(If you missed the first part of Pavel Macek’s S&S quest, read it here.)
Sinister Quest Continued
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”—Leonardo da Vinci, 1452.
My failed “Sinister” test attempt wasn’t a failure—it was a lesson. I went back to the drawing board, deloaded, focused on perfecting my technique, and gradually started to climb up again. Brett Jones says “keep swinging”—so I did.
“Going forward is a matter of ordinariness.”—Dogen Zenji
The frequently asked question was: “Are you doing only Simple & Sinister?” Yes—S&S was my main and only lifting program. My esteemed colleague Steve Freides, Certified StrongFirst Senior Instructor, gave a perfect explanation of minimalistic strength training plans such as S&S in our StrongFirst Forum:
Balance is overrated. The idea that a lifting program must touch on all the “basic human movements” is fundamentally flawed. One should move in as many varied ways as possible, at least from time to time, but that doesn’t mean heavily loading every possible movement pattern.
A lifting program can do what a lifting program needs to do and only contain two lifts. A lifting program doesn’t need to be balanced—a life does.
S&S was my main (heavy) strength and conditioning program, but apart from that, I also did:
- Morning recharge: A daily “health-restoring calisthenics” program I developed called Great Gama Protocol, consisting of “Sun Salutations,” Hindu pushups, and Hindu squats. This easy bent-arm/squat high-rep routine is complementary to the heavy straight-arm low-rep S&S. Use any morning recharge protocol of your choice. For health, the StrongFirst mobility complex from our Certified Instructor’s manuals is a great choice. Match the reps to your age.
- Review of other StrongFirst skills: I do this two times a week, usually with 24kg kettlebells, followed by StrongFirst RESILIENT drills with a 16kg kettlebell. You can maintain strength and skills in almost any lift(s) with this tactic—I will give you the details in one of my upcoming articles.
I am what I would call a “consistent minimalist.” I love the Iron Game, but I don’t live in the gym and have many other interests—philosophy, psychology, movies, etc. I like to group various “Health & Strength” practices into one session: lifting, fasting, cold/heat exposure, and breathing exercises.
During the summer, I train in a hot gym—no air-conditioning. In the winter in a cold gym—no heat. Most of the time I train in the mornings—always fasted. I have started to implement a longer therapeutic fast three to four times a year. Some of my Timeless “Sinister” sessions were on the 3rd and 5th day of a fast. “Sinister” swings were surprisingly easy. “Sinister” get-ups a bit harder—but doable.
Due to the blueprint above, I kept getting stronger and progressing toward my “Sinister” goal, maintained skills in other lifts, and (apart from the black month) stayed healthy and injury free. The simple schedule above also allowed me to keep my almost daily combat arts training and teaching.
Secrets, Tips, and Tricks
“Strength is a skill.”—Pavel
Every practice session was an experiment. Spending a long time with the same lifts allowed me to pay close attention to I was doing, especially when I started to lift heavy. I can lift a 24kg or 32kg kettlebell anyway I like, but with heavier weights the groove, technique, and alignment must be perfect—especially if you are a heavyweight (ahem…) like me.
If you lift heavy, and pay attention, you will learn many valuable lessons and sometimes a minor adjustment can make a huge difference. I discovered many, many small details that improve performance instantly, or make some of the difficult parts of the lifts very easy to understand and master.
Seneca wrote in one of his letters that “there is no enjoying the possession of anything valuable unless one has someone to share it with”—and it is my pleasure to share with you all the tips, tricks, and secrets. Please check out the brand-new Kettlebell S&S Online Course.
Timing or breathing in your swing? I got you covered. Difficulties with the roll to elbow, or standing up from the lunge in the get-up? You bet. And if you are an instructor, I will give you tips on how to teach the S&S lifts and skills safely and efficiently.
“Only those who know how to breathe will survive.”—Pundit Acharya
Apart from my consistency and stubbornness, there are a couple of other things that contributed to my progress and success. I have already mentioned the “Tsunami Wave to Sinister” program that brought me smoothly to Timeless “Sinister.”
Another significant piece of the puzzle is Pavel’s special warm-up protocol to start the aerobic system before testing (again, it is included in the S&S Online Course.pdf manual).
If I were to mention one more thing that was a true game changer in my training, it would be Pavel’s Second Wind—available as an online course as well. I am a huge fan and can’t recommend it enough.
Separately from my S&S practice, I did hard hypoxic breath holds, as well easy hypercapnic exercises when walking or stretching.
In proper S&S practice, I used the “standard recovery breathing” aka Darth Vader. During peaking and the test, I also used “emergency recovery breathing.” I sandwiched sets of 1+3 vital lung capacity exercise between my sets of get-ups.
Second Wind breathing drills are simple, easy to plug into your training, don’t take much extra time, and work like magic. Although I have years of experience with various breathing schools and methods, both western and eastern, I was very impressed with the results. I attribute about 20% of my success to Second Wind. I will, of course, share the most important drills in the Kettlebell Simple & Sinister Online Course.
Last, but not least, was the community support—both from my training buddies in our morning group called T-800 (older model Terminators) and the readers of my daily training blog called (of course) Repeat Until Strong. Start your training log at our StrongFirst Forum, now!
“Per aspera ad astra—through adversity to the stars.”—A Latin saying
In Spring 2022, I knew I would be traveling a lot again—an adventure trip to Africa and bodyweight and kettlebell certifications were on the horizon.
Dan John famously quipped that “the coach who trains himself has an idiot for a client,” so in one of our email exchanges I asked the one and only Brett Jones, our Director of Education, for a peaking protocol.
Brett sent me a very simple protocol (which is also included in the Kettlebell Simple & Sinister Online Course.pdf manual). I implemented it into my peaking practice, and after a few weeks, I decided to give “Sinister” a try… I mean, do it.
And I did it.
What Stands in the Way Becomes the Way
“We can accommodate and adapt.
The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.
The impediment to action advances action.
What stands in the way becomes the way.”—Marcus Aurelius
When I got the congratulations email from Brett Jones, our Director of Education, I will admit that I was very, very happy. At a 68.7kg bodyweight, I became one of the lightest (if not the lightest) gents who has accomplished “Sinister.”
Thank you, Pavel, for this fantastic program. I have enjoyed every practice session, and I got so much STRONGER. As an originally weak and unathletic kid, I am 100% a product of your system and our School of Strength, StrongFirst.
Gratefully, your student,
16 thoughts on “Kettlebell Simple & Sinister Quest: Through Adversity to the Stars, Part II”
Pavel. Again very good article. Question, as a morning recharge I do 10’ breathing excersices, 10’ aún salutation, then right after S&S ( atila 24kg). Would you incluyese other drill?
Fred, I personally keep my “morning recharge” (my Great Gama Protocol), and S&S separated by a couple of hours. As for S&S, I always stuck to the program. As for the variety days, many options – please see the article above. I usually do a light review of other drills and StrongFirst RESILIENT drills.
Since you do your morning recharge in the morning, when did you do your s&s session? Since you say you do it fasted, I guess it was later that morning.
Still doing the 16/8 fasting with two meals? Reaching sinister, did you feel a need for three meals?
All this s&s talk has really made me want to own the 48kg for my 48th birthrite day.
Thank you Pavel
I wake up quite early, so I do my morning recharge around 5AM or 6AM, daily.
I usually lift Mon-Wed-Fri, 10AM.
I usually have 2 meals a day – late lunch plus dinner. 16/8, 18/6, it depends.
I ate a bit more/more often when I was peaking – and gained some extra muscle. Otherwise, I have done multiple “Timeless Sinister” sessions after 1 day, 3 days, or even 5 days fast.
48kg kettlebell – go and get it, tiger! Thank you, Hunter!
Old time strongman?
New time strongman for sure.
Thank you for writing and sharing this.
One of my mottos is: “study the old to understand the new” (温故知新). Thank you for your kind words!
Great job Pavel! I have not tried Timed Sinister yet. I am curious. Have you tried any snatch testing/training since achieving Sinister? Wondering how transferable it would be performance wise.
After random act of variety practice, I jumped on my IPM program (snatch and the bent press). I can comfortably snatch 32kg, but in order to work on the technique (Tim Almond’s deep grip, etc.), I started light. Right now I am snatching 24 and 28. My long term goal is 100 snatches in 10 mins (probably with 40), and bodyweight bent press. Please check out my training log.
Pavel, your journey is wrought with realism, common sense, dedication, and discipline. Your story is a great encouragement. Thank you for writing these two articles.
Thank you, David!
Besides your great lessons born of trial and error work that you have tried and ultimately succeeded with, truly invaluable to those of us that choose to learn from other’s circuitous path to keep our path more linear, I have to say that I really love your inclusion of quotes to make your points.
Be careful or you may bust the stereotype that “muscle heads” are not cerebral or literate. 😉
I am an intellectual with a classical education lifting weights 🙂 Thank you, Albert!
Well done, Pavel!!!
I agree with Steve. Put together in a time package.
Thank you, Mark!
Pavel, your article is everything I admire: short and to the point, entertaining, heartfelt, and most importantly: a guide to others not only in its how-to but as a source of insight and inspiration. Bravo to you! (And an honor for me to be quoted by you.) This quotation – “What stands in the way becomes the way …” is my favorite. It’s at the heart of my own story of beginning a strength journey 20 years ago – to try to heal myself from a back injury – to attempting to break a USPA national record for the deadlift in my age and weight class a few weeks from now.
Thank you very much for all you do. I look forward to viewing the new S&S video course you mention.
Steve, thank you for your kind words, sir, much appreciated.