Like many others, I’ve been on and off in sticking to a single exercise program. Given my nature of work and travels, I exercised when I could. Two weeks here, one week off in the field. Recently, I decided to (re-)commit to and finish a kettlebell strength and conditioning program called Simple and Sinister by Pavel Tsatsouline. In this book, he calls for only two kettlebell lifts: the Swing and Turkish Get-Up done with one heavy kettlebell. In Simple & Sinister, the program includes its own mobility warm-up and cool-down exercises for pain-free exercise and wellness, which is the central theme of this blog.
The program has a cardio (the Swing) and strength (Get-Up) component and is done for modest reps (100 swings and 10 get-ups per session) on a daily basis while taking the occasional day off. If you don’t know what kettlebells are already, they’re free weights that resemble a black cannonball with a handle on the top. They can be lifted quickly/ballistically for cardio or slowly pressed for strength. Lighter kettlebells have their uses in fixing joint injuries. The weight progression in pounds goes: 18; 26; 35; 53; 70; 88; 106 pounds.
My progression is such:
January – Early March 2014
As prescribed for males, I started off with the 35-pound kettlebell for Turkish Get-Ups and a 53-pound kettlebell for the one-handed swings. I recall making quick progress in the get-up, progressing to the 53-pound kettlebell in merely a month’s time. Before I departed for overseas and military taskings, I was slowly easing into 70-pound kettlebell territory with the get-up.
Early March – September 2014
I went away overseas to teach English and I had to resort to bodyweight training. Upon my return to Canada, I realized I had lost strength and technique. I had to restart all over back at the 35-pound kettlebell for get-ups.
September 2014 – January 2015
I don’t remember too much about this period, lol, suffice to say, I wasn’t doing the program much.
February 2015 – August 2015
I got back on the train and worked my way up to the 70-pound kettlebell in both exercises while achieving the program’s ‘Simple’ goal: 100 swings in 5 minutes and 10 get-ups in 10 minutes. I also began slowly easing into 88-pound kettlebell territory, which is a very advanced weight. At this level, technique is king and any poor form is quickly revealed by the bell, ergo, you can’t lift it with bad technique. Then, in August 2015, I rolled my right ankle. And for a while I was afraid to put weight on it fully and in performing a full standing get-up. I merely did quarter get-ups on the floor, afterwards. Note: quarter get-ups have been known to fix shoulder injuries. I can attest to fixing an old shoulder injury with this one exercise alone.
November 2015 – Current (May 2016)
I began a new job position after some time off and I lost momentum. I was too focussed on my job position.
Goal for June 5, 2016:
However, recently, I’ve committed to working up to one complete Turkish Get-Up with the 88-pound kettlebell by June 5, as outlined in the Simple and Sinister Program. I’m back on near daily training. The program calls for good technique, form and safety. At the moment, when I attempt a get-up, I get pinned down like a helpless sausage and am unable to roll over onto my elbow in the initial movement.
Thoughts on Technique:
Starting in the fetal position, I can roll-over and bring the kettlebell to the prone position (lying on my back) and press up. When I drive off my leg, I am unable to roll over to my other arm. I believe I need to drive my elbow downward into the ground and tense the propping arm (tension creates strength) while maintaining packed shoulders. Once this initial movement is down, I believe I will be able to pull off the rest of the get-up with relatively good technique.
I will post a video closer to my goal date. Just remember the technique standards–verbatim from the program book:
1. Use both hands to lift the kettlebell off the ground to the starting position of the floor press and to return it to the ground.
2. The wrist on the kettlebell side is neutral.
3. The elbow on the kettlebell side is locked and the shoulder is packed.
4. The shoulder of the free arm does not shrug up.
5. The heel of the foot on the kettlebell side stays planted during the low sweep, the lunge up to standing, and the reverse of these actions.
6. The knee touches the deck silently on the descent into the half-kneeling position.
7. The arm holding the kettlebell is vertical or almost vertical.
8. The neck is neutral for the top half of the movement, from the lunge up.
9. In the top position the knees are locked and the lower back does not hyperextend.
It is recommended, although not tested, that the movement is smooth, without jerky transitions.”
Why is so much attention paid to technique? The reason is technique is strength, as well, as safety. I can muscle my way through lighter weights, which is essentially cheating and depriving myself of the strength benefits of this exercise. With the 70-pounder, yes, I can get away with speed or sloppiness. However, I’ve ventured into some seriously heavy territory and the 88-pound bell has pointed out deficiencies in my technique. If I use crappy form, I can’t control the bell. You simply cannot hide bad form and technique with heavy bells. And my goal is to finish the program at a 106-pounds.
According to the book, doing the program will give you the following abilities [my comments are in the brackets] : ”
- Simple & Sinister will prepare you for almost anything life could throw at you, from carrying a piano upstairs to holding your own in a street fight. [Not sure and I hope never to carry a piano up the stairs.]
- Simple & Sinister will forge a fighter’s physique – because the form must follow the function. [I didn’t see much muscle growth between 35-53 pounds, however when I got to 70 pounds, people started commenting on my arms, shoulders]
- Simple & Sinister will give you the strength, the stamina, and the suppleness to play any sport recreationally – and play it well. [See next comment]
- If you are a serious athlete, Simple & Sinister will serve as a perfect foundation for your sport-specific training. [For the last two comments, yes, Simple & Sinister will give you a good base because this is a general physical preparedness program. In other words, it won’t necessarily make you a champion runner, weight-lifter, martial artist, etc. You must practice your skills and specialized strength/conditioning training in addition to the program. Simple & Sinister is a strength and power program–brief periods of intense exercise followed by rest. It is not an endurance program. In fact, Pavel released an excellent program variant to address endurance.]
- If you are a serious lifter, Simple & Sinister will build your strength, rather than interfere with it. [Agreed, these lifts will help. Swings are known to improve deadlifts.]
- Simple & Sinister will achieve all of the above while leaving you plenty of time and energy to do your duty, your job, practice your sport, and have a life. [The program calls for 20-30 minutes of practice a day. However, I take my time with the program and work closer to 40 minutes.]“
Well, I’ll follow-up closer to June 5th with this post and hopefully a video of me doing one complete get-up with the ‘Bulldog’.
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Update Friday, July 1st: I’ve been able to pull off the Turkish Get-Up. Initially, my non-dominant arm wasn’t able to support me and I had to emphasize the elbow pivot, maintaining upper body form, etc. The weight seems easier now and I will continue to refine my quarter get-ups. The 106-pound kettlebell is getting closer everyday. Also, I’m finding the local kettlebell brand I purchased has too thick of a handle, which exhausts my grip too quickly. I have learned it’s best to stick to premium, military-grade RKC bells with proper dimensions made in the USA.