StrongFirst Roadwork: A Simple Explanation

By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

Note: About five years ago, I wrote up the following workout for operators and martial artists in my newsletter.

Run. Shadow box. At intervals you have set for yourself—so many minutes or so many phone poles—stop and do one to three pistols. At the next stop do a couple of one-arm push-ups. Here and there do both pistols and push-ups. No rest at all and just a couple of reps.

This is StrongFirst roadwork. It does not replace your dedicated strength training. It adds a severely lacking high force component into one’s conditioning. Steady state endurance interrupted by occasional intense contractions is much more specific to the needs of a fighting man or woman than high reps of low intensity exercise, such as circuits of high rep pushups and bodyweight squats.

Kyle Bochniak doing StrongFirst roadwork

Kyle Bochniak doing his roadwork on a treadmill at Broadway BJJ & Fitness in Boston

The Science Behind StrongFirst Roadwork

Your muscle uses three energy pathways:

  1. The first, most powerful and least enduring, is alactacid. You can go very hard for ten to thirty seconds—and then the tank is empty.
  2. The second energy system, glycolytic, takes over. It has a lot less power—less than half—but last for several minutes, typically two to six.
  3. Finally, it is the turn of the aerobic system. It produces even less energy—but it can go on forever.

This is an oversimplified pictured below, as all pathways operate at the same time, but good enough for our purposes.

3 energy systems in StrongFirst roadwork

More and more Russian research is revealing that athletes from combat and team sports are making a mistake killing themselves in the glycolytic pathway—doing high-rep circuits to “burn.” The new paradigm is—train your maximal alactacid power (MAP) in ten- to twenty-second bursts of intense effort and your ability to replenish your tank aerobically. The conditioning portion of the training regimen in my new book Kettlebell Simple & Sinister is designed in that exact manner.

There is a lot more to say on this topic and we shall continue this conversation in the future. For now stop being enamored with the glycolytic pathway and the “burn.” As one Russian professor has said in a lecture to wrestlers, “Whose muscles are more acidic in the end of the match?—The loser’s.”

Winning is the result of StrongFirst roadwork

Left to right: Head trainer John Clarke, fighter Kyle Bochniak, Tom Wood, boxing and strength coach Steve Baccari

Maximal anaerobic power + speedy aerobic recovery

= Kettlebell Simple & Sinister

Simple & Sinister Pavel Tsatsouline

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21 Responses to StrongFirst Roadwork: A Simple Explanation

  1. Shaibi mahmoud says:

    How would this work for a boxer? Should the running of 5-6 miles a day cease or continue and why or why not? Thanks

  2. Ed says:

    Intervals, Tabatas, whatever you want to call them. Used by all kinds of athletes for decades.

    • Pavel Tsatsouline Pavel Tsatsouline says:

      Ed, these are repeats; not then intervals. You are confusing glycolitic pathway training (like Tabata) with training the alactacid pathway plus CP shuttle and aerobic recovery.

  3. Powerful info here. After experimenting as you prescribed recently with my students it makes sense. This is allowing me to educate my students on a much higher level in my studio. Which means they are training smarter and are now “winners instead of losers”…

  4. Adam Butrym says:

    That is interesting. I wonder which of above described ways is the most effective for fat loss purposes?

  5. Rickard says:

    I have actually linked this to a few friends who train martial arts. It is a great explainer.

  6. Geoff Neupert Geoff Neupert says:

    Great stuff, Pavel. Explains my natural aversion to any type of work over 20 seconds.

    • Bret Hamilton says:

      Pavel, Geoff, I was a 200 and 400m runner in college. It was always interesting training for both because one was over in about 21-22 seconds for me, and the other was 49-50. They say the 200 is close to 100% effort for the first half, then gutting it out on the home stretch. But it’s next to impossible to sustain that kind of effort for 50 seconds–by then your body is in glycolytic mode and power decreases exponentially. Sprint training was such good experience for learning the different energy systems, and I agree with 100 percent of what you are saying, Pavel.

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