Back in spring of 2015, Mark Limbaga came up with the concept of a step/wave hybrid cycle. Once he shared the basic concepts with me, I applied it to the military press, and ran with it. My pressing strength increased so drastically that both Mark and I were totally surprised at the effects of this approach. Thus, the Soju and Tuba Program was born.
I have tried this program with various people and all have so far reported back with positive results. For example, Mark Limbaga used this program to increase his handstand pushup deficit. When he started, he could do 4 reps at a 1.25-inch deficit. After the program, his deficit increased to two inches. His 1RM went from 5.75 inches to a little over 6 inches. My wife did a cycle of the press with the 12kg, and can now press the 16kg.
You can try this program with almost any lift, but it will be most effective with the kettlebell military press since many people get stuck at a particular weight and are not sure how to progress from that point.
Note: Soju and tuba are the most typical alcoholic beverages in Korea and the Philippines (and you will not be happy in the morning if you have too much of either the night before), so we decided to name this program Soju and Tuba to commemorate the collaboration between SFGs in Korea and the Philippines. Despite chatting over Facebook on the initial concept, the overall context of our conversation did look (sound) like two lifters talking over a beer after a heavy lifting session.
This Program and My Military Press
Prior to training this program, my kettlebell military press 1RM was 36kg. After the first cycle using the 32kg bell, I was able to do 4-5 reps with the 36kg bell. I pressed the Bulldog (40kg) in the middle of my second cycle using the 36kg bell, and the Bulldog was my 3RM once I finished the cycle with the 36kg bell.
After that, I laid off the military press for a while as I had to practice my bench press to submit my video for my SFL, but somehow my kettlebell press 1RM had increased to 44kg during that process (probably because I was pressing the 32 or 36 about five times every day while warming up to do Pavel’s Power to the People). Following the end of my bench press-focused training, I did my third and final cycle of the Soju and Tuba—and finally pressed the Beast!
What Is a Step Cycle?
The beauty of this program is that because it’s a type of step cycle you only need one weight/bell. In other words, it’s very simple. And foolproof (so far).
When I showed it to Master StrongFirst Certified Instructor Fabio Zonin while interpreting for him at the Seoul SFL, he was very impressed (he was explaining the step cycle to the SFL candidates, so this program turned out to be a perfect example). For those of you not familiar, a step cycle, in a nutshell, is a program where you keep the intensity (load) constant while gradually increasing the volume for each session, aiming for a certain reps/sets scheme at the end. Pavel’s classic Rite of Passage is a typical step cycle program.
But be prepared, as the volume builds up, it can get long and boring (and tiring, too). If that’s the case, you can use the grease-the-groove (GTG) approach and do the reps/sets throughout the day. I have tried both, the GTG and single-session approach, and they both worked for me. My final cycle with the Bulldog forced me to use the GTG approach, as the intensity and volume were too much to recover from in a few minutes.
The Soju and Tuba Press Program
Take a kettlebell one size lighter (4kg) than your 1RM, and do the following rep scheme for your next eighteen workouts (if you’re in that area where one size lighter than your 1RM is “too light,” then use your 2RM/3RM instead).
It’s a pretty straightforward cycle if you take a close look at it. Since you’re gradually increasing the volume with the same intensity, it’s a step cycle. At the same time, dropping the volume every six sessions waves the load, yet upping the number of reps per set increases intensity.
So the total number of lifts (NL) goes from 4 to 14, then drops to 6 while the intensity increases. Then the NL goes back up to 16, drops to 6 again, with the NL being 18 on the final day of this program. (In an ideal world I would have preferred the NL on Day 13 to be 8, but the reps are 3 per set, and I decided that the NL at 9 would be too much to handle at that point.)
Training can be done three times a week for a total of six weeks, or if you consider yourself to be high endurance, you can do this every other day for a total of 36 days. I tried both approaches, and they both seemed to work, so feel free to experiment.
Integrating with Other Training
I was still training my squat, deadlift, and pullups while doing this program, and they all seemed to progress fine (super setting with pullups works great). If you have the time and resources, I think you can also do this program while training the bench press as long as you take the GTG approach (I haven’t tried it yet, so I can’t be sure. Feel free to provide any feedback).
As for combining with kettlebell swings, I kept them in the 70-120 reps range for each of my sessions while following this program. So basically, feel free to combine this with other strength programs as long as those don’t include the military press.
What I Learned Doing This Program
- This approach will drill in the fact that strength is a skill.
- Your elbows will get sore due to a lot of lat activation during the press. Make sure to become good friends with a foam roller.
- There is always more than one way to skin a cat (various approaches to the same program).
- As long as it works, don’t question why (because I initially had no idea why it was working during my first cycle).
Try out this program. I would love to get feedback from my fellow brothers and sisters on the effects and results of Soju and Tuba. Just don’t go out drinking soju and tuba after every session!