Book Review: Easy Strength


If you’re reading this blog then you probably have some interest in getting strong(er).  Since you’re interested in this laudable endeavor, you should know the names Pavel Tsatsouline (just Pavel will do) and Dan John.  Further, you should be aware of their newest book Easy Strength.  The book is targeted at athletes (which really is everyone to some degree) and coaches.  The gist of book is how to get stronger with the least effort.  The idea is to spend the minimum amount of time getting stronger so that the athlete has plenty of time and energy to practice his or her sport.

Most anything from Pavel or Dan is worth reading and understanding.  Easy Strength is no exception.  The book is more than just a bunch of different workouts.  Four quadrants are examined in which an athlete might find him or herself during a career.

Quadrant I sees the athlete (often a kid) introduced to all sorts of games, exercises and movements.  This quadrant is an inch deep and a mile wide.  An athlete in Quadrant II may play a specific sport which requires a mix of strength, speed, mobility, endurance, etc.  Think basketball, football, soccer, wrestling…  An athlete in this quadrant must work on all these qualities and thus can’t be the best at any one quality.  The athlete must live with compromises.  Quadrant III is where most of us live.  We’ve narrowed our focus to a few things but we’re not world champs.  Quadrant IV is for pinpoint specialization.  Here you’ll find weightlifters, sprinters, elite distance athletes, etc.  These athletes have a very narrow focus and thus have very narrow training needs and requirements.  The authors refer back to these quadrants throughout the book, and give considerations for the training needs of each of these athletes.

A quick word on the word “stronger.”  It doesn’t necessarily equate to “bigger.”  Many athletes (and everyone else on earth) need strength but not lots of muscle mass.  Easy Strength takes this into account.  Meanwhile some readers do want more muscle mass.  This issue is also discussed in the book.

Oh, and the book is also chock-full of all kinds of workout programs and reasons to use them.  A continual theme throughout the book is “less-is-more,” and the workouts reflect this idea.  The problem is there are so many interesting workouts that like me, you may find yourself wanting to do “this one and that one and that one and that one too!”  Pavel and Dan would tell you to pick one and stick to it.  Get all you can out of it then move to another workout.  Don’t blend this one with that one.  So I picked one.  It’s the 40-Day Workout.  The workout is similar to the Power to the People deadlift workout.  For a very thorough description of this workout read Dan John’s blog post called Even Easier Strength.  Here’s the basic rundown:

Pick five exercises: a press, a pull, a hinge (deadlift, kettlebell swing, Romanian deadlift), a squat, a loaded carry, possibly an ab movement.  (A pull and a hinge may be combined as in a deadlift for instance).

Do these exercises five days a week.  Do about 10 reps per exercise.  That may come in sets of 2×5 reps, 5×2 reps, 3×3 reps, six singles or other combinations that come out to about 10 reps.  Work hard–but not very hard.  These workouts are practice, not a red-line suffer-fest.  The workouts should feel fairly easy.  You should feel strong at the end of your workout, not flattened and half-dead.  Don’t max out on reps or weight but rather nudge the weight up gradually as you move through the 40 days.

I’ve taken about a month off from lifting.  My goal is to get stronger generally and a little more muscular.  My workout looks like this:

Warm-up: Z-Health mobility work, core activation, jump rope, kettlebell swings, body weight lunges/squats, med-ball throws or some combination of these.

Main lifts:

  1. Front squat
  2. Barbell overhead press supersetted with face-pulls, batwings and some band pull-aparts
  3. Deadlift
  4. 1-arm farmer walk
  5. strict leg lifts
    (Technically there are more than five exercises here, but the additional shoulder exercises are supplemental exercises, not heavy main lifts.)

To get a little bit of a cardio boost I go through the work as fast as I can–but not too fast.  I rest as needed but I’m pretty much lifting as quickly as I can load and unload the plates.  I’ll take more rest as the weights get heavier.

I’m really enjoying this workout.  I get to lift every day.  I don’t kill myself doing it and it’s fun to add a little weight each time.  Plus it’s simple.  I don’t have to mind too many variables.  A couple of my clients are playing with this workout as well.

Easy Strength is a great read.  It’s fairly profound in its message with extremely valuable information from the most experienced strength coaches in the world and reasonably easy to understand.  If you’re even semi-serious about getting stronger–as any human should be–you need this book.