Dan John & Pavel Tsatsouline: Easy Strength – a Review

Ahead of my holidays I finally bought “Easy Strength” by Dan John and Pavel Tsatsouline. As expected, the book was extremely good, albeit probably a bit less suited to deciding what I want to do for myself than a number of the other books by the same authors. The main target area for this book is clearly people who train others, and it provides an excellent framework for doing that. Having said this, if you are able to read diagonally and you don’t get stressed by an overload of information that is not even applicable in your case then this book is even a very important read for every athlete and weekend warrior who wants to be a bit more clued in about training philosophy and options.

In my view, both authors are excellent and they bring a very complimentary perspective: Dan John with his very down-to-earth, been-there-done-that style, and Pavel with his frequent references to (mostly Russian) studies and training practices. You need to be comfortable with Pavel’s style though – like in his other publications he is using this book to promote his own products and brands, and apparently the only professional “titles” of any relevance are those related to the RKC certification process.

Dan has managed to develop a 2×2 matrix – the tool favoured by management consultants since its introduction by BCG in the 1970’s – to classify the training needs in function of their sport, and this classification is the basis of this book. The two variables are (1) how many skills an athlete needs, and (2) the proficiency level in those skills. This gives rise to four Quadrants, and it is worth memorising them to make sure not to get confused by the discussion. Those quadrants are

  • Q1 – Many skills, low proficiency – Kid’s sports
  • Q2 – Many skills, high proficiency – most team sports
  • Q3 – Few skills, low/medium proficiency – weekend warriors, recreational athletes as well as many athletes in the more technical sports
  • Q4 – Few skills, high proficiency – skill sports (eg lifting)

UPDATE: as the master himself has pointed out in the comments, I misunderstood Q3 (underlined part added). It seems to me that the skills Dan refers to are only those that a strength & conditioning coach would address – which of course makes a lot of sense given the scope of the book. So whilst Dan arguably has (and has to or had to train) elite technical skills in discus and shot-put that are in Q4 (ie few skills at a very high level) those are out of the scope of the S&C coach, and hence the S&C coach would use a Q3 training template for Dan. 

Now I hear you ask – I can see that this works in practice, but does it work in theory? There are a number of kinks – for example adults seem to “regress” to Q3 from Q1 once they are no longer kids – but whilst the quadrant concept might be a slight oversimplification in theory, it seems to work well enough in practice, which is all that counts. It is key to keep in mind though that this matrix describes sports more than athletes – an elite weightlifter is Q4 in lifting, but most likely Q3 in volleyball or ice dancing. UPDATE: as the master himself has also pointed out in the comments there is no regression from kids to adults. It seems that the Q’s are about training needs rather than absolute skill levels; so adults do need many skills at a low level, but they already possess them and hence for their training they are no longer relevant

Having established this classification the authors proceed to establish general training styles within each quadrant. Incidentally, Dan has written a nice blog post about training recently, where he brings things to the point: Training for Q2 is about managing compromise, and Training for Q3 is about compliance and simplicity. I would add that from what I understood from his book, Q1 is about playful exposure, and Q4 finally is about varied specificity, or “same but different”.

For each of the training styles, the authors then proceed to give practical examples of how training programs could look like – and how they look in real-life elite athletes. This is where the information overload sets in, and I have to admit that I skipped most of the specific programs (especially the Q2/Q4 one’s) when reading the book on the Kindle. I did have a look at some of the Q3 one’s though, and you’ll probably see more of it in my personal planning.

Stay tuned!

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7 thoughts on “Dan John & Pavel Tsatsouline: Easy Strength – a Review

  1. You missed the point on QIII. Discus throwing and shot putting…as well as fat loss and most things, to be honest…are QIII. Now, my lifts were pretty good, but NOTHING compared to the best and brightest in O and Powerlifting. So, remember, discus throwing has few qualities (tech and strength is about it) and you have to have the courage to simply (“I said it was simple, not easy”) have the courage to get strong with solid tech. From there, it is dealing with arousal levels. So, few qualities at a RELATIVELY low level. Now, when I say I was weak with a 402 clean, you have to understand that is weak compared to an elite O lifter in my weight class.

    I’m here to help out if there is any confusion.

    On this: “There are a number of kinks – for example adults seem to “regress” to Q3 from Q1 once they are no longer kids – ,” there is no regression at all. This isn’t moral theology with “good” or “bad” in the Q’s. The idea is that the ROLE or IMPACT of the Strength coach is simply “this” in this Q. An adult who works 40-50 hours a week, helps at church, coaches in a league, and is a good parent is not able to also learn and practice the basic fundamentals of a bunch of sports…

    • Dan, thanks for doing me the honor and commenting on my blog. I misunderstood your definition of skill I suppose – you seem to restrict it to the more “fundamental” skills here, ie the ones targeted by a strength and conditioning coach, is this correct? I would have thought, almost by definition an elite discus thrower would be Q4 on the discus technical skills.
      I also get your point on Q1 vs Q3 I suppose – I had seen it as “those are the skills someone needs to have”, but when you talk about the Q’s it seems to be more about “those are the skills someone needs to train”. So obviously, adults will HAVE MORE skills than kids, but their residual TRAINING NEEDS will be restricted to FEWER skills.
      Thanks for the clarification!

  2. QIV (four) is rare air. Literally, it is almost one quality: blazing speed in the 100 meters or Absolute Strength in the Deadlift. It’s a rare person who can do much more than applaud, let alone coach, at this level. Remember, the idea of the Q’s is simply to show the role of the Strength Coach. Now, you might say, “but what about all this other stuff like games and sports?” Right. The strength coach tends to work best when the person really already has:
    one, picked the right niche for their genetic gifts,
    two, already comes in with some basic background.

    Most of the time, and this is hard to grasp at first, my job is to make you stronger (that’s it!!!) and it often helps you with your goals. The easiest of all qualities to increase or improve is strength and we tend to make it the most complex.

    I wasn’t come in to be mean or anything, I just wanted to clarify that…

    • Dan, I am very grateful for your clarifications. The crux with frameworks is that somehow everyone understands them differently, just like you pointed out that there are quite a few variations on 5×5 frameworks.
      I now understand that in the book you look at Q1-Q4 only from the subset of skills relevant for the S&C coach, and this makes a lot of sense given its scope. Your framework does work pretty well across all skills though, including those technical skills that would usually be taught by the primary coaches, and from my recreational athlete point of view it seems to me that it makes a lot of sense to use this wider definition of the framework

  3. Pingback: Dan John: Mass Made Simple – A review | Thor Falk

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