Sergey Litvinov, the front squatting machine
Anyone who’s been around the block in the strength and conditioning game knows that nothing works forever. Depending on the situation, a ‘great’ program can run one athlete into the ground while a ‘bad’ program will allow a different athlete to see gains. One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from Dan John: “Everything works…for six weeks.” I used to be slightly fanatical about fitness programs, getting overly immersed in the benefits of a program and telling myself I would ‘do this one forever’. This fanatical attachment to one program caused me to look down on other programs much as it goes in religion and politics. Thankfully I’ve passed through that stage in my life where I fall in love with programs, which was eerily similar to my Ayn Rand phase post college.
That prefaced, I now always keep my eyes peeled for any program, workout, or exercise that can add a little spice to my training. I came across the Litvinov Workout about a year ago and have played with it sporadically ever since. For starters, have a look at this Dan John article on the Litvinov. Dan is the one who came up with the name after hearing about hammer thrower Sergey Litvinov performing repeats of 8 reps of 405 in the front squat followed by a 75 meter sprint. The strict interpretation of the Litvinov per Dan John is:
- Exercise 1 – Heavy compound barbell exercise (back squat, front squat, power clean, power snatch, or overhead squat)
- Exercise 2 – Sprint of between 50 and 400 meters
- Rest 3-5 minutes
- Repeat 2 more times
In the article, Dan discusses methods for adjusting the sprint protocol by either pushing a sled or doing hill sprints. I’ve done the hill sprint version with front squats. The total time spent actually working out in that session is about 5 minutes, yet it’s one of the most painful things I’ve ever done. I’ve taken to bastardizing the protocol and generalizing it to fit the following structure:
- Exercise 1 -Heavy and Intense for 3-8 reps
- Exercise 2 – Metabolically challenging work between 20 and 60 seconds
- Rest for 3-5 minutes
- Repeat 4 or 5 times
I’m a firm believer that in the ideal situation, you’d use barbell exercises for exercise 1. However, sometimes you lack the equipment and/or clients lack the flexibility to perform a barbell movement for reps. For novice clients, I really like using a heavy kettlebell and doing deep goblet squats for sets of 10-12 on the first lift. For exercise 2, I’ve gone pretty far afield of the original protocol. Working out in a gym without access to a good area to sprint, the rowing machine is a surefire ass kicker in this situation. Doing 8 heavy reps on the back squat, racking the bar, and immediately going for a PR in the 250m row will leave you in a puddle after 4 total sets. I’ve also experimented with repetition work as well. I’ve even played around with using 3 exercises instead of 2. Here are some examples of workouts I’ve done or programmed using this template:
- Back Squat, 8 Reps / 250m Row / 4 Rounds Total
- Power Clean, 3 Reps / 250m Row / Ab Wheel Rollouts, 5 Reps / 4 Rounds Total
- Box Squat, 8 Reps / Max Ring Pushups / Kettlebell Swings, 25 Reps / 4 Rounds Total
- Front Squat, 8 Reps / Max Pullups / Kettlebell Swings, 20 Reps / 4 Rounds Total
- Overhead Press, 8 Reps / Farmer’s Walk, 75 yards / 4 Rounds Total
I’ve put people through CrossFit workouts, EDT, and other HIIT workouts, and I’ve honestly never seen anything more soul crushing than these Litvinovs. There is something incredibly powerful about hitting a very heavy lift for reps and following it immediately with metabolically challenging work. The combination of the central nervous system (CNS) hit from the intense work and the cardiovascular and muscular endurance requirements of the second exercise just plain lays you out flat. For my money, this is one of the ideal ways to burn body fat and build muscle in a safe, time efficient manner. One interesting observation I’ve found when doing the same Litvinov with both men and women is that guys are borderline comatose on the floor after the workout while the girls occasionally break a sweat. This is a great example of how the power of this stimulus is in the loading. If ladies can’t lift enough to effectively challenge their CNS in exercise 1, the effect of the workout is significantly less. The key here is to get people flexible and technically sound enough to be able to perform a very heavy lift in exercise 1. Once that is accomplished, this protocol can provide immense benefit.
One of my favorites aspects of this protocol is the inverse relationship between fatigue and the difficulty of the exercise. You’re always most fresh when you’re hitting the heavy, skill-intensive barbell lift and more fatigued when you get to the less skill-dependent metabolic work like farmer’s walks or kettlebell swings. This highlights my one big problem with CrossFit. The program uses great exercises and is motivational as all hell, but I just can’t get on board with doing heavy barbell lifting under fatigue, especially for novices. Most people relatively new to training have difficulty with barbell exercises when they’re fully rested, much less in the middle of a workout when they can barely stand up. The Litvinov, much like EDT, allows you to manage this fatigue and effectively work strength and conditioning into the same circuit without sacrificing form or weight on the bar.