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Building the Monolith - Review & Experience


#1

I finished Building the Monolith - every set and rep and bite of beef and egg. I've never posted a review of a program, but I feel strongly enough about this one that I felt like I should take the time to share it. I decided I definitely needed to share this after last week, when a couple buddies of mine were "worried" about how the program focused so much on squats and overhead press while not having much for bench press and deadlift. Yesterday, after six weeks on Monolith and a one week deload, I started the Rest-Pause program (3/5/1) and they saw me bench 220 x 10 (a new PR). They're starting Monolith when they finish the cycle they're on. I also told the two of them that the Monolith program will make your penis longer; one of them has really high hopes for his future, now.

Background:
I'm 5'9", 195 pounds. I've lifted all kinds of programs for twenty years now, so I'm not experiencing beginner gains or whatever. I've been all 5/3/1, a little bit of a Wendler homer, and pleased with every result I've gotten since I decided to go all in with 5/3/1 about 14 months ago. I'm an average guy: literature and writing professor, dad and husband. I'm definitely not someone who can do things most others aren't physically capable of doing.

Review:
This program is amazing. To hit the reps, you have to find something in you that just doesn't give a damn, but that's okay because, by the final week, you've stopped caring: you're hitting that 20th squat even if you burst into flame.

The best part of the program is how simple it really is... it's one of the most straightforward roads to size gains that I've used. The only time my back has gotten noticeably bigger like this was following the six weeks of Spinal Tap II with deadlifts.

The surprise of the program is how much stronger this made me across every lift. I hit a new squat PR two days ago and (as I mentioned) the bench press PR yesterday. The confidence this program gave me also surprised me; when I walked out of that gym after each workout, I felt like I'd just climbed Olympus without a safety belt and bitch slapped Zeus.

The downside of the program is that I have had to buy some new clothes. They were already getting a little tight - button-ups and khakis are a must for my job but they're not always the best things to squeeze into - but the last six weeks made it clear that some money was going to be spent on replacing the tighter stuff. Even the downside has an upside: I've had college athletes asking me what I'm on. My wife really likes the new look.

Experience:
First, this is just based on my experience as a normal guy who was pretty nervous about some of the guidelines. None of it contradicts the guidelines, but still, don't take what I say as expert opinion:

DON'T BE FOOLED. The first couple of weeks aren't that bad, if memory serves me. But it gets intense.

FOOD. I did everything Jim said, down to the diet. I probably won't eat eggs again until 2016. I was worried I would get fat, but the mirror doesn't reflect that. Find ways to change up how you eat your food... that's definitely the only way I managed to get down all the eggs.

FASTING. If you follow any of the fasting protocols, even the LeanGains stuff, you may as well forget it. I dislike breakfast so I rarely eat before noon, but I had to eat on this plan because stuffing yourself with a pound of beef at dinner isn't fun.

DO NOT DO JOKER SETS WITH THIS PROGRAM. I did once, with deadlifts, and I almost had to stop the program and take a week off. Jim happened to post something like "smart lifters work around aches" or something to that effect, so that's what I did, and I persevered. I even asked about them right after the workout and Jim said I shouldn't do them with this plan. My back agreed the next day.

LEARN TO STRETCH and commit to it. Foam rolling, too. We have a massage chair that a crazy, rich aunt of mine gave us a year ago, and I sat in it every night. I doubt I could have recovered without those elements.

20-REP SQUATS. I did mine as the last exercise on the third day. That was sound advice from Jim.

DON'T GET CUTE. Don't try to superset the main movements. I know people who do this, and I did when I first started. Don't do it.

CONDITIONING. I followed that down to the letter, too. I don't have a prowler, so I did have to work around that. I won't say what I did, because it wasn't anything recommended here, but I didn't hurt myself, I didn't get fat, and I made the gains I hoped for.

Sorry this was long. Even if it doesn't get read, I felt like I owed it to the program and its creator to share my experience. If you're thinking about this but have had doubts, the only one you should be concerned about is whether you'll actually commit 100% to this.


#2

Good stuff man, I’ll be starting it soon.


#3

Great write-up. Once my bum knee heals, I may end up giving this a go based on your recommendation.


#4

nice! bookmarked this. will give it a shot when I settle into new job in a couple of weeks…


#5

Josh, thanks for the write-up and most important - thanks for doing the program as written. It is much appreciated.


#6

I even made the front page of jimwendler! Scratch that off my bucket list!


#7

Which of his books is this program in?


#8

He posted it on his website. Also, to the OP, it’d be nice if you could share any bodyweight increase you experienced and some of the notable PR’s you hit. Nice work


#9

[quote]turtletaub wrote:
He posted it on his website. Also, to the OP, it’d be nice if you could share any bodyweight increase you experienced and some of the notable PR’s you hit. Nice work [/quote]

I can’t give an accurate bodyweight or mass/fat increase because I had to stop measuring those things when I committed to 5/3/1. I would obsess about calories and weight, and all that happened was that I was that I didn’t get noticeably bigger or stronger. Once I stopped worrying about it, though, I did get bigger and stronger. I will say that I was 185 this time last year and now I’m about 195 (as of a recent physical). And as I stated, several people have mentioned that I look bigger.

I can give you some PR changes since I started a new round of 5/3/1:

Squat 235 x 6 (4), 225 x 8 (5)
Bench 220 x 10 (7), 200 x 13 (10)
Deadlift 275 x 8 (7)
OHD Press 135 x 6 (4)

  • numbers in () were previous PRs at that weight

I usually get shit when I post PRs because my squat is so weak compared to everything else. All I can say is that I’m working on it. I’ve always been weaker in the squat. Monolith really helped me beyond strengthening my squat… to get 20 reps those last couple of weeks I had to push myself, and I realized how much I had not been pushing myself on the squat for whatever reason.

There you have it. That’s about all I can give you as far as data goes!


#10

OP, could you go into a little further detail on the conditioning portion? I also don’t have a prowler (or weight vest, but wanted to know what to do as to follow the program closely enough. I do train as an O-Lineman 3 times a week (sled pushes etc.)


#11

[quote]shrike wrote:
OP, could you go into a little further detail on the conditioning portion? I also don’t have a prowler (or weight vest, but wanted to know what to do as to follow the program closely enough. I do train as an O-Lineman 3 times a week (sled pushes etc.) [/quote]

Jim would probably be better to answer this. I followed his conditioning recommendations. The changes I made:

  • rode a bike on flat ground for 45 minutes to mimic the AirDyne
  • walked every day for about 45 minutes, brisk pace (not run-walking, but brisk)
  • walk/jog 1-min/2-min rotation at ~12-minute pace for 30 minutes, twice a week

The goal was always to get blood flowing and was never strenuous.

I didn’t have a weight vest or prowler. That’s the only reason I made those changes. I don’t know how your O-Lineman training would factor into this, but I’d think it would.


#12

[quote]JoshRutherford wrote:
FOOD. I did everything Jim said, down to the diet. I probably won’t eat eggs again until 2016. I was worried I would get fat, but the mirror doesn’t reflect that. Find ways to change up how you eat your food… that’s definitely the only way I managed to get down all the eggs.

FASTING. If you follow any of the fasting protocols, even the LeanGains stuff, you may as well forget it. I dislike breakfast so I rarely eat before noon, but I had to eat on this plan because stuffing yourself with a pound of beef at dinner isn’t fun.[/quote]

Is this the first time you have eaten enough to sufficiently support your training?


#13

[quote]soupandspoons wrote:
Is this the first time you have eaten enough to sufficiently support your training?
[/quote]

No. It’s the first time I have eaten THAT much, but I’m not one of those people who tries to build muscle while eating at a deficit. And it’s basically impossible to read any of the 5/3/1 books and come away thinking that using this program on a deficit is what its creator intended.

That said, I’ve never been one to eat as much as was called for with this program. Also, I was being somewhat humorous when I made the statement because it was a lot of eggs to eat in one day.


#14

[quote]JoshRutherford wrote:

[quote]soupandspoons wrote:
Is this the first time you have eaten enough to sufficiently support your training?
[/quote]

No. It’s the first time I have eaten THAT much, but I’m not one of those people who tries to build muscle while eating at a deficit. And it’s basically impossible to read any of the 5/3/1 books and come away thinking that using this program on a deficit is what its creator intended.

That said, I’ve never been one to eat as much as was called for with this program. Also, I was being somewhat humorous when I made the statement because it was a lot of eggs to eat in one day.[/quote]

Goddamn - you just made my day. Thank you for realizing that.


#15

@OP How long did a workout usually take you? I started this on Monday and I strained a hammy and missed the last 4 sets and it still took me an hour and 10 minutes. I just got done with the second workout and had to cut it short because I was an hour and 15 minutes into the workout and only got halfway through the DB rows.

I’ve been running some version of 5/3/1 since March (FSL or BBB). I usually do 3-5 minutes rest on the main movement and 1-2 minutes of rest for the assistance stuff and get done in about an hour. For this program though, I cut the rest for the main movements down to 2 minutes, the assistance to 1 minute, and lowered my TM substantially and I feel that it is still taking me too long. Usually anymore than an hour and I’m not mentally into the program anymore.


#16

[quote]PhiKappaGuy wrote:
@OP How long did a workout usually take you?[/quote]

I don’t know how accurate this is, but my workout app (GymHero) reports that my average workout in September, which is when I did the bulk of the routine, was 1:08. That doesn’t include warm-ups or cooldowns. I usually gave myself, mentally and on my schedule, 90 minutes from the time I walked through the doors of the weight room. That meant I had to get creative about when I worked out, but my thinking was that having the timeframe that made me feel comfortable outweighed everything else.

[quote]PhiKappaGuy wrote:
I started this on Monday and I strained a hammy and missed the last 4 sets and it still took me an hour and 10 minutes. I just got done with the second workout and had to cut it short because I was an hour and 15 minutes into the workout and only got halfway through the DB rows.[/quote]

I believe the workout varies in length, but a couple of the days were longer than normal. I repeated this in my head when I started to “check out”: Something is always your top priority. Right now, it’s this set. Just do this set.

[quote]PhiKappaGuy wrote:
I’ve been running some version of 5/3/1 since March (FSL or BBB). I usually do 3-5 minutes rest on the main movement and 1-2 minutes of rest for the assistance stuff and get done in about an hour. For this program though, I cut the rest for the main movements down to 2 minutes, the assistance to 1 minute, and lowered my TM substantially and I feel that it is still taking me too long. Usually anymore than an hour and I’m not mentally into the program anymore.
[/quote]

I believe I used ~2-minute breaks between main movements and supersetted other movements using a ~1-minute break. I’m not an expert, but here are some things that might be affecting you:

  • Jim didn’t give a specific number of sets to get to the 100-rep range, so I tried to use a weight that let me do 15 - 20 reps per set for most of the exercises, even though my balls were embarrassed to hang around me while I did barbell curls without any plates on the bar. For pullups, I could do the 5x5 day (unweighted); the other day was accomplished like this: 5 sets AMRAP with bodyweight; 5 sets AMRAP negatives bodyweight; 5 sets with assistance bands.
  • I used a timer (GymHero app has one built in) and stuck to it. It’s easy to lose time when you don’t use a timer.
  • I didn’t add anything to the workout. For instance, I didn’t drop in three sets of inclined presses or do 3x10 butterflies or whatever. If you’re adding to it (which you may not be), that matters.

Beyond that, I don’t know what else to say. I walked in with my schedule set up for 90 minutes. I didn’t look at a clock until I left. I reset my timer so I wouldn’t know how long it had been. Yeah, it was a little regimented, but as soon as I read that program, I knew it was a challenge that I had to take on.


#17

Thanks for the reply.

“- Jim didn’t give a specific number of sets to get to the 100-rep range, so I tried to use a weight that let me do 15 - 20 reps per set for most of the exercises, even though my balls were embarrassed to hang around me while I did barbell curls without any plates on the bar. For pullups, I could do the 5x5 day (unweighted); the other day was accomplished like this: 5 sets AMRAP with bodyweight; 5 sets AMRAP negatives bodyweight; 5 sets with assistance bands.”

       I am doing the same thing for the 100 reps. I do 5x20. The pull-ups I hit a set of five after every exercise. So I would squat, chin, squat, chin, etc.. Then the same with press, face pulls, and dips. And it took me the whole work out to get them in.

"- I used a timer (GymHero app has one built in) and stuck to it. It’s easy to lose time when you don’t use a timer. "

       I don't use an app but I do use the stopwatch on my phone to keep track of time.
  • I didn’t add anything to the workout. For instance, I didn’t drop in three sets of inclined presses or do 3x10 butterflies or whatever. If you’re adding to it (which you may not be), that matters.

         I didn't and won't add anything else. This is more than enough volume for me. 
    

I think that my training maxes combined with the extra volume might be contributing to the longer than usually workouts.


#18

One thing I did, and I don’t know whether this is advisable, was during the last weeks when there were a lot of OH presses: I would squat after every other set of shoulder presses. So

OH Press set #1
Squat Bar x 20

OH Press set #3
Squat 95 x 10

Or whatever. I don’t remember the exact way I did it - and my workout log is in my office on campus - but I ended up timing it so that I was finishing my OH Press and my squats at the same time. This was on the 20-rep squat day; this usually kept me from feeling winded and it saved some time.


#19

[quote]PhiKappaGuy wrote:
@OP How long did a workout usually take you? I started this on Monday and I strained a hammy and missed the last 4 sets and it still took me an hour and 10 minutes. I just got done with the second workout and had to cut it short because I was an hour and 15 minutes into the workout and only got halfway through the DB rows.
[/quote]

You need to be honest with yourself and ask if you are truly ready for the volume AND intensity. Are you able to superset in assistance work within your main and supplemental lifts in your usual templates? If not, it’s okay, you just have some yards to run yet. Come back when you’re ready.

Use an 85% TM. I actually would double check that your TM (90%) hasn’t crept up above 90% of your 1RM before starting.

The program says only the first 3 movements are mandatory, gauge your recovery and use your experience to judge if you should do the additional work.


#20

[quote]tsantos wrote:

[quote]PhiKappaGuy wrote:
@OP How long did a workout usually take you? I started this on Monday and I strained a hammy and missed the last 4 sets and it still took me an hour and 10 minutes. I just got done with the second workout and had to cut it short because I was an hour and 15 minutes into the workout and only got halfway through the DB rows.
[/quote]

You need to be honest with yourself and ask if you are truly ready for the volume AND intensity. Are you able to superset in assistance work within your main and supplemental lifts in your usual templates? If not, it’s okay, you just have some yards to run yet. Come back when you’re ready.

Use an 85% TM. I actually would double check that your TM (90%) hasn’t crept up above 90% of your 1RM before starting.

The program says only the first 3 movements are mandatory, gauge your recovery and use your experience to judge if you should do the additional work.
[/quote]

Thanks for the reply tsantos. I do usually superset with assistance but not with my main movement. Also, I lowered my TMs and I am using an 85% TM for this cycle. For the last cycle my TMs were:

OHP - 205
Squat - 480
Bench - 325
Deadlift - 540

For this cycle of Building the Monolith:

OHP - 195
Squat - 425
Bench - 305
Deadlift - 480