The Secret of East European Strength

The Secret of East-European StrengthAs far as I know, a lot of people to the West believe that we have secret training methodologies here in Eastern Europe. It is understandable. “The Iron Curtain” provoked this type of thinking and it was successfully sustained by clever marketers. Sometimes it seems that western people think that trainees here can gain strength and build muscle with the power of their sheer thought (how awesome would that be?).

Well, I don’t want to disappoint you, but most of the stuff you hear or read that is tagged “Soviet” and “Top Secret” is just a hype. All the info you need to succeed in your strength training quest is already out there. I am sorry to burst your bubble, but there is no East European training conspiracy. It may seem that people here guard all kinds of secrets, but the reality is WAY simpler. If you still do not believe me, let’s take a look at where these “secrets” can possibly be applied.

Commercial Gyms

Let’s imagine that we are in an average commercial gym here in Ukraine. You take a look around and see that 80% of gym space is flooded with all kinds of exercise machines and cardio bullshit. There are several barbells gathering dust in corners, but they are rarely used and mostly for Bench Presses. Every so often some crazy mofo performs pussy Squats with them. And almost never you see the King of Training Implements used for Deadlifts (heavy Deadlifts destroy the nice floor surface, you know). Power Cleans and Military Presses are non-existent.

There is a really good dumbbell set in this gym ranging from useless/pathetic 2.5 kg to mighty 45 kg. Of course, almost nobody uses the heavy ones. 80% of the time dumbbells are lifted in chicken Bicep Curls.

There is a pull-up bar here, but when you see people perform Pull-Ups, you want to puke because their technique is as retarded as possible (you know, kipping, lifting your chin higher instead of pulling yourself, etc.).

There are no kettlebells here. No sandbags too. No ropes. And of course, no rings. This gym may have a TRX, but, of course, it is used in a girly way.

On the other hand, happy visitors of this gym may enjoy Bosu-Balls. How effective can strength training possibly be without a Bosu-Ball, right?

Furthermore, you cannot see any handbalancing here. Visitors’ feet make walls dirty during the wall-assisted training.

Finally, personal trainers in this commercial gym learn their professional knowledge from western resources. Usually, from fitness magazines, not books.

As you can see, there is a lot of application of East European training secrets here. Not.

You won’t believe how much the life here in Ukraine became western since late 90s. And not in a good way. It seems that people are very selective about what they see. They apply western lifestyle, but forget to get more open and friendly which is a cornerstone in my opinion.

Anyway, commercial gyms here and there are the same. But maybe we were looking in a wrong place.

Basement Gyms

First of all, you may not know what the “basement gym” is. Let me explain it to you. Such gyms started to open secretly in Soviet Union in late 1960s. Usually, they were situated in basements, hence the name. They were prohibited and were functioning solely on enthusiasm of their visitors. Authorities were against them because a lot of people who were training in such gyms were connected to organized crime.

Of course, those times are long gone. Today’s basement gyms are on the way to extinction. People pick a comfortable commercial variant because it is much shinier and friendly. Nevertheless, basement-style gyms still exist and sometimes are full of enthusiasts.

The one I was attending is still functioning. Let me describe it to you. It is based in two consolidated apartments on the ground floor of the building. There are 4 barbells and only 2 sets of plates. There are 3 benches and 1 set of squat stands. There are no machines except the T-Bar (which is not actually an exercise machine in a canonical way). There are only two sets of dumbbells: 16 kg and 24 kg. There is a full kettlebell set: a pair of 16 kg bells, a pair of 24 kg, and a pair of 32 kg. And that is pretty much it.

You see the difference comparing to the commercial gym. So, were there any “secrets”? No matter how hard I tried, I learnt none here either. The guy who owns the place has a pussy handshake. Everything is said.

Well, maybe we can search somewhere else.

Other Gyms and Stuff

Today we can see a rise of CrossFit boxes here in Ukraine. However, you won’t see any East European secrets applied there. CrossFit is a western know-how and everybody is afraid to modify it for some reason.

Coaches in specialized training facilities have access to the same knowledge as their western colleagues. The internet is erasing the boundaries.

A lot of people turn to street workout movement, which is basically what everyone did here for ages. It wasn’t popular because it had no flashy name. Now it has but the methodology hasn’t changed, if there was any.

Factors That Produce This Hype

There are basically only two factors that produce this hype:

– Genetics

– Drugs

That’s it. People with great genetics will always outperform others if they use their potential. That’s the law. I’ve seen what great genetics can do and it is frustrating for me (because my genetics suck).

Drugs are the great equalizer. However, their use has consequences.

So, how could East Europeans outperform others at competitions? Every country has drugs and athletes with great genetics.

The Big Secret

Alright, there IS a big secret. Yep, that’s right. All that you’ve read above is a cover-up. The East European training conspiracy exists. You may think: “Ha! I knew it!” and you will be totally right.

I will go against “the party” and reveal the Big Secret. I may need to change my identity and appearance after I open this information to the western world. It is really well-guarded and this can be my last post.

OK, that’s enough. So, the Big Secret is…

Hard work.

Yes, hard work. And discipline, and dedication, and consistency, and… I’ve probably said too much already. I hear the Thought Police knocking on my door.

With all seriousness, there is no secret. No secret training routines and techniques, no secret diet approaches, no secret recovery techniques. People here are simply used to hard work (well, at least were used to). Oftentimes, they work even too hard. They are too dedicated and too disciplined. That’s why they get results.

Additionally, people here are used to inventing stuff from nothing. You know, like in that joke: “During one of the first flights to outer space Americans figured out that a regular ball-point pen doesn’t work there. Well, because of no gravity. They spent millions of dollars to develop a pen that works in space. Soviets took a pencil”. And such mentality prevails in every area of life.

That’s why Soviets could outperform others. It is all because of unbreakable work ethic, steel discipline, and unearthly dedication. Not because of some secrets.

Closing Thoughts

I hope you learned a thing or two from this article. Hard work, discipline, dedication, and consistency are way more important in the long run to greatness than any secret training approach.

Maybe this article is far from well-researched, but I believe it guides you to the right path. As always, thanks for reading.

Play rough!


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12 thoughts on “The Secret of East European Strength

  1. Dave R

    You never wrote anything useless in your life, I think! This is VERY good – and all true. Also many thanks for writing Rough Strength Files 42 Ideas. P51 “Consistency” One paragraph , what else needs to be said?
    Dave R.

  2. Marty

    Hi Alex,

    Keep your head down over there, you right good stuff and I’d like that to continue.

    I love all the Eastern European names people come up with for exercises. Bulgarian Squats, Romanian Deadlifts…it all sounds so mystic, it just has to work! For a while I was wondering when we’d get East Moldavian Gerbil Racing as the next gym craze.

    Consistent work designed to achieve progression along a logical path towards a clear goal. Throw in a feedback loop made from monitoring results and patience. That’s training, anything else is bullshit.


  3. Arek

    I totally agree with you , Pavel Tsatsouline and his books , all these “soviet army secrets” is just pure marketing trickery. Nevertheless , the information is quite good for a kettlebell beginner as myself .

    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      Well, I can’t say that it is all “marketing trickery”. It is possible that in Pavel’s army there were such methods. But most of these “secrets” are just another look at the principle of progressive overload.

      – Alex

  4. Simon Cohen


    I have recently started using kettlebells. I am 51 years old. And I love them. I started out in April ’14. I snatched 12kg 110 times in 5 mins earlier this week. And yesterday snatched 16kg 115 times in 5 minutes The progressive overloading is quite right. I am now 2H swinging a 20kg and also cleaning this weight. I also completed my 1st snatches with this KB. I also use a speed rope for warm ups and cool downs. Most of my workouts are completed at home. However this summer we went on holiday. The hotel gym had the usual Cardio stuff -treadmill, rower, benching machine. In the corner was a single dumb bell ~ 14 kg it had adjustable plates. I used this for 2H and 1H swings and also for snatches. When all you’ve got is all you’ve got you use what you’ve got!

    As I am always told

    Keep It Simple Simon

    Best wishes


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