Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Notes From Pavel Tsatsouline Interview on Sportsrehabexpert.com

One of the hidden gem interviews out there is one given by Pavel Tsatsouline for the 2012 Sportsrehabexpert.com Teleseminar series.  I recently went back to review this interview with a new perspective a year later after having since becoming a certified instructor with the RKC and now SFG.  The information Pavel gives is an instructive lens not only into his training system, but also how quality training interacts with the medical side.  This is one of many fantastic interviews and articles offered on Sportsrehabexpert.com, which you can sample for only $1 for 14 days before deciding on a full subscription (I have no affiliation with the site other than a membership). 

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Looking for patterns – RKC is coherent system but enriched by multiple sources: sports science, physical therapy, neuroscience, arm wrestling, gymnastics, yoga (note: Strongfirst had not been formed at the time of this interview)

Principles are broad and apply to many modalities but certain modalities have unique benefits....


  • Offset center of gravity allows ergonomically sound practices for the shoulder and allows ballistics with overspeed eccentric component…unique effect on shoulder; ergonomically friendly, added range of motion when going overhead compared to dumbell
  • Lower body – allow swing and snatch (can’t create overspeed eccentric w/ dumbbell)

Overspeed eccentrics….responsible for “what the hell effect” w/ kettlebell.  Safely generate high force eccentrically. 

“What the hell effect” = unexpected transfer from the bell.  Example: Donnie Thompson – stuck on 762 deadlift w/ backpain, stopped deadlifting and began swinging, then went up to 822

Force place study – some instructors generated 500N force with 24kg bell (even though they could easily swing much heavier…shows the role of overspeed eccentric in creating power)

Why overspeed training – adding power component to strength component.  Also by not allowing interia to take over it makes rep efficient by not wasting any inch of the rep; can’t do this with barbells in the eccentric phase w/o bands; aim for high loads at every point in each rep

Speed endurance: if the rep starts slowing down, halt the set. 

Sloppy high-rep, moderate paced exercise = “pounding type I fibers to death”.  Type I fibers start providing drag in the contraction.  Slower fibers begin to congregate near center of the muscle, possibly leading to chronic tension in soft tissue (admits this is theoretical)

Replace mindless stupid conditioning with speed endurance

Endurance is complex set of qualities, but focus on speed endurance. 

Safety is not the opposite of performance.  Safety is an aspect of performance.  Both are achieved with most intelligent distribution of load thru the body. 

Bodybuilders have more pec tears than powerlifters even though powerlifters handle more weight.  Powerlifters use different technique and are better at using more muscles simultaneously (and better at recruiting lats).  

Muscles only like to work hard where they have the best leverage

Healthy backs dissipate loads from the spine.  Distribute the load throughout the body as much as possible (minimize number of weak links)

Athletic Body in Balance (Gray Cook's original book) – balanced development of the body as whole, not balance literally (many misinterpreted this when the book came out).  RKC encourage balanced development. 

Naked Warrior – one arm/leg pushup; pistol.  Self limiting exercises – hard to do them wrong (either you can do them or you can’t at all).  Must learn to distribute the load throughout the body.   Using antagonists as agonists

Screens are built within kettlebell progressions (algorithm in progressions…do A, then B.  If that does not work, try A1…etc)

Example application of algorithm: deadlift..Begin w/ hip hinge.  If knees slip forward, then slip 2x4 under toes (that maxes out dorsiflexion, so the only option is hip flexion).  If that doesn’t work, then go to hip flexor activation drill. 

“Active negative” = actively pull yourself with antagonist.  Better than free falling or yielding to gravity (this is weak).

Example of active negative – press: if you yield to the weight on the way down, the scapula is likely to elevate.  Instead lower the load by using the lat to pull it down.  Sparing the prime mover for work.

Use hip flexors to get into the bottom position of the deadlift or squat.

Gray Cook – finds ways to give you back God- given wiring of your body.  Reteach how to move and then teach how to move strong.

Kettelbells and joint by joint approach. 

  • RKC plank.  Cueing and intensity of contraction (200% greater contraction in RKC plank per Contreras research). 
  • Goblet squat.  Make spine long at bottom of squat (finger on back cue).  Practice breathing at bottom.  Prying component – separate the ischium (widen the pelvis).  Find space within the joints. 

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Conventional approach to shoulder rehab is wrong in general. 

  • Rubber band type exercises and other nonsense are often worthless. 
  • Muscles that should be stabilizers are being used as prime movers (similar to using leg extension to help squat). 
  • Lacking intramuscular coordination. 
  • Do not rely on rotator cuff muscles for stability.  Lat is underrated as a stabilizer. Angle of pennation and point of attachment reveals it can do a lot for the shoulder.  Use the lat in pressing gives humeral head room to move (confirmed via fluoroscopic imaging). 
  • Treat shoulder stability as the global problem not just local a problem.

Protect back by strengthen glutes and stretching hip flexors.  (Janda).

You can go to parallel in the squat w/o glutes but not below w/o glutes

Glute activation in hardstyle swing exceeds squat in most studies.

Most flexibility training in the field is “random variety.”

McGill’s work – back strength is not protective of the back but back endurance is.  Bottom up kb carry creates more irradiation and stronger bracing activity (Strengthen QL). 

Address healthy back and shoulder with simple toolkit (kb swing and turkish getup) = “advanced basics”; can learn these in one day but can spend years refining techniques

Turkish getup (TGU)  

  • honors all primitive patterns
  • McGill – TGU teaches stability through ribcage and pelvis while moving through different planes;
  • get stronger just because your stabilizers get stronger;
  • TGU is hypertrophy exercise when done in volume;
  • also assessment and corrective tool;

Some people have forgotten to progress to make the getup heavy; not a style contest.  Don’t forget that strength is the dominant physical quality upon which all other qualities are sitting.

Heavy weight is instructive. Don’t do anything that you couldn’t do or wouldn’t do with a 100lb bell overhead.

Sometimes as things become more fashionable, concern that people who are strength professionals are becoming therapists by focusing on correctives.  Easy to use the pursuit of perfect movement and symmetry as an excuse to be weak.

Establish mindset to progress to heavier load.  Up until reaching "entry level strong", you can improve performance in any sport just by getting stronger. 

When asked why he thought North America was slow to pick up on kb’s, Pavel somewhat disagreed and cited Colts, Bengals, Falcons among others (not sure I’d use the Bungles as an endorsement…), as teams that had integrated kbs into their training.  But Pavel can respect that high level coaches are often skeptical and cannot afford to jump on new things given their position.

Benefits of kb are so many and so diverse almost sounds too good to be true. 

How can it be that heavy swings would improve conditioning?  Whenever respiratory muscles get fatigued, cause reflexive vasoconstriction in the limbs.  Strengthening respiratory muscles improve endurance even without improving VO2max.  Biomechanical breathing at bottom of the swing to improve conditioning (more of the “what the hell effect”)

Hip flexor stretch

  • distraction of hip joint…Find space in the body.
  • Posterior tilt – more of an intention than an action.  Rhythmically move back and forth; every time moving forward pull hip out of the socket; long spine = stability
  • Rhythmical stretching – antagonists relax in anticipation during any rhythmical movement…central pattern generators
  • Neuromuscular reflex for both flexibility and strength.  Passive exhalation at end of every stretching cycle.  If increase IAP, then alpha motor neurons activated.
  • Pelvic circles
  • Putting hips in place where they have never been

Stretching is a skill – skill to relax and skill to find space in the body

Count to 10 to hold a stretch?  What is that based on?  Based on nothing.  Must individualize - look at dominant fiber composition of the muscle being stretched, person’s training status, injury, look at how mentally relaxed or tense person is, length of time they have been training, etc

Passive stretching has its use but must be held for several minutes.

Never stretch in a hurry.  If not doing it right, then don’t even bother doing it at all. 


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