The Blank Serenity of the Invulnerable

“The blank serenity of the invulnerable.” Peter Benchley was writing about a barracuda, but the same can be said about strong people. Unless they are attempting a world record, they are calm and unperturbed. You could swear Ed Coan got Botox.

Neurotics stay weak. They doubt their strength to complete the rep, so they panic and cheat. They rush their rest periods because they do not want to miss the latest episode of American Idol or they just remembered they need to pick up dry cleaning—or because their fidgety minds just cannot be still for five minutes, recover, and reflect.

The hyperactive 21st century makes it difficult to stop long before failure and take leisurely rest periods. We need to go back in time to find the patience of strength.

How would Yul Brynner’s character from The Magnificent Seven go about his kettlebell press ladders?

Legendary Strength of Yul BrynnerChris slowly removed his hat and hung it up on a sun-bleached fence post. He stalked the kettlebell hiding from the burning Mexican sun under a shed, and calmly faced it. Clean—with a lighting speed and a practiced precision of a gun draw.

The lazy body turned rock hard to accept the blow. Chris paused with a bell on his chest, the way one does when he does not question his own strength. He powerfully shoved the heavy kettlebell overhead. The abs and the grip tightened while the face remained impassive.

An explosive hand switch and a press with the right. The gun fighter set the bell down, a spent glass on the counter. Ramrod straight, he strode over to pick up his black hat and put it back on. He leaned on the fence and surveyed the desert for several minutes without moving.

With all the time in the world at his disposal, Chris walked over to the kettlebell. Cowboy boots may not be the best footwear for training but they do make one slow down and walk with dignity, hips first.

Clean, press, press. Clean, press, press. The knuckles turned white and not a single facial muscle twitched.

Chris lit up a cigar and smoked it for some time. He finally approached the bell, the cigar still between his teeth, decisively anaerobic.

Clean, press, press, press. There was no way to gauge the difficulty of the set. The pale eyes showed nothing but “the blank serenity of the invulnerable.”

The shadows from the saguaro cacti have stretched long. The sky above the mountains turned purple. Did half an hour go by? Did two hours? Did it matter?

The Old West was history long before I was born. Or maybe it was just a legend. Regardless, I am nostalgic for that lost world of strength and reticence.

Legendary Strength in Texas at the SFG
Mark Toomey and I at a Texas SFG Certification.
Pavel Tsatsouline
Pavel Tsatsouline is the CEO of StrongFirst, Inc.

18 thoughts on “The Blank Serenity of the Invulnerable

  • I also don’t like the rush in today’s world, so I do mostly train early in the morning in my garage when everyone else is still sleeping.

    If I look around in today’s gym, and take a look at the other people, they seem all too distracted moving around in weird ways. They simply do not behave like they are strong or feel strong anymore.

    And I have to agree with you – most Old West characters had this calmness and self confidence that radiates strength. This is why I still like watching old western movies.

    So tomorrow I will ride again to my garage to train – and think about this fantastic article. Keep up the great work, Pavel!

  • What do you consider appropriate rest during a clean and press ladder workout? I didn’t think I was rushing, but I might be.

    • Charlton, 5min on the heavy day for the higher rungs. A lot less elsewhere.

      Short rest periods stimulate muscle growth. Long rest periods are essential fro heavy neural training to replenish CP, keep the acidity low, and allow the nervous system to recover.

  • So true.

    I look back on a lifetime of hard and rushed training, then realise I feel much better now I take things at a sensible pace.

    Keep up the good work!


  • had surgery today to repair broken finger. All wired up, while waiting for anaesthesia, the scrub nurse noted my heartrate and stated “you’re an athlete.”


  • I don’t hit like often…but I would hit like one hundred times for this one.

  • Too true. Too often I find myself panicking and rushing the next ladder, the next rung. Its only when let go of worrying about the next press, or the last that my presses really feel good. Thank you for the reminder Pavel. Cool mind, focused the same as when I’m sighting down an arrow.

  • Every day l learn something new, or a new way of viewing challenges when l come to this site, thank you…

    By the way, this movie is good, l find myself once every few months watching the original, Seventh Samurai and l wonder now if they too would have been calm, quiet and in the moment.

  • Quiet, calm strength. Not understood or appreciated enough. Thanks for this Pavel.

This article is now closed for comments, but please visit our forum, where you may start a thread for your comments and questions or participate in an existing one.

Thank you.