The following is a review of the Strong Bastard 911 program created by Joe Defranco and Jim “Smitty” Smith.  Technically, it’s the essay I wrote for the 2017 SB911 contest.  While I certainly wrote it with a rainbows-and-butterflies-bias (I was trying to win a freakin’ contest after all), everything written is 100% true.  It really is a phenomenal program..oh, and no, I did not win.

My before (top) and after (bottom) pics from the 2017 contest.

Any strength and conditioning coach (who doesn’t routinely post selfies of his six-pack “core” for his five million misled Instagram followers) will tell you that in order to enjoy maximum results, it helps to train with specificity.  Having said that, not all training goals have to be mutually exclusive.


With intelligent programming, and dedication, you can have your cake and eat a little bit of it too (ideally post-workout for an optimal insulin response).  My 11-week Strong Bastard 911 (SB911) contest experience showed me that it is indeed possible to enjoy gains toward multiple fitness goals simultaneously.  


In 11 weeks, I added 20 lbs to my one rep max in both the bench press and the deadlift; built noticeable muscular size and definition in my upper back, shoulders, arms and hamstrings; improved joint mobility and stability, and did it all while shifting only one pound north on the scale.  I didn’t objectively measure body composition, but when you take into account the aforementioned results, you can safely assume I experienced a notable degree of fat loss as well.  


Self-discipline definitely played a role in the results listed above.  I never missed a workout, and I took advantage of the program’s versatility to consistently add volume and intensity to exercises that addressed my weaknesses.  


I fell off of my nutrition plan for five or six days, but it may have worked in my favor.  My over-indulgence occurred during the week of the Fourth of July, which also happened to fall in the middle of the SB911 hypertrophy phase (as it turns out, two pounds of pasta salad helps replenish glycogen stores, and three double burgers contain all of the essential amino acids necessary for protein synthesis).


This isn’t the first time that I’ve worked hard in the gym, but it is the first time that I’ve experienced measurable improvements in so many areas after such a relatively short duration.


I started lifting around 2000.  Like many meatheads of my generation, everything that I did in the gym was a reproduction of a bodybuilding message board.  My initial training goal was to get jacked—nothing more, nothing less—and even 15 years ago, forum-posted four-day splits were a dime a dozen.  I followed along, ate big, and got big.


Unfortunately, everything else sucked (on Dave Tate’s scale, it would actually be the level below “suck”).  I didn’t value technique, I never warmed up, never stretched, never cooled down, never pushed sets on leg day, never stayed healthy, never moved without pain, never came close to my strength potential, and rarely adhered to a program for more than a couple weeks at a time.  


I was tired of having a bunch of muscles that I couldn’t do anything with, and I was too stubborn (and frankly, lazy) to find another way to do it.  So, what do you do when you know better than everyone else, but nothing you’re doing is working?  You blame pain from squats on bad knees, pain from deadlifts on a bad back, pain from bench pressing on bad shoulders, and then you quit everything.


I took a few years off until I was too fat to continue quitting, and started messing around with circuit training.  Over the course of a year, I lost a bunch of weight, and built up a big gas tank, but any absolute strength that I once had was gone.  Also, despite looking relatively lean, my joints still felt like they belonged to someone twice my size.  


I was tired of being weak and confused and even more tired of being in pain.  Around this time, I started studying for my ACE personal trainer certification (I wasn’t in the fitness industry at the time.  I was essentially doing it for fun…long story there), and was introduced to the concept of mobility; I thought it was adorable.


Fast forward a couple months…


A good friend of mine recommended that I start listening to Tim Ferriss’ podcast, so I did.  The first episode I heard was with Paul Levesque (Triple H).  Paul told a story that sounded similar to mine (but much more impressive, and less whiny).  He knew how to get jacked from years of bodybuilding-style workouts, but he was in terrible pain all the time.  After a few minutes of lamenting, he gave props to his new coach, Joe Defranco (at this point, I only knew Joe as the Built Like a Badass guy).


He said that under Joe’s guidance, he managed to not only maintain his impressive physique, but was stronger, more flexible, mobile and pain free than he had ever been.  He also mentioned the Limber 11 video in passing, and I checked it out as soon as the podcast wrapped up.


The Limber 11 changed my life.  Yes, it’s a great set of exercises that helped me clear up many of my back and hip issues.  More importantly, however, it sparked a major epiphany.  I realized that I knew nothing, but that there was a sea of information available to help me fix everything.  I dove in head first.


I ravenously consumed Joe’s online material and subsequently, Smitty’s; I read dozens of books on training and business; listened to hours of fitness podcasts and probably spent just as much time watching technique videos on Youtube; and most importantly, I put it all into practice, with myself, as well as with my new clients.


“Cool story.  Please tell it again.”, you beg.   


I know, you’re wondering how the heck any of that ties into SB911.  Allow me to explain.


My newfound journey as a fitness professional is only a couple years old (17 if you include the 15 years I spent getting lost), but it’s rich.  SB911 contained everything that I’ve ever enjoyed in a program, and having completed it twice (twice of many times to come), I’ve developed an appreciation for its finer points


The warm-ups—which I used to barely entertain or skip entirely—weren’t just a collection of random body heat generating movements (“sum o’deez”, if you will).  After every warm-up session, my body felt prepared for the lifts ahead.  Movement patterns were rehearsed, primary movers were firing together, restricted tight spots opened up, and general weak points got stronger (again, all of this happened during the warm-up).  I’ve since taken many of my clients through the SB911 warm-ups, and have heard several utterances of, “ooooh, I really need to do this more often”.  It really plays to the masses.


The overall structure of the workouts flow wonderfully—pure iron poetry.  I had the unique experience of recently completing SB911, not only for a second time, but just a few months after also completing the CPPS level 1 coaches certification.  This gave me new insight and appreciation for the program’s level of detail, and an added respect for Joe and Smitty for putting out a product that so eloquently mirrors their course instruction.


I mentioned that I’ve completed the program twice.  That’s sort of true.  This was my second time hammering through the template, but the workouts themselves were almost completely different from my first experience.  


The SB911 template is a meathead’s “choose your own adventure” story.  With the exception of a few specific challenges (e.g., those miserable AMRAP 1 ½ rep heavy goblet squats), and built-in complexes (e.g., the “Diesel Back Attack”), I got to plug and play my own choice of exercises, using the program’s modular design.  For instance, I slid the Insider “Bench Specialization” module into the first three weeks of the upper body strength cycle, and experienced noticeable gains right off the bat.


Relentless emphasis on upper back training is another hallmark of this program that that I’ve never experienced from any other.  Male gym rats don’t generally like to be seen asking for advice, but since finishing SB911, I’ve been asked on three separate occasions how I train my upper back and rear deltoids.  The answer is simple: just complete weeks four through six of the Strong Bastard 911 program.  


Putting the same muscle group under intense metabolic stress four times a week goes against any conventional wisdom that I’ve ever heard from the bodybuilding community.  For some reason, however, my upper back seemed to love it.  Not only did I grow a nice new slab of meat across my back, but my shoulders feel healthier and more stable than they ever have, even while pressing heavy.  


Earlier, I mentioned the pure bliss I experienced doing as many one and a half rep goblet squats as I could while holding 40% of my body weight, immediately after completing four rounds of a triple set circuit. “Fun” “little” challenges like this are sprinkled throughout the program.  


These challenges not only kept things interesting, but they gave me a bi-weekly snapshot of my progress.  As a guy who lifts alone 99% of the time, I also welcomed them as a motivator.  Somehow I was always able to push myself past the previous week; even on days when I didn’t feel like carrying half of  my body weight in each hand as far as possible for three grueling minutes without rest (Mama said there would be days like that).


I clearly think highly of the program.  I have enough to say about my experience with it, that I could easily triple the length of this essay if I thought anyone would actually want to slog through it all.  


If SB911 was around 15 years ago, and I actually had the sense to pay it any mind, I would have saved myself a lot of heart and joint ache (also, my typing strokes would be much stronger and faster, and my fingers would be super jacked and tan).  No sense in dwelling on the past though.  I have more important things to worry about, like which unilateral leg variation I’m going to choose during my third time through.