It was almost 10 years ago that a book arrived in the mail that would change my life.
Power to the People! : Russian Strength Training Secrets for Every American is by Pavel Tsatsouline.
Prior to this book, I had been lifting weights as the muscle magazines taught me. You know the hit-the-body-from-every-angle with multiple sets of 8-12 reps. It works wonders if you are a steroid taking mesomorph. Not so much if you’re a drug-free ectomorph. You are always sore and your strength levels never seem to go up.
Then I read Power To The People and everything changed. Pavel taught me to reduce the reps to just 3-5 and increase the weight. And to get stronger, I’d have to increase my rest between sets. The focus of the weight lifting plan wasn’t numerous isolation moves, but deadlifts and a pressing move. Hammer those two hard and strength will follow was the message of the book. And it worked.
During the first three years of using the Power To The People protocol, I gained almost 20 pounds of muscle. For the first time in my life, I was benching my weight. I could squat almost 300 pounds and deadlift over 300 pounds. Not bad for a recovering Stick Boy. This book made me a believer in low-repetition weight training. I’ve been preaching against low-weight high-rep training ever since.
I met Pavel in 2004
The Russian Bear Got Me
A few years into the workout regime, I decided to try Pavel’s Russian Bear protocol for gaining mass. It included:
- low reps 4-6
- high sets 10-20 (not a misprint)
- end each set a few reps before failure.
This was too much for me. I started to get back pain and I hurt my right wrist so bad I needed surgery. I was sidelined from lifting for over 6 months. My body stopped gaining muscle and I was often in pain. Although these days I know better, then I would often work through the pain or work around the pain. That never worked. I’d be sidelined with an injury for weeks. Then I’d return to the gym and start the build-up process all over again.
For the past few years, I’ve played a balancing act between following the basics of Power To The People and focusing more on bodyweight exercises (chin-ups, dips, push-ups). I’ve reduced my number of workouts and weight as a strategy to avoid injury. I fell into a sweet spot of maintaining a decent amount of strength where I could stay injury-free.
Last December, for the first time since 2001, I started a brand new weight lifting strategy. I’m using the High-Intensity Big 5 Workout described in the outstanding book Body By Science. To learn more about that style of workout read High-Intensity Training at Ideal Exercise. So far I am enjoying HIT. For the first time in years, I’m giving 100% in the gym without fear of getting injured.
My 10 Year Review
Power To The People is an excellent book. I can’t blame Pavel for my injuries. I will say that the volume of work described in the Russian Bear section is probably excessive for drug-free ectomorphs. I must thank Pavel for getting me away from the muscle magazine nonsense. Although I don’t follow his program right now, it is the program that has worked best for me so far.