where it impacted me most was correct, and I gained a whopping 5.9 lbs. of lean mass in my torso. However, the next biggest gains were not on my legs…they were on my arms. I put 1.8 pounds of lean mass on my arms, which is a 7% increase in lean mass. My legs, on the other hand, actually lost muscle to the tune of 1/2 pound of muscle lost (overall not worth worrying about, but interesting).
Also, while I feel this program did help even out my mismatched right and left arms, they are still pretty horribly out of whack. My left arm currently has 2 pounds less lean mass than my right arm, a difference of 14%. For reference, my right and left legs only differ by 6% (and my left is bigger).

Still, at the end of two cycles, I have set two major aesthetic PR’s: The leanest I’ve ever been at, and the most muscle mass I’ve ever had at any weight. Setting both of those at the same time is more than I ever hoped for. All that said, there are a few things I think need to be said that make it, as written, not a great program for some goals.

First, it is very difficult, and doesn’t really have a ‘deload’. You kind of taper down towards the end of a cycle and then start back slightly lower than you left off, but it’s not like you get an in-built 2-4 week grace period between cycles. This is especially rough when you are starving yourself (as Dan puts it), and I actually had to ‘nope’ out for a week between my two cycles. I could not get all of my squat reps on the first day of the new cycle, so rest seemed to be the best medicine.

Second, it’s a strength program at its core, and while it does include some BB work to put size on you, it’s not about balancing your physique for aesthetics. For example, while there is a LOT of volume devoted towards triceps, there’s comparatively very little for the biceps, and literally none for the calves. Since my biceps and calves are my two weakest areas, I’ve already started adding in supersets of calf raises in between bench sets, and various curls supersetted whenever I am doing something that isn’t using my biceps. You may need to do similar things to hit your weak spots.

Third, at least until Dan comes out with a book or guide on his method, this is probably not something you should try to run without some more info from him (especially not just using this post as a guide!) The program seems to have a lot of things on the accessory side that are based on experience where Dan seems to choose lifts to correct deficiencies. I don’t really have a good handle on it myself after four months, so there’s pretty much no way you can get the required wisdom out of this post.

Overall, the only program that has worked better for me than BBSM is Madcow, and Madcow stopped working for me quite some time ago. BBSM has so far put more muscle on me than I actually thought possible in 4 months, all while dieting down. I would wholeheartedly recommend that anyone in the area contact Dan and try to get on his program. For those outside of the bay area, hit up his FB page. I don’t think he’s taking online clients right now, but maybe if everyone shows interest he will put a guide together.


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