Kettlebells. Do they have a role in the clinical setting? Should they be used in a rehabilitation for patients in the outpatient physical therapy clinic? This is a burning question that has not been sufficiently answered. Kettlebells do have a role, but certain things must be considered before any clinician dares to bring kettlebells into the clinic. Below are the key concepts that clinicians need to know.

The Backstory

Chuck and I went through the Master’s Degree program for Physical Therapy at the University Of Maryland School of Medicine. We both had our unique backgrounds and passions for strength training, even back then. Since that time, we’ve also come to realize how little we actually knew about the proper applications of strength and movement, especially as it pertains to patients in the outpatient physical therapy setting.

While I’m a ‘former’ physical therapist, these days I’m a strength coach and teacher of movement. I’ve learned a lot about the principles of strength since my days being in the clinic as a PT. The truth is that my journey really began when I discovered kettlebells and was introduced to the methods and techniques taught by Pavel. Although I’m no longer a practicing clinician, there’s no doubt that kettlebells would have been part of my clinical approach had I known then what I know today.

Chuck, on the other hand, is still a practicing physical therapist who actively uses kettlebells in the clinics he oversees. We’ve had many conversations about using kettlebells in the clinic, which...

“He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most busy life. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign.”

—Victor Hugo

Or simply stated: “Plan your work and work your plan.”
(An oft-quoted saying which is difficult to attribute to one source—Google is your friend.)

In January I laid out my goals and plan for the year in this article, Sinister, Occam’s Razor, and 2018. Achieving the Sinister standard is the “overall” goal for the year and in the first quarter of the year two other goals have been achieved or are “in process”: 1) teaching the SFG Level II, and 2) SFL in May. Teaching the SFG Level II went very well and my inclusion of Level II skills into my movement prep and Strength Aerobics had me prepared for the weekend. SFL prep started in earnest after the Level II as planned (basically).

Spoiler alert: training observations at the end of the article.

So my initial plan looked like this, and some interesting training observations are below.

You can check out my training from Dec. 17, 2017 thru March 26, 2018 in the Training Logs on the StrongFirst Discussion Forum. In it you will see that the program up until the...

I took my first kettlebell class in 2012. I was immediately enthralled by the swing. But like any newbie, my form needed a lot of help. My hips sat too high and my hinge was too shallow. My conditioning was such that I would leave every class dripping and red-faced. But I loved it.

A New Goal: Becoming Certified with StrongFirst

When I decided to become a personal trainer, I knew I wanted get certified to teach kettlebells. I went to Master SFG Phil Scarito, close to home. He helped me prepare for my SFG Certification in New York City in 2014.

I was so nervous to perform my elements in front of his seasoned eye that all I could do was make jokes and tease him for being so hard on me. I had attempted the12kg snatch test with Phil during one of our private sessions. By the end I was coughing and sputtering—that good old exercise-induced asthma. Phil did his professional best not to laugh at me, but he did say, hands planted on his hips, “It’s only twelve kilos,” at which time I may or may not have curled into the fetal position right there on the turf.

After months of practicing, I passed my snatch test and all the other skills at the Certification, and when it was over Phil said, “I knew you’d pass.” I wanted to say, “Maybe could you have offered that crumb of that confidence before?” But I admired his method. It...

What is the sound of one hand clapping? A philosophical riddle on par with: what is a one-legged kettlebell swing? And what does this have to do with “getting lateral”? Allow me to explain.

Many of our students will participate in activities that require good lateral motion, strength and stability. Think tennis, basketball, hockey etc. And most of our kettlebell drills are performed from a symmetrical stance and while there is carryover and benefit, can we add in a “spice” to the programming to assist students with better lateral performance?

Enter the “Stationary” Side-stepping Swing and Goblet Lunges!

The stationary side-stepping swing is as close to a one-legged swing as we are going to get and it is a powerful swing variation. Students will note increased eccentric load and powerful single-leg hip extension in a rhythmic fashion. Goblet lunges allow us work on the deceleration and eccentric loading found in athletic movement while performing a controlled lowering center of mass. I have found that these two together have great carryover to lateral performance and athletic movement.

The Details

Stationary Side-Stepping Swing

  • Begin in a standard set-up for a two-arm kettlebell swing.
  • Hike the kettlebell and begin to perform your hip extension but “fire up” to one side to fully extend one leg and come to the “standing plank” of a good kettlebell swing finish – the now “free” or unweighted leg can either tap the ground beside the stance foot or can remain off of the ground.
  • As the arms are returning to the ribs step apart...

Professional strength and conditioning coaches have utilized many different approaches to training athletes. Izumi Tabata trained Olympic-class speed skaters with 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off. This training is quite different than what the skater would experience in competition. On the other hand, basketball coaches train ‘suicides’ to closely simulate running up and down the court at full speed. Does your training need to closely emulate your competitive event? In this article I hypothesize that not only does your training not have to emulate your competition, but at times you might benefit from different conditioning protocols. Granted a basketball player still needs to practice plays and shoot the basketball, but maybe suicide drills could be replaced by other conditioning activities. Fighters will still need to practice fighting. There should be sport-specific training, but conditioning duration for sport can vary. Our conditioning does not have to be the same as our sport.

Master SFG Doug Nepodal adds:

“Years ago I trained two brothers who were trying to make it big in the world of supercross (one of the most dangerous and brutal sports on the planet). As you can imagine, the school of thought is nothing shocking. It goes like this. Since the sport is one of the hardest things a human can do, your training needs to be 10 times harder!  This means brutal workouts and tons of cardio...

“Only by contending with challenges that seem to be beyond your strength to handle at the moment you can grow more surely toward the stars.” My challenge for myself was to complete Simple and Sinister with the 36kg.


The inspiration for this daunting challenge was my husband, Brian. He achieved Sinister when he completed the challenge with the 48kg. This is approximately 60% of his bodyweight. The 36kg is 60% of my bodyweight, and I had already completed S&S with the 32kg for both the swings and the get-ups. So, of course this would be the next progression. Get-ups are a big part of my training. For the last 6 years, every Monday I’ve done get-ups 1/1×5 and then some type of other get-up practice a second day later in the week. It’s not always heavy, and sometimes done with only a shoe. The get-up is all about the effort you put into it. It is a technical skill that takes consistent practice, and it will still present you with its own challenges. This dedication has created a strong wrist and forearm that can withstand the pressure of the bell.

Previous Experience with Simple and Sinister

Simple and Sinister (S&S) has definitely been one of my favorite plans. It is a stand-alone plan, working 3x per week. The original program from Pavel’s book Kettlebell Simple and Sinister consists of 100 swings in 5 min, then 10 get-ups in 10 minutes. Simple for women is using the 24kg for swings and...

Students often rush through their sticking points. And I get it—it’s tempting. But the wiser tactic is to slow down. Take note. Assess and correct those errors or problems. The number of potential issues keeping you from achieving greater strength are too many to cover here, but one is particularly common.

The Problem: Lack of Joint Stability

Many people working on bodyweight skills have a lack of stability in their joints. Why would this show up more often in bodyweight work than kettlebell or barbell? Because many of the most popular bodyweight skills are single-sided. When we take an arm or leg away, it is harder to fake or rush past an imbalance. I’ll address an upper-body imbalance another day, but for now let us focus on the lower body. You’ll also be given a program to test and improve your balance when standing on one leg. Because once you become more stable on one leg, your strength gains will skyrocket when you return to all your two-legged lifts.

Get a Baseline

Before starting any new program or learning a new skill set, I always recommend setting a baseline. This allows you to assess your starting point and retest to see improvements. If you are unfamiliar with using baselines, you can read more about it here.

One of the best ways to set a lower body baseline is to stand on one foot with your eyes closed. Set up a recording device, and try it for a moment. How did it...

The term “grease the groove” (or GTG) is used frequently at StrongFirst. The basic premise in greasing the groove is to repeat the same exercise frequently without going to muscular fatigue. In this article, we are going to take a deeper dive into the origins of the term, what happens in the brain and at the neuromuscular junction, and principles of this type of programming.

Specificity + frequent practice = success. It is so obvious, most people don’t get it. Once I came across a question posted on a popular powerlifting website by a young Marine: how should he train to be able to do more chin-ups? I was amused when I read the arcane and non-specific advice the trooper had received: straight-arm pull-downs, reverse curls, avoiding the negative part of the chin-up every third workout… I had a radical thought: if you want to get good at chin-ups, why not try to do… a lot of chin-ups? —Pavel Tsatsouline, 1999

Greasing the groove (GTG) is a type of programming that builds the neurological pathway of lifting heavy weight. It does not rely on breaking down down muscle tissue for more growth, rather it uses your existing muscle structure by building new neural pathways. That is, it builds better wiring. Pavel, in his book Power to the People, described GTG with the following:

In the current culture of the fitness world, it seems that taking extended rest periods or working at an intensity level that is less than maximum is considered a waste of time. However, there are many in the fitness industry who are making a case for a more measured approach to strength and conditioning training. None more so than Pavel Tsatsouline.

Pavel’s latest set of principle based training protocols, called Strong Endurance, paints a picture of a world in which we can train at a level that may seem blasphemous to some and too good to be true to others. But, by following the principles laid out by Strong Endurance, improvements in endurance or conditioning can be see more quickly and much more safely than with many of today’s popular methods. Let’s explore why.

The Problems with Glycolytic Training

Many of today’s popular training approaches use metabolic conditioning (metcons), the most well known example being high intensity interval training (HIIT), which uses primarily the glycolytic energy system (more on this system below). These are intervals that have a high energy output for short to medium work sets followed by a short rest before repeating the set. These are the sessions that make you want to throw up, make your muscles feel...

First thing’s first: You can’t let your ego keep you from reaching your true potential. When trying to improve your pull-up, it is often the case that you will have to take 10 steps back to move 20 steps forward.

I remember a few years back when I first heard about the Beast Tamer Challenge. I was so fascinated by the idea of it. I have trained weighted pull-ups since I started training, so I saw it as one of my strong suits. So I started to train for the Challenge, but with no real attention to detail. I didn’t have access to a beast (48kg) at the time, but I managed to work my way up to a double 24kg pull-up.

The only problem was, I did not touch the bar. I thought this would be an easy fix: I just have to touch next time. I’ll tell you what, 2 inches never seemed so big. In order to rebuild strength in the new pathway, I had to drop down to just bodyweight for a while until the new pathway felt normal. I even had to cut back on my reps. Where I could do repeat sets of 12 the old way, I had to drop down to sets of 6-8, which was very humbling. Then, slowly, build back up.

During my journey back to a beast pull-up, I scoured just about every StrongFirst article and earned...

Multiple people have said “It is never fun” when describing the 5-minute snatch test at the SFG I Certification. Doing 100 reps is a rite of passage for many. The bi-annual TSC event in April and October provides another opportunity to see how many snatches you can do in 5 minutes. I am not sure we can make the snatch test fun, but I hope to make it tolerable by examining the energy systems and how we can use that knowledge to train for the snatch test.

How the body creates energy can be a complicated process. In this review, I want to keep it rather simple and cover the main points. We do have to dive deep at times, but you won’t have to hold your breath for long. If you can’t handle any dive into the energy systems, skip to the end for a snatch test protocol.

ATP—The Currency for Energy

Adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP) is the center of our energy systems. It creates energy for muscles to work by donating a phosphate molecule and releasing energy (and becoming adenosine di-phosphate in the process). This process of ATP->ADP is absolutely needed for muscle contractions. We can think of it as being essential for any muscle contraction. There are some other considerations (rate of firing, calcium binding sites, etc.), but for now we can think of ATP as our currency that we need to purchase muscle contractions.

There are a lot of exercises used in training that can have a very dramatic effect in a clinical cissoretting. The scale of the exercise may be different depending on the population, but the principles remain. Many times in the clinical world, clinicians get caught up in doing the same exercises they were taught in school that may be effective in the beginning of recovery from an injury but do not elicit enough of a stress to really drive adaptation when thinking about creating optimal function for a patient (or athlete).

First, a mention of the farmer’s walk and suitcase carry

One of the most under utilized exercises in clinical work is a properly coached, executed, and appropriately heavy carry. Most do not understand how a sufficiently challenging farmer’s walk or suitcase carry can force a patient to create appropriate levels of trunk stiffness and loading of a single leg stance. You can replace many correlate exercises for “core activation” (one of Pavel’s favorite terms!) with a variety of carries. Do not get me wrong, everything has its place depending on the person you are working with, but eventually you have to create enough of a stress to drive an adaptation.

The farmer’s carry and suitcase carry are terrific examples of exercises that are missing in the training of most patients and athletes. They provide an excellent training stimulus for the frontal plane and can help correct a variety of compensations and imbalances around the trunk.You likely plan them in your training...

What follows is an excerpt from StrongFirst’s latest publication, The Search for Greatness by Dr. Judd Biasiotto.

The fact that I couldn’t push my squat above the 440-pound barrier drove me crazy.

Even my coach got upset with my futility in the squat. I had improved significantly on the bench press and deadlift. Both of those lifts ranked me in the top five in the world, but my squat wouldn’t move.

Ben, my coach, kept telling me that my squat was going to be my best lift, and I kept proving him wrong in every meet I entered. Finally, I decided that if I was ever going to do anything in powerlifting, I would have to significantly improve my squat.

The Plan

Together, Ben and I sat down and devised a game plan. We rearranged my entire training routine so the majority of my time and energy would be used for training that lift, we increased the number of sets I did from eight to fourteen, and we decreased the number of sets I did in the bench press and deadlift from eight to five. We also spent a lot of time trying to perfect my form in the squat.

Perhaps the most drastic change we made was in my mental training. We decided to use all the time I spent in mental training on the squat. In fact, we even increased...

The Tactical Strength Challenge is a twice-yearly event with participants all over the globe. For one day in April and October, people on six continents are joined together in three events. As a Host, Coach, Judge and participant of several TSCs I’ve seen three clearly defined reasons, or purposes, that see people enter the TSC.

1. The Competitors

For some, the TSC has become their sport. These guys are in it for the competition. Be that to win in their local event, break into the global top ten, or to straight up win their division.

2. A Personal Challenge

Some view it as a personal challenge or as a bit of fun. They might be a non-competitive health-focused trainee who has been convinced to enter by their Coach or training buddies.

3. The Weekend Warriors

These guys don’t train for the TSC specifically, but are generally focused on training for a sport or other physical pursuit. They tend to use the TSC as a six-month ‘status check’ on their general, overall strength and fitness.

Although there is an official, global leaderboard and “division winners,” the TSC isn’t just an event for elite competitors. It has many purposes and applications. Many of these stem from the where and why of its origins. So for a full and deeper understanding, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

The History

Almost 20 years ago, StrongFirst Founder and Chairman...

It’s a question I hear all the time from beginner lifters, be it barbell or kettlebell fans. It’s a question that I dread, because they are not going to like the answer.

Before I do answer, I ask the following two questions: First, how much do you weigh, and second, how much do you squat?

If they aren’t close to a 1.5x/2x bodyweight squat (women/men, respectively), I tell them to forego knee sleeves for training until they can get their squat to this magic level.

This is why

Until an athlete can get their squat to 1.5xBW/2xBW, that tells me that they haven’t spent enough time under the bar yet. They haven’t carved out their time in the rack—time spent grinding and struggling with the weight. Time that their nervous system needs to become acclimated with the movement.

How did using knee sleeves get so popular?

I first started competing in powerlifting in 1987, and back then you either wore nothing on your knees, or you wore knee wraps as you got closer to a meet (usually 2-4 weeks out from a competition). It was around that time that strongman competitions started to get popular, and they were allowed to wear the various styles of sleeves (knee, elbow, etc.). Fast forward to the mid-2000’s when raw powerlifting started to take off. It was decided that one of the pieces of equipment that the athlete was permitted to wear was knee sleeves. From this point forward,...

Last year, I suggested this approach to planning out your training for the upcoming year. Now at the start of 2018, that idea along with a couple philosophies are guiding my own plan for the next 12 months.

“Occam’s Razor,” when boiled down to its simplest level, states: “All things being equal, the simplest explanation is the best one.” The base of Occam’s Razor is—or should be—a decision between two equal theories, and deciding that the simplest is the best (but not necessarily perfect) explanation. As Dr. Suess said: “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”

Please keep in mind that there are “anti-razor” philosophies. Karl Menger (an anti-razor scientist) stated: “Entities must not be reduced to the point of inadequacy.” I think Karl would like specialized variety in programming.

Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century philosopher, stated: “If a thing can be done adequately by means of one, it is superfluous to do it by means of several, for we observe that nature does not employ two instruments where one suffices.” Another nod to Occam’s Razor and recognizing carryover in training.

Putting this philosophical “stuff” into practice: that is the question or thought running through your head at the moment, yes? Let’s break it down by goals and timeframes.

My goals for the year
  • Sinister
  • SFL in May (see requirements here)
  • GFM in May
  • SFB in October
  • Survive my traveling and teaching schedule, including teaching SFG Level II in February and SFG Level...

The StrongFirst school of strength offers several programs to structure your training and develop your athletic qualities. Simple & Sinister, of course, our staple and the theme for multiple articles on this blog. But also, Rite of Passage, Total Tension Complex, and a number of more specialized programs authored by our instructors.

And let’s not forget numerous templates from Plan Strong and Strong Endurance. Tested on the battlefield, they all bring outstanding results.

All these programs have one point in common: each of them is focused on a limited number of exercises. That is necessary as we only have so much physical and mental energy. If we spread ourselves too thin, we would hardly be able to produce any noticeable result. And if we decided to push harder, we might end up with an injury or a systemic failure.

There are times, though, when “spreading ourselves thin”—within reason—might be a good idea, if not a necessity.

Programs and Practice

Maybe you’ve signed up for our upcoming, first-ever French edition of the SFG Level I Certification. You already have the necessary level of strength and stamina to pass the tests. You need to be sure, though, that your technique is up to par, so you need to practice the six SFG skills.

Or maybe, you’re already an SFG. You teach classes and workshops and assist at StrongFirst...

My name is Ilaria Scopece, and I am the “skinny boxer.” It has not always been this way. I was a gymnast before I put on boxing gloves. For eighteen years, I practiced artistic and acrobatic gymnastics, successfully competing in national and international events. My bigger dream was to bring my acrobatic gymnastics to the Olympic level.

Since I was a child, my vision regarding gymnastics was clear: training, competing, studying, training, and building my own team. I enrolled in sports science in college, to lay the first brick toward the dream I was building. But after I earned my bachelor’s degree, I discovered my goal was not such a simple thing.

Due to some internal issues in my company, I was forced to quit gymnastics and train my current teammates. For a while, this worked for me. After all, the gym was my home and my teammates a family extension, but my disappointment at the cessation of my own training turned my outlet into a prison.

I decided I needed a new way to continue physical activity, not only to maintain a decent state of shape, but also to relieve my stress and find a new sport—one without age limits. So, I went to a boxing gym.

Learning new techniques and different training methods, being flooded with adrenaline, and facing confrontation with myself and others—and all this on a daily basis—allowed me...

As 2017 moves rapidly into 2018, I want to update you on some changes and suggestions for the coming year.

StrongFirst has passed the five-year mark, so where are we headed moving forward?

If any of you have picked up the book Legacy, then you have had the chance to read one chapter in particular: Be a Good Ancestor. Be a Good Ancestor is all about a team or organization having a mindset of leaving a better “place” for those who follow. Meaning, my actions not only impact us in this moment, but they also have a lasting impact on our StrongFirst Team and Community.

There is an old Chinese proverb: “If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.”

We at StrongFirst are planning for a lifetime—educating people that strength has a greater purpose.

Since you are likely looking ahead to 2018 and beginning to lay out your training year (seriously, you are—aren’t you?), I want to update you on some changes and/or clarifications to the Simple & Sinister standards and the Beast Tamer/Iron Maiden Challenge.

You know, just in case those may be in your 2018 training plan.

2018 StrongFirst Updates: Simple & Sinister

I will go ahead and put myself out there in announcing that achieving the Sinister...

When I first started training Simple & Sinister in 2014, I never planned on reaching the Sinister goal. The thought of one-arm swings with the 32kg kettlebell was crazy to me.

I started kettlebell training to supplement my distance running, and I had no desire to be that strong. My plan was to reach Simple before I started training for the SFG Level I Certification. I accomplished the Simple standard, but throughout my Certification prep training, on busy days where I only had thirty minutes to train, I often returned to the Simple swing and get-up standards—100 one-arm swings in five minutes with the 24kg kettlebell followed by 10 get-ups with the 16kg kettlebell in ten minutes. This was a quick and simple way to practice technique and get in some conditioning.

Throughout this process, I realized I owned those swings with the 24kg. On any given day I could complete 100 one-arm swings with the 24kg in five minutes, and I started to think maybe the Sinister standard wasn’t so crazy after all.

I remembered an article and program that Pavel had written, From Simple to Sinister, and decided to follow this program in pursuit of the Sinister goal. My original idea was to follow Pavel’s program exactly. I did the best I could, but as I...