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But it was the second day of Russian Kettlebell Certification (RKC), and we were practicing constant tension, one of several techniques intended to increase strength output. In this case, we spot checked each other with punches. Secret Service Counter Assault Team, wandered the ranks, contributing jabs where needed.

Two hours earlier, Pavel had asked the attendees for someone stuck at a 1 rep maximum (1RM) in the one arm overhead press. He then proceeded to take the volunteer from 53 lbs. to 72 lbs. in less than five minutes: a 26% strength increase. Translated into more familiar terms, this would represent a jump in one repetition max from 106 pounds to 144 pounds in the barbell military press.

“Doing the unrealistic is easier than doing the realistic,” Tim wrote in The 4 Hour Workweek:

“It’s lonely at the top. Ninety nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for goals, paradoxically making them the most time and energy consuming. The fishing is best where the fewest go, and the collective insecurity of the world makes it easy for people to hit home runs while everyone else is aiming for base hits. There is just less competition for bigger goals.”

Running is the most democratic of all sports. Because it seems so unthreatening “anyone can do it” every local race is packed, and your chances of placing are slim to none.

In contrast, sports like powerlifting, grip sport, or arm wrestling have a remarkably small number of competitors. Showing up already means that you have defeated 99% of the contenders. They were too intimidated to even try.

A couple of years ago, I brought my 70 year old father to a power meet to keep me company. But he was not content to watch; I caught him in the warm up area deadlifting 225 pounds with bad form. So, you want to compete, Dad? Affirmative.

My father, Vladimir, is a lifetime athlete swimmer, boxer, judoka, skier, fencer, you name it. But he had not been bitten by the iron bug until then. He started training. A year later, he stood up with 374 pounds without a belt! at a body weight of 181 pounds and broke the American record (USPF single lift DL, 70 74 years old). Even if he took to running with the same zeal, he would still be finishing in the second wave of a local 5K race.

Vladimir Tsatsulin deadlifting on Muscle Beach Venice in one of his first meets.

Vladimir Tsatsulin deadlifting on Muscle Beach Venice in one of his first meets. Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance to overcome the inevitable trials and tribulations that go along with any goal. Realistic goals, goals restricted to the average ambition level, are uninspiring and will only fuel you through the first or second problem, at which point you will throw in the towel.”

My father’s training is very 4HWW. It is driven by Pareto’s Law and Parkinson’s Law. The former states that the lion’s share of the output is produced by a small fraction of the input. My old man wants to excel in the deadlift, so he deadlifts. He does no assistance exercises.

The other law, Parkinson’s, decrees that, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Deadlines imposed by regular powerlifting competitions keep my father focused on what strength coach Dan John calls “keeping the goal the goal.” This is why Vladimir competes,
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typically twice a year.

Would you like to follow my old man and become a successful lifter?

You have a choice of competing in all three powerlifting events (squat, bench press, and deadlift) or becoming a BP or DL specialist.

If doing all three appeals to you, review the article I wrote for Tim’s blog, 80/20 Powerlifting and How to Add 110+ Pounds to Your Lifts.

If you want to take the bench press route, you cannot do better than former Coach Powerlifting Team USA Marty Gallagher’s plan on pages 425 430 of The 4 Hour Body.

If you choose to be a deadlift specialist, follow my father’s tested plan.

Vladimir competes only in the deadlift for three reasons. First, he has an old shoulder injury that prevents him from serious squatting and benching. Second, competing in only one event allows the athlete to have an ultra narrow, highly focused goal. Third, the other two lifts demand that one adds a lot of muscle in order to be competitive. The deadlift is an exception, a pure “mind lift” that allows one to get very strong without adding much weight. Consider this video of one of our RKC kettlebell instructors, Melissa Klundby, pulling a record 314.5 pounds at a bodyweight of 128:

(Video courtesy of Melissa Klundby, RKC)

Dad deadlifts twice a week, once heavy and once light.

The light Monday workout never changes: 225 x 5/5. It serves several functions. First, technique pactice. Second, maintaining muscle mass close to a meet, when training volume on the heavy day has been reduced. To give you an idea how well this has been working, Prof. Stuart McGill commented that he had never seen such a muscular back on a seventy year old. And McGill, the world’s leading spine biomechanist and consultant to Olympic teams of several countries, has seen a great many impressive backs. Third, because the load remains the same, the perceived rate of exertion allows Vladimir to monitor his strength gains by paying attention to the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE).

Traditionally RPE is logged on a 1 to 10 scale, but I like my father’s method better: percentage of an all out effort. Throughout the training cycle before the meet in which he pulled his personal record 380 his RPE readings for the light day read:

60%, 50%, 49%, 48%, 47%, 46%, 44%, 43%, 42%

You might say, “You have got to be kidding! 42%?! No one can define their perceived effort with such accuracy.”

True. In my father’s system, such increments simply mean that the weight felt a hair lighter than the last time. And I was very pleased to see the pattern as the light workout stayed the same for the duration of the cycle, and apples could be compared to apples. He was obviously getting stronger.
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