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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Product Review: Easy Strength

I've got a long list of things to write about, but getting this up first was pretty important to me. I've got a backlog of ideas to write about that were all spurred by my reading of Easy Strength (and listening to a couple of interviews with Dan John as well), so I wanted this up to set the context.

Easy Strength is a collaborative work between Dan John and Pavel Tsatsouline (referred to on the cover, and hereafter, as Pavel). It's odd, because despite both being very goal driven coaches, I'm not sure I could easily pin down the single goal or point of Easy Strength. Well, that's not true. I think, in some ways, Easy Strength can be summed up in Dan's adage that "the Goal is to keep the Goal the Goal." At the heart of the book, Easy Strength is about knowing why you're training, and then training for that particular purpose.

Part of my hesitation in acscribing a single purpose to Easy Strength comes from the unique way the book is formatted. Inspired by My Dinner With Andre (a movie I've never seen, but which features Wallace Shawn, apparently), the book is presented as an ongoing discussion between Dan and Pavel. The publisher even went so far as to use different fonts for each speaker, and to include a little head shot of each man next to the portions where each is "speaking". It's a bit gimmicky, but I found it easy and engaging enough to read. It helps that I enjoy both author's writing styles. I noted one reviewer on Amazon who seems irritated by Pavel's "Evil Russian" schtick. It's still his schtick. If it bothers you, move on.

The book is broken up into eight rather substantive chapters, starting with a discussion of Dan John's Quadrant model for sports (which I'm still wrangling with a bit), and then covering a variety of strength training topics, including (in no particular order here) the titular "Easy Strength" program, methods of assessment, armor-building, sport-specific training, plyometrics, and systematic education. I've probably forgotten some other stuff. There is a lot of information in here. Some chapters feature more of one author than the other, but both contribute a great deal overall.

The book is a mixture of philosophy, anecdote, research sharing, and program design. For those who like Pavel's work, the closest thing I can think of to this is Beyond Bodybuilding. It's not a single, simple program or equation for accomplishing a goal--it's a big box of information to dig through, think about, experiment with, and return to. I've already read the book twice, and am sure I'll be diving back in for more. As I mentioned earlier, Easy Strength has spawned a lot of good thoughts and ideas that I'll be writing more about in the future. I like that. When a book makes me think and write, I take it to be a sign that I did not waste my time reading it.

That said, while the book is great, it's not perfect. Some of the information, while excellent, is repeated verbatim from other works. I don't mean it's the same concept--I mean there are literally pages from Never Let Go that are duplicated in Easy Strength. Now, I like Never Let Go a lot, and the stuff that gets repeated is certainly valuable, but I did find it a little frustrating to realize I was reading the exact same paragraphs over again.

There's also just some sloppy formatting issues. Nothing that makes the book unreadable, but just annoying. I expect a little better from a professional publishing house.


So who is this book for? If you're a strength or fitness coach, I think the book is worth reading. If you're the kind of gym nerd who just likes reading and thinking about strength, the book is worth reading. Actually, if you are a coach of any sort, the book is worthwhile, both for helping guide your athlete's strength programs, and for some good ideas on coaching and learning.

However, like Beyond Bodybuilding, this book requires a bit of thought. If you want something with a single clearly laid out program, Easy Strength will not give it to you. Something like Enter the Kettlebell, Power to the People! : Russian Strength Training Secrets for Every American , or any number of other books will fill your need just fine. If you want to think about the why's and wherefore's of training, then pick this up.

4 comments:

Chris Cape said...

This was the first book of Pavel's that I've read and I kinda agree with guy on Amazon. The constant, "In Soviet Russia we had a saying..." wore on me after a while. Good info, but he lays it on a little thick, imo.

For content, though, I was actually a little overloaded the first time through. I have to go back and take notes at some point. The quadrants were really interesting once I figured out (correctly or not...?) that they aren't about the sport itself, but about the strength training protocols which suit the athletes best. Is that right? I read it like a year ago and that's what I took from it, at least.

Jake said...

Yeah, Pavel's "in Soviet Russia, Kettlebell Swings You!" schtick can get a little old on occasion, though I actually found it less bothersome in this book than in others. In fairness to him, I've been told by one friend who met him that he really kind of is like that in person too.

I've been through twice, and probably need to go through a couple of more times. There is a ton of content in there.

The quadrant thing I'm still wrestling with a little bit (and this will probably be a post). As I understand it, it's about what the sport requires you to be good at from a general physical perspective. So a QI athlete needs to be okay at a bunch of random shit, but a QIV athlete only has to be really, really, good at ONE thing, and can suck at everything else.

So a world-class powerlifter can suck at running, and that's totally okay. In fact, he NEEDS to suck at running to be world-class.

Trying to figure out exactly where combat sports fit into his model got a little confusing. My initial assumption was that they were QII (collision sports), but Dan files them under QIII. I *think* that's because of the preeminence of skill required in those sports, but I'm not 100% sure on that one.

(And then trying to figure out where a combat sport coach, vs. an athlete, lands in that is a totally other thing)

Chris Cape said...

I don't remember if it was in the book or a blog post of Dan's, but he said basically that combat athletes start at QII but should move into QIII. There's so much skill work to be done in MMA, and most people in the sport WAY overdo their S&C work. There's just not enough quality training hrs in your body to do much more than a few big lifts most of the time.

Jake said...

Yeah, the general point that a lot of fighters do WAY too much (and to hard) conditioning was pretty clear and easy to take away. The moving from one quadrant thing to another still makes me scratch my head. I think I keep thinking of the quadrants as static positions, but I know Dan likes things on a continuum. Maybe it's just the word quadrant that throws me.

I'm also starting to think that being a coach is more QII than QIII, but that's another discussion.