“Easy Strength”: Lessons for Building Strength

Dan John is a well known expert in the field of strength and conditioning. He is a respected strength and weightlifting coach with over 30 years of experience  and an impressive resume to include being an All-American discus thrower, holds the American record in the Weight Pentathlon, and has competed at the highest levels of Olympic lifting and Highland Games. Personally, I like his style of coaching because he makes everything easy to understand and is very real and blunt. He wrote the book “Easy Strength: How to Get a Lot Stronger Than Your Competition-And Dominate in Your Sport”, where he details how to gain strength in a simple way. I watched a video of a 2016 seminar on “Easy Strength” and I wanted to share some key take-aways: 

  • Stretching and mobility work are important. As we get older, the areas that tighten the most are pecs, biceps, hip flexors, and hamstrings. However, what do people like to do? Bench (pecs), curls (biceps), leg press. We inevitably turn ourselves into old people if we train these muscle groups but neglect stretching them. 

  • The most common muscles that weaken as we age are: glutes, delta, triceps, and ab wall. 

  • Strength peaks in the late twenties and maintains for a long time; it then gradually declines especially. in untrained populations.

    • He emphasizes increasing your strength. He compares absolute strength to a glass, and everything else is the liquid…the bigger the class you can get, the more you can fill it up with stuff. 

  • The 2 basic principles for what we do in the weight room: 

    • Strength Training for Lean Body Mass and Joint Mobility Work trumps everything else. Many people lack mobility due to weakness. This is seen with overhead squats, dips, and deep squats. 

    • Mastery of Fundamental Human Movements is Fundamental

      • Push – bench press, push ups

      • Pull – rows, pull ups

      • Hinge – KB swings, good mornings, deadlifts

      • Squat – front squats, back squats, goblet squats

      • Loaded carries – farmer’s walk, suitcase carries

      • “Sixth movement” (abs, obliques, glutes, all the extensors) – Turkish get-ups, core exercises

  • When coaching, we need to get people on the ground and teach them how to get back up. This is essential for athletes and the general population! 28,000 Americans die every year from fall-related injuries. 

    • Exercises to help with this are TGUs, tumbling, cartwheels, shoulder rolls, bear crawls, forward rolls.

  • Another movement that is essential is brachiating, which is training in the vertical environment. These are things like monkey bars and hanging from bars. 

  • What’s an Easy way to get strong?

    • Lift Heavy. 

    • Do the Fundamental Human Movements 

    • Keep your reps and sets low. 

    • Stop your sets and your workout before you get fatigued.

    • Don’t even struggle.

    • Basically, never miss a rep; keep plenty in the tank and keep coming back.

  • Play for the long run– “come back to play another day”. Robert actually mentions this in our previous blog ““Coaches Corner- Things I Wish I Knew When I Started…””:

  • Again, focus on the fundamental human movements

  • If you want to build strength, stick to the rule of 10. This  means programming 10 or fewer reps per training session (3×3, 5×2, 2×5, 5-3-2, 10×1).

  •  To build muscle (hypertrophy), stick to the rule of 30 (4×7, 3×10, 2×15)

  • And again– Ensure you do the fundamental human movements with appropriate sets and reps and appropriate load

Beyond the key takeaways, I also want to go over the “Easy Strength” program. There are a lot of strength programs out there, such as the conjugate method, Wendler’s 5/3/1, and Juggernaut program to name a few, and they are all well-respected programs that work for most people. Easy Strength is another program to add to the list. Is it better than the other programs listed out? It depends what you are looking for and if you can adhere to the program and be consistent with the sessions. I have personally never run through this program, however I am testing it out now to experiment. It makes sense from a strength perspective and there have been a lot of positive reviews on it. I recommend it for busy individuals who are limited on time and/or athletes who want to build strength but don’t have the capacity to add on another intense or long session to their current sport-specific training load . Here are the details on the Easy Strength program:

  • Easy strength includes 40 workouts. You have to do the exact same training program every day.

    • I structured mine so that I do the workouts Monday-Friday (5 days) with 2 days of rest (Saturday, Sunday). Therefore, it will take me 8 weeks to complete the 40 workouts.

  • Each day you will do the same 5 exercises: posterior chain (such as DL), upper push (bench variation or overhead press variation), upper pull (pull up, barbell row), full body explosive (kb swing/snatch), and ab work (ab wheel)

  • Reps are minimal. You are only performing 10 reps per exercise: such as 2×5 for DL, 2×5 bench, 2×5 front squat. 

  • The explosive movement will be a set of 20-50 for explosive movement

This program is said to get you strong with little time commitment each day, since it usually takes about 15-30 minutes at most. It also requires little recovery due to the light load.  For athletes, it can be used in conjunction with appropriate heart rate, tension, and arousal so that they can simulate their sport conditions in the strength room.