I Had a Burning Question: Can You Train With Very Little Chance of Injury?

I spent eight years working in a very busy pain management/ physical therapy clinic. I have worked with a lot of different pain conditions as well as a very diverse population. From athletes of all sorts like runners, yogi’s, pilates instructors, cross fitters, triathletes. Probably a ton more. One thing I have always seen is that generally most push and push their bodies. Even when it is not healthy.

There are so many sources out there that believe and say that in order to be stronger you must push yourself. But if you injure yourself often and chronic injuries resurface doesn’t that indicate the strength of the tissue is overwhelmed? One burning question that I have always had is, is there a way to train with very minimal risk of injury without overuse injuries.

All the Book Said was “By Pavel” Who the Heck is Pavel?

About five years ago my burning question was answered. As I was browsing at Barnes and Noble one day in the fitness section a very interesting title caught my eye. “The Naked Warrior: Master the Secrets of the Super Strong Using Body Weight Exercises Only.”

I think my brain was just astonished to see the words “Naked Warrior.”  Then I was intrigued by “the Super Strong Using Body Weight Only” since everybody says you can not become strong with body weight exercises.

Curious, I picked up the book and looked at the name of the author and all it said was “By Pavel.” OK. This looks a bit cheesy I thought. Nevertheless I peeked inside.  As soon as I started to read I had felt that I had picked up a gold mine of treasure.

Some of the concepts were pieces of advice I had picked up from martial arts.  Other concepts were from things I had learned while in massage therapy school. This book was utterly amazing to me because it was piecing everything I had ever learned together in a way that made complete sense. Before this book I felt like I just had fragments that never seemed to fit.

It turns out that Pavel is not some cheesy, over the top, promise you great unattainable results, nobody. Pavel Psatsuline is a well respected fitness instructor who was a strength trainer for the Spetnaz (the russian special forces), a subject matter expert for the navy seals, and the U.S Marine Corps.  He is also credited with bringing the kettlebell craze to the United States.

Pavel trained soldiers which meant that he had to take what was essential knowledge and what was non essential for individuals that were in constantly changing environments. He stripped down what was absolutely essential to building strength. He then thought about how this essential knowledge could lend itself to average people who wanted to attain a higher level of fitness.

Muscle strength helps to protect your joints, increase your ability to perform work, and daily activities. What I have often seen, though, is that it often is the source of over use. I think that it is because of how it is approached.

Why Pavels’ Approach is So Intriguing

The great thing about Pavel is that he works with principles and his ideas are incredibly simplistic. The reason that I have always been excited about Pavels’ ideas is just about anybody can use these ideas and the underlying principles can be applied to any exercise. These are the closest thing you can get to for shortcuts to strength. If you have ever wondered if doing hundreds of repetitions of exercises was ever a good idea or helpful you will reconsider after pondering his ideas.

The first concept is that strength is a skill that must be practiced. It is the ability of the muscles to generate force. The best way to do this is through mental focus on contraction or tension but should never be done to failure. This is one of the concepts that I think changes everything and throws a monkey wrench into how you look at training when so much seems to focus on more and harder.

Training the Nervous System

Consider that what creates strength is not the muscle but the nervous system. In one muscle fiber there are many neurons. That means that in one muscle there are thousands of neurons. What if you could activate all of the neurons in your muscle? You could generate a lot more force or tension. You can’t do this by training to failure or at least not as quickly. You have to focus on tensing harder. His first principle is to focus on doing very low reps, like three to six, but focusing on tensing your muscles as hard as you can.

The next principle he has is the Grease the Groove concept. Let’s suppose there is an exercise that is very difficult for you to do like a push up or a pull up or anything really. If you can only do three to five then instead of trying to push beyond that number you do one to three while completely focusing all of your attention on creating tension in all of your muscles. Then stop.

You would do this multiple times throughout the day. By the end of the day you would have done multiple repetitions without ever going to failure. What you are doing is training the nervous system to recruit more neurons in the muscle. Over a period of time when you take the time to test yourself you will find that your repetitions have increased.

There are multiple reasons this is so cool. Number one it totally cuts down on the wear and tear it puts on your body. It also gets down to what strength really is: the ability of the nervous system to recruit neurons in the muscle.

Click here for a link to an interview with Pavel where he discusses his ideas.

You can click here for a link to the book The Naked Warrior

This book focuses on the one arm push up and the one legged squat. This book is for you if you like to learn about non conventional ideas. You do not have to be able to do a one arm push up or one legged squat. The ideas in this book really can be used for any exercise. If you have any injuries or like to have someone tell you exactly what to do, I would skip this book.

Pavel at first seems to be cold but also a bit funny. I think the way he talks and acts is meant to be funny. He also does not go into great detail about any science of how these ideas work. He mainly wants to get the main idea across and nothing else.

How I Used This Book

Another part of this story I did not tell is that I had actually found this book while I was training with my third martial arts instructor in September of 2011. In August I made the mistake, along with the other students, of taking the summer off.  

The first day back my instructor joked about how we all managed to be gone for the summer, even though we all had a test that was coming up at the end of October which consisted of three hundred push -ups, three hundred pull ups, five hundred leg raises, running four miles, and then sparring a student of his, who was at the time a professional MMA fighter.

He had a keen way of making us feel that he was joking so we all had a laugh until he totally killed us in that class. We did one hundred push-ups and whole bunch of other stuff that escapes me at the moment. The point is, we did a lot of killer exercises.

While all of the other students decided to do a hundred push-ups a day and run miles a day I knew that I couldn’t do that. After two weeks these people who going to their doctor for bi-ceps tendonitis and all sorts of over use injuries. I had to work as a massage therapist. There was no way I could do that. I had to take care of my own body.

So I researched and I found all the typical fitness stuff on training. It was helpful. Then I found “The Naked Warrior.” So I practiced the concepts in the book. Although doing the training in class was very difficult I did notice that I had a bit more go than the others but I even felt that it was just a little bit easier to push. In one class when the exercises were very difficult, after each set that we did I would jump up. At one point my teacher looked at me with a puzzled look and said “Mr. Snow, we sure have a lot of energy.” I secretly smiled.

I never made it to the test because it was on a Saturday and I could not get it off from work. I did, however, show up to all of the classes until the night before the test.  While many had to take frequent trips to their physical therapist and doctor for injuries I remained injury free. I was sore and I did get a lot of massage and acupuncture but I did not become injured. I am fairly certain it was because of the way that I was training and I have continued to use these concepts to this day.