I tossed my cell phone onto the couch, stood up, and exhaled loudly. Instant relief. I had just finished an hour-long phone interview with SM, the insider responsible for schooling me on what is allegedly one of the world's most effective hypertrophy programs, and now I understood.
The phone call with SM was the last piece of the puzzle on my quest to dissect the specifics of Doggcrapp training — "DC" to its advocates. Were people really gaining up to 50 pounds of muscle in one year while training just three days per week? Was "extreme stretching" a viable methodology rooted in science, or was it a branch of mookonomics, the peculiar belief system of the most passionate but least informed muscleheads?
And just what the hell was "blasting" and "cruising," and how did it differ from other periodization models? These were all questions I wondered before we began.
A few days before, I'd read more than 100 pages of forum posts and articles, and even traded short emails with Dante Trudel, the creator of the program, who promptly rejected my request for an interview. His note caught me off guard.
"I just don't want to talk about it with anybody. Sorry."
I immediately replied. "Is there any one else I can talk with?"
The next day, Trudel emailed me back. I had a feeling he did so reluctantly.
"There's a guy I have full confidence in who could answer your questions. I attached his number."
So I called Trudel's mystery informant.
"He just doesn't want DC training to be this huge, popular thing," SM told me when I asked about Trudel's detached disposition. "He hates trends and doesn't want people to see it as one."
Trudel's response suddenly made a little more sense. Perhaps it was a protective measure from a passionate coach tired of seeing his master thesis bastardized and manipulated by unenlightened gym rats. Or maybe he was just really sick of talking about it.
Regardless, T Nation readers aren't your average gym rats. We know the beauty of a well-written program, but also carry a healthy skepticism and demand proof of results, whether they come from the laboratory or from gym experience. We won't just swallow any old turd of a program, even if at first glance it appears to be a Snickers bar. We'll at least sniff it first.
Stepping in Crapp
"So why did Dante send me to you?" I asked SM when our conversation began.
"Because I got where he was coming from. I did so much research — more than I probably should have — and he caught on that I knew my stuff. Most other guys make it way too complicated."
A DC convert since 2006, SM has gained over 50 pounds of muscle since he started.
"Dante's a great observer," he told me soon after we started talking. "He started off like most guys and did high-volume programs he got out of Flex." But at 19 years old, six-foot-one, and 137 pounds, it was obvious it wasn't working for the DC creator.
"He started interviewing a bunch of top bodybuilding pros, and realized the biggest guys often had three things in common," SM said. "They trained as heavy as they could. They trained each body part more than once per week. And they were all relatively flexible. That, I think, was the impetus for DC training."
Armed with a new philosophy to go with years of gym experience, Trudel came up with a system that not only stood in direct defiance of the traditional bodybuilder's routine, but also helped him pack well over 100 pounds of muscle onto his frame. By his own account, he reached 242 pounds training drug-free, got up to 303 with steroids (and felt miserable at that size), and now, at age 40, is content with a body weight that ranges from 270 to 287.
Trudel unleashed Doggcrapp, named after his screen name on a popular bodybuilding forum, to the masses in 1999.
Developed exclusively for the advanced trainee interested in rapid hypertrophy — "Don't even think about trying DC if you've been in the gym for less than three years, or are a weekend warrior guy," SM warned — Doggcrapp training has been called sadistic, intense, traumatic, and amazing, and has garnered attention from professional bodybuilders such as David Henry, Junior USA champion Jason Wojciechowski, and thousands of other pro, amateur, and wannabe bodybuilders around the world.
DC is centered on the belief that using progressively heavier weights, training with lower overall volume, and hitting each body part more than once a week is the perfect way to stimulate muscle fibers and subsequently build mounds of muscle.
While a typical bodybuilder might train each individual muscle group once per week — 52 times a year — with multiple sets and reps, DC focuses on hitting the same body part at least 50 percent more often, but with only one real work set per training session.
That one set, as you probably guessed, is absolutely brutal.
"The cornerstone of DC training is the rest-pause technique," SM explained. "It's what makes DC so damn hard and effective."
If you read this recent T Nation article by Clay Hyght, you're familiar with rest-pause training.
Here's the official DC methodology, which is slightly different from Dr. Clay's version:
Say you're getting ready to do barbell military presses. After a few warm-up sets (there's no specific guideline for this, according to SM; just do what you need to do to get your joints and muscles ready to work), you load the bar with a weight you think you can lift 10 times. Do as many reps as you can with perfect form until technical failure, the point at which you can't do another perfect rep.
Put the weight down and take 10 to 15 deep belly breaths. "The deep breaths help supply the body with oxygen and let you partially recover," SM said.
Pick up the weight and do another set of perfect reps until you once again reach technical failure.
Set it down, take 10 to 15 more breaths, and then bang out a few more perfect reps.
Your goal is to do between 11 and 15 total reps. "If you get 15 or more, you know you'll have to increase the weight the next time you do the exercise," SM explained. And if you get fewer than 11, it means you need to either lower the weight or shoot for more reps the next time.
To make it even more brutal, some advanced guys do one static rep to extend the set. Continuing with the shoulder press example, after you set the weight down for the third time, you'd take 10 to 15 more breaths, pick it up, and then hold it in a "power position" (elbows slightly bent), with the muscles under tension for 30 to 60 seconds. But this is only recommended for advanced guys.
Not every exercise uses the rest-pause technique. "For safety reasons, we don't do it on quads, calves, or back-thickness exercises like deadlifts, rack pulls, or bent-over rows," SM said. They do straight sets for those exercises.
Not every rep range is between 11 and 15. On the Widowmaker, for example, you do an all-out set of 20 reps on the squat with a heavy weight.
Even on rest-pause sets, the reps will end up between 20 and 30 for biceps and triceps exercises, and if you switch to dumbbells over barbells or machines on compound exercises, you'll also increase reps.
The reps may be high, but that doesn't mean any aspect of the training is easy. On DC message boards, a regular theme is the need to work hard enough to elicit a positive response from each rep.
"If guys stopped being pussies in the gym and actually started pushing themselves, they'd see a lot more muscle growth," SM said. "That's why we usually only have one set to complete, technical failure. You have to work hard."
Since I've heard those words before, I had to ask: How is this different from high-intensity training?
"Arthur Jones' HIT had 12 to 15 exercises done in circuit fashion, and he hardly used warm-up sets," SM replied. "Sure, they used low volume and trained to failure, but that's where the similarities end.
"Darden's stuff about only picking eight exercises and stopping short of failure is a step in the right direction, but it still wouldn't work long-term for advanced guys. And Mentzer had the right idea, but then went way off the deep end with post-failure training and pre-exhausts. He threw negatives, statics, drops, and everything but the kitchen sink into his sets. His trainees were toast."
According to SM, Doggcrapp is the perfect middle ground because it allows you to combine the best aspects of all-out failure training with optimal training frequency.
Cutting the Crapp
To the outsider, DC training can be confusing, since the methodologies seem to have been written in stone, and at the same time left open to personal interpretation. Make changes to the plan too soon after starting, and you'll feel the wrath of the Doggpound — the fervent followers of DC — who'll say you're setting yourself up for failure. But if you don't change the program to meet your individual needs, they'll say you're begging for lackluster results.
Here's what I mean:
Trudel recommends that every DC beginner start off with what's called a two-way split. T Nation readers would probably recognize it as an ABA, BAB split, which looks like this:
Monday Workout A
Wednesday Workout B
Friday Workout A
Monday Workout B
Wednesday Workout A
Friday Workout B
Every "A" workout targets these body parts, in this order:
The "B" workout hits these muscles, in this order:
That's the "written in stone" part. "We really hate it when guys start tweaking the program and start moving body parts around," SM told me. "Dante's been doing this for 17 years, and has tried all the variations. I don't know why people think they need to make it better."
I can tell him why: Because it's completely counterintuitive to train big, strong muscles like hamstrings and quads at the end of the B workout, after training smaller muscles like biceps, forearms, and calves.
SM has heard the question about exercise order many times before, and has an answer: "We try to put the hardest exercises last so we don't have to save energy for the rest of the workout if we were to do them first."
When he hears the predictable follow-up to his response — "What the hell does that mean?" — he offers some clarification:
"After doing a straight set of squats, followed by a Widowmaker, the last thing you'd want to do is train more. That's why we put them at the end. So we can wait 15 minutes and then crawl out of the gym."
Old Dogg, New Tricks
Next comes exercise selection — the "open to personal interpretation" part. For each muscle group, you pick three exercises, which must meet two criteria:
• They offer the best results for the effort.
• They offer you the best chance to significantly increase the amount of weight you lift, over time.
So a military press is a good choice for training shoulders in Workout A, since you can progress from 100 to 200 pounds. But a lateral raise is a bad choice, since you can only increase in smaller increments — from 25 to 50 pounds, say. In either case you'd be doubling your strength on that exercise, but the focus is on the raw numbers rather than percentage increases. (That'll make more sense when you read the next section, in which SM explains Doggcrapp's approach to progression and periodization.)
These are considered the best exercises for each body part:
Incline press (barbell, Smith machine, dumbbells)
Decline press (barbell, Smith machine, dumbbells)
Chest machine (Hammer Strength, Cybex, Nautilus, etc.)
Dip (wide grip, if shoulder health allows it)
The barbell press on a flat bench is shunned, although it's fine to use dumbbells. If you really can't resist the urge, Trudel recommends benching like a powerlifter, with your elbows tucked.
Military press (standing or seated, using a barbell or Smith machine)
Wide reverse-grip Smith machine press
Close-grip press (barbell or Smith machine)
Pull-up or chin-up
Lat pulldown (wide, close, reverse, neutral)
Barbell bent-over row (overhand or underhand)
Hammer Strength row (this is the only back thickness exercise on which you're encouraged to use the rest-pause technique)
Barbell standing curl
Dumbbell alternating curl
Cable curl (any bar attachment)
Pinwheel curl (a diagonal hammer curl, in which you bring the weight to your chest)
Barbell reverse curl
Forearm exercises use straight sets exclusively.
Standing calf raise
Seated calf raise
Donkey calf raise
Doggpounders train calves with one straight set, 10 to 12 reps. Sound easy? It totally isn't. On each rep, you do a five-second negative, hold in the fully stretched position at the bottom for 15 seconds, and then do an explosive concentric, coming all the way up on your toes. According to SM, calves are one of the most intense and painful body parts to work.
Romanian or stiff-legged deadlift
All quadriceps exercises are done with one straight set of four to eight reps, followed by as much rest as you need, and then a Widowmaker — 20 reps — of the same exercise.
Once you've chosen your three exercises for each body part, you slot them into Workout A or B, and then rotate through them. (You'll find a complete sample workout at the end of this article.)
So the first time you do A, you'll use your first selection of each exercise. Next time, you'll use your second selection, and the third time you'll use your third selection. Thus, you do six different workouts — three each of A and B — in the first two weeks, then repeat those workouts in weeks three and four.
The exercises you select should reflect your needs and goals. "If you have a weak chest, you don't want to do skull crushers for your triceps," SM said. You'd pick dips or close-grip bench presses instead, giving you an extra exercise for your chest without cheating your triceps.
Interestingly, Doggcrapp followers are agnostic when it comes to exercise equipment. They'll train with barbells, dumbbells, cables, Hammer Strength machines, and even the widely condemned Smith machine.
"You're going to run out of free-weight compound exercises pretty fast," SM explained. "Besides, machines allow you to get into different mechanical positions and grips. It's not a last resort. It's a regular part of the program."
I asked SM how often should you change exercises. The answer is pretty straightforward: "As soon as you're no longer adding weight to the bar, or if your progress has significantly dropped off, then you know it's time to switch the exercise up."
According to Trudel, one of the worst things you can do is to change exercises while still gaining strength on your current program. The idea is to squeeze everything you can out of each exercise you do. Once you've topped out, try something else ... and squeeze the hell out of that one, too.
"You can always come back to the original exercise after a few more cycles," SM told me. "You'll actually be surprised at how much more weight you can handle when you get back to it."
Cardio Is Crapp
Doggcrapp, unlike HIT and some other all-or-nothing training philosophies, includes regular cardio. Trudel recommends that most guys start off with three to four 30-minute sessions of low-intensity cardio on non-training days.
"We usually do it before breakfast so we use fat instead of glycogen for energy," SM said.
What about high-intensity interval training, or martial arts, or sports in general?
"If you think you can do HIIT or MMA, or even play flag football on the weekends, then you're out of your mind," SM explained. "The training is just way too intense to be able to do any of that on your off-days."
A Dogg with Wings
So far, what I've described seems like a complete training program. You've got wipeout-intensity strength training, with low-intensity cardio on your non-training days. What else could there be?
Stretching. And not the kind that feels good, or that you do to improve mobility or function. They call it "extreme" stretching, the goal of which is to expand the fascia surrounding the muscle bellies, allowing the muscle to grow bigger than it otherwise would.
"Dante got it from John Parrillo back in the '80s," SM said. "There was a particular study done on birds that showed after they stretched a muscle and did a biopsy on the wing, it had a significant increase in muscle fibers and size."
Whether you agree with the theory or not — the study cited was from the mid-1990s, and involved birds that didn't need to fly after the researchers finished stretching their wing muscles — it's an integral part of the DC program and not taken lightly. In fact, the stretches are usually done with added weight. A stretch for your chest, for example, may involve holding some relatively heavy dumbbells in the bottom position of a flat dumbbell flye.
"You have to try and hold each stretch for 60 to 90 seconds, although most people can only handle 30 seconds or so at first," SM explained. "It's hell."
Crapping All Over Your Book
Walk into any gym and you'll see two types of people who carry logbooks around: absolute beginners, and really advanced guys.
Unfortunately, most of us fall right into that middle area.
"The logbook is the whole program," SM told me. "How the hell are you supposed to progress if you don't even know what you lifted two weeks ago?"
That's why every single DC training session — from the actual working sets to the stretches — is meticulously documented.
"With my methods, you're held accountable for today's workouts versus the last time you did the exact same workout," Trudel explained in an interview a few years ago. "My trainees look back on their logbooks and find out that they are sometimes lifting 50 to 200 pounds heavier on those exercises months later. What does that equal? Adaptation and rapid muscle-mass accumulation."
Spend some time surfing through the posts here and you'll see quite a few mentions of "beating the logbook."
If there's one thing to learn from Doggcrapp training that applies to just about any other system you try, this may be the most important.
Puppy Uppers and Doggy Downers
A common complaint from people not familiar with DC is that it's pure annihilation without relaxation.
Here at T Nation, we know that any program worth the paper it's written on has some sort of periodization model to manage fatigue and allow your muscles to recuperate fully. It also helps you avoid overthinking as much as overtraining; if you know what you're going to do next, there's less temptation to jump from plan to plan, which guarantees mediocre results.
DC followers have a kind of periodization, which they call "blast" and "cruise." (It isn't completely dissimilar to Dave Tate's concept of "blast" and "dust".)
"We call it that because it's literally what we're doing," SM said. "The blast is six to 12 weeks of hell. You work your ass off in the gym and push yourself to the limit on each workout. The logbook tells you how intense you need to be."
That's followed by a "cruise" of somewhere between 10 and 14 days.
When you decide to end the blast is more of a personal choice. "If you're feeling motivated and staying hungry, you can keep on blasting," SM explained. "Everyone will be different, though. If you need more recovery, you should only blast every six weeks or so. If not, you can be on the higher end of the spectrum."
So what do you do when you cruise? Usually, not a damn thing.
"Most guys may not even go into the gym for those 10 days," SM said. "And if they do, they'll probably just do some cardio or some lighter straight sets. The whole point is to give your body a break."
Unfortunately, some newbies get so excited about their recent gains in muscle size that they completely neglect the cruise portion and keep blasting for months.
"That's a sure-fire way to burn out completely," SM said. "My big indicator is hunger. When I start feeling like I can't stuff six meals down anymore, it's usually time to cruise."
A Diet That's Totally Crapp
Which brings us to another integral part of the DC program: diet.
"If I had to compare it to anything, I'd say it's more like the G-Flux concept," SM offered. "Dante wants his trainees to be human blast furnaces."
That means creating a tremendous demand for food via incredibly hard training, and then forcing your body to accept more. Like everything else we've learned about DC, it's not as much fun as it sounds.
In a blast phase, DC trainees usually consume 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight, spread evenly over six meals. So a 180-pound guy will take in a whopping 360 grams of protein per day, or 60 grams per meal. That's the equivalent of an 8-ounce sirloin steak with all the fat trimmed off, or 3 scoops of Low-Carb Metabolic Drive.
"Most of the guys have a certain time of the day where they completely cut out carbs," SM said. "It's usually four to six hours before they go to bed, so their last few meals are pretty much exclusively protein and some veggies."
The only caveat to that is if you train at night; you should always have a post-workout shake.
During a cruise phase, you'd go down to five meals a day, and about 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
"This is the way I have found through trial and error that I can keep myself and people I train fairly lean, but still have them gaining at the highest rate," Trudel wrote in a forum post. "I'm not a calorie counter at all. I'm a protein-gram counter." And since all of Trudel's trainees take in very high amounts of protein, he immediately knows what to change if they're not gaining weight. According to his forum posts, he'll recommend more monounsaturated fats, flaxseeds, and carbs.
As you can imagine, the T Nation coaches and contributors I surveyed aren't totally on board with Doggcrapp. Mike Robertson, for example, takes issue with the order of exercises in DC workouts:
"Why on earth would you prioritize biceps and forearms over quads and hamstrings? Let's think long-term training here. If you're constantly prioritizing your chest and shoulders over your back, hitting your chest when you're the freshest and your back when you have the least amount of energy, you're setting yourself up for joint problems. From a bodybuilding standpoint, I can see the rationale. But other than that, it doesn't make sense."
The intensive muscle stretching provoked this comment from another coach:
"It reminds me of the people that hang weights from their dongs, hoping to get more size out of it. Sure, if you let gravity take over and traumatize yourself, you'll probably get some growth. But I don't want to go through that shit."
And then there's a question I have that's perhaps more fundamental: If the methods work so well for rapid hypertrophy, why isn't DC training more popular than it is?
One reason, SM told me, is that it's a system designed for only one purpose: extreme muscle growth. If you aren't an extremely serious bodybuilder, willing to turn over a big chunk of your life and a massive percentage of your energy, it's not for you. If you're a serious athlete, recreational or competitive, it's not for you.
Terms like "functional" and "sport-specific" are controversial — they mean something a little different to everyone who uses them — but no matter how you define them, Doggcrapp is almost certainly the opposite.
And for someone who's under a lot of stress with work or family obligations, DC may be the worst possible choice of training systems. It would run you into the ground.
But even among bodybuilders, there's some resistance, possibly because DC looks deceptively simple on paper. As one forum poster put it, "In less than an hour, I got through chest, shoulder, tris, and back width and back thickness. Even though I left the gym totally and completely wiped (on the verge of puking, actually), some part of my brain kept telling me that I hadn't done enough."
Then again, popularity isn't the point.
"I think people have gotten me wrong over the years," Trudel wrote in a recent forum post. "I'm not trying to push DC training on anyone. I could give a crap how you train. I'm not making infomercials, books, or videos. So don't ask anyone to prove to you why you should be training [with DC]. They already proved to themselves why they want to keep training this way."
Even though I've just started experimenting with DC workouts, this makes the most sense to me. It's novel, but it's not fun. The potential benefits to my physique seem otherworldly, but I'm not sure if I want to take that kind of risk with my shoulder joints. And I flat-out know I don't want to follow the DC diet, pounding down close to 400 grams of protein a day.
So I'm left with this: I admire the hell out of Trudel and SM for their intelligence, passion, and dedication to the pursuit of muscle building. I just can't see myself following that path.
Bonus: A Complete Doggcrapp Workout
I put together this sample DC workout, with SM's guidance, to show you how the system fits together. As explained earlier, you select three different exercises for each muscle group, and do one of them per workout. So in each blast phase you'll have three different A and B workouts, which take two weeks to complete. After two weeks, you repeat the cycle, adding weight and/or reps with each exercise.
• Do one to three warm-up sets before every exercise. Don't skip warm-ups entirely, for any exercise.
• Every rep should consist of a controlled eccentric (lowering) and a rapid concentric (lifting).
• Rest as long as you need to between sets.
The following charts use three definitions specific to Doggcrapp:
SS straight sets
Remember that A workouts hit chest, shoulders, triceps, back width, and back thickness, in that order. B workouts train biceps, forearms, calves, hamstrings, and quads.
|Barbell incline bench press||1||11-15 RP|
|Dumbbell seated military press||1||15-30 RP|
|Wide-grip lat pulldown||1||15-20 RP|
|Deadlift||2||5-8 or 9-12 SS|
|Barbell curl||1||20-30 RP|
|Hammer curl||1||11-20 SS|
|Standing calf raise||1||10-12 SS *|
|Glute-ham raise||1||15-20 RP|
|Leg press||2||4-8 SS +WM|
* Explode to the top, perform a 5-second negative, and then stretch at the bottom for 15 seconds on every rep.
|Dumbbell flat bench press||1||20-30 RP|
|Barbell seated military press||1||11-15 RP|
|Close-grip bench press||1||11-15 RP|
|Hammer Strength pulldown machine||1||15-20 RP|
|Barbell bent-over row||1||10-12 SS|
|Preacher curl||1||20-30 RP|
|Barbell reverse curl||1||11-20 SS|
|Leg-press calf raise||1||10-12 SS|
|Lying leg curl||1||15-20 RP|
|Back squat||2||4-8 SS + WM|
|Hammer Strength flat bench press||1||11-15 RP|
|Smith machine seated military press||1||11-15 RP|
|EZ-bar skull crusher||1||15-30 RP|
|Close-grip chin-up||1||15-20 RP|
|T-bar row||1||10-12 SS|
|Dumbbell curl||1||20-30 RP|
|Pinwheel curl||1||11-20 SS|
|Seated calf raise||1||10-12 SS|
|Machine hack squat||2||6-10 SS + WM|
|Barbell Romanian deadlift *||1||10-15 SS|
* The only time you train hamstrings after quads is when you do Romanian and stiff-legged deadlift variations. They only appear in workouts with leg presses or machine hack squats, so you avoid stressing your lower-back stabilizers after they've already been challenged with exercises like front or back squats.
Two cautionary notes:
• Several weeks into your first blast phase, you may feel more run-down than usual. Feel free to take off a Friday workout, use the long weekend to recover, and start fresh on Monday.
• If you're over 35, you may want to go for more reps with somewhat lighter weights on the rest-pause sets. So you'd shoot for 15 to 20 total reps, rather than 11 to 15.
But most important of all is to log every rep of every workout, and continue cycling through these workouts as long as you're still "beating the logbook" and making gains. Remember, if you aren't beating the book, you're just beating your meat.