Tao of the Lazy Badass: Entering the Way

As with radar, plastics, rocketry, and atomic energy, World War II also created modern physical therapy and the medical study of resistance training. A young doctor, Thomas DeLorme, found himself commissioned into the Army as an orthopedist responsible for rehabbing soldiers with leg injuries. As luck had it, DeLorme practiced a very unusual hobby for a medical gentleman–he was a weightlifter–and he quickly proved what now seems common sense: lifting weights gives size and strength to deconditioned muscles.

At the time, the medical establishment frowned on lifting weights as “overtiring” to the muscles and harmful to the heart. But DeLorme had once used resistance training to convalesce from rheumatic fever and in the Army he befriended a pair of his patients who were also experienced weightlifters and wanted to try rehabbing their legs with weights. DeLorme worked out a simple protocol that won his patients spectacular results and DeLorme a job at Harvard Medical School.

From a modern perspective, what stands out about DeLorme’s method is that he was blazing a trail down the road of the lazy badass. He invented a fool-proof way to accumulate Volume, the magic variable, by going easy and often. After finding (or simply guessing) his or her 10-rep max, the trainee did 3 sets of 10–first at 50% of the 10-rep max, then 75%, and finally 100%. Notice that we are talking here about the 10-rep max. When we convert these into the standard measure of Intensity, the one-rep max (1RM), we see that DeLorme was using very modest weights. I’d guess that average Intensity was scarcely 50% of 1RM.

That is about as light as you can get and still call it strength training. But that is where the magic happened. With such modest intensity, DeLorme could turn the volume way up. His trainees recovered from their light, refreshing workout quickly enough to repeat it the very next day, for a total of five days a week. At 150 reps per week in any given exercise, that is serious volume.

DeLorme worked out this curious set/rep scheme–one light set, one medium set, one somewhat heavy set–by trial and error. He admitted he didn’t know exactly why it worked. He surmised that the light and medium set were only acting as warmup sets and that only the heavy set made a real difference. But he was too smart to mess with success, and that is a good thing, because in hindsight, the volume is what makes this program effective. The light and medium sets are just barely heavy enough to matter, but they triple the program’s volume without adding much recovery cost.

Sgt. John Farbotnik, one of the two lifters who first worked with DeLorme when he was working out his protocol, went on to be Mr. America after the war.

Light and easy though the DeLorme protocol is, its high volume makes you big. In fact, it so happens that one of DeLorme’s first, experimental patients went on to become Mr. America!

This is still a winning protocol today for recreational trainees. Do it for deadlifts and one or two major exercises for the upper body (the bench press would be perfect) and take it away. It will take you almost no time to complete your workout, and to speed things up further, you can do your exercises in alternation: Deadlift, bench; deadlift, bench; deadlift, bench. Done!

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