Easy Strength

Over the course of the last couple months, I trained strength, following a rather classical linear program. On Tuesday and Thursday I trained for strength, Saturday was reserved for power. Week after week, I increased intensity and decreased volume per set, while keeping total volume pretty constant. The progression was really nothing out of the ordinary – 3×8, 4×6, 5×5, 6×4 and finally, 8×3 before starting over again. On Saturday I did French contrast training, but that’s beyond the scope of this posting.

While I did gain some strength on the program, I also accumulated quite a lot of fatigue. A couple of weeks ago, I got hurt. Not in the gym, mind you, but on the mat. I’ve PR’d in the AM and was doing competitive sparring drills well outside my weight division in the PM. When defending a triangle choke, I bruised my ribs pretty badly and now I really can’t do a lot in terms of spinal flexion and/or rotation.

Needless to say, I am not amused. However, as Theodore Roosevelt said:

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

— Theodore Roosevelt

Put differently – never waste an injury. Now that my mat time is severely limited, I can experiment with a higher frequency in the gym. Specifically, I’ve decided to experiment with Dan John’s Easy Strength. The main idea is to stick to a limited number of lifts and train them five days a week, at a low volume and moderately high intensities. I suspect the main training benefit to be due to intermuscular coordination, rather than structural adaptations, but I’m fine with that. There are certain rules to Easy Strength:

  • Pick five movements and practice (note the choice of words – that’s the key here) them five days a week
  • Do five reps or fewer per set
  • Do ten or fewer total reps per exercise
  • Stay well away from failure

I once did Pavel’s Power To The People, which likewise is a high frequency program. Without going into the details, I can say that while PTTP made me stronger, I also hurt my back while following it (then again, correlation does not equal causation). For the most part, I attribute that to a lack of warm up. Hence, I’ve decided to do some warmup sets, even if that means increasing the weekly volume quite a bit.

My five exercises are

  • Power: Power Clean
  • Upper Body Push: Bench Press
  • Lower Body Push: High Bar Squat
  • Upper Body Pull: Weighted Pull Up
  • Lower Body Pull: Conventional Deadlift

Nothing fancy, really. This is a meat and potatoes program. Today, I put this to the test and did the following:

** Power Clean **
– 60.0 kgs x 5 reps
– 60.0 kgs x 5 reps

** Conventional Deadlift **
– 100.0 kgs x 5 reps
– 130.0 kgs x 5 reps
– 130.0 kgs x 5 reps

** Barbell Bench Press **
– 60.0 kgs x 5 reps
– 80.0 kgs x 5 reps
– 80.0 kgs x 5 reps

** High Bar Squat **
– 80.0 kgs x 5 reps
– 125.0 kgs x 3 reps
– 120.0 kgs x 5 reps

** Pull Up **
– 95.0 kgs x 5 reps @BW 80.0 Kg
– 95.0 kgs x 5 reps

Now on a high frequency program, you can’t really draw any conclusions after the first practice. Still, I feel that even this low volume induces quite a bit of acute fatigue. There wasn’t a lot of grinding, all reps went relatively smooth, with good form. Only the squats felt heavy. I definitely could have completed the set of five, but keeping in mind that I have to do this for another four practices this week, I’ve decided to cut the weight a bit for the second set. Tomorrow I’ll repeat today’s practice, but cut all weights by 5%.

In the book, Dan John says that advanced athletes should spend roughly 20% of their training time in the gym. It took me around 45 minutes to complete today’s practice, with plenty of rest. Doing the math that means I’d spend roughly 3.5 hours per week in the gym and hence, should be training around 18 total hours per week. That’s a bit more than my actual training volume. I guess that substituting one of the big lifts, e.g., the deadlift, with something that requires less rest, such as a loaded carry, could greatly reduce the time demand. So could supersetting exercises.

These are, however, considerations for another day. As it stands, this will take up a large part of my total training time. If you’ve had experience with high frequency training, please share your insights in the comments.

So long,

Don’t get hurt

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