I’m a man who likes to keep things simple, especially when it comes to exercise. I want to get in, get out and do the simplest routine possible. But I don’t want to sacrifice results in the name of simplicity.
This is a tough balance, but it’s part of why I’ve worked with kettlebells for the past five years. There’s no more need for separate strength and cardio training; I can get it all in one place. I’m also looking for functional strength above all else.
In the past, whenever I designed my own routines they’d always be too complicated. I was looking at something like eight different movements in a single circuit. I would get sweaty and breathe heavily, but I was putting in too much work and not getting enough in the way of results.
When I stumbled upon Pavel Tsatsouline’s Simple & Sinister program, I knew I had found what I was looking for — something stripped to the bone, but with maximum effectiveness. This lazy guy's (and gal's) workout routine breaks down into a warm-up, main course and a cooldown. Below are a few exercises to get you started and give you a feel for the full program.
Pavel advises women to have three kettlebells on hand: an 18-pound (8 kilograms), a 26-pound (12 kilograms) and a third at 35 pounds (16 kilograms). Strong women will go for the larger two as well as a 44-pounder (20 kilograms).
A man of average strength will need only two: a 35-pound (16 kilograms) and a 53-pound (24 kilograms), while a strong man will need a 53-pound (24 kilograms) and a 70-pound (32 kilograms). In his own laconic manner, Pavel says “If you are wondering what ‘strong’ is, it is probably not you.”
1. The Warm-Up
You want to perform the warm-up sets three times in circuits. Do that and you’re ready for the main course.
Pick up your lighter kettlebell by the horns with your elbows pressed against your sides. Squat down and use your elbows to press your knees apart. Pavel recommends doing “a few” curls with the bell in this position, both to give your arms some work and to pry your hips open even further. In my routine, I squat, do five curls, then come back up. Make sure to keep the spine straight — no hunching over. Repeat this five times and you’re done.
Lie on your back with your knees up and feet flat on the ground. Push your hips up as far as they can go. Sticking a pair of running shoes between your knees can help to isolate the pelvis and prevent overextension of the back. Pavel stresses that the trick here is strength, not speed. You also aren’t trying to hold this any longer than you have to. Just push up, extend the hips and go back down.
Halos are great for warming up the shoulders — and they will definitely need some warming up. Hold your bell upside down by the horns in front of you, arms bent and up near your chest. Rotate the bell around your head until it’s back in front of you, all while contracting your glute muscles. Then rotate it the other way around. Ten total rotations equals one set.
2. The Main Course
This workout is scalable. You start off small, then gradually move forward.
When you start your kettlebell swings, you’ll be doing five sets of 10, two-handed, with the heavier of your two bells. You’ll add on sets of 10, never doing more than 10 in a set.
Why? Because the purpose is to focus totally on form, making sure that you’re hinging at the hip, bringing the bell above the knees on the downswing and only at the shoulders or slightly above on the upswing. Remember to drive with the hips, not the arms.
Turkish get ups are one of the most complex movements in the world of fitness. Fortunately, Pavel’s StrongFirst has kindly put a number of videos on YouTube demonstrating precisely how to execute each part of the movement.
You’ll want to do this exercise with the lighter of your two bells, five reps on each side. Like swings, if you can do 10 sets in less than five minutes, you’re ready to move on to a higher weight class.
Kettlebell swings and Turkish get-ups may be two of the most recognizable (and effective) kettlebell exercises, but to really get an appreciation just how great a kettlebell workout can be (yes, even if you're a lazy guy or gal), you'll definitely want to check out Pavel's full Simple & Sinister program.
3. Cooling Down
Your cool down is comprised of two stretches.
The 90/90 Stretch
Sit down and lay your right leg in front of you, bent at a 90-degree angle with the bottom of your foot facing toward the left. Your left leg should be bent at a 90-degree behind you. Keep your spine straight and lean forward. Add in a second stretch in which you face your knee. After that, switch legs. There’s no recommended time for this stretch, but I do about 30 seconds on each leg. You should feel this on your outer front hip.
Sit on the floor and open your legs into a straddle position (legs are straight, not bent), but not as far as they can go. I do about 100 to 115 degrees. Stretch out your left arm straight out in front of you. Now with your right arm, reach over to your left foot. Again, try to keep your spine straight. Grab your big toe if possible. Then switch arms — stretch your right arm out and use your left arm to reach over to your right foot. Much like the 90/90 stretch, I do these for 30 seconds on each side.
And that’s it. You’re done. It takes me about half an hour in total. Pavel also believes, as do I, that exercise should be done without distractions — no television, no phone, no music. Rests are to be active. I use Captains of Crush grip trainers while I rest, while Pavel recommends breathing exercises, running in place or even skipping rope.
When are you ready to start again? When you can breathe well enough to talk, it’s time to grab a bell. A lot of kettlebell workouts, especially the ones “for beginners,” are needlessly complicated. Avoid overcomplicating your workout and burning out using this Simple & Sinister routine.