Tuesday, May 29, 2012

40 days, (almost) 40 lessons

So easy even a caveman could do it
            - Geico commercial

Let me set the scene for you. 

Last Wednesday, my car wouldn’t start and I, being the least mechanically inclined person in the Midwest, had no idea why.  My dad and brother are car buffs and they narrowed it down to what they thought was a security issue, so they had me “reboot” the car’s computer through some long, drawn out rigamarole that isn’t even worth describing here (mostly because it didn’t work).  It was a forty minute process, most of it a waiting game.  To keep me busy, I brought my RKC manual out to the car with me and read it in my down time.  I had finished up Dan John’s 40 Day EasyStrength program (for those not in the know, it’s five big full-body exercises done for typically no more than 10 reps per exercise per day, five days a week) that Monday, and was ready to move onto something different before taking on Easy Strength again.  I had been doing some deep thinking about what I learned and was actually dealing with some disappointment about it – not due to a flaw in the program, but because I felt I hadn’t come as far as I wanted.  As I sat there, my mind threaded back and forth between making a mental list of what I had done wrong, and what I could do better next time.

And then, something happened. 

I felt this surge of energy go through my body – the only thing I can compare it to is the feeling you get when you feel like you’re about to get into a knock-down, drag-out brawl (don’t ask me how I know what this feels like).  Your whole body just syncs up and is ready to hulk out and/or lift something heavy.  I knew something amazing was about to happen.

It was like this, only not as cute.

I ran down to my basement, took a 53 lb kettlebell and a 35 lb kettlebell underneath my homemade gymnastic rings, slapped on a lifting belt and looped a canvas strap between the two kettlebells’ handles. 
I stood up, grabbed onto the handles, and pulled.

Easy Strength Pro-Tip: My hair is the source of my Samson-like power.

Holy crap.  I just did a pullup with an extra 88 lbs – at 158 lbs of bodyweight!  Something I wasn’t confident I’d be able to do, as I didn’t feel like I was using enough weight in my daily practice (only 25 lbs for 2x5).  How wrong I was.  I was so excited I dropped to the ground and banged out two fast one-arm-one-leg pushups on each arm – prior to the 40 day program, I could only do one on my right side, and only if it was a clear, cloudless day and all the planets were aligned and Alpha Centauri was clearly visible in the night sky.  Oh, and there couldn’t be any wind, either.   

Push league.

Just today, I did five full ROM dragon flags.  Before the 40 day program I couldn’t even do a single dragon flag negative.  
Capture the flag!

I have yet to test out my pistol and rack carries (the two other things I worked on), but I have little doubt that they’ll be PRs.  On a whim, I tested out my one-arm overhead press and I nailed my half-bodyweight press with a 44 lb kettlebell and a 35 lb kettlebell stacked on top of each other.  I haven’t overhead pressed in months and yet I still hit a PR. 

These results are not atypical, by the way.  Crazy things happen on the 40day Easy Strength program.  Ask anyone who’s done it.  If you haven’t already, I’ll assume you’d like to ask me, so let me lay out 31 big lessons on strength training for life that I learned from this awesome program.

1)      Be consistent.  This goes for both your training sessions and your technique.  If you’re having a rough day, go lighter!  If you’re having a great day, go a little heavier, but whatever you do, just get your work done, and do it in a way that will allow you to do it again tomorrow.
2)      Record yourself. If you’re like me, you probably like to train alone.  It’s a good idea to record yourself periodically so you can see the things you can’t feel.  Hone in on things you can tweak and then tweak them one at a time.
3)      When you feel good, go heavier.  This is pretty self explanatory.
4)      You’re only as good as your last rep.  This is a big one.  Pavel and Dan John point out in Easy Strength (both the book and the DVD seminar) that the last rep in a set carries a lot of weight.  Your body will remember the last stimulus in a set of stimuli better than anything.  So if you struggle on the rep five of your second set of five, you will teach your body to struggle, rather than convince it that the movement is easy.  Case in point: In my 88 lb pullup, I coasted through everything but the last two inches – the EXACT same ROM I had trouble with on my last rep of 2 x 5 with just 25 lbs.  Same goes for my one-arm-one-leg pushups.  The moral: in your go-to rep scheme of 2x5, go heavy enough to challenge yourself, but light enough so that you don’t struggle on even the last rep.  If I had been better about this I guarantee you I would have pulled more than 88 lbs and would have knocked out more pushups.
5)      Go lighter than you think you need to.   I know I’ve already made this point a few times, but it’s worth repeating.   This is like an organized version of greasing the groove.
6)      Don’t dilly dally.  I would often take between 20-45 minutes to do my sessions.  That’s entirely too much.  10-15 minutes is easily doable.
7)      When you feel bad, back off.  I did tonic workouts a total of maybe three times, and only once was after a heavy singles session.  The others were because I didn’t sleep well or long enough and just needed to get in and get out.  The next day I came back and everything was back to normal again.  Backing off will help you move forward, not throw a wrench into your progress.  Don’t be stubborn.
8)      Find out your max in your chosen lifts beforehand.  This is good for obvious reasons – to measure the distance travelled to Point B, figure out where Point A is.
9)      Be creative.  I decided to do a few bodyweight exercises involving increasingly tough leverage, so I had to “make up” a few progression steps on the Dragon Flags, as I couldn’t even do one negative before starting the program.  Same went for one-arm-one-leg pushups.  I did them on an elevation and through time dropped the elevation lower and lower.  For single-side rack carries, my kettlebells don’t go heavier than 70 lbs, so I just stacked kettlebells on top of each other when I felt like I needed more weight.
10)  DO NOT MISS A REP FOR ANY REASON WHATSOEVER. For the same reason that the last rep carries a lot of weight (see #4), failure holds a lot more weight –namely in a place where you can’t move it because you decided to suck.  So don’t fail.  Seriously, it will screw everything up.  If you try to be a tough guy/girl and you go for something that you can’t complete, it will come back to bite you more than an overlooked technique tweak.  Teach your body to succeed with light weights, not to fail with heavier ones.
11)  Be patient. You may hit PRs pretty early on.  I did.  Then you may not hit another one until the end of the program.  It doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen.  See lesson #1 and stick to the program.
12)  When the program is done, wait a few days to test your max.  I tried to test my max on one-arm-one-leg pushups on day 40 and sucked.  Let your body rest up and you’ll know when you should go for it.  Again, be patient.
13)  Don’t be greedy. When you hit one PR, be happy with it and don’t push your luck.  See #10.
14)  Warm up as needed. Get-ups and swings or goblet squats and some joint mobility exercises are a great warm-up depending on what you’re working on.  Remember, it’s a warm-up, not a workout, so keep it simple.
15)  Work on improving one thing at a time. If you have a few things you could fix up on your technique, just hammer the major one first and work on the others later.  You’ve got 40 days, so don’t worry about overwhelming yourself.
16)  Never follow a heavy day with a heavier day. It just won’t work in your favor.  Take a step back after you take a leap forward.
17)  Choose what you NEED to work on, not just what you WANT to work on.  I love overhead presses, but I’ve done so many of them over the years that I figured I needed to work on a horizontal push instead.  I made some major progress and I’m glad I focused on that instead.
18)  Bored?  Suck it up. It’s not supposed to be entertaining, it’s supposed to make you strong.  There were a few days where I had to drag myself outside to practice, but I stuck to it.  If you have exercise ADD, reign it in for 40 days and then go back to jumping from program to program.
19)  Don’t overthink things. This goes along with working on improving one thing at a time.  Just go through the motions – the results will follow.
20)  QUALITY of reps. This is self-explanatory. 
21)  Don’t struggle on anything! See #4.  If you aren’t 100% sure that you will hit it if you attempt it, save it for another day when you will.
22)  Strength really is a skill.  Treat it as such. 
23)  Don’t worry about maintaining other qualities unrelated to your five exercises.  Yeah, your conditioning might suffer, but you’ll get it back much faster when you’re stronger anyway.  Science and experience has shown that.
24)  Stick with 2x5 as your go-to rep scheme.  It’s enough volume to “grease the groove” and it’s enough weight to reinforce strength building while also being light enough not to burn you out. 
25)  Move up your 2x5 weight once the weight starts flying.  The 2x5 weight will increase during the 40 day program, so don’t just mindlessly stick with the same weight.  For example, I started off doing pistols with 10 extra lbs and by the end of the program I was doing them with 25 extra lbs.
26)  Set lofty but reasonable goals.  It should be both scary and exciting.  Also, keep in mind that if you can currently only squeeze out 5 presses with a 24 kg kettlebell, you won’t end up pressing the Beast in just 40 sessions, but you’ll definitely be shocked by how much your press will go up.
27)   Practice with the end in mind.  And remember, you have to train tomorrow too, so don’t beat yourself down – build yourself up.
28)  If you have to be creative with your progressions, do it intelligently.  Do exercises that will lead you toward your goals. If you want to work on one-arm pushups, don’t bother with any two-handed variations.
29)  Maintain your mobility/flexibility.  It won’t get in the way of your strength, so don’t let it go to pot. 
30)  Get soft tissue work as needed.  You might need it.  I did.  I took a whole week off to see a massage therapist and a chiropractor to work on a big fat knot that took hold in my upper back, and my strength didn’t go away at all.  As a side note, taking a week off might not be a bad idea if you feel like you need it.  Your strength will still be there.      
31)  Make a list of what you’ve learned.  This is by far the most eye-opening program I’ve ever done.  I’ve learned more by doing this than any other program I’ve ever done, so if you plan on lifting and hitting PRs for years and decades, you might as well learn as much as you can from it.  But write it down so you can articulate it all when you’re done and look back at it later.  And of course, share with me what you’ve learned so I can squeeze the most out of the program the next time I do this J
So there you have it.  I learned a lot of other points that relate to the main points that you’ve read here, but rather than sitting here and convincing yourself of the potential benefits of this program, just get out there and do it!  *BONUS LESSON* Have faith, be consistent, and watch as you become jaw-droppingly awesome.  Most people sacrifice the awesomeness they’ll become in the end of a program in favor of satiating their exercise ADD.  These are the same people who haven’t PR’d in years.  No matter what program you do, stick it out until the end.  (Note: If you don't yet have the book, don't dilly-dally!  It's been called one of the greatest books on strength and conditioning ever, and that's not hyperbole, either.  Get the book HERE, and buy the DVD Seminar HERE )

While that jaw of yours is dropped, put some delicious food in it!  Here is a recipe for those out there with a late-night sweet tooth.

Until next time, lift heavy and eat hearty!


  1. Awesome post, Aleks. And dude. You're a badass.

  2. Thank you, Melody! Badassery is my No. 1 goal in life.