The Litvinov Workout: Two Thumbs Up, or Dumb as Dirt?

Life coach extraordinaire Dan John loves the “Litvinov workout” (as do I).  Charles Poliquin, though, apparently thinks the whole Litvinov idea is ludicrous.  Two at-the-top-of-their-game, highly respected strength and conditioning coaches (and toss one crazy Physical Culturalist into the mix for shits-and-giggles) , two polar-opposite points of view on Litvinov-like protocols.  So damn, who to believe?

Andy Deas recently posted a fine article (But Mike Boyle Said the Squat was Dead?), in which he addresses the issue of unwavering acceptance of delivered-from-on-high, “guru” proclamations.  What we need to consider in this particular instance of John (and TTP) vs Poliquin, folks, is context.

Consider the diverse client base of each of these fine coaches.  Poliquin works mainly with Olympic level athletes — think bobsledders, skiers and the like — as opposed to Dan John, who works primarilly with the high school athlete, the Highland Games crowd; CrossFit enthusiasts.  Two very different trainee bases, two very different sets of overall needs, goals, skill-sets, metabolic conditioning requirements and, well, you get the picture.  And, not surprisingly, two drastically different takes on the same exercise protocol.

Again, this points to my assertion that programming has to be an n=1 affair; at the very least (and, as in the case with S&C coaches who must work in a group setting) programming has to match the n=1 requirements of the particular sport.  Dan John deals with athletes who face a very high degree of unknowns/variables in their sport; in comparison, Poliquin’s athletes face much less in the way of the unknown/variable factor.  Think of the demands placed on a football player, versus those placed, for example, on a bobsledder, and you can easily see why each coach feels the way he does (and passionately so!) about the Litvinov workout.

Bottom line?  If a Litvinov-like workout suits your athletic needs or fitness goals, then by all means utilize it.  At its essence, the Litvinov is simply a hardcore bout of GPP (general physical preparedness), no more, no less.  There is no particular magic with a front squat/400 meter pairing (other than the fact that it’s brutal!); I’ve paired tire flips and sprints for an effective, challenging, and downright fun-as-hell workout.  And make no mistake about it, I still hold Charles Poliquin’s opinion with the highest degree of respect.  In this particular instance, though, I have to respectfully disagree with Charles’ across-the-board disapproval of “the Litvinov”.

As an example of the n=1 approach to programming, consider how S&C coach Joe DeFranco utilizes a Litvinov-like approach (focusing primarily on the alactic anaerobic energy system) in the training of Houston Texans linebacker, Brian Cushing, here.  I’m curious as to what Charles would have to say about this particular method of training; seems pretty spot-on to me.

Delivering and receiving information via electronic formats such as blogs, bulletin boards and the like is fantastic for the immediate spread of information — the drawback, of course, is that the medium discourages the full development of well-rounded ideas; pros and cons of an idea or stance cannot be fully parsed-out.  It’s up to the reader, then, to do that parsing himself, to ask the critical “but…” and “what if…” questions.  Neglect the very important step of asking “in what context is this statement being made?” at your own peril.

Now I’m quite sure that Charles would disapprove of the following workout as well, but it suits my needs just fine; not only that, but it is concise and, well, quite a bit of fun.  A little Friday afternoon frolic to kick-off this past weekend:

power snatch: 115 x 5; 135 x 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3

in a super-set with

ab wheel roll-outs (on toes, slight knee touch at full extension): bw x 8 for each of 7 rounds

Then on to a superset of the following –

btn push-press: 165 x 7; 185 x 6; 195 x 4

semi-supinated pull-ups: bw+45 lbs x 6, 6, 6

19 responses to “The Litvinov Workout: Two Thumbs Up, or Dumb as Dirt?

  1. You crack me up…you’re the only person I know that can characterize a brutal workout as “fun as hell.” I love you! Great article, as usual, I do agree with Mike, you always do keep an open mind & I’m sure Poliquin appreciates it!

    • That’s my hottie! Meesus TTP knows better than anyone how high I fly my Physical Culturalist freak flag 🙂

  2. I agree w/you. The Litvinvi Working is one of the beat systems for conditioning works. I usually pair two heavy compound movements with some sort of speed bodyweight movement. Yesterday, I did tire flips, db thrusters and spiderman sprints.

    Tough as hell.


  3. One other thing – I do like Poliquin’s writing, sometimes. Although I yet to see he’s list of olympic athletes that he CLAIMS to train. His most famous pupil was football flop David Boston. He was all drugs and mentally weak.

    Litvinovi training rules!

  4. Hi Keith,

    I’m kind of in the same boat as you are in terms of lower body – I do enough running and sprinting that I mostly focus on upper body now that I’ve started weight training. Do you think ‘The Litvinov’ is something worth incorporating for the upper body? And what do you think it would look like? From this beginner’s perspective, the thought that came into my mind was something like an overhead press or a push press, and then go immediately into some quick unweighted uncomplicated pushups for time. Am I wrong?



    • Absolutely not, Jim; you’re spot-on. For example, I’ve paired heavy overhead presses and/or an Oly derivative with jump-assist pull-ups with nice results. Anything goes, brother, so long as you correctly nail your intended metabolic pathway with the “sprint” portion.

        • Tried it last night – that works great for GPP. I was planning on doing some sprints too, but we had the nice little remnants of a hurricane coming through here in New Jersey. So I did 8 dumbbell snatches per arm, then dropped down and did 30 seconds of push ups. Repeat 5 times, little to no rest in between.

          Yeah. That was pretty hard. Great post!

  5. The CF Benchmark workout “Nancy” is 5 rounds (for time) of a 400 meter run and 15 reps of a 95# OH Squat.

    I can’t OHS anywhere near the Rx’d 95#, but I can verify it’s a bear of a workout!

    • No doubt, Nancy is a bear. I do something similar, though I sub the 400 meter “run” (which degrades to a crawl by round 3) with a 100 meter sprint. This better suits my want to improve my anaerobic metabolism during the workout itself, letting the aerobic component “work” during recovery. Same basic idea behind why Tabatas wind-up improving the aerobic pathway as well, though that pathway is not directly worked during the course of the Tabata workout itself.

  6. Hey Keith,

    I’m a huge fan of Litvinov-type workouts. I’m not sure these qualify, but here are some I’ve done…

    4 sets of: 3RM Power Clean/300m Row/3 min rest
    4 sets of: 5RM Back Squat/max pushups/3 min rest
    4 sets of: 5RM Push Press/60yd Farmer’s Walk/3 min rest

    Really fun switch up to my usual work, which is either traditional 3-5 rep strength work followed by conditioning or EDT supersets.

    Thanks for all of your insightful posts on programming over the last few weeks. Really enjoy TTP!


  7. I can’t sprint due to a lack of cartilage in my L knee (post-injury osteoarthritis), nor are heavy squats in the cards given the bum knee plus some back issues, so I prefer to use things like ball slams w/ my 30lb MuscleDriver “Slammer” ball or stair-climbing 48 steps up two-steps-at-a-time in my 40lb weight vest as the “sprint” portion of my personal Litvinov-style festivities.

    As the resistance exercise interwoven with these sprintlike activities, I have been known to do sets of pushups (in the weight vest, on the landing at the top of the stairs) or some combo of pullups, dips, or bench presses. I have also been known to alternate sets of ball slams with bodyweight-only walking lunges.

    That slammin’ ball is so much fun . . . it’s soft but pretty much dead weight. I do shuttles w/ it where I squat down to grab it off the floor (as in a slam) and then spring up and chest pass it as far as I can (usually about 15 feet). It barely rolls or bounces, so I just sprint to it, turn around, grab it and throw it back whence it came, and repeat that until tired. With all due respect to Meesus TTP, this is indeed “fun,” or at least I think it is in my very possibly mindless way 😉

      • Hahaha–some folks at the gym do look at me a little strange when I lug that ball in and start slammin’ and tossin’ it around, then stop to gasp desperately for breath like a gaffed fish on the deck of a charter boat. I’ve decided to upgrade to a 40lb ball for even more slammin’ fun ‘n’ games.

  8. @Jack,
    I’m not sure if the complete list of Poliquin’s clients is posted anywhere, but I have a Level I certification through his program, and I’ve personally seen Charles training Olympic shot putter Adam Nelson and Canadian Olympic weightlifter Marilou Dozois. The person who taught my certification class was Andre Benoit, who is now Poliquin’s top assistant and was one of his first clients when he competed in luge in the 1988 Olympics.

    • That’s right, I’d forgotten that he trains Adam Nelson as well. CP has quite an impressive stable of clientele.

  9. Really liked the SHR interview on this. Glad I decided to catch up on your writings tonight because tomorrow I was thinking of doing some awaits with some sprints at the gym, was thinking of how to set it up. Gym is in basement so i may run out of entrance and sprint up a flight or 2 for a few circuits. Cheers.

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