When Changing a Program Is, and Isn't, OK

Steve Freides

Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
When Changing a Program Is, and Isn't, OK

Let's use a few of our most popular, successful programs at StrongFirst as examples. Consider three programs, listed in the order in which they were introduced:

- Power To The People!

- Right of Passage (from Enter the Kettlebell)

- Kettlebell Simple & Sinister

The first question one must ask is: What is/are the goal(s) of the program?

The second question one must ask is: How much, expressed as a percentage, of achieving the program's goal(s) is dependent on each of the program's lifts?

Let's examine each program individually.

NB: If you aren't familiar with these programs, tell someone who cares. :) Please buy the books and read them.

Power To The People

What is the goal of PTTP? It's very clear - strength, specifically limit strength as expressed by the maximum weight that can be moved for a low number of reps.

I believe I'm quoting Pavel when I say that 90% of PTTP is the deadlift, and 10% is the side press.

I think we're safe in saying that we can, within reason, adjust the press portion of PTTP. If we start playing with the deadlift, however, we are altering the very essence of the program and then we're no longer doing PTTP. Try the PTTP template but use the kettlebell military press instead - it works well. Likewise, add a third lift - try pullups, and do them after your presses and before your deadlifts. This also works well.


The ROP has multiple goals: strength, as expressed by a one- or low-rep, one-arm kettlebell military press and trained for directly, and which I'm calling 60% of the focus, and conditioning as expressed by a 10-minute snatch test and as trained by swings twice a week and snatches once a week, and which I'm calling the remaining 40%.

Can you change the conditioning portion of the ROP and still have a pressing strength program? I think you can. This is a fairly sophisticated call to make, but I think one can still increase work capacity by doing a lot of presses, and one can improve one's press by doing a lot of presses. Does the snatch, with it's similar finish position, contribute to pressing strength? I don't think it contributes much - the weight is usually the same, but the press gets easier near the top and is hardest in the middle. I don't think the snatch adds a lot to our press; some, yes, but not a lot.

Can you change the strength portion of the ROP and still have a conditioning program? I think that's harder because the snatch lockout benefits from the press training. A program focused on improving a 10-minute snatch test, in order to yield good results, might need to switch from two swing sessions and one snatch session per week to one swing session and two snatch sessions, or even three snatch sessions with swings performed after snatches.

Simple & Sinister

S & S also has multiple goals, but I think swings are the main focus, specifically a particular type of low-weight, high-force swing that clearly improves endurance and strength-endurance, and also yields strength improvements via mechanisms not yet fully understood. I think strength portion of S&S, the getup, is perhaps 20%, and the swing 80%.

Can you change the strength portion, the getups, and still have S & S's conditioning benefits? I think you can, and we have forum members who've followed S&S-like programs with less of a focus on the getup that prove this point. Can you substitute another strength move for the getup? Yes, e.g., try the military press and, at the end of each set, with the weight still at the top, perform a windmill or bent press.

Can you change the swing portion of S & S and still have a strength program built around the getup? I don't think just a daily dozen or so getups is sufficient volume over the long term to build the kind of strength we're after at StrongFirst; we would need more volume, but the getup doesn't lend itself to high volume, so another approach would be best and not a strength-focused modification of S & S.

What You Should Not Do

Each of the modifications discussed above tries to make the connection between cause and effect in its respective program, and to preserve that connection in order to preserve the good results these programs are known to produce.

You should not, however, tamper with the basic design of the program's focus that you intend to keep. E.g., don't turn PTTP into a three-times-a-week-with-a-heavy-day program; that's no longer PTTP or a modification of PTTP, it's taking a known quantity, a proven program, and simply breaking it and then hoping for the best. Someone else has already written a three-times-a-week-with-a-heavy-day strength program; go find that and use it instead.



Level 3 Valued Member
Nice Post Steve! I think this will be really helpful for the community. (A handy dictionary of community abbreviations might be helpful as well).

Focusing on the goals of the program is really helpful. I also appreciate the frame work you've given for understanding what a program is about, between this post and "FAQ: Comparing Kettlebell: Simple & Sinister and the ETK Program Minimum and ROP".

If I could restate to check my understanding:
Understand the main goal of the program.
  • Is it Power, Maximal Strength, endurance, etc..
  • Clues about the goal of the program can be seen in what movements get the most volume/time/attention.
  • Where the movements are placed in the program. Order of operations is Skill, power, strength, endurance. (e.g. if you thought you were training for explosive power, but the ballistic movements are at the end of the workout it's probably not meant to help power, but more conditioning)
  • Work/rest intervals, volume and reps all give hints to the intended attributes and energy systems.
Understand what is core to the program meaning what in the program is contributing how much to the main goal.

The more core something is to the program, the more knowledge and experience you should have before your change it. If you're not sure how important something is to the program, you have your answer, leave it alone.

Somethings programs can bend more than others, but they can all be broken rather easily. When you change something your are experimenting with n=1. Hence the importance of having he knowledge/experience to anticipate the effect of the changes.

One final question: I think the core for S&S is about power, which you've also said in the post I linked to above. Has opinion changed or it just didn't pop to mind when writing this post? (Low weight/high force is pretty close how most people train power, so I think that what you were getting at)

Steve Freides

Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
@TravisDirks, thank you very much for your kind words.

To your question about what do the swings in S&S accomplish, I'd say they accomplish magic. :) Seriously, it's power, yes, but it's high power with a low weight done for repetitions, so I'm not sure that meets a traditional definition of power, which most people probably think of as Olympic lifts, vertical jumps, and the like.

Instead of "work capacity," we can talk about "power capacity." @aciampa, what do you think, have I coined a new expression here? :)



Level 6 Valued Member
@Steve Freides Thanks for putting this up. In response to our previous conversation, I think I'll go with Plan 104-C and save myself the mental effort.

For those reading this who have no idea what I'm talking about, let me provide some context. I am in the last week of Plan 103 (check out call-for-research-subjects-for-the-latest-a-a-swing-protocols), during which I've been doing a lot of heavy swings, a little pressing, and not much else. Although I won't test until this coming week, it does feel as though most swing related stuff is seeing improvement, such as grip, explosive hip extension, work (power?) capacity, etc. However, I would like to shift focus to my press while maintaining (by which I mean improve at a slow rate) my swing-based improvements. I also felt like I was missing out on some of the benefits of heavy TGUs and whatnot. It should be noted that you can work heavy TGUs into Plan 103, I just chose not to since I wanted to really focus on the swings. While doing S&S I could get 10 TGU in 10 minutes w/ 40K without too much trouble, but doing 100 swings in 5 minutes w/ 24K left me gasping. The discrepancy was obvious.
Anyways, my plan after this program was to tweak ROP to make the swing format similar to what I had been doing, eliminate snatches, and do one variety day w/ TGU's, Sumo DL, and loaded carries. The goal being to be able to confidently press the 32K for multiple reps (it's my 1RM currently) and still see some improvement on my swing. However, it sounds like Plan 104-C is very similar, and it has the unique advantage of being programmed by Al, and not by me. So, when faced with two similar plans, one of which is made by a pro, and one of which is made by a pro and then bastardized by an amateur, I think I'll go with the former.


Level 3 Valued Member
S&S is a routine that leaves 'something in the tank' for those that need to call upon their body to perform later in the day, or it is not too taxing to do at the end of the day.

My query is thus, if I do S&S in the morning, can I not then pick any other program I want to do as long as I do it in the evening?

I just want to do MORE.


Level 3 Valued Member
@Lew 3 weeks ago I had the same feeling - fresh after the workout and fresh the next day. Unbeatable. So I started to squeeze running into the mix with a fast progression.

Yesterday I realized I have over-trained with the results of fatigue and a runners's knee (pain under knee cap)

Lesson learned for me was: If I'm not fresh after training and the next morning - something's wrong.

Will rest for a few days, ease into 5 days a week with S&S and listen to my body of how much running I can handle.


Level 3 Valued Member

Thank you for your testimony.

I am doing original strength now at night with the 2 S&S stretches.

And I do feel fresh.

I must have patience.
More patience...

I am seeing my SFG2 in a week who is also CSCS and FMS1.

Should be a good session.

Al Ciampa

Level 8 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Instead of "work capacity," we can talk about "power capacity." @aciampa, what do you think, have I coined a new expression here? :)
@Steve Freides Pavel took this idea apart in his 2-part article about work capacity (see the blog on the site). I think you are stepping into the same error in thinking here. Using the language in those articles, S&S-style swings is effective in improving one's general endurance... period.

Steve Freides

Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
Al, hypothetically, let's say we found something that took about as long as a kettlebell swing but was more of a grind, e.g., a particular weight of goblet squat. Or, if not took as long, was somehow equally demanding by some abstract measure.

Wouldn't it be reasonable to say that the difference we'd get as results between using the goblet squat and using the swing is quantifiable as applied to some third exercise or specific task?

Feel free to tell me I'm releasing liquid waste into the oncoming breeze and I'll stop. :)



Level 3 Valued Member

Ok as a small fish in this conversation, I think in the language of that article we are talking about alactic work capacity.

The article mentions the A+A powerlifting programs who's main goal is strength. And due to the nature of aerobic recovery as a what the hell effect you get endurance- that is aerobic improvement. But it's a side effect.

Like the powerlifting A+A protocol was for strength I enjoy practicing the swing portion of S&S for power. That is maximizing acceleration at the bottom and float at the top.

In that context I think Steve was pointing out that 10 swings is quite a bit for traditional power training. Meaning we are pushing the capacity of the alactic tank.


Level 7 Valued Member
Okay, so to oversimplify:

PTTP: raw strength
ROP: strength and conditioning
S&S: strength and endurance

I've found S&S about enough for a day. "Leaving energy in the tank" is for a hike or something but not for more lifting, I don't think. I can just do the S&S with heavier weights if I want more. Still, there are some other movements I like to do a bit of, because they're cool!
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