This Kettlebell Workout Will Make You Strong Like Iron

Tim Ebl

Skip all the complicated time-waster exercises with Kettlebell Simple and Sinister by Pavel Tsatsouline

Photo / Michal Renčo / Pixabay

Kettlebells are one of the most rugged, hardcore exercise tools out there. It’s a big piece of iron with a handle. Grab this cannonball-shaped weight, and you know it means business.

When you want serious gains and workouts that give you strength, you should go to an expert. That’s what Pavel Tsatsouline can give you in his book Kettlebell Simple and Sinister. He’s the real tough deal.

The Simple and Sinister program is nothing like those soft, complicated kettlebell routines found on YouTube with sexy models doing cardio exercises while holding a tiny little weight. This is no walk in the park wearing legwarmers.

“The kettlebell is an ancient Russian weapon against weakness.”― Pavel Tsatsouline

This training regime is based on what Pavel Tsatsouline used as a former Soviet Special Forces physical training instructor. He’s known as a Subject Matter Expert to US Marine Corps, the Secret Service and Navy SEALs.

Pavel Tsatsouline’s workouts in this book are presented as a general physical preparation that will give you a rock-solid baseline for all other activities. He promises better performance in weightlifting, as well as huge gains in endurance for all sports including running.

Simple and Sinister is anti-fragility training. Follow his advice and you definitely won’t be a fragile flower.

But how does Pavel Tsatsouline get you to build this solid iron kettlebell core into your own body?

Disclaimer: This is a review of the Simple and Sinister book and fitness plan based on my own experiences of implementing the workouts. It is not intended to replace the advice of certified fitness instructors. Nor will it be a good substitute for reading the book yourself.

Kettlebell Simple and Sinister, by Pavel Tsatsouline

This book isn’t that long at 120 pages. No need to worry you’ll have to read a bible length treatise on kettlebells here.

I found that there was so much information, I needed to read some sections a few times and watch some videos on YouTube to fully understand it. That’s the biggest drawback to learning physical moves from a book.

I’ve read the entire thing at least three times because I want to get new pointers on certain parts of my practice.

He gives a brief history of the origins of kettlebells and Russian strength training. You find out that they’ve been in use for over 300 years, and started out as a cannonball with a handle welded onto it. Kettlebells were the main tool of the Russian strongman.

Kettlebells are compact, inexpensive, virtually indestructible, and can be used anywhere.” — Pavel Tsatsouline

Kettlebell training has been used to develop strength, power and endurance. It helps build muscle and lose fat. It gives you a health boost.

“The kettlebell swing is known to improve the deadlift of elite powerlifters — and the running times of high-level endurance runners.” — Pavel Tsatsouline

Pavel touts it as a program to prepare you for any physical situation you might find yourself in. He includes moving furniture and getting caught in a brawl as life situations that being a tough kettlebell swinger will train you for.

Read on to find out how he claims you can replace an entire gym with a couple of kettlebells and the right workout.

Why Should You Pick Kettlebells?

A big factor is a small investment in time and money for huge returns. You only need to put in 30 minutes per workout, a few days a week, to get good progress.

There’s no need to go to a gym if you can find a couple of kettlebells. If you can read and watch videos, then you can learn the basics without a personal trainer, although you could definitely benefit from one.

My personal reasons for starting this training:

  • Gyms are all closed in my area and I wanted to start weight training
  • I’m a beginner at weights and didn’t know where to start, so I wanted something simple and straightforward
  • I only wanted to buy a few pieces of equipment
  • I’m a runner who wants to build endurance and core strength and this plan covers both bases
  • I didn’t want to do long workouts that make me too tired to run

Starting Kettlebell Sizes

The book has some starting weight recommendations for beginners to his Simple and Sinister program.

  • Average woman — 18, 26 or 35 lbs kettlebell
  • Strong woman — 26, 35, or 44 lbs
  • Average man — 35 or 53 lbs kettlebell
  • Strong man — 53 or 70 lbs
“If you are wondering what strong is, you are probably not there yet.” — Pavel Tsatsouline

I owned a 20 lb and 35 lb kettlebell already. Even though I can handle the 35 lb weight, I decided to start with the 20 lb kettlebell for the first two weeks to make sure I had good form. I wanted to begin properly without a lot of body mechanics mistakes.

Start Safe

Remember, safety first! Be careful when selecting kettlebell sizes and doing workouts. Drop one of these on your skull and you won’t like it. Lose your grip during a swing and that bell is going through a wall.

The book advises getting a doctor’s advice before starting the training. He also tells you to train barefoot or with flat shoes that won’t squeeze your toes.

Use chalk to protect your hands, and make sure your kettlebells have smooth handles.

“Do not let me catch you wearing those sissy gym gloves!” — Pavel Tsatsouline

And finally, he advises you to be aware of your surroundings to avoid the kettlebell-poodle blood-spatter incident that ruins your marriage.

I chose the largest open room in our house and moved breakables clear. I put down exercise mats in case I drop a kettlebell, mainly to protect the floor. There’s no chance the bell is going to break, but the tiles (or my foot!) will.

So far, I’ve avoided dropping one on a poodle.

Simple and Sinister Warm-Up

This book has a lot of tips and pointers on how to get the right form. If you are serious about learning the technique you should read the book and watch videos more than once.

These warm-up exercises will help get your body in shape over time to help your form and prevent injury, as well as increase mobility and range of motion.

  • Prying goblet squats — squats holding the kettlebell in both hands, then bracing your elbows against your knees at the bottom of a flat-footed squat. Pry your knees apart with your elbows by moving side to side in a rocking motion.
  • Glute bridge — lie on your back and go into a yoga bridge pose while holding a shoe, rolled towel or yoga block between your knees. The goal is not to hold this position but achieve maximum pelvis lift.
  • Halos — holding a light kettlebell upside down, slowly circle the weight around your head with both hands- five circles in each direction, stopping at the chest on each pass.

This video shows the warm-up routine:

The book advises doing these three drills in a set of three circuits before your main workout.

Simple and Sinister Swings

The main workout is to do 100 swings, in sets of 5 to 10 reps. There is a lot of stress put on proper technique to avoid injury and maximize the value of your workout.

Depending on the weight and your skill level, you might be doing two-handed swings or 50 left-handed, 50 right-handed. The swings should be explosive, with an exhalation on the way up and inhaling as the kettlebell comes back down.

Pavel’s advice is to start with two-handed swings and practice your form until you have it right. Then move on to one-handed.

  • Hike the bell back towards you and swing it between your legs
  • Drive with your hips to swing the kettlebell up
  • Arms stay straight and loose, with a firm hand grip
  • The swing should only go as high as your shoulders
  • Breathe out forcefully on the swing up
  • Breathe in on the way down

The book puts emphasis on making each swing powerful and at full force. If you are getting too tired to go full force you’re advised to take a break and let your breathing come back down to the “I’m able to hold a conversation” level.

In between sets, you are supposed to breathe deeply and evenly until you are ready to begin again.

Swings demonstration video:

Simple and Sinister Get-up

Get-ups are one exercise I wasn’t familiar with before reading this book. It involves lying on your back while holding a kettlebell or other weight straight above you with one arm. Then you get to your feet.

After standing up, you work your way back down to flat on your back. Your arm and the weight must stay pointed straight at the sky for the entire movement.

Pavel suggests starting with a very light object and practicing the movements to get comfortable with them before attempting any weight.

  • Lie on your back, right hand holding the shoe straight up, right leg bent and foot planted around 45 degrees to the right
  • push with your right leg and turn with your left elbow down
  • keep that right arm straight up as you go from a sitting position to standing
  • Reverse the motions until you are flat on your back. Keep that weight straight above you the whole time with your arm extended.

This is a hard movement to perfect. I started with a 10 lb dumbbell because I was nowhere near ready to hold my 35 lb kettlebell while I attempted this!

If this exercise doesn’t sound like it will make you tougher than the nails from hell, watch this demonstration with an 88 lb kettlebell:

Get-up demo video:

After The Work, Stretches

There are two stretches included in this plan. These should be used after your workout or later on, before bed.

  • 90/90 Stretch — sitting on the floor on your left hip, place your left leg in front of you bent at a 90-degree angle. Your right leg is placed at a right angle to your side. Then lean forward into the stretch. Reverse leg positions to place right leg flat at a right angle in front of you and left leg at a right handle on the floor to your left, bend forward to stretch.
  • QL Straddle — Sit in a straddle position with legs spread wide. Reach right arm overhead, then lean and reach with your right hand toward your left foot. The left arm is straight forward on the floor in front. Breathe deeply and melt into the stretch. Repeat on the opposite side.

The Simple And Sinister Goal Line

Your goal in this plan is to be able to complete the following number of swings and get-ups with the following weights:

  • Simple: 100 one-armed swings in sets of 10 in five minutes, with a 52 lb bell for women and with 70 lbs for men
  • Simple: Five get-ups per arm in sets of one in 10 minutes, after the swings, with 35lbs for women and 70 lbs for men

Getting fit enough to pull this challenge off is going to take some work! But once you make it, there’s another, more sinister level to try for:

  • Sinister: 100 one-armed swings in sets of 10 in five minutes, with a 70 lb bell for women and with 106 lbs for men
  • Simple: Five get-ups per arm in sets of one in 10 minutes, after the swings, with 53lbs for women and 106 lbs for men

My Progress With Kettlebells

I’m starting from zero as far as weight lifting goes. This kettlebell program is giving me amazing results so far, and it isn’t taking up much time.

The entire workout including warmup is taking me around 25 to 30 minutes. I’m using a free app that I downloaded from the Apple store to keep track of my swings and get-ups. You can find it here: Sinister Kettlebell app. It has a quick description with a video of each exercise too, for a great little reference if you forget the exact movements.

My starting point:

  • novice lifter, 51 yrs old
  • I run about 30 miles a week
  • Yoga 15 minutes every morning — no other exercises

I’m following the book to the best of my ability and practice with the kettlebells 6 days of the week. I can tell I’m working out. A lot of muscles I didn’t know I even had are sore some days.

I moved up from 20 lbs to 35 lbs for 100 swings. Once I felt confident about my form with 35 lbs and two-handed swings, I started doing 50 swings with my left and 50 with my right.

The get-ups are challenging and it’s a total body workout. I started the get-ups with a 10 lb dumbbell because the 20 lb kettlebell was too big for me. Try it yourself and you’ll see!

It was the most awkward movement for the first week. Then, it just started to click. 6 weeks in, I was able to work with the 20 lb kettlebell without killing myself.

Now, after 8 weeks, I’m holding that 35 lb weight up and pulling it off. But just barely.

“In between sets, it’s not a rest for me, it’s a rest for the weights.” — unknown

I do the prying goblet squats and the halos with the 35 lb kettlebell. I had a head start on these because I have been doing wide-legged yoga squats for months to get into crow pose. The added 35 lbs make it challenging though.

Overall results from only 8 weeks are huge. I dropped about 7 lbs of weight, but I built muscle too. But where I can really notice the difference is in my core, back and hips.

My biggest roadblock to running longer distances was low back pain and hip soreness. After about 8 miles I was in agony before. Kettlebell workouts have fixed this problem for me. It’s been a godsend.

This makes sense, because the goblet squat and the kettlebell swing target the hamstrings, glutes, back, and core all at once. And the get-up targets everything, including your soul.

After only 8 weeks, I’m feeling like a real athlete. I haven’t advanced to the Simple level yet, but I already know I’m a contender. Watch out, world!

This is what I’m taking away from Pavel Tsatsouline’s book:

  • Kettlebells can work the whole body with a few exercises
  • Simple and Sinister is a great long term fitness goal
  • The moves are simple, but it takes months to master them
  • 30 minutes a day is going to make me strong like an ox!
  • No matter your age or starting point, kettlebells will build a better body


This highly recommended book has tons of tips and pointers to make your kettlebell workouts more effective. If you want to learn from one of the masters, you can’t go wrong with Pavel Tsatsouline’s Kettlebell Simple and Sinister.

“Doing the perfect kettlebell swing alone is superior to 99 percent of the sophisticated strength and conditioning programs out there.” — Pavel Tsatsouline

He can teach you simple and effective methods to get tough and sinister. Everything is done with minimal equipment and short 30-minute workouts. It seems like you really can replace an entire gym with a couple of kettlebells.

I’ve noticed a ton of improvement in my overall health and fitness using Pavel’s techniques in just a few weeks. I’m tougher, stronger and I’ve got more gas in the tank. If that street fight breaks out, I’m ready.

It really is a Russian weapon against weakness.

You can find the book on Amazon here.

Learn more about kettlebells and strength training at the School of Strength, StrongFirst. They mix Russian and Western sports science to teach athletes and certify instructors worldwide.

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I'm an author, yoga enthusiast, and meditation instructor. I spend a lot of time outdoors with activities like running, hiking and camping. My writing is all about the humorous side of life and personal growth, habits ,mindfulness, and outdoor adventures.


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