Upgrade Your Strength with the Soju and Tuba Press Program

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.

Increase the ROM in your handstand pushup

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!

Double kettlebell military press

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).

The Soju and Tuba Press Program

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.

The kettlebell military press lockout

What I Learned Doing This Program

  1. This approach will drill in the fact that strength is a skill.
  2. 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.
  3. There is always more than one way to skin a cat (various approaches to the same program).
  4. 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!

Joey Yang
Joey Yang, SFG II, SFL, is a civilian employee for the United States Army, serving as the Interpreter to the Commanding General of the 2nd Infantry Division/Republic of Korea-US Combined Division, the only permanently forward deployed infantry division in the United States Army, stationed in Korea.

When Joey is not busy providing translation and interpretation support for his commanding general in support of the Republic of Korea-United States Alliance, he devotes his time and passion as a student and teacher of strength in accordance with the StrongFirst principles. A former American football athlete in college and Republic of Korea Marine, Joey has been the strength coach for numerous football programs in Korea. Joey was the strength and conditioning coach for Chungang University in 2008, semi-pro football team Seoul Vikings from 2009-2011, the Korean National Team in 2013, and the University of Seoul from 2014-2015.

Nowadays, Joey likes to spend his time conducting strength training clinics for football teams in Korea, while traveling the world to learn more as a student of strength and provide translation and interpretation support to StrongFirst certifications in Korea. Any soldier or English speaker living in Korea is encouraged to seek out Joey for strength training. Personal training for soldiers of the Warrior Division are always free of charge during PT and lunch hours. Joey can be reached at readysethut@gmail.com.
Joey Yang on Email

54 thoughts on “Upgrade Your Strength with the Soju and Tuba Press Program

  • Could you add an additional exercise after completing a set? I am thinking of adding bent over rows for the same amount of sets/repetitions. Would this be advisable?

  • I have been waiting for the right time to run this program and it was everything I hoped for. I used a 32kg and took my 36kg to a 40kg 1RM. Im going to run the program again at 36kg so when it comes time to recert my level 2, my 1/2bw press (40kg) will be an after thought. I’m a big fan of low volume training and this is perfect for that.

  • My girlfriend and I recently ran program. She took her 16k press from 1 rep to 6 (using the 16k). However her attempt at 20k was not successful.
    I added two reps to my double 24k, and took my single arm 28k from 1 to 3 reps. I did not have access to a 32k to attempt. Awesome program definitely works.

  • Just finished my first cycle. DBL 24’s went from 6 to 8 reps. And single 28 from 1 to 3. I have a required yrly fitness test. Am going to use this again with short runs/sprints between sets. Great program

  • Super effective Program for me!
    I just did 3 cycles this program without doubt.
    As a result, I could make the Press strength to get SFG 2 Certification.
    Thanks Joey!

    • Honestly I can’t say for sure since I have not tried it. If you’re thinking of increasing the reps on your one arm pushup, I recommend more of a GTG approach.

  • I did this with 28kg. My rm1 was crappy 36kg and I could press 24kg bell 13/14 times. After cycle I almost got 40kg and could press 24kg 17-18 times. It worked pretty nicely. 🙂
    Today I started this again with 32kg. I hope that I can press 40kg after this cycle. I also do rm test with 24kg after this cycle. I hope I get 20+ reps.

  • Mr. Yang,

    What do you think about doing the press workouts (which are short – I started this week) combined in a slow circuit with pull-ups and squats (pistol or front). The swings i’ll do on another day.


    • Honestly I always did super sets with pullups when I was doing this so I don’t see it being too much of an issue for you. But then, I think it will be safe to say you will need PLENTY of rest between each set so you will not fail any lifts.

  • This program has worked great for me. I’m on my third cycle, now with the 24kg. My question has to do with rest between sets. I have been doing 1:30 for rest, but as this is a strength program do I need to focus rest to a 3:00-5:00 range between sets?

  • After accomplishing this program with 28 kg single KB (my 1RM was the 32 KB in single and double KB press) I was able to press the 32 KB with strict technique 4 times with left and 6 times with my right hand.

    Simple and well explained program.

    • I would say – after. Your main goal is the press, so you’d better stay fresh and do your explosive work after your strength work.


  • This program is not just foolproof but safety as well! For me this is the first press programm, which works without a sign of impingement syndrome. I am so happy for it! 🙂 2/3rd of the programm has completed and no pain so far. I do it with 9.5kg (8kg bell with extra weight attached.) Now the 3reps part is coming…and the result is shown already nicely on my arms. 🙂 Btw, I don’t do clean before press, 1) I am not sure I am doing it properly 2) so that to decrease chance of injury and just keep it plain the press.
    Thanks for this great article!

    • Anton, GTG refers to Grease the Groove. (There is a lot of material in print and online that explains this concept of Pavel’s, but basically it means easy, frequent repetitions)

  • Great article! Just one question. Will the program be less effective if I clean before each press? Less time under load, or something like that?

    • Honestly I don’t see it becoming less effective. The point of this program was to upgrade your pressing strength, which is why I personally would not recommend it.

  • Do you have any warm up suggestion? Maybe at least 5 reps at 50-60% of 1RM? I normally would work up to 4kg under my 1RM which adds to the NL. Such as: 24kg x 5, 28kg x 3, 32kg x 2, then the 36kg x 1, 40kg x 1…

  • Are the listed sets & reps to be done for each arm separately? And can you advise approximately how long the rest periods should be between sets if the entire workout is completed in a single session instead of GTG style? Thanks!

    • Sorry but I had one more question. Are you supposed to clean the bell between each individual rep or hold in the rack position only prior to initiating each press? Thanks again.

      • That will not be necessary. Just keep pressing after cleaning once. Long cycle clean and press or just cleaning once each have their own unique benefit. For this program just press the rep scheme without cleaning in between.

    • Yes, each arm needs to be done separately.

      Rest until you are sure you can get all the reps in for the next set. Typically anywhere between 2-5 minutes.

  • Nice article, Joey. I have had much success in the past doing similar C&P programs.

    I do have one critique on the use of terminology. This paragraph might be confusing to some readers:

    “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.”

    In SF strength language, intensity = load; and volume = number of lifts. Dropping the volume does not wave the load in this program (the bell doesn’t change), it waves the total tonnage, which is “somewhat” irrelevant on programs like this. Also increasing the number of reps per set does not increase the intensity (load); I would interpret this as a “density” increase… that is, more lifts in less time.

    These are, however, minor discussion points to a great program that is effective. Also, one question: are you prescribing cleans before each press in the later, multiple reps sets?


    • echoing same question regarding upping the reps = intensity. as bell weight never changes, only sets and reps, i ‘d think of this as stepping/waving the ‘volume’ only, not ‘density’ (as no time domain or work/rest ratio given) or ‘intensity’ (as load stays same throughout). not meaning to be overly critical at all here as the program looks to be a great way to increase pressing strength, regardless of the terminology. (and your anecdotals on it seem to support that) just want to make sure i understand these terms as they apply to SF training.

      also, are these reps/sets per arm, or are they split between both sides? (is 4 reps 2/2?) and would you describe clean for each press?

      great program name by the way!

      • They are rep/sets per arm. You do not not need to clean before each press. Just clean it once and press away.

    • Just press. Thanks for clarifying the terminology. I was just echoing what Master SFG Fabio Zonin said when he took a look at this and explained it to the SFL candidates here in Seoul. I might not have remembered correctly.

  • Hey, thank you! I realy want to try it. So far i have progressed with Pavel’s Rite of Passage, and i’m stuck with 20 kg for 1 rep, for sets of 10. and the 16 kg is too easy for me. Will you recomend me to do this program with 18 kg?
    Can you please tell me how much time should i rest between each hand and each set?

    • Nofar, I am in similar situation like you (max rep of 2 with 20) and I was instructed to use 18kg. However I use a different program.

    • Also this program says to use KB 2 or 4kg less than maximum. So in your case I think it would be 18kg.

  • Thanks. I’ll follow that along with my S&S work. I like presses too. I was in Korea this past summer actually, doing the NW programme along with pullups at the outside riverside exercise station with the pushup and pullup bars. The pushup bars were very convenient for the NW single arm pushup programme as they’re at different heights. Korea is a nice place! Soju is too strong for me though! Hahaha!

  • Interesting I’ve already started a similar routine for deads. Ninety percent of comp max after 5,4,3,2,1 warmup started pulling singles for eight or nine reps. Next time-today- going to add doubles with reset. Next week same weight more volume or go up ten pounds. No clue if it will work any thoughts?

  • Is this meant to be done every day, Or ideally three times a week etc?

    What sort of frequency, I am reading it as every day.

    • If you read it carefully, you can do it three times a week or every other day, depending on your endurance. Both worked for me.

  • This sounds like a great way to work on my 1/2 BW press! Thanks very much for sharing!
    I’m working on TTC right now and after a short rest i’ll give this program a shot for sure.

    • So far all my test subjects have reported back with positive results. I hope it works out for you also Matt.

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