How Built Strong Helped Me Achieve Sinister

The Goal: Sinister

When I first looked for advice to achieve the Sinister goal of Kettlebell Simple & Sinister by Pavel, the response I received was to focus all your training on swings, get-ups, and goblet squats. I like to listen to others and then make my own decisions based on a combination of research and my gut instinct.

A few months earlier I had run a Built Strong BTS 6 program (utilizing 6 movements) and found it to be demanding but did not drain me too much. Building muscle is one of my favorite parts of the training game, so I opted to do a hybrid approach to achieve Sinister. I treated it like preparing for a powerlifting meet. You have your main exercises (Sinister) and your accessory lifts (Built Strong). I decided to use the minimalist version of Built Strong (BTS 3) for this program given the demands my Sinister training would make of me.

Heavy kettlebell goblet squat

Here is the overall approach I took.

Built Strong (BTS 3)

  • Goblet squats (to act as an anterior chain balance for all the posterior chain work that comes with a large volume of swings)
  • Dips (to improve my pushing muscles, to better sustain the kettlebell hold during the get-up)
  • One-arm kettlebell rows (to strengthen my lats to deal with the huge volume of one-arm swings)

BTS 3 was done three days a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) with a hypertrophy focus. Each day included heavy, medium, light training with one lift falling into each of those categories. The intensity of these lifts is intentionally rotated throughout the week, so the same lift does not repeat the same intensity until the following week.  To keep things as simple as possible, I opted for an easy approach, only using the main exercises and no specialized variety. Plus, of course, one-arm swings and get-ups to be specific Sinister training.

StrongFirst get-up
Weekly breakdown
Click on the image to enlarge.

With my Sinister volume being quite high (2000 swings & 200 GU per month) I opted for high BTS volume as well. More volume with medium weight would aid my hypertrophy goals with more mass gains. Also, my Sinister training was programmed without taking BTS 3 into consideration to give my body an unexpected stimulus.

Program Specifics

BTS month one started with 400 reps per exercise with the highest volume on the third week. I made sure the weekly intensity was different for the three lifts to give some additional variability. After the month, I felt I could tolerate more volume, so (respecting the Delta 20 principle) I increased my reps towards 500 per lift. I selected a new volume variant and used different intensity variants as well.

Kettlebell rows

My Competition Month

Weekly training template
Click on the image to enlarge.

It was clear my Sinister tolerance was increasing as now I was able to handle the 44kg kettlebell for both, one-arm swings and get-ups with ease. Plus, I was also already working out with the 48kg kettlebell for about 1/3 of my total volume.

Months two and month three showed still more improved performance so I tested the Sinister. I came close but missed the swing goal by 11 reps. Despite this miss, I knew I was close to my goal. The get-ups with the 48kg were not an issue anymore, so I felt the time had come to deload and go for the Sinister.

Weighted dips

Sinister and More!

I finished the planned month, took three days off, and built off of my last Sinister and Built Strong program by applying the competition period guidelines of reducing volume, selecting volume variants with a natural taper, and I made sure to not miss a session as well as do active recovery (Flexible Steel) between sessions.

This competition month paid off as I achieved Sinister on May 13th, 2021.

Built Strong gave other great results. My dips added 5kg from my previous best. I could goblet squat 68kg for 5+ solid reps. And the one-arm kettlebell row improved to five solid reps per side with 68kg.

The best thing is that the following Monday I felt completely fine and able to start a new program. One of the hallmarks of StrongFirst programming is longevity. I certainly found this to be the case after using Built Strong to help me achieve the Sinister.

Jose Luis Cortina
Jose earned a degree in law, but his life has always been linked to exercise. During college, he attended body-building courses to pack on some muscle and after graduation, he felt compelled to better understand how to help people get stronger and started his education all over again. Since that time, countless hours have been spent in the gym, at seminars, going through textbooks, and sharing knowledge with colleagues in order to increase his knowledge base. He lives by the motto, “Keep learning, practicing, and applying.”

21 thoughts on “How Built Strong Helped Me Achieve Sinister

  • Excellent article Jose, thanks for sharing. What % kg do you use for the exercises in the program? Greetings from Argentina.

    Exelente articulo Jose, gracias por compartirlo. Que % kg usas para los ejercicios del programa? Saludos desde Aregentina.

  • Thank you for the article. I am wondering about the rep schemes you used like 1,2,1,2 or 2,3,4 etc. Could you please give a reference where to read about it more? Thank you

    • Hi,
      Dan John talks about ladders in a T – Nation article.
      Also, you can register for Built Strong and understand the science behind Ladders.
      Hope it´s helpful.

  • Thank you for the article.
    I think I will start my Sinister pursuit again using your template to master the 40kg first.

      • I’m a patient man. I will probably never actually make Sinister, but I will be better off for trying.
        I spent about seven months getting to Simple from the very first time I picked up a kettlebell. Four months with a 36kg to meet the timed standard again.
        Moved on to the 40. Worked with it for five months making progress but then moved on to other lifts and kettlebell skills while getting yet stronger the last 21 months.

  • Excellent article Jose, very helpful. I’m curious what your swing and getup volumes were while you worked through this? Did they vary by week? What did that look like working through this program too?

    • I am also curious about the swing and get-up volumes. Were they performed on different days? Tuesdays and Thursdays? Great article!!!

      • Thank you!
        That is material for another article ; )
        Sinister training was usually 3-4 times per week. Trying to avoid as much as possible same training days as Built Strong.
        Although sometimes life happens and some weeks days were mixed.

    • Thank you.
      Volume was always 2000 swings (1000 per arm) and 200 TGU (100 per side).
      I used Plan Strong variability guidelines. I strongly recommend attending the seminar to gain more knowledge.

  • José has been helping me to get to Simple using a similar program and I’m nearly there. A year ago the idea of performing a 32kg TGU seemed alien to me. Great article.

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