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Mass Made Simple by Dan John

Mass Made Simple by Dan JohnIn a previous site update, I did a review of Dan John’s Never Let Go, effectively a collection of articles he had written talking about his various and sundry experiences in the weight game.

It’s still a book I highly recommend, if not for the training wisdom it contains then for its highly entertaining and readable style.  I reread it about once a year and something in it always manages to make me chuckle or think.

As a collection of articles there wasn’t really any single theme that ran through it except for perhaps the fact that Dan is as old as the hills and has truly seen it and done it all when it comes to the weight room.

I mean, I’m fairly sure Dan was the guy who pointed Milo at the bull and told him to get cracking.  Hell, Dan might have been the bull.  For those who have truly been living under a rock, as the story goes, Milo lifted a bull on a daily basis.

And as the bull grew and got heavier, Milo was forced to get stronger; this was the supposed invention of progressive overload. Which is all just a really really torturous segue to talking about weight gain, bulking in specific, and Dan John.  Because, as the cover picture  to the left of this really silly text clearly shows, that’s what Dan’s new book is about: bulking and gaining mass.

Mass Made Simple: A Simple Approach to Gaining Mass

And in contrast to Never Let Go, this is a book with a single theme running through it.  And that theme, again, is gaining muscle mass.  And as you might also have inferred from the title, it’s done based on a simple approach to both training and diet.  Because, in a nutshell, that’s what Dan is about.  After about a million (give or take just under a million) years doing things, Dan has distilled the essence of many types of training down into their simplest form.

First, what this book is not.  If you are looking for a book on mass gaining (training, nutrition or both) filled with endless discussion of physiological pathways and lots of endless theory and navel-gazing, this is not the book on mass gaining you’re looking for. If you are looking for a book with endless routines for you to try (hell, change it up every day, shock the system, right) until you find the right one, this is not the book you’re looking for.

If you are looking for a book filled with lots of top heavy females and juiced up males, this is not the book you’re looking for.  If you are looking for a laundry list of either supplements or mass-gaining recipes, this is not the book you’re looking for.

Because this isn’t a book from MuscleMag International, it’s a book by Dan John.  And, like I said, Dan John is about simple.  And in his own inimitable writing style (I’d say he is this generations John McCallum but I’m fairly sure Dan is an immortal and taught McCallum to lift) Dan lays out a simple program of training and eating for mass-building.  If that’s the kind of book on gaining mass you’re interested in, this is the book you’re looking for.

Because after a fairly basic introduction (and you can actually find something akin to an excerpt from the book by googling”‘Mass Made Simple”) to the topic of gaining mass, Dan lays it out.  The first thing he lays out is a six week “break-in” to teach people how to squat.

As you guessed, his mass training program is based around squatting.  And if you can’t squat properly, you can’t do the program.  The progression is logical and, well, progressive.  He probably could have sold it as a separate e-book or bonus if he’d wanted.

Next up is diet, a basic look at mass gaining nutrition. Rather you’ll find a basic list of dietary ‘rules’ and strategies to eat for mass.  Simple, basic, to the point.  More importantly, hard to screw up although I’m sure he’ll get amusing emails by people who did just that.  After that Dan lays out the basic 6 week cycle in terms of when you’ll train, when you’ll rest and when you’ll, as he puts it ‘recharge’. No, I won’t explain, go buy the book.

After that you’ll get a series of nutritional tweaks, things that you are to change (usually adding) to your dietary intake as the program marches on.  By adding things one at a time in a systematic and logical way, not only do you keep things from getting overwhelming, you can tell what’s working and what isn’t.  Dan is no dogmatist here, if a strategy works, you keep it.  If it doesn’t you throw it out.  It’s that simple.

And then after all of that groundwork has been laid (in a mere 56 pages), you get to the bulk of both the book and the program where Dan lays out the overall scheme of the program.  In short it’s based around three components which I will describe:

  1. Upper body strength work
  2. Bar complexes
  3. High-rep squatting

That’s it.  That’s the bulk/mass-gaining program.  A combination of movements to achieve the above.  And make no mistake this isn’t simply some rehash of the classical 2o-rep squat program as laid out in Super Squats.  Rather Dan recommends weights to use (based on the trainees body weight) and most of the progression is based on sets and reps rather than weight progression.  The entire program has it’s own flavor and when Dan says ‘high-repetition’ he often means it.  One of the workouts is simply called “To fifty”.  I’ll let you wonder what that means.  Again, buy the book if you’re curious and want to suffer.

And the training makes up the remainder of the book. Every workout includes a brief warm-up and the above three components and every workout is laid out in detail in terms of sets, reps and progressions.  Again, rather than being a traditional slog of adding weight in the same repetition range, things are varied at every workout with shifts in volume, reps, sets and loading parameters.

After the full 6-week cycle, there are a couple of additional sections including an addendum on complexes (with credit given to Istvaan “Steve” Javorek) along with what amounts to a Q&A. The book rounds itself out with a complete training diary for recording all of the workouts along with other notes regarding nutritional compliance, etc.

So overall this is a complete program on bulking, almost in the tradition of the old courses. There is no unnecessary complexity and it’s fairly simple: heavy loads plus high repetitions plus food equals growth.  This is what has gotten legions of trainees big in the past and will still work now.  That it’s written in Dan’s entertaining style is just bonus points.

For anyone who wants a fresh (and yet old school) look at mass gaining and bulking, I don’t think you can go wrong with Mass Made Simple.  At a low price point of $19.95 it’s a bargain.

Mass Made Simple by Dan John can be ordered from

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9 thoughts on “Mass Made Simple by Dan John

  1. Only 6 weeks ?

    I’d have thought Dan John would rather have a 6-year view on building muscle.

  2. I love short, no-bullshit books.
    I love weight programs based around compound movements.
    I LOVE squatting.

    But I also love fitting into a normal pair of pants.

    Never done barbell complexes before though. THAT’S what would really interest me.

  3. Nice review Lyle. Would you say the training proposed by this book is appropiate for the beginner, intermediate or advance trainee?

  4. Found your blog a few weeks ago and have been enjoying it a lot. Anyway, bought the book and was immensely disappointed. What a ripoff…….first and foremost if you are going to charge me 19 for a book, bind it properly, use colour photographs, show correct form (EG in benchpress there are two terrible black and white pics of bad bar grip, but none to show how its supposed to be done correctly…..thats plain and simply idiotic) and the pages and pages of blank workout forms….sheesh, man dont you like trees??????

    I wouldnt recommend this book to anyone…….even a free copy at the library is a waste of time

  5. I don’t know what Wickets is expecting. I’m guessing he/she didn’t even try it for one of the six weeks and like others I work with modified it thinking they know more than Dan. This is an exceptional book, $19.00 is well worth it. Dan has coached many NCAA and Olympic athletes. He has been there and done that more times than I have taken a piss. If you don’t know how to bench, squat, clean, press etc I guess you should go back to middle school gym or just spend 10 min on youtube and figure it out.
    Wickets can go ahead and bitch about his color photos and pretty binding…me on the other hand am more than happy with the content.

    Good luck and happy squatting.

  6. this was a fantastic book, i do not know what this guy was expecting!

  7. I don’t own this book, but I’ve read most of Dan’s work. I find it pretty much impossible to believe that DJ would put his name on anything that isn’t pure awesome. Simple is good. Simple is effective. Simple worked 70 years ago. Simple still works today.

  8. Like others, I’m not sure what wickets was expecting. I bought this — Kindle ebook version — a couple of weeks ago. I’m on week 2 of the workouts. This book is definitely worth the price! Dan John could write about doing taxes and make it readable and entertaining.

    The workouts and the tips in this book are simple (not easy to do, though!) and effective. Most people buying the book are looking for this type of content, not some pretty binding and color pictures. This book delivers as advertised!

  9. Loved this book & the No BS style + No photoshopped glitz.

    Basics & Progression + time work.

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