BUILDING THE MONOLITH: ROUND 2
As part of my participation in my own 6 month training block for hypertrophy comprised of 5/3/1 BBB Beefcake, 5/3/1 Building the Monolith and Deep Water Beginner and Intermediate, I found myself once again accomplishing one of the most brutal programs I’d ever run: Building the Monolith. I’ve done an extensive write up of my experience the first time I ran this, but for summary: it’s the first program that ever made me want to quit. On day 1 of the first week, after it was all said and done, and I spent about 15 minutes in the shower staring at my feet wondering what I had gotten myself in to. This time, I came in prepared, having a much better idea of what was in store for me, and, in turn, how I wanted to do things this time around. I am going to detail the various modifications I’ve made along with my experiences and the outcome.
When I originally ran the program, I did my best to abide by the rules of “a dozen eggs and 1.5lbs of ground beef a day”. I ended up more along the lines of 8-12 eggs a day and 2-2.5lbs of meat a day (not necessarily ground beef, but sometimes steak, ribs, chops, roast, etc). Eating that way, I put on 4.5lbs in 6 weeks, didn’t accumulate any noticeable bodyfat, and was well recovered for every workout. I knew it worked…and, in turn, had no real need to prove it again. Instead, I stuck with what I had been doing for BBB Beefcake and what I intend to do for Deep Water: my “Deep Mountain” approach to eating. Effectively using Jon Andersen’s Deep Water as the frame work, but also abiding by John Meadows “Mountain Dog Diet” principles regarding nutrition sources. In addition, I’d allow myself some things that weren’t Deep Water approved but WERE Mountain Dog approved (specifically organic wild blueberries and dark chocolate).
As a shift worker, my nutrition could get a little wild. This is what a day of working the early shift looked like the morning that I pushed the prowler for training.
0315: Wake up, eat 2 whole organic free range eggs/1 egg white (eyeballed) mixed with 2.25oz of grassfed organic New York strip steak, half an avocado, some grassfed butter and grassfed organic sour cream and fat free cheese, along with a keto waffle slathered with a heaping serving of organic sunbutter (no sugar added) and sugar free apricot preserves. 1 cup of cashew milk.
0430: 8oz drinkable egg whites mixed with 1 scoop of protein powder and a serving of “amazing grass” greens supplement
0500: 3/4 cup fat free greek yogurt mixed with a protein scoop of Naked PB powder and 1/3 cup of wild blueberries (sadly, these seem to be tearing up my guts, so I’ll be dropping them soon) with a small amount of fat free whipped cream, cinnamon and salt.
0600: 1 lite n fit yogurt and 1 oikos triple zero yogurt with an energy drink
0630: 1 mini reese’s dark chocolate peanut butter cup
0700: 1 quest bar
0730: 1 lilly’s sugar free dark chocolate peanut butter cup
0800: Organic deli turkey and sliced ham sandwich on keto bread w/lettuce, tomato, pickle, mustard and walden’s zero cal mayo
0900: 5 small mushrooms, 2 mini peppers and a slice of organic deli turkey
1000: Costco brand “healthy noodles” mixed with organic ground turkey and no sugar added tomato pasta sauce (11oz of total product)
1100: 110 calorie/26g protein Ahi tuna packet
1200: 5 small mushrooms, 2 mini peppers and a slice of ham
1300: 6 walnuts, 6 macadamia nuts, and a square of 92% dark chocolate
1400: 8.5oz of organic ground turkey breast fajitas w/ 1/4 avocado (no shell, cooked without oil)
1500: 1 archer country grass-fed mini beef stick
1530: 1 more of those beef sticks
1600: 8.5oz of those fajitas w/ 1/4 avocado
1930 1/3 cup of grassfed organic cottage cheese mixed with 2 organic free range whole eggs, 1.75oz of grassfed beef, 3 celery stalks w/nuts n more spread, a slice of keto bread with organic almond or peanut butter with some more apricot spread, and a keto brownie made with olive oil, along with a cup of cashew milk.
This is exhausting just to write out, let alone eat. I’m effectively eating something every half hour, primarily because training like this makes me hungry as hell and I’m eating to recover from training. It’s a lot of quality nutrients, and I’m proud of myself for not relying on “dirt” to get me through. I started allotting myself a weekly cheat meal, typically on Friday nights, but these were not the eating binges I used to engage in, and instead just a time to enjoy a yummy meal with my family. Frequently it was an 8” keto pizza at a local place along with some curly fries. I saw pronounced benefits in my physique and performance by including this.
Conditioning is where people tend to screw up BtM. Primarily because they don’t do it. Jim says point blank “Conditioning or cardio is mandatory – 3-4 times/week” in the article where BtM originates, but I find many trainees never actually read the article and just opt for spreadsheets, apps, and other lazy approaches. Laziness begets inferior results, and it’s also why people balk at the diet: yeah, if all you do is lift weights 3x a week, that diet is too much. If you’re lifting weights 3x a week AND doing conditioning 3-4x a week, you are TRAINING, and you need calories. Consequently, this was something I discovered about BtM the first time that I subsequently forgot about and re-discovered: you’re pretty much LIVING training for 6 weeks on this program. You train every single day of the week. You miss a day? Now you’re playing catch up. It can really grind on your mind.
All that said, I went hardcore on conditioning this time around. My rule was to do what Jim recommended as the minimum, and then, after that, I could do what I wanted. An “eat your vegetables first” approach. So yes: I DID push the prowler with 90% of my bodyweight on it for 10 trips of 40 yards with 60 seconds rest between sets….and built up to 14 trips with 45 seconds rest. I DID go on a 2 mile weighted vest walk with 80lbs…and built up to an incline treadmill walk starting at a 9 incline and working up to a 10.5 for 2.5 miles. I sold my Airdyne before that was cool to do, so instead of that I did my Juarez Valley front squat workout detailed during BBB Beefcake (to review: front squat a weight for 8-10 reps, do 5 six count burpees, then do 1 rep of front squats, 5 burpees, now do 1 fewer front squat rep than the topset, 5 burpees, 2 front squats, 5 burpees, continue the trend until you meet in the middle), as I found it had a similar effect to cycling regarding helping my legs heal. I’d chase that particular workout with a belt squat stripset.
But on top of all of this, I did a lot of WOD style workouts. I’d always do Crossfit’s “Grace” workout with an axle the day I did Workout 1 for the week, and ended up setting a lifetime PR of 2:46, along with SEVERAL sub-3 minute times while on the program. I had Fran regularly included in the rotation, using strict chins vs kipping ones, but also found myself researching other crazy WODs that could be done with just a barbell, bodyweight, dumbbells and a kettlebell and just running it. I did some sort of conditioning EVERY day, and often multiple conditioning workouts a day on top of the lifting. Once again, COVID has made it that there really isn’t much else for me to do, and I have a solid home gym set-up, so I’m making the most of it.
To start with, I used the following equipment.
- On weeks 1, 3, 4 and 6, I pressed with the Ironmind Apollon’s axle for all workouts. On weeks 2 and 5, I used the Titan 12” log for the third workout of the week.
- On weeks 1, 3, 4 and 6, I used a Texas deadlift bar for deadlifting. On weeks 2 and 5, I used a Texas Power Bar.
- For all bench workouts, I used the Apollon’s axle.
- For all squatting, I used the Ironmind Buffalo Bar.
- For shrugs, I used the Ironmind Apollon’s axle and set it up against bands
- Used the same axle for curls
- For chins, I used a multi-grip station that attached to my Titan rack, and used an Ironmind belt and loading pin to add weight
And I executed the program with the following modifications.
- Once again, I made extensive use of giant and supersets to make the workouts faster. I’m not going to go into the full on details, but big movements were paired with one others (squats, chins and presses, deadlifts and benching, etc). I was able to knock out everything in week 1 in under an hour again, so I didn’t feel a need to keep timing myself after that.
- I took the widowmaker set on the 3rd lifting day beyond 20 reps, getting very near failure on many of them. The initially had me in the 30+ range, and as weight went up, reps went down, but it was still a total ballbuster. I contemplated turning it into a set of breathing squats instead, but with Deep Water on the horizon, I wanted to train my ability to execute high rep squats.
Second week’s widowmaker
Final week’s widowmaker
- I took all presses from the floor with only 2 exceptions: the topset of presses on weeks 3 and 6, workout 1 were taken out of the rack. For the first workout of the week, I’d take the weight off the floor and press away. For the 3rd workout of the week, I’d take all REPS off the floor, and use a “touch and go” clean approach to REALLY keep the back under tension. And on those weeks I used the log, I viper pressed each rep. The intent on this was the make pressing VERY full body and increase the intensity of the training with the goal of making it even more hypertrophic (holy hell that’s a real word).
- All deadlifts were touch and go. I’ve written about this several times, but if your goal is to build muscle, you wanna pull touch and go. Your body stays under load for MUCH longer that way.
- Curls were done as Poundstone curls (1 single set), with an unloaded axle getting to 160 reps and an axle loaded with 2.5lbs per side taken to 103 reps.
- I paused benches when possible. Pretty much any time I could make things harder, I would.
- Shrugs were done against bands. It’s how I like to do them, because it’s a lot easier than loading up a few million plates.
- After the day 1 workout was done, I’d do a stripset of lateral raises for a total of 80 reps.
- After the day 2 workout was done, on days I had time, I’d do an incline DB bench stripset.
- On top of all of this, I was still doing my daily work of 50 dips, 50 chins, 50 band pull aparts, 40 bodyweight reverse hypers, 30 GHRs, 25 band pull aparts, 20 standing ab wheels, and 11 neck bridges in 4 directions (forward, backward, left and right). If a workout included any of the daily work, I wouldn’t double up on it, but otherwise I made sure to hit these numbers minimum each day.
Once again, my intent in running this program was to have training that was hard enough to force me to eat to recover, and this did exactly that. Picking the right TM goes a long way, because week 3 and 6’s numbers are both so daunting that you spend 2 weeks going “Oh f**k” while you eat and train as hard as you can to ensure that you’ll be able to meet the mark when the time comes.
What I found interesting about this time around was that BtM felt more like an intensification phase vs an accumulation phase after running BBB Beefcake first. Beefcake had lots of reps while the intensity was on the lower end, whereas BtM had high intensity sets across and had me moving much heavier loads. Sure: the assistance work was heartier, but the main/supplemental work stayed heavy while the volume was on the low side. I actually think this makes the two programs pair VERY well together, and, under the “leader/anchor” construct, I think this is a solid way to about training the two. Prior to BBB Beefcake, I was running SVR II, and I think that might actually be a sound way to structure some long training blocks, and may even be what I end up doing once this whole phase is over.
The modifications really drove home some hypertrophy demands, specifically taking the widowmaker sets far and cleaning each rep on the 10+ sets of cleans. This put some heavily metabolic demands on my body, and made all that nutrition valuable. The heavy emphasis on conditioning continued that.
Once again, I did not weigh myself throughout this process, but my lifts went up and my body grew as a result of eating the get through the program, and that’s ultimately what matters. I am primed and ready for Deep Water.
Start of program
End of program