“You Must Be Strong First”

Pavel Tsatsouline started a revolution in strength training by introducing the benefits of using kettlebells. His company Strongfirst leads the charge in strength training with their programs being used by elite members in the military, martial artists, strength champions and individuals seeking strong foundations for their every day life. We take a few moments to learn more about Strongfirst, kettlebells and it’s principals.

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What made you decide to start StrongFirst?
There is a powerful line in Enter the Dragon:  “Sparta, Rome, the knights of Europe, the samurai…worshipped strength. Because it is strength that makes all other values possible.”

How did the kettlebell become such a big part of your strength training and how was it received when you brought it to the West?
I introduced it in 1998 in an article in MILO: A Journal for Serious Strength Athletes.  Readers of this magazine are guys who lift rocks, bend steel, so it was right down their alley. They were the early adopters. By the time I taught the first instructor certification three years later the kettlebell got the attention of operators and martial artists. Used correctly, the kettlebell delivers exceptional gains in all components of fitness and these hard living folks immediately recognized it.

Consider the story of Eric Frohardt, today the CEO of StrongFirst, back then a Navy SEAL.  Deployed in Iraq, he learned about kettlebells from another team guy.  When Eric came back from the deployment during which he had done no training other than swings, snatches, and presses with a 53-pound kettlebell, he tested himself in all sorts of strength and endurance events.  He at least maintained his performance—e.g., his 5K time and 25 bodyweight pull-ups—and many times greatly improved at events he had not even practiced.  His strict weighted pull-up went through the roof to over 100 pounds. He jumped onto the tallest box in the gym. His 365-pound deadlift jumped to 450 at bodyweight of 185. Eric concluded: “The kettlebell got me in great shape, and better operational shape. It took less time, was more fun, and didn’t interfere with my ability to operate. I loved the simplicity and the ‘max results with minimum effort’ aspect.”

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What are some tips you give to those who are just starting to bring kettlebells into their strength training regimen?
Do not chase variety but pursue deep mastery of the basics. Your entry point into kettlebell training is my book Kettlebell Simple & Sinister.

When lifting weights or performing physically challenging workout programs, how important is mindset and what are some methods you use to stay focused and goal oriented?
There are many mental aspects to training but today I will focus on one: follow-through. One of the top reasons people fail to reach their training goals is jumping from program to program. Finish what you have started.

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What has been the single best piece of training advice you received that you feel still rings true for you today?
Approach your training as a “practice”, not a “workout”.

How has working with military and law enforcement influenced your training programs and how you teach today?
An operator must choose exercises that need simple or no equipment, have the highest yield and the steepest learning curve.  A civilian has the luxury of getting fancy, but I do not see why you would. The DVD StrongFirst produced with 5.11, “Breacher Strong”, although aimed at operators, applies to any civilian looking for high end performance.

What should be the overall goal of those who use the Strongfirst training system?
You choose your own goals—be it getting over a fence with a 100-pound kit or picking up your grandkid with no pain.  But regardless of what they are they must be pursued from a rock solid foundation of general strength and endurance. Be whatever you choose to be.  But you must be StrongFirst.

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