How to Get a Lot Stronger Than Your Competition—And Dominate in Your Sport
By Pavel Tsatsouline and Dan John
REVIEW BY CHRIS SPURLING
Easy Strength is essentially a transcript of a strength and conditioning conversation between Pavel Tsatsouline and Dan John.
The basic premise of the book is to do only what is essential to improve your strength and conditioning, and to devote most of your time to improving your sport. Put simply, get strong with the minimum of effort, and then apply that strength to your sport or life.
Yes, the writing style can be a little chaotic, which makes it difficult to grab the essential information first time around, but the book is based upon solid principles, and contains lots of great training ideas. I’d consider it essential reading if you’re considering adding strength work to your training.
Easy Strength in a Nutshell:
• Lift heavy. • Keep your reps and sets low. • Stop your sets and your workout before you get fatigued.
EASY STRENGTH PRINCIPLES
1. Use a limited number of “big bang” exercises.
2. Lift two to three times a week.
(Although some say 5 times per week, others say daily)
3. Keep the volume around 10 reps per lift.
e.g. 5 x 2 reps, 3 x 3 reps
Other set/rep schemes to consider are 343, 424, 1234, 4321, 1423, and 12321. You may stay with the same weight or vary the weight from set to set.
Barry Ross (who coached Allyson Felix to world and Olympic 200m success): “This allows our athletes to leave exhilarated rather than exhausted. It also allows them to exit the weight room and start immediately on event training.”
4. Keep the reps in the 1–5 range, emphasizing doubles and triples (as above).
Two or three is a great rep range to emphasize in an Easy Strength program. Singles, doubles, and triples are pure nerve force training. Singles, however, are very demanding on the nervous system. Do a few, but don’t abuse them.
Four or five is where neural training and muscle building meet, which means you could end up with some hypertrophy. This is out of the question in sports like endurance running.
5. Rest approximately 5 minutes between sets.
Try to relax the muscles completely between sets so you are ‘fresh’ when you begin each new set.”
Not only do these breaks allow for nearly complete energy replenishment in the muscle, but they also allow the athlete’s nervous system to recover, which is very important for continuous gains.
6. Train in the 80% to 95% 1 RM intensity zone. Always leave at least 1 or 2 reps in the bank.
Barry Ross’s athletes lift 2 or 3 × 2 or 3 with 85% to 95% of their 1 RM with 5 minutes of rest between sets and never to failure. Explains Ross: The benefit is much more rapid strength gain. By keeping sets and reps low, timed and without lifts to failure, lactic acid was minimal or non-existent.
7. Go for a PR, single or rep, when you are feeling exceptionally strong, but stop short of an all-out max. Set a “sort of max.” Always back off after a PR for at least two weeks.
Every time Ben Johnson set a personal record, be it in the gym or on the track, his coach made a point of backing off immediately. He literally stopped the workout. Then he had Johnson back cycle for 10 to 14 days. Others say that period should be 3 weeks.
8. Vary the intensity of every workout, either through cycling the powerlifting style or through less structured advances and retreats.
If the previous workout has been spectacular, pull back and force an easier workout as a matter of principle. The athlete will usually want to build on a spectacular workout and train even harder…. this can lead to overtraining and injury
9. Don’t stop strength training in season, but reduce the volume to two-thirds to one-half. For example, do 3 × 2 instead of 5 × 2 or 3 × 2 instead of 3 × 3. You may switch from three to two strength workouts a week.
Professor Nikolay Ozolin recommends cutting back to two-thirds of the volume without reducing the weight.
10. Finish your workout feeling stronger than when you started. Stop the workout if your performance is less than perfect, and come back another day.
You might prescribe five repeats of a sprint drill but stop the athlete if he hits a PR on the third.
After each repetition, erase any flaw detected so the next repetition will be even smoother.
OTHER TAKE HOME MESSAGES
Stability must come before strength.
Follow these seven rules for safe sporting participation:
- The athlete must have enough strength to perform the techniques of his chosen sport.
- The athlete must have enough joint mobility to perform the techniques of his chosen sport and the special exercises.
- One must start by addressing the weakest link that demonstrates itself first during the performance of the competitive exercise.
- The athlete must not have muscular rigidity and excessive tension.
- The coach may not evaluate the ratio of the components in an athlete in the conditions of significant fatigue. This compromises the coordination, changes the ratio of the components, and makes it impossible to accurately identify the leading and lagging components.
- The coach must remember that different components develop and detrain at different rates.
- The result in competition gives the final grade of the ratio of the components.
Consider when to perform your strength session- an Easy Strength lifting session can be performed before running, but running before lifting will have a negative effect. The reason for that is the amount of footfalls. Runners apply force at ground contact at two or three times bodyweight.… at every ground contact! Trying to lift sufficiently heavy weights to improve performance after a running session becomes very difficult.
For most sports people, an austere recipe consisting of 80% sport skill practice, 10% strength training, and 10% of everything else works well, recognising that the athlete’s time, energy, and adaptive capacity are finite.
Work on basic human movements each workout. Basically, they are push, pull, walk, squat, hinge (deadlift or swing motion), explosive full-body movements, and the various rotary movements.
Train your weak points, but compete with your strong points!
Everything works. Everything works for about six weeks. In 10 years, there are a lot of “six weeks”, so add things to your training program every so often—just to shake things up a little bit.
Get screened. If you are going to participate in sports, a screening will help you to determine if you are stable, strong and supple enough for the sport.
“I find it ridiculous when an athlete spends 45 minutes on esoteric correctives, then half-heartedly lifts a baby weight in some sissy move. He has taken the worthy goals of health and harmony to such a ridiculous extreme that he has turned into a hypochondriac, constantly scanning his carcass for aches and pains, real and imaginary”
“It has been said that one cannot be healthy if one’s goal is not to be sick. One cannot win if his goal is not to lose. An athlete preoccupied with his rehab/prehab and micromanaging his body will not have enough focus and spirit left to be strong”
“…..patrons were busy doing “functional training.” A dude was faking lunges. They looked like round-back deadlifts, because he was too weak to even stay upright and his bored personal trainer was counting reps while texting. A girl with too much makeup was standing on one foot on a balance board and doing rows with a Barbie weight. Horrified, I went to the corner and started deadlifting. Above is a glaring example of functional training (FT) enthusiasts not paying any attention to what the Founding Fathers had in mind”
“Stop your complicated weakness, and get strong in the traditional sense of the word”
“If you are not deadlifting, you are not training”
“Don’t fall into the common trap of turning every type of training—skill, strength, speed, and so on—into an endurance event……. You are weak! Do more reps… Your skill is poor! Do more reps… You are slow! Do more reps until you get faster.” Yeah, right. There is much more to excellence than sloppy endurance, and freshness is essential for development of skill, speed, strength, and power. Any idiot can smoke an athlete. But can you make him win?”
“If you want pain, learn Muay Thai. If you want to learn about failure, play golf. If you want to vomit, drink syrup of ipecac. If you want to become stronger and more fit, train appropriately”
“The body has only so much adaptive capacity. Why tap it with exercises that do not bring you closer to victory?”
“Don’t confuse elite sports with health. They have nothing to do with each other. There is a famous recommendation to health seekers in Russia: Don’t aim to become an elite athlete in one sport, but get low to intermediate rankings in multiple events. The jack-of-all-trades is healthier than the master of one”
Buy this book if you want some great strength training information, but you don’t mind searching around a bit for the nuggets of gold. I love the idea of short, effective workouts and the possibility of reduced injury risk. One big BUT though; if you’re going to follow the principles above, make sure that you have the background strength, stability, flexibility and joint range necessary to do so safely.