The Tale of Two Leopards: An Excerpt from The Quick and the Dead

The Quick and the Dead Book Cover

The antelope was grazing, oblivious of the superbly camouflaged cat stealthily closing in. The predator flowed like mercury, hugging the terrain.

It was a busy day in the savannah, but only one pair of eyes was tracking the leopard. My friend George had put in his time in Africa fighting poachers and he knew how to see without being seen. Recently he had been entertaining himself timing big cats’ hunts.

The blurry spot in the tall grass became a straw-colored streak. The antelope made a desperate run for its life, a run that was blissfully short. The panthera leaped. Her jaws, powerful enough to crush thick bones, closed on her prey’s neck.

It was over in 16 seconds. The proud hunter stood tall, surveyed her surroundings the way a big boss would, and made a brief “fast and loose” victory dance. Then she picked up her dinner, which was bigger than herself, and climbed a tree with it.

“It would be like you climbing a tree holding me in your teeth,” commented George, who has good 50 pounds on me. And that was no feat for a leopard that can climb with carcasses three times her bodyweight.

Leopard carrying her prey up a tree

Then George told me of another leopard hunt he had witnessed, very different from the first.

The male cat did not have it easy. Age was taking its toll and one of his front paws was infected. A thorn was wedged in it, a common hazard to alpha predators in the wild.

He also made his kill, but, as he was slower, he had to work harder and longer to bring the antelope down. Then he was unable to get to a tree fast enough to stash his cat food—and was attacked by a pack of opportunistic hyenas.

The tom fought hard and well and the hyenas ran off with their tails between their legs. George stopped his timer at four minutes.

Luckily, the hyenas did not return. Exhausted, the old tom lay panting on the ground. Can you even imagine a cat panting? It is below the dignity of a cat.

Finally, the old leopard got his bad breath back and dragged his dinner to the safety of a tree.

A few months later, George watched the same leopard retire to a cave to die. That is what they do.

Earn Your Leopard Spots

The second leopard hunt exemplifies the mentality of today’s “high intensity interval training.” Dramatic, inefficient, costly. I admire the old cat’s tough style, given his circumstances of age taking its toll—but his heroics are not something to emulate on a Wednesday night at the gym.

In contrast, the Quick and the Dead regimen (Q&D) was inspired by the first cat. Not a single set exceeds the duration of her ferocious 16-second kill. Power undiluted by fatigue is not heroic; it is professional.

The Q&D protocol was designed to maximize your performance at a lowest biological cost—and to leave you fresh and able to perform at a high level, physically and mentally, at any time.

You will get powerful. Very powerful.

While power is awesome for its own sake, training it in a particular manner also delivers a wide range of “what the hell effects.” Muscle hypertrophy. Fat loss. Endurance. Anti-fragility. Anti-aging.

Plus, Q&D will enable you to make greater strength gains if you are also lifting.

Q&D can be a minimalist’s stand-alone, total training method. Or make a quality addition to any athlete’s regimen.

Q&D does not beat up the body and takes only 12–30 minutes per training session, two to three times per week.

Q&D was designed to minimize detraining when circumstances force you to lay off or cut back. If you get a hare-brained idea to take an entire month off all training and then go back to your boxing class and pretend you never left, you will suffer less than expected.

Real Results

A US special operator I will call “Mark” is an accomplished boxer, wrestler, and powerlifter. His strength has enabled him to stay in the fight into his mid-40s. Then he added a Q&D swing and pushup plan to his training—back when it was called “StrongFirst Experimental Protocol 033.”

I have completed the six-week 033C template. I did it as a warm-up for my powerlifts three days a week, always for 30 minutes. I noticed a speed increase in all my powerlifts and pain relief of all of my injuries.

I also found an increase in endurance while doing combatives. And as my hips developed more explosive movement, my speed came up, creating increased striking power. The big game changer I noticed was my hip movement in grappling. I am able to maximize force through explosive hip movement, coincidentally making me less tired.

I am more efficient with energy by driving my hips and getting “heavy” on my opponent. Combining that force with leverage has me launching big dudes like children. By getting my hips under and driving up versus using my arms and back during takedowns and throws has made me more efficient and explosive.

…I lost nine pounds and, based on my visual composition, I would say it was fat loss. I gave up sugar at the same time, so I would say it is a combination of factors. My arms have definitely gotten bigger. 

Overall, I found the 033C enjoyable and meditative. I was able to go into a flow state and felt I could go on forever. After not touching a kettlebell in a few years, I felt this was a great way to get things going again.

I need to get a larger kettlebell!

Strong Women

Q&D is every bit as applicable to the female of the species as it is to the male. Did you know that in a lion pride, it is the lionesses that do most of the hunting?

Other than opening doors for them, at StrongFirst we do not treat women any differently than men. We do not disrespect them with any nonsense about “long, lean muscle” or “shaping the female problem areas.” So when Italian athlete Ilaria Scopece, SFG/SFB, approached Fabio Zonin for training advice while preparing for an important competition, the Master SFG gave her the same 033 plan that became Q&D. Ilaria weighs as much as a 48kg Beast kettlebell—only she is a lot more dangerous. Scopece is the number-three ranked professional light flyweight boxer in Europe.

Ilaria Scopece, the number-three ranked professional light flyweight boxer in Europe and a StrongFirst certified instructor

Starting with 15 reps in the 30-second timed test with a 20kg kettlebell in the one-arm hard style swing, in a few months, Ilaria did 21 reps. That 40-percent increase would have been notable on its own, but the fighter did it with 24kg—a 20-percent weight increase.

Where in the pre-test she lifted 300 pounds of iron in half a minute, in the post-test the lady put up over 500. For perspective, her performance is identical to that of a 200-pound man doing 21 crisp and perfect one-arm swings in 30 seconds with a Beast.

But kettlebells do not strike back. Ilaria’s performance in the ring is far more important than her swing and pushup numbers. Her boxing coach put her through a test: 10 rounds, alternating between two experienced sparring partners, both 15-percent heavier than her.

“While sparring with my partners, I realized I had even greater speed and explosiveness and I was able to maintain this for the whole match…I had gas to sell.”

In her next fight, Ilaria knocked out her opponent from Eastern Europe 37 seconds into the first round. Next stop—the European pro title fight. Stay tuned.

We have many great stories like these.

Q&D: Not for Everyone

But The Quick and the Dead is not for everyone.

Q&D is not for beginners. When we tested various experimental plans, we discovered that while everyone improved on Q&D, to our great surprise, experienced athletes improved the most. Fighters, military special operators, professional baseball players, motocross riders, and guys who could press the Beast for reps made much more dramatic progress—in both absolute and relative terms—than ladies and gents who were still working their way up to the Simple standard of Kettlebell Simple & Sinister.

While this should not make any sense, we concluded there were good reasons for this paradox.

First, Q&D training demands a foundation of strength. Without a rock-solid midsection that comes from paying dues to heavy metal or high tension, there is no way of expressing one’s max power. As Dr. Fred Hatfield quipped decades ago, “You cannot shoot a cannon from a canoe.”

Second, power is a learned skill. A low-level athlete seems to need the artificial resistance of muscle congestion to exert against. He or she is unable to just explode against a moderate weight. As a result, a relative beginner lacks the intensity needed to produce the desired metabolic events, finds the Q&D protocol ridiculously easy, and only nets a partial adaptation. S&S, which on the power-to-acid continuum lies somewhere between Q&D and HIIT, is the perfect program for this athlete.

Finally, it is a matter of personality. While some individuals are “cats,” most are “dogs” or “persistence hunters.” Solitary cats are masters of brief and explosive bursts; persistence hunters wear their prey down. Dogs feel the burn somewhere in between.

That said, even if you are not a “natural cat,” you have a lot to gain from training like one—at least as your secondary modality. We have seen high-level athletes get excellent results from adding Q&D to their endurance training.

In addition to watching out for your health, Q&D will improve the quality of your life.

“Metcons” ravage your system with acid, free radicals, and toxic ammonia. They deplete your muscles’ energy pool in a manner similar to chronic fatigue syndrome and leave your carcass sore, tired, and injury-prone. They burn you out mentally, wreak havoc with your hormones, and make you feel like hell. Are you willing to pay such a high price for getting “in shape”? And if you are, say, a first responder, is it fair to the citizens you will be saving?

The choice is yours: Be quick or be dead.

Pavel Tsatsouline
Pavel Tsatsouline is the CEO of StrongFirst, Inc.

24 thoughts on “The Tale of Two Leopards: An Excerpt from The Quick and the Dead

  • Just did my first session. Absolutely invigorating! Love all of your work Pavel.

  • Pavel –

    I remember these two predators well. I can still see them both – particularly the old leopard – in my mind’s eye.

    At age 61 and still working hard tracking down evil with law enforcement in Montana and beyond, I relate to much of what you cover so well and so eloquently. I am a living example of an apex predator who – in the twilight of a long career as an arms-carrying professional – still trains to be hard-to-kill and eliminate the threat, protect the force, and accomplish the mission. Much of my resilience comes from my relationship with you. Your clarity of thought and ability to teach and mentor remain priceless and unique.

    To all who continue to read, train, and learn from Pavel, I wish you “good hunting.” I write this passage from Wyoming while on assignment. My faithful companion – a Belgian Malinois retired military working dog with 5 combat tours herself – is, like me, slower to rise and move from many years of mileage. But we are “on the spoor” of some lawbreakers who need justice – and we will track them down. I have a 32kg KB and a free standing Pull-up Bar in the bed of my truck to “grease a groove” that is well-worn but maintained through functional strength training. I use a version of an “on the road” program given to me by Pavel years ago. I still read and incorporate all that he shares. I do not intend to go to my final cave for awhile…

    Pavel, Semper Fidelis Brother.

    I look forward to my next conversation with you.

    Strong First!
    Colonel George H. Bristol USMC (Retired)

  • The program in this book is as much of a game changer as PTTP daily Deadlifts and Presses or ETK Clean & Press and Pull Up ladders were 15-20 years ago. If you have trained S&S to atleast the Simple Standard, this is a must try. The results are beyond surprising and stick with you. The test 033 protocols delivered and then some. I can’t wait to take on the Quick and the Dead to find out where Pavel’s genius work takes me now!

  • This sounds really interesting. While this program should not be used in conjunction with S&S during one’s journey to reach the “simple” standard, I’m assuming it could be used while on the path to “sinister”. In that case, we would have, “The Quick, the Sinister and the Dead”.

  • Looks like this will be another great book, Pavel. Looking forward to reading it.

  • S&S turned me from weak to “the monster” at judo training over the past 3 years. Now this program looks like it will transform me yet further into “the lion”.

  • This book sounds totally awesome can’t wait to read it , i’ve been doing simple and sinister with some fantastic results , my sons have been doing it too with great success , keep doing experiments and keep writing , Pavel ,you are very cool Your bud :Bryan

  • I am really looking forward to this book. I really enjoyed the All Terrain Conditioning seminar I attended as well.

  • As I am currently running 033C, I am really looking forward to this book and more knowledge.

  • I can not wait to read and implement this! I loved the StrongEndurance protocols and have been using them consistently since the first SE event in Denver. This Q&D looks like it will change the way we look at health and fitness training. Thanks Pavel!

This article is now closed for comments, but please visit our forum, where you may start a thread for your comments and questions or participate in an existing one.

Thank you.