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Complexes and Southwood and Dan John

Hail and well met my little blogranauts! Keen and fanatical followers of this blog (no one real, all imagined. In my head thousands of eager readers await my every published pixel. The truth is, perhaps, less impressive) will know that I am quite the fan of Dan John. If you don’t know who Dan John is then go immediately to Amazon and buy everything he has written. He is wiser, clever and more knowledgeable then pretty much any other “fitness” writer out there. What makes him so good is his belief that simple, basic training will overcome all.

 Squat, bend, push, pull and loaded carry all done with as heavy a weight as you can manage for good form is the cornerstone of pretty much all his programs. So a typical Dan John program would look something along these lines: –

Day 1 – Front squats, Bench press. Done for 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps. On the last set grind out as many reps as you can.

Day 2 – Deadlift, Overhead press. Same as above.

That’s it! All you would do on top of that is a bit of training with complexes (more on this later) and then eat everything that is not nailed to the ground.

Maybe that seems a bit too simple for you. It could be that you don’t think that there is enough lower bicep work or that your Posterior Deltoids are being sadly neglected. Well, your dead wrong. If you went hard n’ heavy on these two days per week, maybe throwing in an extra day for some complexes done with heavier weights and some pull ups, dips and random kettlebell flinging, then you would become a leaner, meaner and more Grrrrrr version of you. No, really.

Listen, you train too much. You train too long. You don’t train heavy enough. You don’t eat as much as you should. You don’t rest enough.

Another great Dan John quote is this: ” Everything works. For about 6weeks.” This applies to training or diet equally. So does that program outlined above work? Yes. For about 6 weeks. Does cutting your carbs down to the level that couldn’t maintain the metabolism of a shrew work for fat loss? Yes. For about 6 weeks. If you’re not changing stuff around then you will stagnate and your progress will grind to a halt. In my last article I wrote about the importance of de-loading. Another good reason for de-loading is that you change stuff before your body gets used to it.

Here are some other Dan John pearls of wisdom.

Strength standards for men.
What you are expected to be able to manage and what you should aspire to.

Expected: Body weight bench press
Game Changer: Body weight bench press for 15 reps
Expected: 8-10 pull-ups
Game Changer: 15 pull-ups
Expected: Body weight squat
Game Changer: Body weight squat for 15 reps
Expected: Body weight to 150% body weight deadlift
Game Changer: Double body weight deadlift
Loaded Carry (Farmer Walk)
Expected: Farmer Walk with total body weight (half per hand)
Game Changer: Body weight per hand

If you spent the next 12 months or so just trying to hit these numbers it would not, in my opinion, be a waste of time. Dave.

Strength standards for women

Game Changer:
Body weight bench press
Game Changer:
3 pull-ups
Game Changer:
135-pound back squat for 5 reps
Game Changer:
275-pound deadlift
Loaded Carry (Farmer Walk)
Game Changer:
85 pounds per hand

 “There are many reasons why most people don’t achieve their physical goals. I’ve come to the conclusion that the number one reason is simply trying to do everything all the time.
I’ll get a question about mass building, and I’ll recommend lots of squats, lots of food, and lots of rest. The follow up question from the same person will usually include something about “six pack abs,” agility work, and dunking a basketball.”

Gahh! I get this one about twice a day on average. Dave


The overhead squat, straight leg deadlift, dip, and pull-up (done correctly) can do more for flexibility than all the ballet classes at charm school.

Plus you’ll be massive and gnarly and won’t have to wear a tutu. Dave.


You must master the squat movement.
You may not need to ever squat heavy, and you may also discover that there are some better tools for you (for you, read that carefully) like Bulgarian split squats or pistols, but mastery of the squat is worth every second you spend on it.

The answer is more squats – Now, what’s the question? Dave.


Never pass a pull-up bar without doing some pull-ups.

I can’t think of another strength movement where the adage “Use it or lose it” rings as true. Dave.


Conditioning isn’t just jogging.

I watched 2 of my guys do a workout yesterday. 100kg front squat. 75kg push press. 10kg weighted pull ups. Do 5 reps on each. Move from one to another with no rest. Repeat 6 times. The only rest you have between circuits is the time it takes your partner to complete his/her set. This is conditioning and then some. Both of them are fit and strong boys but towards the end of the session they were both having to hold onto the power rack for support and a puddle of sweat had appeared on the ground around their feet that you could have floated a canoe in. Fuck jogging. Dave.


It’s the movements you’re NOT doing that are impeding your progress.
Hinge (Bend)
Loaded Carry

Now, you can certainly add vertical and horizontal and rotational and many other things to this list, but if you’re skipping one of the basic five human movements, your training isn’t optimal.
You’re probably missing loaded carries and squats. The one lesson I’ve learned over and over is most people ignore these two things. So, start doing farmer walks, waiter walks, suitcase walk, sleds, and pushing cars a few days a week and master the basics of squatting.
You won’t believe the progress you’ll make!

True dat! Dave.


You want to know about fat loss? Ask a competitive bodybuilder!

This can be applied to asking whomever is at the top of their game in any particular endevour/activity. The reverse is also true. Be mindful and suspicious of “Uber-gurus” who talk the good talk but can’t back it up with personal experience. In other words don’t take diet tips from a fat man. Dave.


Press weights over your head.

There is not a part of you, not a molecule nor an atom that isn’t called upon to stabilize you sufficiently to press a weight to overhead from a standing position. Second only to squats for their ability to change you from puny weakling to rampaging God of Thunder. Go press something. Dave.


The stronger you are, the more you can get away with.
 My friend, Josh Hillis, notes that when a woman can do three pull-ups and deadlift or squat 135 for five, almost universally they’re around 19% bodyfat, which is what he calls “Rockstar Hot.” Since he told me this, I’ve been carefully watching the physiques of women, although to be honest I’ve been doing that since early puberty.
There’s another issue. Women who can do three pull-ups and show some numbers on the barbell can also go out after a clinic and have a good time. Recently, a top female physique contestant told me at a bar that, “Oh, I can go out and party and not watch every single bite when I’m not peaking.” Unlike the “skinny fat” women who you normally see in the weekly magazines, this woman was strong enough that when she trained her body had to gather up a lot of resources to adapt and recover.
What does this mean for you? I’ve seen it many times at workshops and clinics. The skinny, weak guys bring their own weighed chicken breasts and magic protein bars for the whole day. When we do something physical, they fade into the corn rows. The big, strong guys who’ve never seen a strongman event will jump in and flail around dangerously close to death and dismemberment, but fight the good fight with the anvil, axle, or stone. Then, they eat passionately and without apology.
In other words, as Brett Jones taught me, absolute strength is the glass. Everything else is the liquid that goes into the glass. The bigger the glass, the bigger everything else can be for you.
So get stronger and eat more without freaking out about it.-

Get strong. Nuff said. Dave. –

There is much more of that available in his book, on his website and in the articles he writes for, among others, T-nation. But enough about him lets talk about me.


A complex is a series of movements done 1 after another for various rep schemes. If you keep the weight down and do loads of reps it’s one of the best ways I know to torch body-fat and get fit. If you do it for lower reps and massive-mega weights then you will torch body-fat, get fit, build muscle and become ungodly strong.

There are hundreds of ways to do them and an infinite variety of exercise combinations. I think that they’re best done with barbells or kettlebells and with using the big, scary compound movements.

For example:

  1. Snatch, Overhead squat, Back squat, Good mornings, Row, Deadlift.
  2. “The Bear” – Clean, Front squat, Press, Back squat, Press.
  3. Back squat, Press behind neck, Front squat, Romanian deadlift, Deadlift, Snatch
  4. Deadlift, High pull, Close grip snatch, Back squat, Good mornings, Row.

You could do any one of these for 5 circuits of 5 reps on each exercise with, let’s say, 40-60kg on the bar and feel like you’ve just been hit by a truck. Or you could do 3 circuits of 8 reps with 20-40kg at the start of a workout for a thorough warm up. It doesn’t matter how you do them – just do them!

Tuesdays and Thursdays are conditioning days for me and young Rhodders and for quite some time that has meant an entire session of complexes. We have a pink file, called The Pink File of Power, which has 17 complexes within it. They are all various types of disgusting to do in isolation but performed 1 after another take disgusting to new and interesting places.

What we are doing at the moment is 8 random complexes done for 6 reps. I use 42.5kg and Rhod wields 32.5kg. Each week we plan to add an extra rep until we can manage all the complexes for 8 reps. Then we will drop the reps back down to 5 and slam some more weight on the bar. Check out the video:

Once we have done the 8 complexes the it’s time for The Southwood Program!


This is a program that Dan John has made popular, although it was first inflicted upon him by an old High School coach. Yet again it’s simple. Don’t, however, make the mistake of thinking that simple means easy. Good grief no.

Get a bar loaded up with some weight. I would recommend starting quite light. Then you do this:

8 cleans, 8 presses, 8 squats (front or back), 8 bench press, 6 cleans, 6 presses, 6 squats, 6 bench press, 4 cleans, 4 presses, 4 squats, 4 bench press. Done.

You try to do all the reps with the same weight. Your rest between movements is limited to the amount of time it takes your partner(s) to complete their set. If you get the all the reps done – go heavier next time.

Rhod and I are doing it a little differently but only by going heavier on the bench press. Today I used 55kg on the clean, squat and press and 75kg on bench. Rhod used 45kg and 55kg respectively.

This would be an amazing program done in isolation without having to do all the Complex nonsense beforehand. Combined with the Complex nonsense it becomes one hell of a workout. Every muscle shredded and lungs bleeding from over exertion. Cardio without jogging. Fuck jogging.

Here’s the video. We both did all of it but I figured it would be more interesting and less traumatic for you if you didn’t have to put up with my sweaty, hairy mess of a body for the entire clip so Rhod’s in it as well.

Love and Pork chops,
Dave Carter.
Dave’s Gym.

1 Comment
  • Anonymous on August 15, 2012

    Struggling to get hold of his “Mass Made Simple” book in paperback (only available in Kindle edition) on Amazon.co.uk.

    Do you know if you can source any copies, Dave?

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