What you know…what you don’t know…and Hypertrophy

Originally, this blog was going to be on “etching,” my totally 007, supersecret mental training technique. (Okay: it’s when you do the same thing over and over again until it is “etched,” like my name in the bottle of Redbreast that my cousin, Joey, gave me.) But, a question from last weekend’s “Easy Strength” seminar with Pavel got me thinking.

First, the book is designed to help you and your strength coach think through the value of strength training for your goal. It goes from crystal clear (another bottle reference after etching…there is a hidden pattern here) from, at best, “fuzzy.” The book then details multiple approaches to successfully integrating strength into sport no matter how many qualities are necessary.

Still, the “Easy Strength” approach is appropriate for non-sports goals, too, like Karen Smith’s recent successful “Iron Maiden” challenge. Simply, she needed to do a press with 24 Kilo Kettlebell (53 pounds), a pistol with the same weight and a pull-up with her neck touching the bar (no leg swing!) all in the same short session. Her training was this:

Below is my program that I followed for the Iron Maiden over the past 10 weeks.

Started January 1 with this program MWF up to Challenge Date

1. TGU 24kg 1/1
2. Tested IM skills 24kg PU only get nose to bar, 24kg MP r/l and 24kg Pistol r only
3. PU w/12kg
Pistol w/ 12kg
4. MP x20kg

1. Pull up/ pistol ladder 1 (20kg) 2 (16kg) 3 (12kg)
2. TGU w/ 20kg MP at top r/l
3. Dbl 36kg DLx5
Dbl 20kgs SW x 5

1. TGU 24kg 2/2
2. Stacked MP ladder(two Kbs different weight each rung)
3. Pistol x16kg
Dbl FSQ x16kg
4. PU x 16kg

Only thing that changed was sets and weight depending on how my body was feeling but this was my starting weights when I wrote this program.

TGU: Turkish Get Up
IM: Iron Maiden
PU: Pull up
MP: Military Press
SLDL: Single Leg Deadlift
DL: Deadlift
Dbl: Double
KB: Kettlebell

Yeah...Everything is easy until it is heavy!

After completing this, she told us that she was “craving ballistics” now. In other words, do nothing but pure strength work makes you want to do something else after a while. Please note: she started at Point A made it to Point B, THEN looked for a change!!!

So, I could share you success story after success story about how following any of my simple programs can get you closer to your goals AND, if things play out, get your goals. Sometimes, as we all know, the enemy has a vote. I’ve lost some big championships to someone figuring out my secret and beating me on the last attempt.

Instead, I would like to talk about a good question that came up at the seminar. “Dan, you marvelous human and hero to so many (I think that is what I heard), you talk about the role of hypertrophy as we age. How do you mix Easy Strength with Hypertrophy?”

Wow. It’s a good question. I tried to answer the same one when asked by the Texas Rangers when they worry about their sixteen year old draftees and training. It’s a delicate question: I want to build up youthful muscle in someone who is old and build up any kind of muscle in a kid who is a phenom, but mostly with God-given talent and genetics.

Without knowing it, the person asking this question was driving me right into the discussion of machine weight training. Why?

Well, here is a basic part of my belief: as we age, the importance, literally it is a life and death struggle, about the need for hypertrophy and joint mobility can’t be minimized. I honestly argue that it is so important that mistakes here can be fatal: simply look at what happens when many people slip and break something after a certain age. Moreover, hypertrophy and join mobility are the fountain of youth.

So, you are a well meaning trainer and you decide to take 93 year old grandpa back to the journey to teen muscle. Now, I love the paleo movement. Robb Wolf recently starred in “I, Caveman” and I suggest you download and watch it on Amazon or whatever as soon as you can. Now, it is funny to watch the macho guy quit (I won’t use the word, but you can guess what I think) and how Morgan Spurlock can’t kill a damn muskrat, but gets all the screen time. Let’s be frank: Robb Wolf’s genetic line would certainly be the one that continues if this experiment would have continued for decades as any wise woman would reward Robb’s efforts at killing an elk over the other cavemen’s failed attempts to do much more than feed them snail and frog. Just saying.

So, we pick up Grandpa and take him over to “Movenat.” Gramps has been in the wheelchair for seven years after falling in church. Watch this great video, which I respect, but then press “refresh” on your brain. How do we get Grampy from the wheelchair to the wilderness?

That’s the value of machines. For post-youth hypertrophy, it’s hard to argue how well machines. For the record, I am NOT talking about machines as the answer to winning the Bogus Championship Series (BCS, American Football, Beauty Contest) and please don’t show me a Six Week Study (!!!) that proves that Nautilus or whatever makes a difference. One of my readers sent in this study to me about how stretching ALONE gives strength improvements to untrained people. Frankly, everything works for six weeks!

So, I see some hands raised.


“Um, Danny, don’t you loathe machine training?”


Contrary to the mean forum posts about me on various HIT Jedi sites through the years, and, yes, I read them, I see a value in machine training. Now, before you ask: “aren’t you the O lifting/Highland Gaming/Football guy?” Well, yes, I am, but there is also a great value in just about every training system.

Moreover, the longer you stay in the game, the more astute the following point becomes:

The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.
Aristotle (maybe)

I had this same point explained to me as a circle. Inside the circle is everything you know. The circle is where you touch all the things you don’t know. So, as you study something more and more, the more you realize that you have so much more to learn.

Recently, Delaine Ross emailed me about her frustration when reading that a recent HKC grad (Swing, Goblet Squat and Get Up) commented on how it was amazing to “master” these movements. I still don’t know what a perfect Goblet Squat should be and I invented the movement! The more I learn and study, the less sure I am about anything.

Oh, the same is true when:

Someone goes to a weekend cert about movement and the nervous system and claims to be able to fix everything from cancer to MS.

Someone goes to a cert and learns the O lifts, the powerlifts, gymnastics and sprinting and claims to be a sports expert.

Or the guy who told me he was certified to coach the discus, but only knew the standing throw.

Folks, I have been tossing the discus since 1971 and I am still unsure about some of the big details like how to start the throw.

So, let me say this: when it comes to aging well, I pull out my collection of collection of Clarence Bass’s books and online materials (my first contact with Tabata, by the way, long before others told me I learned it from them) and pull out my vast files of Art deVany’s work.

This is how you train an older person: safely, intelligently, progressively. Yes, I love O lifts and Kettlebells, but we need to keep in mind that every tool works, every method works and every principle works at the right time.

There is a great book “All About Fitness” available on the “Zen to Fitness” site for fourteen bucks that I can’t recommend enough. The author also sums deVany’s work with some insights that I find frankly staggering.

The Rules:
Follow the “15-8-4″ routine – Do a set of 15, a set of 8, and a set of 4 repetitions for each exercise using progressively more weight on the latter two sets if you can.

Keep moving – Do not rest between sets or exercises. Try to average 10-15 seconds max in between sets.
Keep your workouts very short and intense – Get in and out of the gym in 45 minutes or less.

Work out no more than once or twice a week – Pick a random day and don’t do it on the same day always.
Exercise the major muscle groups – Do free body exercises at a fairly fast pace up and a rather slower pace lowering the weight.

Protect your heart – Do not grip things too hard and stay loose so the blood flow is not constricted by clenched hands and teeth. Don’t hold your breath, and be sure to exhale as you push or pull the weight.

Protect your spine – Do the abdominal brace, contracting the erectors of the back and pushing the abdominals out a bit and contracting them. Feel as though you have a band of muscle contracted around your waist. Maintain the curvature of your spine and pivot from the hips rather than bending the spine. Use your legs versus your back when lifting and don’t be afraid to use lower weights – especially with dead-lifts.

Hanging Ab Sets – Find a pull up bar and hang from it with your knees at waist level. Hold as long as you can. Repeat 2 more times.

Standing Crane – A yoga balance-building move where you stand on one leg, stretch the other leg out behind you, and position your body parallel to the floor. Do one for each leg.

This is a great workout and if you haven’t tried it before it will definitely give you a run for your money. Art doesn’t believe in long cardio work like jogging and prefers to walk and play sports to keep that side of fitness in check.

In a Nutshell
• Eat fresh wholefoods that we were evolved to eat (Art is not a believer in starchy foods)
• Usually three times a day but occasionally skip a meal, let hunger dictate your meals
• Workout with short and intense resistance sessions a few times a week
• Walk, play and stay active

So, I am thinking that this excellent question about the role of Hypertrophy…in the vision of Easy Strength…is going to end up as a continuum. But, the lesson is this: Hypertrophy is a quality. Strength is a quality. Strength is the MASTER quality. If you need hypertrophy, get it into your program. I have been adding some deVany like hypertrophy work to my training as a warm up and then grabbing the Kbells for some swings (oh, and I have a LOT to say about swings and GH release!).

So, the “answer” to the question of Easy Strength and Hypertrophy is this: these are TWO qualities that share the same tools. Don’t be afraid to toss in some logical bodybuilding work along with your basic easy strength work.

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