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Thursday, May 19, 2011

"Easy Strength" 40 Day Program Review

I am finally done. I completed 40 consecutive training sessions and finished the "Easy Strength" program written by Pavel Tsatsouline and popularized by Dan John.

How it works

Pick 5 movements:
  1. A large posterior chain movement - I chose the pistol to prep for RKC II
  2. Upper body push - I chose the single-arm kettlebell press to prep for RKC II
  3. Upper body pull - I chose pull-ups, again to prep for RKC II
  4. A simple full-body explosive move - I did about 90% kettlebell snatches and 10% kettlebell swings
  5. An "anterior chain" move (abdominal exercise) - I did mainly, ab-wheel roll outs, body-saws, and plank variations
Why I Did It

I am training for my RKC Level II which I’ll be attending in July. I had heard great things about the Easy Strength program and knew I needed to come up with a training program that would not only get me strong, but would also hold me accountable.

I chose these specific exercises for one main reason and one other (somewhat silly) reason.

First, I have to pass all of the strength tests at RKC II which include:
  • 1/2 bodyweight single arm kettlebell press (for me 40k or 88lbs)
  • Bodyweight or weighted pistol (whatever weight you choose)
    View my video about bodyweight pistols vs. weighted pistols.
  • Tactical pull-up (a pull-up with a 24K kettlebell hanging from your foot (Note: You must pull to the throat and no thumbs allowed on the grip!)
  • Retest the RKC snatch test (100 reps with the 24K kettlebell in under 5 minutes)
As you can see becoming an RKC II is not easy and there is some serious preparation involved.

The second reason I chose to complete this program is that I am a meathead. I will be attempting the beast tamer challenge which includes a pistol, press and pull-up with the Beast (48K or 106lbs kettlebell). It's no easy task but I figured I would set the bar high. If my goal was 2 cartwheels in a row I would be there already. :)

Simple, but not easy

This plan was simple, but not easy. Remember, simple and easy rarely fit together. It’s like lamb and tunafish (Big Daddy anyone?).

There were so many days where I wanted to hit some splits squats, dumbbell chest press, run some hill sprints or maybe just complete a chest and tri day (skooz me...I'm huge). But no, it was all press, pistol, pull-up, snatches and core all the time. I have to admit, it felt a lot like Groundhog Day but this program gets you pretty damn strong.

Sticking to the program

Sticking to it was the hardest part of this program. There were some days that I felt great and wanted to go heavy and other days I didn't want to train at all. The key was to be consistent and just do it (Nike paid me for this).

After the first week, I thought I was ready to press the 40K again...oh wait I really just wanted to try it because I am impatient. I was clearly not ready, but the 40K humbled me pretty quickly. I hated the fact that I had to wait until about 30 sessions in to start hitting my goals consistently.

Before the program I could press the 40K, but it was only on very good days (and possibly after consuming some pre-workout drinks). Now, I can even press the 40K on what I would consider a very bad day. On a good day I can press it for 4 reps on my left and right.

This is progress and here’s why: I can't rely on good days when it’s time to test at RKC II. If I have a bad day, I need to know that I will be ok and still hit my 40K press. This is like insurance to me.

The Lifts


Pressing every session can get tedious whether it’s too much work, lack of sleep or just not knowing when to go heavy or when to back off. Trying to find a 2x5 rep scheme that I could do consistently was the toughest challenge for me.

I knew I needed to develop a baseline I could use as a guide for when to go heavy or when to back off. After about 2 weeks I realized that pressing the 32K for 2x5 with my left and right was a great indicator of how I felt that day, as well as a good indicator of how the previous few sessions went.

At the beginning of the journey I went too heavy too soon and found that I had a tough time recovering from previous workouts. As I started to find a happy medium I truly realized (as I have before) that less is more and strength is built with consistency, rather than intensity. I have a new found love for the Press and feel as if this program gave me the opportunity to improve my technique while making huge strength gains.

My advice on the press is to use more days as set up days and not maximal effort days. Most guys want to lift heavy all the time, but you’ll soon realize after starting this program that it is not the way to get to your goal or the proper way to build authentic strength.

Here are some quick before and after numbers for the press. I’m pretty happy with the results.

Starting Numbers:
32K for 5 R/L (This felt very heavy)
36K for 2 R/L (Again, felt very heavy)
40K for 1R only

Ending Numbers:
32K for 15 R/13L (Both PR’s)
36K for 5 R/L
40K for 4R/3L


This was the toughest exercise in the program for me. There is no such thing as an easy pistol. Even on my “light” days, it was a very high tension lift.

As you know if you’ve read my blog before, I previously herniated 2 discs (L4-L5, L5-S1) so I always brace super tight when I pistol. These don’t bother my back, but I am always very cautious when I perform them. At the beginning of the program I again went too heavy too early here and noticed a bit of achiness in my knees, which I have never experienced in my life. I backed off on the weight, foam rolled, and stretched a lot more and this went away pretty quickly.

It was tough to get motivated to pistol 4 days a week so there were a few weeks I only ended up working out 2 or 3 times. As a result, the program took a bit longer than I would have expected.

I finally found my pistol groove which allowed me to be much more consistent with my weight choices and the way my body felt overall. I made some pretty big gains in this lift, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t choose this lift again as part of a 40 day program.

Starting Numbers:
20K 5R/5L
24K 4R/4L
40K 1R only

Ending Numbers:
32K 5R/5L
44K 1R/1L

Pull ups

This was the easiest part of the program for me because I have always been good at pull ups. I hit a 52K pull up before this journey so it certainly wasn’t a weak point for me.

What I learned most with this exercise was when to back off and when to go heavy. I decided not to push the envelope on pull ups since I know I’ll be ready for this lift for my RKC II. I did, however, hit some PR’s on this program. They weren’t for a maximal one rep pull, but rather for rep ranges from 4-6.

Some PR’s hit on the program:
32K x5
28K x6
44K x1 (consistently nailed whenever I tried)


As mentioned above, I mainly chose snatches to prepare for my training for RKC II. I didn’t have a problem passing the snatch test before (when I became an RKC), so passing is not a huge concern for me. My main goals with snatches during this program were to polish my technique and become as efficient as possible when I move the bell.

I chose to do swings instead of snatches on a few days where I was tired so that I could continue to reinforce a hip hinge without getting sloppy on my snatch form.

Side Note: I would highly recommend swinging and snatching 3-4 days a week if you are preparing for the RKC (or RKC II).

Since the goals for this exercise were more technique oriented, I wasn’t trying to set any type of PR. Conditioning isn’t an issue for me so I focused more on the strength portion of snatching.

Anterior Chain Exercise(s)

I chose the best “bang for your buck” exercises. Ab rollouts, body saws and hanging leg raises were the 3 big core exercises I used. I chose to alternate between these 3 rather than just choosing 1, simply to change it up a bit.

By the end of each session I was so tired that I didn’t want to spend a long duration of time on core work because I already worked my core with bracing techniques in the previous exercises.

Again, I wasn’t trying to set any records with these exercises, just wanted to keep my core strong and stable.

Pros and cons of this Program

  • Held me accountable
  • Helped me to truly understand each of these movements
  • Helped me become a better teacher as I got to understand the movements better
  • Developed a better ability to listen to my body
  • Reinforced the need for foam rolling and addressing any asymmetries
  • Didn’t have to think about what to do for a workout every day
  • Included a nice mix of long and short workouts
  • Easy to see progress week-to-week
Best Thing about the program: It worked. I got really damn strong (for me). I feel very comfortable going into RKC II.

  • Doing the same lifts every training session felt tedious/boring on some days
  • It can be easy to over train these movement patterns
  • When I overdid it in other areas of my life (playing soccer, yard work, etc.) it drastically affected my workouts
  • Missed other exercises and the freedom to create workouts on the fly
  • Tough to find a training partner
  • Pistols in every session seemed to be too much for my body

This program works. The results speak for themselves. I made a ton of progress on all of my lifts and I’m happy that I went through it.

This program is great for someone who truly wants to make strength gains in specific exercises/lifts. This program is great for someone who is thinking about training for a power lifting meet, an athlete who wants to work on their weak lifts or someone like me who is preparing for the RKC II.

This is not a program for someone who gets bored easily. This is not a program for someone who seeks general fitness and this is not a program for someone that quits easily. This is not a program for an athlete who is competing in their primary sport and wants to lift in-season.

If you want to get strong and you can stick to a plan, do this workout. Just remember, it’s simple, but it’s not easy.

I hope this review was helpful. If you have any questions, please ask.