Soviet Training "Secrets" to Spark New Muscle Growth

by Christian Thibaudeau

The Soviets and other Eastern European countries knew more about training than anyone else in the world. They had closely guarded, top secret training methods devised in dark laboratories by evil geniuses bent on world domination. Luckily those highly advanced training programs are available today for a mere $29.95 in the back of most muscle magazines. You’ll find them right beside the ads for penis enlargement creams and hot phone sex with horny, bi-curious co-eds. Order yours today!

Ok, not really.

The truth is, the Soviets didn’t have any real “secrets.” Instead, their success resided in the proper application of proven training methods. So instead of looking for “secrets,” let’s take a look at what the Soviets and others really did to dominate the world of strength and what they did to produce some of the most powerful-looking muscular physiques of all time.

Real Soviet Secret #1

“There is no correlation between the ability to display great strength and the ability to display it quickly.”

  R.A. Roman, Soviet weightlifting coach

When you want to become a better athlete you must become very explosive and powerful. In other words, you must be able to produce a lot of force quickly. The Soviets knew that speed was king in sports, so they used training methods aimed at improving the capacity to produce strength rapidly, thus to move fast!

If you’re very strong but can’t display your strength quickly, do you really think youre going to be effective on the playing field? Well, unless your opponent is willing to give you four seconds to reach your maximum strength when youre trying to tackle him, the answer is no!

Exercises such as the Olympic lifts, depth jumps, jumping with a barbell (jump squats) and weighted sprints constituted the core of the Soviet conditioning program. Strength lifts were included as well. Squats, front squats, pulls, military press and bench press were all part of their training agenda. However, these exercises were performed to maximize acceleration. They used what we now call Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT).

This method is simple: regardless of the load used, always try to accelerate it as much as possible. Of course, if you use a heavy load it will move slowly, but the intent to accelerate it has the same effect as actually accelerating it. Ironically, this is backed by Western research, yet how many coaches or athletes know about it?

Remember that strength is good (you wont be able to produce a lot of force quickly if you don’t possess a good foundation of strength first); however, it’s not sufficient by itself. Without the capacity to use your strength in fast movements, it’s mostly wasted.

Now, if you’re only interested in developing an aesthetic physique, how does that help you? Well, trying to accelerate a load increases the necessity to produce force (Force = Mass x Acceleration). Producing more force requires a larger quantity of muscle tension; more muscle tension leads to a greater rate of protein degradation which is a powerful muscle growth stimulus!

Real Soviet Secret #2

“It is not the volume of work, but the correct construction of the training system in the diversity of physical exercises that is especially important.”

N.P. Laputin and V.G. Oleshko, Soviet weightlifting coaches

A lot of coaches and athletes believe that the only way to increase the difficulty and the effectiveness of a training program is to progressively increase the training volume. This is erroneous as the body has a limited capacity to adapt to physical and mental stress. Always trying to increase an athletes training volume is a sure-fire way to make him stale in his progress. Constantly increasing the training volume leads to depleted physical resources and nervous energy.

Its a much better alternative to increase the quality of the training instead of the sheer quantity of it. The quality of training can be improved by increasing the average training intensity, changing exercises, perfecting exercise technique, and improving mental focus during a training session.

At some point an athlete has to increase training volume to stimulate more functional and structural changes; however, this is an extremely slow and progressive process. Quality must be optimized way before quantity can be significantly increased.

Real Soviet Secret #3

“Balancing the training program with the state and capabilities of the athlete is the essence of management.”

 N.G. Ozolin, Soviet weightlifting coach

One key to progress is to give the body the stimulus it needs to improve, but not more. If you under-stimulate, you won’t benefit from any adaptive reconstruction (you won’t stimulate muscle growth). If you over-stimulate, you risk depleting your adaptation reserves quickly, leading to stagnation or regression.

Think of your body as a medieval castle. If a lone idiot decides to attack your fortress, will you be panicked? Probably not. At best he’ll be able to scratch your eastern wall before suffering a very painful death. At this point you wont be alarmed and you wont need to add any defenses to your castle. This is what happens when theres an insufficient level of stimulation.

Now imagine that a rather large force lays siege to your castle. Youre able to defeat them but the battle is fierce and you suffer some damage. At this point it’s likely you’ll not only rebuild what’s been destroyed, but you’ll add a few new walls and maybe a tower just so that you’ll be ready for another attack. This is what happens when there??™s optimal stimulation.

Finally, lets say the enemy attacks you with his whole army. You’re able to defeat him, but your castle is damaged beyond repair. In this case, your castle ends up weaker than it was before the attack and it will stay that way. This is what happens when you over-stimulate your body with training.

To progress as much as possible, you must place the optimum amount of stimulus on your body. To do this, you can use what’s called autoregulating training. With this type of training you have a base workout that can be increased or decreased depending on how you feel during the session. Dont worry, at the end of this article Ill show you a sample autoregulating program! (By the way, another form of autoregulating training is Charles Staleys EDT.)

To make the best use of autoregulating training you must learn to recognize and interpret your own self-control indicators. Heres a simple way to regulate your training:

Answer these three questions, add up the points, and look at the interpretation chart.

How do you feel?

Fantastic: + 4

Good: + 2

Average: 0

Bad: – 2

Awful: – 4

Are you motivated to train?

Beyond belief, lets rock and roll!: + 4

Yes, I’m psyched to train: + 2

I wanna go, but thats it: 0

Do I have to: – 2

I really dont want to train today: – 4

How did you sleep last night?

Great night of sleep: + 4

Slept pretty good: + 2

Average: 0

Had trouble sleeping: – 2

Barely slept at all: – 4

Interpretation Chart

10 to 12 total = Increase the daily training load significantly (volume and average intensity)

6 to 9 total = Increase the daily training load (volume only)

0 to 5 total = Stay with the planned training load

-6 to -1 = Decrease the training load (volume or intensity)

-12 to -7 = Skip daily training

Real Soviet Secret #4

“Restoration measures should be considered an integral part of training.”

A.S. Medvedyev, Soviet weightlifting coach

Using restoration measures decreases the time it takes to recover from a workout, increases the rate of physical adaptation, and makes you less likely to overtrain. We can note the following classes of restoration measures which are available to all:

Hydrotherapy and heat therapy. This includes the use of saunas, hot and cold baths, hot and cold showers, and cryokinetics (applying ice to a muscle and contracting it repeatedly at low intensities). My personal favorite is the use of contrast showers. Alternate between 60 seconds of cold water and 60 seconds of hot water; repeat for 10 to 20 minutes after each training session.

Nutritional strategies. The proper use of an adequate post-workout meal will go miles toward increasing the adaptation of your body to training. I believe that Biotest Surge and Classic Grow! are very good products to serve that role.

Specific supplementation. There are some products out there that can help you cope with stress. Some will improve your capacity to adapt to physical stress (vitamin A, C and E, protein, creatine, adaptogens) and others which will increase the adaptation rate of your central nervous system (Power Drive). A proper supplementation program is essential if you want to adapt to training optimally and produce peak results consistently.

General Physical Preparedness (GPP). The utilization of a proper regimen of GPP work will increase your work capacity and will help you recover from your hard sessions.

Example of a Program Based on the “Soviet Secrets”

Heres a 16 session sample program based on the information supplied above. I recommend doing the 16 sessions over the course of a month or so with one day of rest between each workout. Remember, this is only one possible course of action; you’re encouraged to adapt the methods to your own training.

Note: If you’re unfamiliar with some of these lifts, just read my other articles in the Previous Issues section of T-mag for full descriptions.

Session 1

Power clean: 1 x 3 @ 55% of one rep max, 3 x 3 @ 65% of one rep max

Push press: 1 x 3 @ 55%, 3 x 3 @ 65%

Back squat: 1 x 5 @ 60%, 3 x 4 @ 70%

Additional loading (if +6 to +12 in the autoregulating scale):

Lunges: 3 x 5 each leg @ 40% of squat

Barbell rowing: 3 x 5 @ 70%

Session 2

Power snatch from hang: 1 x 3 @ 50%, 3 x 3 @ 60%

Bench press: 1 x 5 @ 65%, 3 x 5 @ 75%

Overhead squat: 4 x 4 @ 50% of power snatch

Additional loading (if +6 to +12 in the autoregulating scale):

Incline bench press: 3 x 5 @ 70%

Upright rowing: 3 x 5 @ 20% of power clean

Session 3

Power clean + push jerk: 1 x 1-3 (1 clean + 3 jerks) @ 50%, 3 x 1-3 @ 65%

Front squat: 4 x 6 @ 50% of back squat

Military press: 4 x 5 @ 40% of bench press

Additional loading (if +6 to +12 in the autoregulating scale):

Step up: 3 x 5 each leg @ 30% of squat

Depth jumps: 3 x 5 @ bodyweight

Session 4

Power snatch: 1 x 3 @ 50%, 5 x 3 @ 60%

Push press: 1 x 3 @ 55%, 5 x 3 @ 65%

Jump squat: 6 x 6 @ 15% of back squat

Additional loading (if +6 to +12 in the autoregulating scale):

Hurdle jumps: 3 x 20 @ bodyweight

Shrug: 3 x 5 @ 100% of power clean

Session 5

Power clean: 1 x 3 @ 55%, 2 x 3 @ 65%, 1 x 3 @ 75%

Push press: 1 x 3 @ 55%, 2 x 3 @ 65%, 1 x 3 @ 75%

Back squat: 1 x 5 @ 60%, 3 x 4 @ 70%, 1 x 3 @ 80%

Additional loading (if +6 to +12 in the autoregulating scale):

Lunges: 3 x 5 each leg @ 40% of squat

Barbell rowing: 3 x 5 @ 70%

Session 6

Power snatch from hang: 1 x 3 @ 50%, 3 x 3 @ 60%

Bench press: 1 x 5 @ 65%, 3 x 5 @ 75%

Overhead squat: 4 x 4 @ 50% of power snatch

Additional loading (if +6 to +12 in the autoregulating scale):

Incline bench press: 3 x 5 @ 70%

Upright rowing: 3 x 5 @ 20% of power clean

Session 7

Power clean + push jerk: 1 x 1-3 (1 clean + 3 jerks) @ 65%, 3 x 1-3 @ 75%

Front squat: 4 x 6 @ 50% of back squat

Military press: 4 x 5 @ 40% of bench press

Additional loading (if +6 to +12 in the autoregulating scale):

Step up: 3 x 5 each leg @ 30% of squat

Depth jumps: 3 x 5 @ bodyweight

Session 8

Power snatch: 1 x 3 @ 50%, 3 x 3 @ 60%, 2 x 3 @ 70%

Push press: 1 x 3 @ 55%, 3 x 3 @ 65%, 2 x 3 @ 75%

Jump squat: 3 x 3 @ 20% of back squat, 3 x 3 @ 10% of back squat

Additional loading (if +6 to +12 in the autoregulating scale):

Hurdle jumps: 3 x 20 @ bodyweight

Shrug: 3 x 5 @ 100% of power clean

Session 9

Power clean from hang: 1 x 3 @ 55%, 4 x 3 @ 65%

Push press behind the neck: 1 x 3 @ 55%, 2 x 3 @ 65%

Back squat: 1 x 5 @ 60%, 3 x 4 @ 70%, 1 x 3 @ 80%, 1 x 2 @ 85%

Additional loading (if +6 to +12 in the autoregulating scale):

Lunges: 3 x 5 each leg @ 40% of squat

Barbell rowing: 3 x 5 @ 70%

Session 10

Power snatch from blocks: 1 x 3 @ 50%, 1 x 3 @ 60%, 2 x 2 @ 70%

Bench press: 1 x 5 @ 65%, 3 x 5 @ 75%, 2 x 3 @ 85%

Overhead squat: 4 x 4 @ 50% of power snatch

Additional loading (if +6 to +12 in the autoregulating scale):

Incline bench press: 3 x 5 @ 70%

Upright rowing: 3 x 5 @ 20% of power clean

Session 11

Power clean + push jerk: 1 x 1-3 (1 clean + 3 jerks) @ 65%, 3 x 1-3 @ 75%

Front squat: 3 x 6 @ 50% of back squat

Military press: 3 x 5 @ 40% of bench press

Additional loading (if +6 to +12 in the autoregulating scale):

Step up: 3 x 5 each leg @ 30% of squat

Depth jumps: 3 x 5 @ bodyweight

Session 12

Power snatch from hang: 1 x 3 @ 50%, 2 x 3 @ 60%, 3 x 3 @ 70%

Push press: 1 x 3 @ 55%, 2 x 3 @ 65%, 3 x 3 @ 75%, 1 x 2 @ 80%

Jump squat: 3 x 3 @ 20% of back squat, 3 x 6 @ 10% of back squat

Additional loading (if +6 to +12 in the autoregulating scale):

Hurdle jumps: 3 x 20 @ bodyweight

Shrug: 3 x 5 @ 100% of power clean

Session 13

Power clean: 1 x 3 @ 55%, 2 x 3 @ 65%, 1 x 2 @ 75%, 1 x 2 @ 80%

Push press: 1 x 3 @ 55%, 2 x 3 @ 65%, 1 x 3 @ 75%

Back squat: 1 x 5 @ 60%, 2 x 4 @ 70%, 1 x 3 @ 80%, 3 x 2 @ 85%

Additional loading (if +6 to +12 in the autoregulating scale):

Lunges: 3 x 5 each leg @ 40% of squat

Barbell rowing: 3 x 5 @ 70%

Session 14

Power snatch: 1 x 3 @ 50%, 1 x 3 @ 60%, 2 x 2 @ 70%, 1 x 2 @ 75%

Bench press: 1 x 5 @ 65%, 2 x 5 @ 75%, 2 x 3 @ 85%

Overhead squat: 4 x 4 @ 50% of power snatch

Additional loading (if +6 to +12 in the autoregulating scale):

Incline bench press: 3 x 5 @ 70%

Upright rowing: 3 x 5 @ 20% of power clean

Session 15

Power clean + push jerk: 1 x 1-3 (1 clean + 3 jerks) @ 65%, 3 x 1-3 @ 80%

Front squat: 3 x 6 @ 55% of back squat

Military press: 3 x 5 @ 45% of bench press

Additional loading (if +6 to +12 in the autoregulating scale):

Step up: 3 x 5 each leg @ 30% of squat

Depth jumps: 3 x 5 @ bodyweight

Session 16

Power snatch from hang: 1 x 3 @ 50%, 2 x 3 @ 60%, 2 x 3 @ 70%, 1 x 2 @ 75%

Push press: 1 x 3 @ 55%, 2 x 3 @ 65%, 3 x 3 @ 75%, 1 x 2 @ 80%

Jump squat: 3 x 6 @ 10% of back squat

Additional loading (if +6 to +12 in the autoregulating scale):

Hurdle jumps: 3 x 20 @ bodyweight

Shrug: 3 x 5 @ 100% of power clean

Notes

This program isn’t your typical bodybuilding program. Youll notice that the whole body receives some stimulation at every session. The goals of this program are to introduce the athlete to the Olympic lifts and to develop whole body power. It’s based on the training of beginning Soviet Olympic lifters and adapted to better suit the needs of Western competitive athletes.

You’ll notice the emphasis is placed on acceleration, not loading. As a result, this program will develop the capacity to produce a lot of force in a very short period of time, thus making you a better athlete. And that’s no secret!


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