A question: what is the hardest part of training? Something like a 250 kg (550 lbs.) squat?
Answer: No! Absolutely not. For most athletes, the most difficult task in all of training is packing up their bag and heading down to the gym.
Sure, it sounds strange. Why does your gym bag suddenly weigh a ton when you pack up and head out to the gym? Why does a packed gym bag weigh more than a 250 kg barbell? And why that sick feeling when you think about going to the gym to train?
The truth is that if you experience this feeling, you have been doing something wrong. You have not been training properly. You either did not properly distribute the load over your training cycle, or you have not made a proper selection of weight training exercises.
Due to the abundance of colorful muscle magazines, most newcomers at the gym, looking to build muscle, are not exercising correctly:
• They perform too many exercises.
• They do not perform the exercises correctly.
• They do not exercise progressively.
• They over-train.
And in the end, it is only natural that they make no progress.
Weeks, months, and even years pass in training, a veritable sea of sweat…all in vain.
Why is this happening? In part, it is because of the glut of Western literature for bodybuilders. These muscle magazines, with their colorful photos and glossy covers, recycle the same useless information which is not geared to the needs of the novice lifter.
Via the internet, I speak with many athletes, and receive many letters from athletes. These are Russians both here and abroad, lifting around the world. The reports from guys lifting in the West are that gyms are characterized by a shift away from barbells and toward a reliance on machines. There is a machine for everything—even the basics—like squats, bench presses, and pulls. In these gyms the trainers look at a guy interested in barbells as a freak.
The explanation given is simple: barbells are dangerous. A beginner might load up one side of a barbell with plates, and the barbell—of course—will tip and fall. BOOM! Someone could get hurt! The trainer will be end up in court and the gym will be forking out cash for lawyers and a settlement. Training on a machine doesn’t pose this risk—it’s not an easy thing to get injured training on one—so the typical Western gym will do everything it can to get trainees to use machines. It’s safer that way! And meanwhile, the barbells stand idle in their racks.
Here is Russia, things are different.
In our gyms one can always here the crash of weights on the platforms and racks. We are a country of strongmen, traditionally, and in our training halls you will always see athletes hard at work with barbells. In fact, many lifters have only ever lifted barbells, nothing else. These guys can teach any freshman lifter proper safety in handling barbells, instruct them in the proper exercises, and know that personal trainers are best left to women and fat people trying to lose weight.
But even here, now and then, the colorful muscle magazines clog the heads of youngsters with unnecessary information. They offer reprints of Western articles and gloss over the specifics of our native Russian strength training methods. Unfortunately, these magazines set the standard, and in them, the standard is “safe” training on machines. You won’t find articles on working with barbells in them, and that is by design. We can safely assert that the goal of these Western magazines is diametrically opposed to the goals of most beginners, including you.
You want to build muscle, quickly and efficiently, which can only be accomplished with barbell training. These magazines want to make money, and to avoid losing money getting sued by for recommendations which might lead to injury. They make money by advertising exercise machinery, so it is only natural that machines become more and more common, while simple and effective training with barbells becomes less and less common.
As a result, these magazines are only causing harm, creating the impression that you need to train for hours on the latest and greatest machines. On the topic of basic and effective training with barbells they write very little, or none at all. Not a thought goes to helping people learn how to work, safely and productively, with a barbell.
This book will teach you how things really are.
The techniques and methods recommended by most foreign authors are, speaking generally, more hindrance than help. Young guys today need to understand something: all the most powerful athletes live in Russia. At the (IPF) World Championships the Russian team is always first in terms of gold, silver, and bronze medals. After the Russians, the next best are the Ukrainians, then the Poles, and the American team does not rise above fourth place.
Even in internal competitions held in the U.S. and Canada, Russian athletes—not even at the highest levels, by our standards—meet almost no resistance and collect a rich harvest of awards and cash prizes. So why the slogan: the Russians are coming! Our formidable shadow already looms over world of powerlifting, and if you want to progress, you need to learn Russian methods in order to do it.
I want to show you one of these methods in this book.
After reading this book, you will have learned not just about how to lift, but how to effect the best possible use of every minute spent in the gym, how to design training cycles, and how to avoid stagnation. By focusing on these essentials, the results will come quickly.
These are the exact methods used in training by our Master of Sport (MS) and Master of Sport International Class (MSIC) athletes. Do you think that they are strong because they have outstanding genetics? Or because they are taking doses of steroids big enough for a horse?
No. They forge ahead with focus on the essentials, not scattering their energy over 6 to 12 exercises each workout. They spend their energy sparingly. They are concerned only with what is absolutely needed, and nothing more.
Of course, the subject of steroids requires further explanation. I know that many people reading about MS and MSIC athletes are thinking: these guys are the equal of any chemist. Yes, it is a bit creepy to think that when we talk about power sports, or when someone mentions that he is a Master of Sport, that there is an automatic implication that he is also a “chemist”. The fact that he is lifting using effective methods doesn’t get a second thought.
Just because someone has wasted time on some utterly useless training program does not mean that there is no effective method. It exists. And there are real MS- and MSIC-ranked men who have achieved these levels by following these effective training methods, and without a degree in chemistry.
One great example of a clean Master of Sport International Class is Pavel Sboev, from Berdsk in the Novosibirsk oblast. He used a system, which I present here in the chapter on cycles, and collected MSIC titles in two weight classes, 90 kg (198 lbs.) and 100 kg (220 lbs.).
Over time, he had drifted away from lifting competition; he was busy with life and had a nagging back injury he sustained on the job. As it happened, he came to watch a powerlifting competition in Novosibirsk. Although he tried to shake off the crowd, he was eventually persuaded to participate in all three lifts—and won first place! In fact, he missed MSIC by only 30 kg (66 lbs.). His results on the platform, at a bodyweight of 89 kg (196 lbs.), were a squat of 295 kg (650 lbs.), a bench press of 195 kg (430 lbs.), and a dead lift of 300 kg (661 lbs.). And this with no training, no special equipment, and no drugs!
All of this was possible because, if an athlete trains without drugs, the results are stable. Over a course of years Pavel Sboev had taught himself to work in cycles, with his body getting used to planned increases and decreases in load, and without the need for chemistry. Drugs only allow for faster recovery, but the body is provided with proper rest periods every two months or so, the need for drugs disappears on its own.
By the way, his best competitive results were: squatting 322.5 kg (711 lbs.), benching 222.5 (490 lbs.), and deadlifting 325 kg (716 lbs.). He was three times champion of Russia in the 90 kg (198 lbs.) and 100 kg (220 lbs.) weight categories.
But enough about Pavel, let’s talk about me.
I trained for three-event powerlifting competition for 7 or 8 years. My totals crept up, year by year. Slowly, I progressed towards the Candidate Master of Sport (CMS) class, but since this is hardly the upper crust in powerlifting, I didn’t pay much attention to it. CMS is a bit like graduating high school; yes, you’ve graduated, but you will still have to study. About two years after reaching CMS, it turned out that I spent a whole year barely training—college, final exams, graduation, and then graduate school got in the way—some of it good and some of it bad. My totals fell too, of course. Actually, since I wasn’t training, you could say they had fallen to zero. But at that time, an old friend started training and achieved Master of Sport in just two years of training.
I decided that I could do it too.
The first thing that I did was to sit down and look through my training logs for all these past years, looking for the answer to two basic questions: when did I make my best progress, and why?
In truth, I didn’t know what I was going to find, or where to look, but I was amazed that as young as I had been when I started training, I had had the good sense to keep training records where I had written down each set and rep, my exercise times, loads, and various observations. These logs were incredibly useful.
Studying them, I was able to identify the most effective principles of my past training and developed a new approach based on them. Then, in early August, I headed to the gym and started back at it, with a barbell weighing just 50 kg. Six months later, in January 1996, in the competition arena in Myski City, Kemerovo Oblast I bench pressed 162.5 kg (358 lbs.), and totaled enough in the three lifts to achieve a Master of Sport in powerlifting in the 75 kg (165 lbs.) weight class. I should add that, at the time I had very little money and could not afford expensive support equipment, so I just lifted without it: no bench shirt, no squat suit, nothing.
Now, the difference between a CMS and MS rank is about 68 kg (150 lbs.). How did I make such progress in just six months? And without ever overtraining? But really, these results only proved to me the effectiveness of the principles I had laid out as the very foundation of my training.
I can state the essence of what I had found in this single sentence: NO NONSENSE!
My approach gives a huge savings in time and effort, while still producing striking results. These are the same principles I am going to give you in this book. And by the way, I’ve learned over time that almost all successful athletes have eventually hit upon a similar approach.
Sometime after achieving Master of Sport rank, I became involved in coaching others. I worked as a trainer, helping people get fit and prepare for gymnastic, powerlifting, and bodybuilding competition in various gyms in the Novosibirsk oblast. My personal experience, both in sport and in coaching, has convinced me of the truth of Vladimir Lenin’s famous slogan: better less, but better. That is the secret to successfully building muscle and a sharp rise in totals on the platform.
In concluding this section, I want to thank the people who contributed to the writing of this book:
I have received great help in writing this book from my friends: Master of Sport International Category Pavel Sergeiovich Sboev; national category coach and bench press champion of Russia Alexander Ivanovich Sboev. It was the tips that I learned in talking with them that gave birth to this book.
I want to express my gratitude to my colleagues and mentors in sports:
• Master of Sport Valery Mikhailovich Borovikov, a very talented coach.
• Andrey V. Chalkovu, the illustrious national category coach and judge.
• International Master of Sport Svetlana Golubeva
• Tatyana Trifinova
• Alexander Berezina, bench press champion of Russia
• Master of Sport Yevgeny Kudryavtsev, for his daily example of purposeful work on oneself.
I also want to thank the senior coach of the Russian national powerlifting team, Honored Coach of Russia, Igor. G. Derevjanko directly for for the opportunity to see the world, for training world-class athletes, and for his personal communications with me.
Special thanks to the outstanding businessman, Master of Sport Victor A. Golubev for his selfless contributions to the development of children’s sport and for the support he provides to budding athletes.
And of course, a big thanks to my family and friends.
If, by chance, you want to ask me a question or chat with likeminded people, you can do so by visiting the forum on my website: www.forum.faleev.com
Alexei V. Faleev
Candidate of Technical Sciences
Master of Sport & Powerlifting Coach
Director, Center for Bodyweight Correction