StrongFirst Roadwork

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

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

23 thoughts on “StrongFirst Roadwork

  • Done. I feel physically and psychically better than with high reps in a row.. I did:
    5 right leads, 5 left reads, 5 right kicks and 5 left kicks.. These kicks are from Tao of Jeet Kune Do.. They are lower than muay thai low kicks.. The aim of these kicks is knee or genitals.. XD after kicks three one arm push ups with chair by right arm and three by left arm.. And again.. No rest. 4 rounds. Fantastic 😀 Its just beginning I think that I’ll shadow box next time.. 3 minutes of shadow box and three push ups with each arm and this x4 or 5 rounds. Or 3. I will see. Excellet method. My muscles feel right, my energy feel right. I think that with these training my condition and hm ability to crazy fight will grow.. Good training.

  • 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

    • 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.

      • High reps of calisthenics are not advisable, but what if I did sets of 5-10 reps of push ups and bw squats with a short recovery in between – S&S format with bodyweight exercises, are the adaptations gonna be the same (A+A)?

  • 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”…

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

    • 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.

  • Great information as always Pavel! I’ve ordered several copies of your book, and DVD, for the progressive Phys Ed staff at “Hardstyle High” here in Winnipeg. Merry Christmas and Happy new Year!

  • WOW! Fantastic article. I’ve always felt like there was probably some sort of benefit to this type of training but beyond just the challenging aspect of it couldn’t think of what it might be. This makes perfect sense.

    Have you considered writing a book on strength and power training for martial arts? A mix of the Fighter’s Workshop info plus this would make for a seriously good read.

  • The thing I’ve always loved about Pavel’s work is the absolute relevance of the content included. Having studied in depth the molecular mechanics of what this article describes, I can attest that it is indeed vastly more complex than the model here indicates, (there are actual effects on DNA expression caused by such workout regimes,) yet the information presented is just enough for an end user to apply the concept without getting vapor-locked by a deluge of pedantic details.

  • Very interesting. I cant wait to hear more on this subject. I have been doing the S&S program with the 32kg since before thanksgiving and I feel like my energy levels are much better. I wonder if was because I spent so much time in previous sessions training the glycolytic pathway. I also feel like my immune system has been stronger lately, I wonder if there is a connection?

    • Greg, it is out of my swim lane to comment on.

      You will find it interesting that Russian scientists consider the immune system one of the key systems responsible for adaptation.

    • Greg,

      Check out some of Ray Peat’s work.

      From his article entitled, ” Lactate vs. CO2 in wounds, sickness, and aging; the other approach to cancer”

      “Lactate increases blood viscosity, mimics stress, causes inflammation, and contributes to shock. Lactated Ringer’s solution contributes to the tissue damage caused by shock, when it’s used to resuscitate shock victims (Deree, et al., 2007, 2008): it contributes to the inflammatory processes associated with shock, unlike the use of hypertonic saline and other solutions. Lactate contributes to diabetes, inhibiting the ability to oxidize glucose. It promotes endothelial cell migration and leakiness, with increased vascular permeability factor (VPF or vascular endothelial growth factor, VEGF) (Nagy, et al. 1985): this can lead to breakdown of the “blood-brain barrier.”

      In the brain, lactate can cause nerve damage, increasing intracellular fat accumulation, chromatin clumping, and mitochondrial swelling (Norenberg, et al., 1987).

      The lactate in peritoneal dialysis solution impairs differentiation and maturation of (immune, monocyte derived) dendritic cells; according to the authors of the study, “These findings have important implications for the initiation of immune responses under high lactate conditions, such as those occurring within tumor tissues or after macrophage activation” (Puig-Kröger, et al., 2003).”

      Interesting stuff for sure….

      • Thanks for the replies. That is very informative. This year I was sick a lot even though I made some relatively good gains in strength. Since starting S&S I have felt more energetic and avoided some pretty serious illnesses that my family and co-workers developed. I intend to take this program all the way until I hit the sinister goals and see just what kind of quality of life I can achieve ( hopefully it includes smaller love handles).

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