By Jason Martin, with notes from Jason Marshall, StrongFirst Certified Master Instructor
I am new to the kettlebell and the StrongFirst community, but I am all in.
Ninety days ago, I entered a local contest here in Lubbock, Texas—the Bodyworks 90 day challenge. It is a competition to see who can have the greatest physical transformation in ninety days. While I was an athlete throughout my early twenties, marriage, a series of metabolic changes, a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees, a desk job, three children, and maladaptive stress eating eventually took a toll on me. These little things added up to big things.
At 38 years of age, I stood 6’4” and 329lbs, and I had been sedentary for a decade and a half.
My Story: Why I Needed to Make a Change
Though I had entered a short-term contest, I was looking for sustainable health changes. I have three boys: sixteen, nine, and six years old. My sixteen-year-old had long surpassed my physical capabilities and it was getting difficult to keep up with my younger boys. I was losing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to actively engage in their lives, not to mention opportunities for intimacy with my wife (an extra 100lbs and short windedness can get in the way of much).
I needed a better diet, but I also needed an exercise program I could do in less than thirty minutes a day that would yield maximum results.
My physical therapist friends all warned that injury would be what would take me out and that I needed both cardio and weight training for the best results. I was beginning to think the magic thirty-minute exercise program might not exist. And then, enter the kettlebell.
A friend of mine trains under Jason Marshall, StrongFirst Certified Master Instructor, and he told me about the kettlebell and the StrongFirst organization. It sounded too good to be true, but I decided to read Pavel’s book Simple & Sinister. I read it in one sitting and walked away willing to follow the path of Simple & Sinister, for a while.
Where I Went Wrong and How I Got Right
Jason Marshall: Jason expected to spend whatever time it took to gain the necessary mobility and strength to just perform the warm-up detailed in Simple and Sinister, which happened to be a month prior to the start of his contest. His main concern was the lack of baseline strength and hip mobility to perform a goblet squat. He started by practicing each day with assisted squats while gripping onto a door frame, increasing depth and reps each day he made an attempt.
He noticed right off that he used his back during the bridge and made a concerted effort by practicing hip hinges (up to 1,000 per week) in order to efficiently use his hips during the bridge. He practiced “naked” swings and halos intermittently. This practice occurred every night until he made it through the Simple & Sinister warm-up with weight one time through.
I started the ninety days able to do the warm-ups and practice two-hand swings and get-ups with 16kg. I made great gains in my first month of working out—I lost 35 lbs. I moved to double 20kg exercises after reading a book about advanced double kettlebell training.
Jason Marshall: This was admittedly Jason’s biggest beginner mistake, and the point where he reached out to me.
I had the wrong assumption that more was better. After a month I had plateaued, I was stressed out from over exercising and in great need of recovery (which the book in question warns about continually, but I did not heed). In frustration, I sought out Jason Marshall to help with the challenges I was facing, the biggest of which was me.
It took the next three weeks to recover and undo what I had done in ignorance. Over the course of these weeks, Jason redirected my goals back to Simple & Sinister and a good diet.
How We Got Me Back on Track
- I started practicing 20-30 minutes a day working on proper form and making increases in weight and in the reduction of rest times.
- I started reading all the blogs and articles on StrongFirst and realized how typical my ignorance-born errors were.
- I stopped focusing on the competition and focused instead on making progress in my training.
- StrongFirst became my philosophy.
- I practiced Simple & Sinister hardstyle, and Jason added some cardio cycles to help increase weight loss.
- Jason also introduced waviness to my workouts with a cycle of light, medium, and heavy workouts.
- Additionally, he continually stressed proper recovery, especially sleep.
Jason Marshall: The main emphasis was to make sure Jason’s diet was really dialed-in. After receiving a detailed weekly food, sleep, and training journal, we were ready to discuss where to make changes. Jason also made a stop by my training studio to have his form critiqued. As a former collegiate athlete, he was a quick study and internalized the cues well.
The addition of a cardio session coupled with Simple & Sinister came when it was apparent that he needed some added volume, but not a lot of stress in terms of heavy loads. The circuit was a basic six-station setup:
1. Kettlebell Clean
2. Goblet Squat
3. Kettlebell Rows
6. Jump Rope
Three rounds of the circuit were completed each day and we waved the training load with the work-to-rest ratios. Light Day—1:2, Medium Day—2:2, Heavy Day—2:1. The reciprocal training load was used for his swings and get-ups, a la Simple & Sinister. For example, on the heavy day, Jason would do his light (1:2) work-to-rest ratio for the above circuit.
He finished each session with a light walk to cool down. All of this was done first thing in the morning immediately after waking up and consuming a scoop of protein powder and water. He took another easy walk each evening. Jason was diligent about getting eight-plus hours of sleep each night, which he was over 90% compliant with.
I humbled myself and submitted to those who know better. I sought to not get greedy with gains and in compliance I made small adjustments to weight and rest periods and made sure there was plenty left in the tank after my practice sessions. I continued to eat right, hydrate well, get plenty of sleep, and take my rest days. The little things began to add up after a while—even a relatively short while.
After ninety days, I had accomplished the Simple goals and began practicing Enter the Kettlebell, my strength having increased 100%. Additionally, I had lost 73lbs, 60 of which came off in the first and last month when I was following the prescribed program of Pavel’s Simple & Sinister and Jason Marshall’s advice.
I have also had several WTH moments along the way. When wrestling with my sixteen-year-old, I picked him up over my head (he’s 6’1” and 175lbs, by the way) and threw him across the room onto the couch. He jumped up as shocked as I was and exclaimed: “You’re not the same person you used to be!”
A week later, I played full-court basketball at full-speed for two hours straight. I couldn’t believe what great cardiovascular shape I was in, and how strong I had become.
Jason Marshall: Since the completion of the contest and the final edit of this article, Jason has lost an additional fifteen or twenty pounds and added significant amounts of muscle mass. He has begun Rite of Passage from Enter the Kettlebell and has graduated to a 28kg kettlebell for his presses. He has also achieved four consecutive pullups, a lifetime best. He is now doing pullups between all his clean and press sets.
I cannot begin to make an accounting for all the ways my life has been positively affected by becoming StrongFirst. I intend to continue the little things while progressing and solidifying my gains over time. Rite of Passage in Enter the Kettlebell is my next goal, and then on to Return of the Kettlebell. I have decided to seek the SFG Certification as a longer-range goal once I complete the path set forth by those who have gone before me.
My path was simple, but not easy. I owe much gratitude to my trainer Jason Marshall, Pavel Tsatsouline, Geoff Neupert, Dan John, and all of the StrongFirst community (particularly my buddy Clint Conner who first reached out to me and continues to throw iron with me).
Jason Marshall: Jason’s ace in the hole, in my opinion, was compliance and consistency. He began this contest as a motivator to shed some unwanted pounds, but he quickly realized he’d started a new journey and lifestyle. One he was willing and able to live with. One he found challenging. And one he truly enjoyed. I take no credit for his success and accomplishment other than being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to have witnessed such an amazing transformation.
I look forward to seeing “SFG” after his name in the future!
31 thoughts on “My 90 Day Challenge: I Lost 73lbs and Got My Life Back”
I wonder how you are doing now? I really like that instead of just running you added walking and a cardio circuit. I used to run for fat loss but can no longer do that so I started walking. I also like the circuit work you added and how you waved the loads
I know this is three years late, but congratulations. After reading this I’ve decided to pick up some bells myself. Jason, you have inspired me.
I just have one question. Is it possible to work towards “Simple” and do a strength training routine as well? Like lift three days per week, “simple” the other three days?
you need to re-read his story, the moral is less is more that’s why it is called Simple and Sinister, he found that out the hard way, I would say do one or the other, but not both.
Your story is really inspiring, thanks for sharing.
Which program are you doing now? ROP, SS?
What type of nutrition was he using during the workouts?
I was using Bluebonnet protein shakes with BCAAs pre and post workout, multivitamins once a day, Omega-3 fish oil 3 x’s per day, and a Inferno fat burner twice per day.
My diet basically included 4 egg 1 yolk omelet w/ cheese and salsa, strawberries w greek yogurt, greens and low fat meat, apple, and greens and low fat meat.
Just curious what the weight, reps/time were for the exercises in the cardio circuit?
I used 10 sec work to 20 sec rest ratio (1:2) on light days, 2:2 on medium days, and 2:1 on heavy days. Typically I would use heavier weights to increase the intensity, but if I was sore or tired I would bump my weight down a bell. Also, I came to replace the swings with snatches (an option Jason gave me) to increase the intensity.
Great results. Couple quick questions.
1. Jason completed the Simple goals of S&S in only 90 days. Why did he switch to Rite of Passage and not go for the Sinister goal given his size and how quickly he attained the Simple goal?
2. Why did you use a Light/Medium/Heavy plan instead of the consistent daily plan outlined in S&S? Was that to allow more work on the supplemental cardio?
3. Any tricks you are willing to share on sleep? I agree that it’s very important, but while i avoid late night screens, go to bed and wake at consistent times, and sleep in a completely dark room, I wake after about 4-5 hours of sleep and never really get back to sleep.
1. He didn’t have access to the heavier bells, so he decided to move to ROP. Having heavier bells, I would suggest to shoot for the sinister goal myself.
3. Not sure on how he managed the discipline in his sleep. I’ll ping him and see what he says.
Thank you. Was the lack of heavier bells also why you added the cardio? Just curious if you think normal S&S is sufficient for weightloss? Jason was a big guy and sounds like diet was key, but if a 40 and 48kg bell were available, would you have pushed to the sinister goal alone or still kept the cardio circuits. Hope you don’t mind these questions. i’m just curious how you view S&S as an program for certain goals. I think all on this site agree that its a great “all-around” program, and KBs are known to lean out those with extra weight and add muscle to those who are skinny, but for someone Jason’s size, I wanted to know if S&S is not optimal even with heavier bells. Thanks for your comments.
No problem, and I’ll answer as best I can. The intention of adding the cardio circuits and the light/medium/heavy waves was purely to keep his stress low with the ability to complete each training session with confidence. I’m not sure I would have progressed any faster on weights…that happened organically with him anyway.
From my own experience with S&S (or any other program, for that matter), I have to have more recovery once I’m hitting the heavier bells. So it made sense to give him something that he could do almost everyday since this was primarily a weightloss challenge.
1. While my finances were an inhibiting factor to getting another couple of bells quickly, I also felt the liberty to switch it up a bit having reached a goal, and intended to revisit the sinister goal after ROP. You will notice in “Things are Going So Well, Help Me Screw it Up, Part II” (a title that for sure spoke to me) Dan Johns suggests doing the sinister goals after ROP.
3. Sleep is a tough one depending on many factors! I used to be a business owner with office locations nation-wide which effected every aspect of my life (relational, psychological, spiritual, emotional, physiological, etc.), and sleep was next to impossible for me! Stress causes many ill-wanted side effects, one of which is as an inhibitor to sleep. I happen to be at a place in my life now where my family and work have reached an equilibrium (my ambition being the constant dynamic that frustrated that equilibrium before) which has increased peace and well-being. We are holistic beings, so nothing is off the table when talking of peace and well-being. My recent physical transformation has promoted greater peace and well-being, but it was relational / spiritual dynamics that positioned me for the opportunity for this type of physical transformation. I wish there was a formula, but I think the solutions are as unique as each of the people they apply to. For me, prayer, a supportive family, exercise, a cleaner diet and a breathing machine all played a part in helping with rest.
Thank you Jason
Congratulations on your success. That is great progress and a testament to a strong mind as well. Keep up the good work.
Thanks so much Charlton, and let me add a testament to incredible community support! No one goes it alone… not for too long anyway!
I have witnessed Jason’s transformation, and I have been amazed. I’m thrilled to see his body catching up to where his attitude and personality are: positive and strong.
Me too…been a privilege to get to know him!
Mr. Jason Martin,
Congratulations on your success! You are an inspiration to us all!
Thanks Michael…I’ll try to get Jason on here so he can see the feedback.
Thanks so much Michael!
excellent results! Rock on Jasons…Rock on
Sorry, forgot to ask were the exercises in the cardio circuit performed for reps or for time? Thank you.
The cardio circuits were performed before the S&S exercises on teh same day consecutively. The circuits were adjusted by work-to-rest-ratio and the weights stayed the same. Thanks!
Were the cardio sessions performed after the S&S exercises, later in the day, or on an entirely different day?
All three actually! Per Jason’s encouragement I really tried to listen to my body… and sometimes that is hard to discern. The cardio sessions were secondary to S&S which remained constant. The discerning of what to back off on always had to do with cardio cycles. Sometimes I would reduce weight and others I would delay or even forgo the cardio sessions all together. It all depended on what I discerned my state of recovery to be. When I could I would push my limits, which is my natural inclination. My fickle feelings/ discernment probably supplied an incredible amount of waviness that was not even planned for! But once again S&S was the regimented non-negotiable for me.
Ok coach. I’ll take the hint and go back to S&S.
Simple not easy, Clint! 🙂
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