40 Day Program

Training programs are like trees in a forest… really, hear me out. Some are flimsy and get blown over with the slightest breeze. Others are old, woody, evergreens, firmly rooted and never change and don’t do much. Others however, look oddly simple for most of the time until they bare their fruit. See what I’ve done there… sigh, I know, my writing skills need a bit of attention!

What I’m getting at is that some programs are weak and aimless, some are steeped in traditional program modelling with a strong following of trainees busting a gut but getting no where quickly or safely. However, some other training programs are simple to look at, don’t conjure up much outcome expectation but then, whammy, after a couple of weeks following it you realise you’ve stumbled upon a forbidden fruit. Bam!

mango tree

KISS principles (keep it simple stupid) along with Paretos 80:20 law suggests taking away the activities that provide very little bang for their buck or low returns for the energy investment you put in. They suggest you spend your time on the activities that offer the biggest return. In the case of the 40 Day Program these happen to be fundamental human movements, for 5 days a week, for 40 sessions.

  • A hip dominant movement that could be a deadlift or squat pattern
  • A push variation
  • A pulling variation
  • A ballistic exercise such as the Kettlebell swing
  • and an abdominal bracing exercise.

The 40 Day Program subtly gives consideration to mastery of skill in its high frequency training model and not over stressing the central nervous system. In the program you never max out, never push to the point of missing a lift. You work to a comfortably moderate limit where you may leave 1 or 2 reps in the tank per set. This program is a good example of what to strive for over the vast majority of the year between trying out other higher stress programs or peaking for events.

Many programs have shown that accumulating between 200-280 reps of any big lift at an average level, is optimal over the course of a month. Take a look at most standard programs that suggest 2 exercises per ‘body part’ or movement with a 3×10 structure – this accumulates 240 over 4 weeks. However, these tend to require very infrequent training, maybe once a week and don’t allow a trainee to really spend time getting to know the exercise aka mastering the skill the movement. They smash out their 60 reps and don’t do the exercise again for another 5-7 days!

The 40 Day Program has benefitted many trainees around the world, both beginners and very experienced lifters. Many report great strength improvements without ever really stressing. Many report losing body fat without ever getting really out of breath or reaching for the puke bucket. Many report gaining muscle despite never maxing out, drop setting, pumping out.

Mmmmm… Yes, there are many methods and training models outside of the standard bodybuilding models.

How does the program work? 

Paul McIlroy of Centaur in Belfast recently talked about this approach of training and gradually increasing our training limits by working throughout the ranges of our comfort zone at intensities between 60% ish to 85% ish.The podcast where he talks about it is here.

My simple thoughts: By increasing the range of our comfort zones we push up the limits of our strength. By more frequently and moderately stressing our muscles we invite hypertrophy. By training at submaximal levels we are allowed to train frequently and burn off more calories.

How I modified the program to suit my needs

A combination of factors lead me to choose my 5 exercises.

  1. A recent hip irritation and glute / hamstring imbalance lead me to take on the single leg deadlift.
  2. A target of mine for the near future is to front squat double 40kg kettlebells. I’m using the 40 sessions to develop a strong base to push forward toward this goal.
  3. Bottom Up (BU) Press. Shoulder pains have bothered me for a few years now (read, many years, “sigh”) so I thought I’d commit this time to developing rock solid shoulder stability with the BU Press. You press a kettlebell upside down, that is, holding onto the handle with the bells base pointing up. Check out the video below.
  4. Single arm kettlebell row. An old classic but one I’ve skimped on, so why not.
  5. The 40 day program suggests the Ab Wheel. I have had a fear of god type regard towards this one for years after hurting my back doing it poorly, yeeeaaaars ago. Much learned I have since then! Let’s give it a go…

Now, the program does call for a reasonably set out plan, but here’s the thing. There’s always a thing and here’s my thing.

Life is varied game of ups and downs, high energy days and conversely low, low energy days. Days packed full with personal training and looking after my wonderful 8 year old. Living in Australia and running this program in the later stages of summer in an outdoor setting presents a new additional element to the game… lots of heat, humidity, rain and storms. Not excuses, just stuff that happens. With this in mind, I took an auto-regulated structure to my daily efforts.

I did commit to the 10 reps daily made up of any combination I felt appropriate to me. 2×5, 3×3, 5/3/2, 2/3/5, just a set of 10, 10 x1.  I let the day direct me. I let the weights just drift up. Being a kettlebell kind of guy I did commit to using the same weight per exercise per session. No mixing it up. Just getting sh$t done.

Below are the videos from sessions around number 18 and 19. In a later post I will clearly layout the progression of my 40 Day Program.

Single Leg Deadlift

Double Kettlebell Front Squat

Kettlebell Row

Bottom Up Press

Ab Wheel 

Stay tuned for further updates.

Peace and strength my friends.


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