The Toughest Workout (Part 2)

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Sergi Litvinov was one bad ass dude.

(This is a repost due to the high volume of emails I have been getting asking me what I thought the toughest WOD is. If you are new to mental toughness training, the Litvinov method is a great place to start. The first time you do a workout from this Russian protocol, it will knock you on your ass. Your whole body and mind will hurt like it never has before. However, after you finish a Litvinov WOD, you will feel a sense of accomplishment that is so high and rewarding. Something traditional workouts can never do.

Now get ready to get mentally tough and go suffer)

When I first started to develop my mental toughness, a majority of my workouts were in CrossFit classes. However, I love my autonomy and sometimes I needed a break from a class setting with a bunch of people. Also, I was still clinging on to my old bodybuilding routines that was having a hard time letting go for good. I continued to investigate other strength and conditioning programs that can give me the same intensity as CrossFit which I can do on my own and throw in some bodybuilding like workouts every once in a while.  The two training systems I discovered were not only as demanding as CrossFit, but also gave me the same mental satisfaction. Luckily, one of the systems was very bodybuilding friendly so I was able to gradually wean myself off them.

The second workout protocol in my program is called the Litvinov workouts.  These workouts are based on the training sessions of Russian track star Sergei Litvinov. The term Litvinov workout came from strength and conditioning coach Dan John from an article he wrote for T-nation. The concept is so simple that it’s brilliant.  You pick up something really heavy and then you run like hell. That’s it. Most people separate their weight training and their aerobic work. In other words, they lift weights one day and hop on the treadmill the next. In the Litvinov workout – you combine full-body heavy resistance training with an explosive anaerobic movement back to back in the same training session.

The Litvinov workout can revolutionize the fitness world. When you combine a heavy muscle building compound movement (like a deadlift) with an intense anaerobic movement (like a short sprint) the results are tremendous.
You’ll get in the best shape of your life if you can stand the intense nauseating blow from the Litvinov. The workout may sound easy, but it will crush your soul. You’ll learn a lot about your character and what’s it like to be really mentally tough if you make it through the workout. The common response for first timers doing a Litvinov workout is “Could someone please tell me what the hell is going on?” My response is always the same whenever I do a Litvinov workout: “God help me.”

The science on the concept of the Litvinov protocol has been remarkably positive. One particular study at the University of California, Berkeley investigated the effectiveness of combining strength training with cardio or separating the two. One group did strength training in the first part of the workout and then followed up with cardio work. The other group combined weight training and cardio together. Subjects in the combined group lifted weights and then immediately hopped on the treadmill and did either 30 seconds or one minute sprints. The results found the combined group gained more muscle and lost up ten times more fat than the group that separated their weight lifting and cardio. If this study isn’t convincing enough to help you get rid of your big belly blues, well then why aren’t more people doing it? I suspect there are three reasons. First of all, most people have never heard of this procedure. I have yet to see any articles written about the Litvinov method in any of the mainstream women and men’s fitness magazines. Secondly, the masses are too stuck in their ways of alternating their weight training with cardio. It’s what is taught by your average trainer and therefore is accepted by the masses as the correct and most logical way to build muscle and burn fat. And the third reason may because the Litvinov workouts may be too hard for most people to handle. However, when I think of my clients, I’m not sure the third reason is true. I would say most people can take the strenuous work of the Litvinov, if they can see the positive results. Once people can see the gains that they made by working out at a higher intensity, they are willing to handle anything you throw at them. With the Litvinov, you can see the physical effects in a short time as body fat is burned up very quickly.

In terms of mental strength, you can feel the effects immediately from yourself, but more profoundly from the reactions of others. There’s just something so powerful when you know you just did something in front of people that is many times harder than what they are currently doing. You may call this ego, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with knowing you just did something that most can’t do and are perhaps even a little envious of you. I have a client who has a very interesting take on this issue. She’s the only client I ever had that loves doing a Litvinov workout. Just about all of my other ones hate doing them. When I asked her point blank why she gets so enthusiastic about a Litvinov WOD, she told me “because people get out of my way after I do a Litvinov.”

I wasn’t sure what she meant, so the next time I did a Litvinov, I took notice. After doing a challenging Litvinov workout combination of heavy deadlifts and fast jump roping in my commercial gym, I did notice my body language was more assertive and I was walking very tall.  At first I thought it was my imagination, but I did observe that others would step aside from me when I walked toward them.  I wasn’t sure if it was because of the heavy sweat pouring out of my body or if others thought I was a nut job because I was training at such an unusually high level of intensity compared to the others just moseying through the motions as usual. But it was true – those in the gym would do their best to get out my way. I wasn’t sure why until I saw myself in the mirror. Then I understood.

I had this crazed look on my face that even freaked me out. Those who saw my scowl must have been interpreting my strong sense of accomplishment as somebody who was seeking trouble. Of course, this wasn’t how I was feeling.  I just felt so psychologically unstoppable. The high I was feeling from getting through the Litvinov had me craving another challenge. I was left wanting more because at that moment I felt that I could handle anything or anybody thrown at me. I would never say it’s a good thing to be walking around looking like an insane lunatic and scaring the crap out of innocent people, but sometime it just feels so damn good to have your confidence level peak to an all-time high. All you want to do is strut your stuff.

I now tell this story to everybody who is about to do a Litvinov workout. They still dread doing them, but I think they like the immediate feeling of toughness that you get after accomplishing one. I know because I can see it in their faces.

(End of Part 1)

Today’s WOD

5 sets

Turkish get-ups with a dumbbell – 5 reps each side

One minute jump roping

I love Turkish get-ups for mental toughness training and over all physical conditioning. Turkish get-ups are a full-body movement and works just about every muscle in your body.  Here’s a great tutorial on how to do them –

This is another excellent WOD where you can practice your positive self-talking skills. Trust me, your whole body will be screaming at you at some point to quit. Doing a shit-load of get ups, is very draining on the body and mind. It won’t take very long during the workout when you will be attacked with a barrage of negativity.

I have a simple trick to help you deal with the upcoming threat of quitting. Instead of trying to censor the negative dialogue, use it to you advantage. Remember the adage of of one  who is mentally tough – they have the uncanny ability to change any negative situation to a positive one. In today’s WOD, you will have a chance to put this viable skill into practice.

So today, embrace and welcome the negative thoughts as you will change the overall meaning of them. What you will do the negative statements, is that you will add a positive or encouraging statement at the end of them. . For example, if you say to yourself – “This WOD is too hard”, combine it with another sentence with and make it into a new positive thought like “This WOD is too hard, but I’m more than half way done with it.” Another example of changing negative thought into a positive one is – “This WOD is too hard, but I am getting mentally stronger because I haven’t quit.” By twisting the negative meaning of the statement into an upbeat tone, this positive self-talk technique is very persuasive when you think you’ve had enough and close to quitting. It just takes practice and you will have a lot of time to practice this positive self-talk skill in this mental toughness program.

When you progress with your mental toughness development, you’ll be so strong with your convictions against quitting, you’ll be near unbreakable.

Now go suffer.

Scaled down version of this WOD:

1. Do 1/2 Turkish get-ups instead. Here’s a good link to show you how to do them –

2. Omit the jump roping or jump rope for 30 seconds

3. Don’t use any weights for the Turkish get-ups