When I was younger, and before Amazon, I would go to Barnes and Noble Booksellers. These trips inevitably involved the purchase of three books. One such auspicious book was Power to the People by Pavel Tsatsouline.
Here was a Russian dude in blue jeans with his shirt off, looking pretty hardcore and strong, but not super big. His personality leapt off of the page. And the writing was excellent. And finally, I had my answer to the question: how was Bruce Lee so strong?
The answer? He trained his nervous system. And Tsatsouline teaches you how in the aforementioned book.
It turns out training the nervous system is relatively simple. Just by flexing your butt and abs you’re instantly stronger. You can try it, squeeze someone’s hand and then tense your butt and abs and you’ll see you can squeeze harder. They’ll feel it. Other ‘tricks’ involve hissing out, flexing the whole body when performing an exercise, squeezing weights as hard as you can and so on.
Pavel’s thing was that you could be instantly stronger. And it’s true. And instantly more flexible. All by training the nervous system. This happens once you understand that the nervous system is a governor that is set conservatively. The conscious flexing of other parts of your body tells the nervous system that it is safe to unleash more power.
One of my favorite strength techniques was feed forward tension. I wrote an article about it for DragonDoor. It basically involves doing the movement without weights as though there were actually weights. Like you pretend there is a weight and you flex and imagine and everything. One feed forward tension rep of the overhead press on each side (keep in mind you’re employing all those tension techniques mentioned above) will completely warm your entire body. It’s very stimulating.
I find these techniques interesting and powerful. The overuse of them seems draining to me physically. So I enjoy practicing them occasionally or picking one and working it. Otherwise, slow controlled reps and matching the movement to the breath, without trying to have high tension everywhere. I don’t think it’s practical to be strength training all the time and periods of higher reps and lighter weights are refreshing.
Pavel’s writing has been extremely influential and beneficial for me. Knowing the strength techniques is great—especially when moving something or having to lift some heavy object. There’s been many times my back was saved by mastering these principles. In fact, that is a key—the ability to flex your stomach to protect your back.
Perhaps my biggest Pavel lesson is how effective minimalistic programs can be. You really don’t need much. In fact, the Power to the People program is just two exercises: the deadlift and the side press.
Of course Pavel’s biggest contribution was mainstreaming the kettlebell. If you’re interested in one of those or some of Pavel’s other stuff, check out DragonDoor.com using the big old affiliate link below:
Hey, no shame in using an affiliate link here. I’ve been using Dragon Door stuff for a long time and to be honest, I try to spread my money around and not always use Amazon. Sometimes Bezos creeps me out a bit.