Power to the People

Power to the People by Pavel Tsatsouline is one of the classic books on strength training. Here are my notes.

Wired for power

  • We already have more power in our muscles than we’re using (20-30%)
    • Part of training is getting more ‘neurological efficiency’
    • We won’t completely overcome this ‘strength deficit’ as otherwise you would tear your muscles
    • (as seen with bodybuilders who gain more strength than their tendons can hold)

Tension, what force is made of

  • Tension = force, we want to increase tension
  • High tension training has five key conditions
    1. Slow exercise performance
    2. Maximizing muscle tension (flexing) regardless of weight
    3. Heavy (85-95%) weights some of the time
      1. Lifting heavy is needed for spine, joints, tendons to get accustomed to pressure
    4. Minimizing fatigue
      1. “High values of fatigue and tension are mutually exclusive”
      2. So program should focus on having (and inducing) low fatigue
    5. Taking advantage of various neurological phenomena

Training to failure or to success?

  • “[Y]ou must push your limits of weight/tension, and not reps/exhaustion if you want to get stronger.”
  • Hebbian rule (Cells that wire together, fire together)
  • If you are training to failure, you are training to fail”

Don’t water down your strength with reps and fatigue

  • How to minimize fatigue
    1. limit reps to five or fewer
    2. increase rest between sets to 3 to 5 min
    3. limit sets to 2
    4. pause and relax between reps
    5. don’t practice a lift more than 5x per week

(check back later how this contradicts with building muscle?)

Advice is to train almost every day, but breaks are ok, taking more than one day off reduces effectiveness by 50%

More low rep advantages

  • Why it’s safe
    1. The stabilizing muscles are not fatigued yet
    2. You are (forced to) concentrate(d)
    3. Can develop strength without training to failure

The idea is that these types of workouts will give you energy (vs draining it after more reps)

Rigor mortis, or why high reps failed to tone you up

  • You feel the ‘burn’ after high reps because you run out of ATP (as a dead body does too)
  • Strength = tension = tone (i.e. get muscle tone by residual tension over active/energy exhaustion)

But I don’t want to bulk up

  • Lifting heavy weights will not necessarily build big muscles

Machines are the wusses’ way out

  • Learn with free weights, better to have stability before going to heavy (free) weights
  • “The more fixed the object, the more likely you are to develop a pattern overload,” explains Paul Chek

Isolation exercises, Frankenstein’s choice

  • Instead, do movements that involve more than one joint to form a ‘kinetic chain’

Irradiation: Getting strong and hard with only two exercises

  • “It’s not daily increase, but daily decrease – hack away the unessential” – Bruce Lee
  • E.g. tense your fist, now tense harder, more… then you feel other muscles up to chest contrasting
    • Law of Irradiation
  • The deadlift & pside press (over bench) as the two exercises
    • Deadlift being the 80% important (Pareto)

Emphasize your problem areas without adding exercises

  • Change up the variation of the big two exercises (to focus in on muscle that is lacking)
  • But, probably also not necessary, as building up load on basic exercises will recruit the lazy muscles

How to become a bear: A Societ commando’s secret

  • What if you did want to build ‘show’ muscles?
    • Longer time muscle under tension, so more reps
  • The method
    1. reduce reps to 4-6 per set (so still relatively heavy weights)
    2. perform 10-20 sets
    3. stop a few reps before failure, so you can keep doing same reps/sets
  • e.g. instead of 100×5 (and 90×5 for second set), do 80×5, 30-90sec rest, stop when you can’t do 80×5 anymore
  • reducing rest time promotes HGH production(?)
    • and reduced rest time allows for the best training total time of 45min for testosterone release (?)
  • do workouts less often but still 3x per week for each muscle group

Last three pieces of the big biceps puzzle

  • Eat a lot of protein
  • Note on health: no, having a lot of big muscles is also straining the body
  • Book on diet: Anabolic Diet (Mauro Di Pasquale)
  • REST
    • “Don’t run if you can walk, don’t walk if you can stand, don’t stand if you can sit, and if you sat, might as well lie down and take a nap.”
  • Calm mind = big body (i.e. less stress is good for muscle building)

Virtual Masculinity

  • (some critique of building muscles by pumping them full of blood)
    • Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy
  • This is in contrast to ‘myofibrillar hypertrophy’ which is a result of heavy weight training
  • Building with high reps does both, but leads to ’empty’ muscles

On variety, soreness, and keeping things in focus

  • Your body reacts the same to exercise as to smell, not smelling something again unless intensity or taste is changed
  • (notes on ‘plateau’ as just being the level where someone has started to get accustomed to an exercise)
  • So, do the same exercises, but change the routine’s load (cycling)
  • There is no correlation between your level of soreness and progress

Cycling: The Russian breakthrough for continuous improvement

  • Don’t max out; you won’t get improved results over time
  • Do periodization, build up weight over time, take breaks after intense periods (competition)
  • Three types of periodization
    1. Linear Cycle
      • Start with 80% of 5RM, e.g. weight you can do 10x
      • At least 8 workouts in cycle
      • Stop if you can’t make the set
    2. Wave Cycle
      • Go back in weight during the cycle
    3. Step Cycle
      • Stay flat for a while, then go up a bigger step
      • Or a small step, so good program if doing lighter weight exercises
  • If you have been ill or otherwise away from the gym for 7 days or more
    • Then go back 2 to 3 workouts and pick it back up again
    • Or even if you’re feeling shitty
  • A cycle is about 8-16 workouts

Hyperirradiation: How to boost strength and safety

  • Next few chapters about ‘neural programs’ and how to use them in training
  • Hyperirradiation: tense all your muscles when doing the lifts, as to activate/recruit them and gain strength
    1. Squeeze the weight as if you are trying to crush it
    2. Squeeze your glutes as if pincing a coin
    3. Tighten your abs as if bracing for a punch

Hyperirradiation: “Cheering” not “Cheating”

  • Brace yourself against the ground (for Olympic lifting)
  • Slack muscles absorb the ‘recoil’ of the muscles that are at work
  • Benefits
    1. Increased strength through additional neural stimulation of the target muscles by the impulses from working ‘extra’ muscles
    2. Increased strength through providing a solid and efficiently aligned foundation to lift from
    3. Improved workout safety through dramatically improved body stability

Hard abs + strong hands = Powerful body

  • Training grip can help with deadlift
  • When training with heavy weights, the core muscles take on a significant part of the load (abs included)

Power breathing: The Karate secret of superstrength

  • Tensing the abdominal muscles helps with strength (so karate also employs this with screaming at the end of a punch)
    • This included contracting the rectal sphincter
  • Alternative is to breathe out, but with tension in the stomach still
  • A belt does something similar, though it should be avoided (as it creates a weak link in the midsection)
  • A way to exercise this is to do concentrated/contracted breathing (8 reps, 8 sets?)
  • More in Beyond Crunches: Hard Science. Hard Abs.
  • Breathing tips
    1. Inhale 75-100% before loading muscles
    2. Hold your breath, breathe out at the end or right after
    3. Take a breath (if exercise allows) between reps
    4. Don’t expel all of your air, to not lose tension
    5. Can take more breaths between reps (e.g. with deadlifts)
    6. Keep your midsection rock hard but do not let your stomach bulge out
    7. Always use the anal lock (contract your rectal sphincter)

Slow and steady wins the race

  • Lift heavy weights slowly
  • Three to five seconds up & then three to five seconds down
  • You will not be able to lift more weight if you go quick

Feed-forward tension

  • “Because your strength generally does not exceed 30% of your tendon structural strength, the strength governor mechanism is set up way too conservatively”
  • Feed-forward tension
    • Maximally contract your muscles with a submaximal weight
    • Or even without weight, done with dynamic tension
    • This (may) break(s) the feedback loop and allows for more tension also under heavy loads
  • Feed-forward tension is not the same thing as ‘feeling the muscle’ either. Feeling your entire body cease to be a carbon based life form and get compressed to the density of a black hole is more like it!

Pre-tension for max power and safety

  • Build tension first (before load is touched) to lift maximally

Successive induction

  • Successive induction: if you tense one muscle group, the opposite one (e.g. triceps and biceps) will be disinhibited as they are expecting the other side to hold the tension
  • E.g. doing bicep curls, but on the way down, push with the triceps

On shoes, gloves, and mirrors

  • Running shoes bad for lifting
  • Shoes with least support/spring are best (deadlift shoes)
    • e.g. Chuck Taylors
  • Also, no gloves (less feedback/pressure)
  • No mirrors, means better internal feel for muscles
    • So lifting with eyes closed could help in some regard

Power Stretching

  • “[A] muscle that can easily relax into an extreme stretch is a muscle that can do things”
  • More in Beyond Stretching
  • Do only light stretches before a workout
  • Stretching may lead to muscle damage that leads to muscle splitting, hyperplasia
  • Possibly this is the yin and yang of strength training, contracting and stretching (=better results)

The Drills

  • The Deadlift
    • Keep weight on heels
    • Eyes forward/ceiling (don’t look at bar when picking it up)
    • Knees backwards (not over bar, as vertical as possible)
    • Push butt backward
    • Recommends alternating grip (mwah, hook grip ftw)
    • Flex triceps as this ensures arms are straight
    • Knees straight forward (cue may be to push them out)
    • Core tight
  • The Side Press
    • Why it’s good
      1. Full body action, also for stability of core
      2. Also good for grip
      3. Easier to learn than miilitary press (hmm)
      4. Teaches good overhead lifting skills
      5. Shoulder in external rotation, better for safety
      6. Uses lats
      7. No spotters necessary (nor rack)
    • Brace core (etc)
    • Press working shoulder and elbow down
    • Push yourself away from the barbell (instead of barbell up)
    • When going down, actively pull the bar down (induction)

The Power to the People! Manifesto

  • Scientists who study non-linear dynamics know that complexity on one level implies simplicity on another. They even have a term, simplexity, which refers to the emergence of simple rules from underlying disorder and complexity. In Power to the People! I have attempted to deliver a ‘simplex’ approach to strength training, decades of scientific research and hundreds of years of lifting and martial arts experience distilled into a no frills power formula anyone, from a recent couch potato to a world class athlete, can use.