5 Metabolic Conditioning Tips from the “Father of the Kettlebell” Pavel Tsatsouline

Comrade! Follow this advice and be as strong, flexible, and fit as the Soviet special forces.

Pavel Tsatsouline is Chairman of StrongFirst and widely credited with popularizing kettlebell training in the West. I had the opportunity to pose a question to Pavel on the Tim Ferriss podcast, so I asked for his advice on conditioning. Below is a summary of Pavel’s answer, and you can listen to the entire interview(s) or read the transcript on Tim Ferriss’ website.

If you want more how-to from Pavel, he teaches you the basics of the kettlebell moves in this video:

Enjoy, Comrade!

Let’s get into Pavel’s five tips for improving your conditioning – only one of them will make you look weird!

“Jeffery John from Edmonton, Alberta (that’s me!), asks: “Any tips for developing conditioning?” “

  1. Proper posture creates efficiency. “Let’s start with efficiency. That means posture and relaxation. If your head is sticking forward, your running speed and endurance is gonna be compromised. The same thing can be said about your gas in the ring. So work on your posture.”
  2. Shake it off to relax: “In the Soviet Union, it was a standard practice for all kids in grade school to practice relaxation exercise. And it’s the same practice that stayed with all the athletes all the way to the Olympics. So these exercises are very simple. They pretty much mean shaking your muscles out. So start shaking your arms, shaking your legs, vibrate them, and imagine that you’re trying to shake water off your limbs. Practicing these exercises regularly between sets of your strength exercises during your athletic practice is going to go a very long way towards making you more enduring and making you faster, as well.”
  3. Relaxed Running: “A particular type of running is going to help you with being more relaxed and more enduring. Just go out on a run without looking at the clock and focus on being as relaxed as possible and go as far as possible while being as relaxed as possible. And, as you keep doing that, eventually, all you’ll have to do is just add some gas, and you’re going to run faster.”
  4. Breathing:
    A.) Biomechanical Breathing Match: “Next item would be strengthening your respiratory muscles or breathing muscles. Research tells us that the metabolites from your respiratory muscles, which means all the waste products from the muscles, makes the blood vessels in your limbs get constricted. So think about it this way: You start sucking wind, and then, as if it wasn’t bad enough already, you get this extra punishment of the plumbing in your legs starts shutting down. So the same research tells us that strengthening your respiratory muscles is going to increase your endurance by preventing this reflexive vessel constriction.

    How do we do that? In our kettlebell practice, we do something called the biomechanical breathing match. So, say we’re performing a set of swings, on the way down, we sharply inhale into the abdomen through the nose, so you’re inhaling against the resistance of your muscles and against the resistance of the weight. And, on the way up, you’re forcefully exhaling, as if you’re striking. That’s called the biomechanical breathing match. So that’s how we strengthen our breathing muscles.”

    B.) Breathing Discipline: “Then there is such a thing as the breathing discipline. A breathing ladder is a very effective technique developed by one of my colleagues, Rob Lawrence. Let’s say that you’re doing a set of swings, kettlebell swings, or a sprint, any type of an exercise that makes you gassed. Decide that you’re going to rest from this set to the next according to a certain number of breaths. So let’s say you get to do five breaths until the next set. And this is going to discipline you to slow your breathing down, slow your physiology down, stop panicking. That’s also going to help with your endurance.”
  5. Develop Mitochondria in Fast-Twitch Fibers: “One more thing to say is you can develop mitochondria in your fast-twitch fibers, which is going to enable them to be much more enduring, to be able to use oxygen. In the podcast, I already mentioned building up slow fibers that already come equipped with mitochondria. But you can also build these mitochondria, oxygen-using mitochondria into the existing fast fibers.

    So how do we do that? We do that by exerting the muscles very powerfully for a very short period of time, typically ten, 15 seconds, and after that, resting actively for a very long time. So work-to-rest ratio may be as high as 1 to 5 or even 1 to 6. That might mean that you would do ten-second effort followed by 50 seconds of rest, seems quite easy, but until you realize that you have to maintain that power output every time, very high, maximum power output. And you have to do this up to, eventually, up to 40 sets. That’s another of the protocols by Professor Selouyanov.

    So rest actively between the sets, which means kind of move around, jog lightly, shake your muscles out the way I told you to do this earlier, and you can do this a couple times a week, or eventually, you can even do this possibly every day.”

    Go give these a try and let me know what you learn. Thanks for reading, Comrade!

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