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Best review of simple and sinister that will boost your strength [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Oct 26, 2017 10:00:00 AM

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Best review of simple and sinister that will boost your strength

This is a review of Pavel Tsatsoulin's book simple and sinister which outlines the basic of kettlebell training as a foundation for any other strength related sport. You will find his bibliography, links to other reviews, my personal approach and further material like podcasts to understand Pavel as a coach and the program in its entirety before deciding to buy the book. 

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Pavel Tsatsoulin

Pavel Tsatsoulin was born in Belarus in Minsk in 1969. In the 1980s he was a physical training instructor for Spetsnaz where he built up his knowledge for his public break through when he became a kettlebell instructor in the United States in 1998.
He is most re-known for making the kettlebell a more popular exercising tool in the US after having the opportunity to train Navy Seals, Marines and Army Special Forces. His publisher is Dragon Door and he was also awarded the "Hot Trainer" badge by Rolling Stones magazine in 2001.
What I personally like most about him is his no nonsense style and that he has a great sense of humour. Just watch them of his instructional videos on YouTube and you will know what I mean.
  • Bibliography
  • Strong first
Together with other coaches he also runs Strongfirst, the school of strength. There you can currently choose from 34 different courses to become strong like a Russian.
  • Videos
Demonstration of the kettlebell swing
Demonstration of the turkish get up
  • Tim Ferris podcast
If you want to learn more about Pavel and his morning routines you can either read Tim Ferriss book Tools of Titans or listen to the podcast he made with the comrade to learn more about him. Interesting guy, I recommend checking him out and how he thinks about his life. I have also included a list of podcasts of Pavel at the end of this post for your leisure and enjoyment.

Book review Simple and sinister

Simple and Sinister is one of the newer books of Pavel which boils down the kettlebell to the bare necessities of two movements; the kettlebell swing and the kettlebell Turkish get up. The book outlines all the techniques you need to perform these two movements correctly and shows you how to progress on them. The program itself is aimed at building general strength for daily application. You might also call it "functional", although this term this to come into the realm of being overused after the CrossFit craze.
  • Simple
The program is simple in the sense that it does not need a lot of different movements, complex programming and fancy equipment. All you need to start is a 24kg kettlebell for males or 16kg kettlebell for females. The prescribed volume is also modest which is 100 swings in sets of ten followed by 10 get ups, five for each arm.
Important to note is that the swing is being performed before moving on to the get ups. The protocol is not a circuit.
  • Sinister
The sinister part unfolds when you take all of the instructions serious and perform in the "hardstyle" way. Hardstyle means that you perform each repetition with maximum attention to detail, perfect form and speedy. This does not mean that you are racing but rather exercising with your mind fully present at each intersection of the movement. This turns the seemingly light weights which are being used in very instructional full body challenges. The sinister part is the core of why you should read the book. If you just want to pick up a kettlebell and swing it aimlessly around, be my guest. If you want to know and learn how to perform these moves with absolute mastery and how to get to there pick up a copy of the book at Amazon if you think it fits your training style after reading this review.
  • Warm up 
Pavel teaches you three drills for warm ups, the kettlebell squat, kettlebell halos and hardstyle bridges in which you pinch a pair of shoes between your legs. Each is performed for five repetitions for three sets in a circuit. 
  • Kettlebell swing
The swing is taught in every detail from how to pick up the kettlebell for beginners up until to how to re-grip and focus at the top of the swing for experts. You will learn about the history of this training tool itself and get input from several masters of the kettlebell who went through different programs. Most important points about the swing:
  • It is a swing, not a pull
  • Most powerful swings are performed when you imagine giving 80%
  • You hinge at the hips, the swing is not a squat
  • Your grip is loose, not tight
  • The kettlebell is catapulted up to straight arms, not pulled
  • Hand maintenance and taking care of calluses is your duty
  • Make haste, not speed when performing your reps
  • Get tight and breathe out in a hiss at the top of each rep
  • Turkish get up
The Turkish get up is described as the ultimate slow lift as opposed to the ultimate ballistic lift, the swing. In the get up you will learn how to perform one of the most functional movements there is to get from the ground to fully extended overhead with a pretty heavy weight. Again here are all instructions given, however, I would recommend watching some videos on proper execution of the Turkish get up as Pavel only goes over the movements in detail to get to full extension and then comments to get back into starting position by just "doing all the movements in reverse order". While this is a perfectly valid instruction, I find that it overlooks that for me personally, the return to the starting position on the ground in a controlled manner is the hardest part of the lift.  Most important things to notice about the get up:
  • Be careful and show respect to any weight, especially on the Turkish get-up
  • Breathing is regularly on the get up, don't hold your breath. Breathe normally, focused and controlled
  • No jerking movements
  • Perform the get up in  a way that you would feel safe even if you did it with a 100 pounds
  • The getup gives you excellent abdominal activation
  • Pack your shoulders
  • Volume of swings
The volume of swings is very moderate and will bring a seasoned strength athlete into a moderate sweat while working the lower back without killing it. Still, for a bigger stimulus, some of the more experienced lifters might want to raise the ante. Especially if you were injured and want to work your way back from almost not able to do anything to flipping 1000 pound tyres again I think the simple and sinister protocol is excellent (always consult your doctor). Go from the 100, 10 protocol to the 10.000 kettlebell swing challenge described on t-nation, if you feel like the program does not do enough for you and you still want to use kettlebell training. Read simple and sinister first, the instructions will help you to get the most out of your swings, even if you are a veteran.
  • Upright plank
You will find more details on the activation of the mid section in Pavel's book Hardstyle Abs. One of the most useful tips I took away from the book was to think about the top of the swing like an upright plank. You want to be ramrod straight and tight. You will be ready to take a hit from Conor McGregor in this position or at least you should strive to be ready. This helped me hugely for this lift and also in the application in my general thinking about strength training.
  • Anti shrugs 
The Anti shrug is a queue on ow to set up with the kettlebell before initiating the swings. You should think of it like an anti shrug in which you make your arms as long as possible without flexing any of the muscles in your arms, back and traps region so that the power of the swing comes solely from the hips and lower back.
  • Not squeezing the kettlebell
Contrary to most of the other instructions you will get in powerlifting for white knuckling the barbell for the simple and sinister program you will avoid to squeeze the kettlebell hard. Focus your mental efforts on being explosive and tightening your abs and lower backs.
  • Acceleration swing 
Once you become more familiar and better at executing the movement you can think about using the arms in the downwards movement of the swing. You can think of these as acceleration or overclock swings. Once the kettlebell is level and "weightless" you start to initiate the downwards movement by accelerating the kettlebell into the bottom position. Experienced athletes can create the tension of 500 pounds and beyond with this technique using a 24kg kettlebell. Only use this technique once you have mastered the basic swing.
  • One arm swing
Another simple curve ball Pavel threw me was to incorporate single arm swings into the protocol. While double hand swings will improve your overall explosiveness, one armed swings will help with greater activation of your mid section and have to balance the load more.
  • Double kettlebell swing with different weight
I am not experienced enough to make use of this. The ultimate goal is to perform double kettlebell swings while whistling the "Gambler" from Kenny Rogers with two 48kg kettlebells. When you progress to this goal you can make use of unbalanced load using a 16kg kettlebell in one and a 32 kg kettlebell in the other hand. Again this is a progression for more experienced lifters who have accumulated repetitions for at least half a year and perfect form.
  • Weights used  
There are 16kg, 24kg, 32kg, 40kg and 48kg kettlebells mentioned in the book. Pavel does not go beyond that and you will start at 16kg or 24kg depending on your gender. I personally was able to deadlift 400 pounds when I started the simple and sinister routine in 2017. I started with a 24kg kettlebell as this was the highest available in the gym. I feel like I could move a 32kg kettlebell also at my current level for the prescribed repetitions in 15 minutes, however, the form would suffer. Therefore start with the 24kg even if you are a beast, implement mindful training as mentioned in the book and move on from there. The attention to detail will pay long term. I currently spend most of my time undoing bad form which I ingrained in my first two years of training. Don't be a fool like me. 

Overlaps with Deadlift Dynamite

I personally got Deadlift Dynamite and Simple and Sinister at the same time. There is a lot of overlap between the two books and therefore I would recommend that you only got one of the two depending on your training focus. If you want to use the kettlebell only once a week to brush up on the edges of your powerlifts get Deadlift Dynamite. If you want to master all aspects of strength, get both books. If you are looking for a great warm up as an MMA fighter, Judoka, Karateka or wrestler get simple and sinister. If you are a personal trainer who has a lot of ladies in your roster who want to get serious about strength and care about functional fitness, get simple and sinister and maybe even consider the corresponding Stronglifts certifications.

Other reviews

On Preston ray fitness you will find a short review of the book which agrees in Pavel's high attention to detail and also compares the lower rep count and high intensity with higher rep count low-intensity bodybuilding templates.
On Premeditated fitness, you will find I detailed individual description of a 8-week progression on the protocol. If you want to stick to kettlebell training only and not having to go to the gym there are also extra movements described which accomplish just that. Great material to fill the gaps of this review, as I have not done simple and sinister long enough to see its long term effects.
At Thierry Sanchez, you will also find some progressions and videos of the swing and a 48kg Turkish get up being performed. Thierry points out that purists would criticise his technique and I would agree based on what I have read and how I am training. Take his videos after you read the book and try to find which points he is not doing like described in the book. He still pulls off a 48kg TGU, which is an impressive feat in itself.
On Rdella training you will find a review of certified coach Scott Iardella. He takes the program apart in its detail and pays special attention to the book structure which I have not done in this review, as I feel like it is a more interesting read that way. Pay special attention to the comments on this review as Scott answers some interesting questions around whether the protocol is suitable for teenagers to get them interested in strength and how to adapt thr program accordingly.



How I use the Simple and sinister protocol

I use simple and sinister as part of my warm up for my strength training which is focused on the three big powerlifts, the squat, deadlift and bench press. I added the face the wall stretch from Deadlift Dynamite and Cossack squats from Tim Ferris Tools of Titans book into the routine. With 24kg it takes me 15 minutes to complete the routine including the warm up.
The complete routine looks like this
3sets (15 min)
5 kettlebell halos
5 kettlebell squats close stance with 10kg
5 kettlebell Cossack squats
5 hardstyle hip extensions with shoes between legs
5 face the wall squats with small band around knees
5 sets (15 min)
5 pull ups with 10kg chain
5 dips with 25kg of chains
3 35 inch box jumps
Main workout (30 min)
Juggernaut method or Jim Wendler 531 or Smolov
Accessory (15 min or not done, depending on when I got up in the morning)
Something easy in the 8 - 12 rep range relevant for the day depending on goal, progression and time.

Getting kettlebells

You probably wan to get a 24kg, 32kg and 40kg kettlebell if you do not have any yet. Zou can get them at the same time or once you progress. Hereby some options:

Rogue competition kettlebells

Rogue competition kettlebells range from 8kg to 48kg. The advantage of these kettlebells is that they have the same size in all of the increments which leaves you with easier progression between the different weights. Usually, when you get different kettlebells, they also have different sizes and therefore the movements paterns alter ever so slightly. The disadvantage of these kettlebells is that they come at a slightly higher price than other kettlebells based on the brand and the specialised manufacturing process to keep them all the same size (for that some of them need to partially hollow, which is harder to manufacture as it is a two step, rather than one step process).

Rogue kettlebells

These kettlebells range from 9lbs to 203lbs and come at a slightly lower price point then the compeition kettlebells if calculates as price per pound. They are single piece cast iron which makes the production less costly than for the competition kettlebells. These tools of strength will increase in size the further you go up the weight scale. Therefore be prepared to adjust technique slightly with the heavier examples of this make.

Perform better kettlebells 

Perform better kettlebells are the brand which is being offered in the Strong First shop which is directly associated with Pavel and his team. These kettlebells are very much alike to the cast iron rogue kettlebells. They are slightly more expensive as Rogue usually buzs them in bulk due to higher demand coming through their website. I would assume that the cost at wholesale is identical for both. 

In the end the kettlebell is a simple tool and it does not really matter that much which brand you get. I personally stick to hwat the experts recommend or brands which I know to have good quality. This is why I listed these three options as I always have been happy with anything I ordered from Rogue and will trust Pavel with what he recommends on his website.

I would not recommend to get a plastic kettlebell down form Tesco. Invest some money. A good kettlebell will last you for a lifetime.


The simplicity, fun and low investment to become strong like a Russian are very appealing about simple and sinister. I think it is a great protocol for women who want to get strong and do not want to use a barbell. It is also excellent for any kind of hard working fighter who wants to get stuff done quickly in the morning and then move on to a morning run and/or drills on the shooting range, strategic briefs etc. depending on rank and function. 
If you want to build your Vo2 Max for triathletes or long distance swimmers and runners, your time might be spent better on something else. For those individuals, I would recommend doing simple sinister rather than daily, like prescribed in the book, maybe on your off days. I ran three marathons injury free and attribute that mainly to the strength training I did use Stronglifts 5x5. I am quite positive that Simple and sinister would do the same for endurance athletes without having to invest in a gym membership and taking too much time out of your busy schedules.

Further reading 


Topics: Lift stronger, Kettlebell