From The Russian Kettlebell Challenge with love, this article brings you three Pavel Tsatsouline workouts. Each workout will help you build functional strength and whole-body conditioning. But it’s not all pumping iron and swinging steel.
In addition to the workouts, we will explore Tsatsouline’s kettlebell exercise methodology. This section looks at how to maximise your training so that you can get the most out of every workout.
And finally, you will get a sneak peek at Pavel’s secret session planning formulae. Armed with this plan, which he calls his Training Guidelines, you will be able to develop a bulletproof exercise program.
Before we venture into all that, let’s have a look at the man behind the myth ...
Pavel Tsatsouline & The Russian Kettlebell Challenge
Pavel Tsatsouline is widely regarded as the man who brought the kettlebell to the west. Through his book The Russian Kettlebell Challenge, the former special forces trainer and internationally ranked girevik delivered the ‘secret soviet weapon’ into our hands.,
The Russian Kettlebell Challenge is ‘the first-ever complete kettlebell training program.’ It’s a program that features a comprehensive outline of the benefits kettlebell training confers along with an extensive range of exercises to try.
Kettlebell training with the pros
In addition, Pavel provides the reader with an insight into the kettlebell training method. For example, he outlines the strength and conditioning principles of prominent powerlifting coaches, such as Prof. Alexey Medvedev and Alexander Falameyev.
Pavel deftly distils the essence of their ‘scientific’ ‘system of training’ into a comprehensible program that promises to promote complete fitness and explosive strength.
From this article, you will get a taste of The Russian Kettlebell Challenge with a Pavel Tsatsouline workout.
Pavel Tsatsouline workout method
On the very first page of the section that covers methods of kettlebell training, Pavel maintains that there is no right or wrong way to train. He makes his point by outlining the diametric training approach of two competing Russian powerlifters.
Trofim Lomakin, a world champion from the 1950s, Pavel explains, was a ‘wild card’ who ‘would barely show up to the gym once or twice a week.’ Yet, when competition loomed, Lomakin kicked his training into gear and won. This method enabled him to dominate the scene for over a decade.
Yet, Yuri Vlasov, Lomakin’s powerlifting contemporary, employed a precise, almost ‘scientific’ approach to his training. Vlasov measured his progress to the nth degree and produced complex calculations regarding loads and volume. Like Lomakin, Vlasov was also a great champion who amassed many titles.
These contrasting approaches illustrate Pavel’s point that there is no one-size-fits-all training method. ‘It is hard to say what is right for you […] if you prefer a structured routine [or a] free style program,’ only you can decide.
Pavel Tsatsouline workout training guidelines
While Pavel advocates an experimental approach to establishing the right kettlebell routine for you, he does, nevertheless, list 10 training guidelines.
He created these 10 guidelines (or instructions) as a consequence of having to adopt his training ‘to the surprises life in uniform would throw at me.’
Armed with the following list, you’ll have a flexible set of instructions that will enable you to keep up the kettlebell method even in the most ‘terrible training conditions.’
Pavel Tsatsouline’s top ten kettlebell training guidelines
Aim for 2 to 7 kettlebell workouts per week – the duration of your workouts should range from 20 to 60 minutes. Alternatively, you can implement designated kettlebell training days. For example, snatching on Monday, swinging on Wednesday, and full body strength on Friday.
Perform as many kettlebell exercises as you wish in your workouts but ensure to vary the intensity of your output – train hard on some exercises and easy on others.
Organise your exercises in a circuit and cycle through them for the session duration. Here’s an example of a 30-Minute Circuit Workout.
When organising your circuit, it’s good practice to interlace challenging exercises with simpler ones. For example, after snatching you could go into deadlifting.
After a 5- to10-minute progressive intensity warm-up, start your kettlebell practice with the most technically challenging exercises – the long cycle, jerk, and snatch.
The set and rep range that you apply is down to your discretion. However, for those new to kettlebell training, Pavel does offer some guidance here. He states that ‘anywhere from three to as many as twenty sets per exercise is acceptable.’
Due to the inherent danger of kettlebell training (Pavel warns us, not without a sense of pleasure, that ‘most kettlebell exercises can be dangerous and even fatal’), we should never go to failure. Vary the intensity of your lifting yes. But DO NOT try to push beyond your physical limits.
As a rule, always perform more than 5 reps per set. Kettlebell competitions are essentially AMRAPs (as many reps as possible). Standing in front of an electronic rep counter, gireviks – kettlebell lifters – strive to amass as many reps as possible before the timer runs out. We should endeavour to emulate this competitional requirement in our training.
The classic Girevoy Sports competition exercises – snatches, cleans, jerks, and the fabled long cycle – can be performed in any number of repetitions, from one to hundreds.
Ensure to vary the speed of the movement. Unlike conventional resistance training, which typically involves slow, controlled lifts, there is a pacing structure in kettlebell training. Rather like a cyclist, who may vary the pace of their performance during a 16k time trial, determined by cadence or speed, a girevik also practices pushing the tempo during a 10-minute AMRAP, determined by reps per minute.
Pavel Tsatsouline workout
In the pursuit of training diversification, three Pavel Tsatsouline workouts have been selected for this article. The workouts have been crafted to cultivate different fitness outcomes.
For example, Workout #1: Pre-Competition involves lots of technical lifts with heavy bells. As well as developing your technique, Workout #1 will also promote whole-body strength. In addition, the callisthenics and short cardio finisher help to enhance muscle endurance and aerobic fitness.
Workout #2: Military Drill Complex aims to build both mental and physical robustness. As well as featuring many technically challenging exercises, this workout is face paced and thus demands bells of self-discipline and concentration.
The final workout (#3: Classic Conditioning) consists of completing a short series of classic kettlebell movements. Concluding the KB section, you will enter conventional training territory comprised of barbell and bodyweight exercises. Because Workout #3 is pitched at a low intensity, you should take longer rest periods between sets.
Kettlebell workout health and fitness outcomes
Full-body functional strength
Aerobic capacity (cardio fitness)
Reduced body fat
Improved muscular tonality
Improved kettlebell handling skills
Pavel Tsatsouline workout #1: Pre-Competition
Tsatsouline’s first workout, which was initially devised by ‘Girevoy sport expert V. I Voropayev’, is designed to prepare the girevik for competitions. The workout plan is comprised of eight exercises only four of which require a kettlebell.
After progressing through a series of big kettlebell movements, the workout quickly tapers off with a rope climb, a 7-minute jog, and relaxation exercises. Because few public gyms possess ropes (shame that) and no guidance is given for what constitutes a relaxation exercise, I have modified the workout for a wider audience.
Workout #1: Fitness outcomes
Activation of the major muscle groups
Enhanced functional strength
Improved muscle endurance
Pavel Tsatsouline workout #2: Military Drill Complex
From reading Pavel, one gets the impression that kettlebell workouts feature prominently in Russian military training. Soldiers, he says, regularly compete in Girevoy Sports competitions. This is taken so seriously that the Russian army has even produced a kettlebell strength and conditioning manual.
The following workout, presumably a product of the manual, is entitled the Pre-competition Weekly Armed Forces Kettlebell Drill Complex. Though the workout only features six exercises, the intensity should remain high. In addition, to better prepare for competitions, gireviks are advised to keep rest to a minimum. Remember, if a competitor downs their bell while the countdown timer is still ticking, they are instantly disqualified.
Workout #2: Fitness outcomes
Full-body fitness development
Enhance physical and mental toughness
Technical development of complex lifts
Increase strength in the legs and back
Improved muscle endurance
* The original workout specifies a static exercise that is almost pointless – straight arm pullovers. To maintain the functional dynamism of the workout, pullovers have been jettisoned and replaced with the Turkish get-up. In contrast, the get-up is a tremendous exercise that engages every single sinew in the body.
Pavel Tsatsouline workout #3: Classic Conditioning
The final Pavel Tsatsouline workout combines classic kettlebell movements and conventional weightlifting. Though this workout is pitched at a lower intensity, compared to its predecessors, it nevertheless engages a broad range of fitness components (see list below).
Also, it’s good practice to alternate high and low-intensity workouts. Doing so reduces the risk of over-training which in turn reduces injury susceptibility. Furthermore, easy workouts can facilitate muscle repair (known as ‘active recovery’) and provide us with an opportunity to focus on the technical application of the exercise.
To maximise the workout objective, you should use light resistances and take plenty of rest between sets.
Workout #3: Fitness outcomes
Builds strength primarily in the upper body and lower back
Enhances muscular control
Promotes improved aerobic capacity
Facilitates physical development and muscle growth
Enjoyed these kettlebell workouts?
Then get your hands on over 70 more with the Hungry4Fitness Books of Circuits & Workouts Volume 2.