I started lifting weights in 2008. In that time, I have identified as a CrossFit athlete, powerlifter, and ultra-marathon runner.
From July 2015-May 2016, I had primarily been following CrossFit Invictus Competition Programming and individual Competitive Conjugate CrossFit Programming written by Caleb Sommer (podcast guest and 3x CrossFit Games athlete).
In April 2016, my training was getting noticeably stale. I was not eating well and had gained noticeable body-fat in a short period of time. I weighed in at 222lbs, which is the heaviest I have ever been.
Knowing that I will be overseas from November 2016-May 2017, I decided I was okay with the fact that I probably wouldn’t compete in CrossFit again in 2016. I had heard about the MASS program through friends, and after reading the e-book committed to taking a break from my normal training to drop the hammer on myself.
The following 16 weeks were probably the most challenging training season of my life. Here’s a recap of what happened:
**Update March 2018: Since this experiment, Pat has also released MASS II. You can check out the sequel to the original MASS program here.
Goal: Complete all 64 MASS workouts as prescribed while tightening up nutrition and sleep habits throughout the program.
Duration: May 9, 2016- August 26, 2016.
- Increase work capacity, muscle hypertrophy, and muscular strength.
- Regain the spark that was missing from my training.
- Experience another form of training that I hoped would improve my athletic abilities.
- See what all the hype surrounding the MASS program was about.
- Lose excess body-fat that had accumulated from being lazy.
In 16 weeks, I lost 16.5lbs of body-fat and got noticeably bigger and stronger. I received comments about looking leaner, stronger, and more muscular nearly every week during MASS. My work capacity is the best it’s ever been.
All of the things listed above were great, but there were two things that I learned during MASS that I truly think represent the overall experience of the program:
1. You won’t finish this program without being present.
My goal with the content here is to offer strategies you need to reach your goals. Something I’m starting to discover that has plagued my own achievement capabilities in previous years has been the inability to focus and stay present on what I’m doing. I’m the classic example of someone who gets too far ahead of himself, planning out the next great thing.
The MASS program by Pat Davidson was a vehicle that forced me how to learn how to stay focused and present. This program will bury you if you get ahead of yourself. You can’t get to Tuesday until you get past Monday, you don’t get to bench press until you’ve finished your deadlifts, and you don’t get to deadlift set #7 until you’ve done deadlift set #6.
2. You will understand how the human body functions and recovers better by the time you finish MASS.
You’ve been fatigued before, right? You’ve felt sore? Not like this. MASS put my body down a wormhole that I’ve never been down before. There were days at the beginning of MASS where I considered calling in sick to work because my body was so annihilated.
MASS was a science experiment from start to finish, but as the test subject, I was lucky enough to learn- and feel- some things that will make me a better athlete and a more capable coach.
FWIW: I performed the classic CrossFit workout “Fran” (21-15-9 95# thrusters, pull-ups) for shits and giggles the day after I completed MASS. Having not done a CrossFit workout in over 4 months, I beat my lifetime PR by 2 seconds with a time of 3:57. Not everyone reading this will understand the magnitude of this, but it felt important to include as another positive highlight to the program.
Also, I missed 2 workouts during the 16 weeks due to a busy schedule, so technically, I did not reach my goal of 64 workouts completed.
The Full Experiment
I didn’t prepare much for the program. After reading the e-book, which I highly recommend even if you don’t do the program, I made sure I understood each phase as it was written and got to work.
- Physical exhaustion and soreness throughout the program.
- Minor back pain from starting too heavy with deadlifts in phase 3.
- I started too heavy on deadlifts in this phase. Avoid my mistake and start with the prescribed percentages.
The 4 Phases of MASS
Following MASS was simple. Phase 1 and 2 consisted of the doing the same workout 4x per week for a month. Phase 3 and 4 consisted of an A and B workout to be completed 2x per week for a month. It was either go faster, add weight, or add reps.
* I won’t post the full protocol here. You can purchase the program HERE.
Without getting too specific, expect to do more deadlifts, back squats, bench presses and incline presses than you’ve ever done in your life. The movements are similar throughout, while the interval times change and rep schemes shift change with each phase.
An example: If I were to have completed the required number of deadlifts in phase 1 alone (spoiler alert: I didn’t even come close), we’re talking about 720 deadlifts at around 275lbs or heavier in one month. I’m only talking about 1 movement of many in this phase. Hopefully, that offers you some context.
I was in over my head from the very first day. By far, I made the most adjustments and endured the most pain during this initial phase. It kind of felt like the first two semesters of college, where classes weren’t too hard (relatively speaking, the weights aren’t that heavy in phase 1- if they are, you’re doing it wrong), but you still get crushed by the insane amount of work you have to get used to.
I hit a groove at the very end of phase 1, but I cannot remember a time in the life of my training where I’ve so desperately wanted a week of training to end.
If you find yourself going through the program and hitting that wall, I promise you can do it. Phase 1 of MASS was the single hardest month of training of my life. Bring your game face or you won’t make it out alive.
I remember being relieved as phase 2 started because I knew in my gut that there was literally no possible way it could be any harder than phase 1. Phase 2 is similar to phase 1, but the weights get heavier and the reps decrease.
The highlight of phase 2 was the muscle aches throughout the day as my body adjusted to the heavier weights. That was by far the most difficult part for me.
The program design is devilishly concocted, because just as your body starts getting used to the stress of phase 1, the weights and intensity go up, putting you right back where you started.
Interestingly, I wasn’t discouraged by this- it motivated me even more because I knew I could do it again.
I’ve never experienced the feeling of how your muscles contract quite like I did during phase 2. I’ve never appreciated good sleep, chugging full Nalgene water bottles, or quality food before bed like I did during all 4 phases of the program.
In phase 3, things change a little bit. I hadn’t had much experience with wave loading but was introduced to this style of training during this month. This was the most challenging phase other than phase 1 for me. You’ve come so far but still have so much more to go.
Of note, I went a little too heavy with the deadlifts early on in this phase. My back really started to bother me after the first week. As a result, I had to spend two weeks of phase 3 following the prescribed reps but using lighter weights. This was my fault.
I’m not sure if it was the training during phase 3 or my body catching up from the first two phases, but I grew a ton during this month. My shoulders got broader and all of my shirts started feeling tight because my back had clearly grown.
Everything came together in the final phase. By this point, I had never felt stronger or more powerful in my life. I expected phase 4 to crush me, but my experience was actually the opposite: I had grown so much from the first 3 phases that I was capable of handling the workload.
Don’t get me wrong, it was still a grueling month of training. Completing phase 4 without building up to it would not be a good idea if it’s even possible.
I think that’s a big takeaway from this program and other difficult life experiences: if you keep pushing hard enough, eventually the suck stops sucking. As one of my coaches used to say, you start ’embracing the suck’.
Result Of MASS by Pat Davidson:
The week I finished the program, I moved out of Denver. Since I’ve finished the program, I have maintained the same weight that I ended MASS with. This is the biggest and strongest I’ve ever been and I’m thrilled with how much I grew physically and as a person with this program.
This was the perfect program for me to run before I take a few months out of the gym to travel. My hat is off to Pat for creating a such a badass program, and I look forward to whatever he comes up with next.
You can listen to both episodes of Pat Davidson on the podcast here:
- EP16: How Pat Davidson is Revolutionizing The Fitness Industry
- EP41: On MASS II, Stress & Forming New Habits w/ Dr. Pat Davidson
MASS II, Pat’s sequel to the original program, can be found here.
TL;DR? If you are looking for life-changing results, do the program.
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