Book Review: Kettlebell Simple & Sinister, By Pavel Tsatsouline

I’ve found training with kettlebells to be one of the most beneficial strength and conditioning workouts for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It enables me to train muscle movements that mimic those used in BJJ, is great for developing strength and mobility, and has excellent cardio benefits.

When I first began training with kettlebells, I sought out a StrongFirst instructor. StrongFirst is the organization founded by Pavel Tsatsouline, the kettlebell guru credited with introducing kettlebell training to the west. I’ve trained with various StrongFirst instructors, have taken the StrongFirst one-day kettlebell training seminar, and am an avid following of the StrongFirst website and blog. Therefore, it was with keen interest that I read the book Kettlebell Simple & Sinister by Pavel Tsatsouline, which not only outlines a kettlebell training program designed to give a maximum return on investment, but also addresses many aspects of Pavel’s training philosophy.


The premise of the Kettlebell Simple & Sinister training program is that kettlebell training shouldn’t overtax your body, but rather should enhance your ability and readiness to perform the task for which you’re training. This is perfect for a 40 plus BJJ practitioner like myself. By performing the three exercises in the program (Goblet Squat, Turkish Getup, and Kettlebell Swing), one can achieve a full body workout that will develop strength and conditioning in a perfectly reasonable amount of time (about 20-30 minutes per training session), and won’t be so taxing as to detract from one’s chosen task. While as martial artists it’s important for us to continue developing strength, mobility, and conditioning, it’s certainly counterproductive to take on a training regimen that taxes our bodies to the point that it detracts from our BJJ training. It can be a fine line between what enhances vs inhibits growth and development in our sport.

Prying Goblet Squat
In Pavel’s words “Not everybody needs to squat heavy, but everybody needs to squat. And the goblet squat is the squat for the people”. Because the squat movement is so prevalent in BJJ, it’s important to drill this into our muscle memory. As BJJ players, we don’t necessarily need to be able to set records for a squat 1RM, but we need to know how to do the movement properly and efficiently, with full range of motion, and preferably with at least a reasonable amount of resistance. So much of our work on the mats is heavily reliant on how we utilize our hips that it’s safe to say that an overwhelming portion of the movements we use regularly in training will benefit from a strong squat.

Turkish Getup
This is the king of all exercises. It’s practically a full body exercise that also addresses mobility, shoulder health, and core strength. In reality, every exercise should address core strength when performed correctly, but the TGU is particularly beneficial. Holding the weight overhead is excellent for developing upper body strength, but the “getting up” part of the TGU is directly applicable to nearly every move we do in BJJ. The most obvious crossover is the technical standup, which is a nearly identical movement to the TGU. Other moves on the mat which incorporate aspects of the TGU are the standing guard pass and even the triangle choke.

Kettlebell Swing
Well, the swing is also the king of all exercises, but for different reasons than the TGU. The swing is an excellent way to develop cardio conditioning and that can be developed in many ways depending upon the speed, length of sets, etc. Just as importantly, it’s an excellent way to develop a powerful and explosive hip hinge and to strengthen the posterior chain. Again, all extremely useful tools for grapplers. The swing is also a fantastic way (when performed properly) to develop a strong and stable core as well as a healthy back. Pavel suggests adding in variations of the swing when doing Simple & Sinister, which allows one to work a greater variety of muscles and skills. I often will also include snatches in my Kettlebell Simple & Sinister routines in order to drill mobility and overhead strength.

The one shortcoming I can find to the Kettlebell Simple & Sinister plan is the lack of pulling exercises, though these can be added in easily. I often make a point of doing a few sets of pullups at my BJJ academy before class several days per week and I find that to suffice.


One aspect of training that Pavel talks about is what he calls “greasing the groove”. This concept is that it’s not necessary to do an incredibly strenuous strength and conditioning workout every time one trains, especially if the goal is being better prepared for another activity, such as grappling. Our focus should be on our grappling without having to be concerned about overtraining or being worn out from our strength training. When greasing the groove, one can do a few sets when it’s convenient throughout the day until all of the necessary sets are completed. As someone who works from home, I often keep a kettlebell in the middle of the room and will take regular breaks to do a few sets of TGU or swings. This clears my head, allows my body to reset, and helps me to get in all of my reps. This method has the added benefit of allowing us to perform our sets in a fresh state each time we perform them, which is better for maintaining proper form. The only disadvantage to greasing the groove is that it’s not as effective for conditioning, but there still are benefits.


I highly recommend Kettlebell Simple & Sinister by Pavel Tsatsouline for anyone looking for a strength and conditioning plan to enhance their BJJ training. I’ve yet to find a book that so thoroughly and clearly explains the purpose of each exercise, how to properly perform it, how to breathe, and how to program the routine. In Kettlebell Simple & Sinister, Pavel teaches solid technique and meaningful philosophy. It’s been my personal experience that this is a training plan that is easy to follow and understand, is fun, and is enormously beneficial. I highly recommend it.

Kettlebell Simple & Sinister

Training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu With Intent and Purpose


As a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner who is 40 plus years old, I’ve found that it’s not possible to train with the same intensity as my younger teammates. My body doesn’t recover as quickly as it used to, so I can’t train as many days per week. Also, my body doesn’t tolerate the strain of sparring as well as it could twenty years ago. Therefore, I’ve made some adaptations to my training that I’ve found to be quite effective.

Choosing which classes to take
By alternating between traditional classes that include sparring and more drilling focused classes, I can get the necessary mat time without inflicting too much abuse on my body. Of course, this may not be an option at every school, but if your Jiu Jitsu academy offers more self-defense or drilling oriented classes, I would recommend including these into your routine. I get a lot out of learning the Gracie Combatives curriculum and find that I can always learn things that can be applied directly to my sparring. Nearly every class includes takedowns, submissions, and/or escapes, which I find to be immensely valuable. Also, the minutes immediately before and after class can be an excellent time to drill with my teammates to help me to solidify any moves I’m currently working on. By adding in drilling classes, I’m able to train an extra two to three days per week without have to be overly concerned about overtraining. I usually take four classes per week, of which two are traditional sparring classes and two are self-defense drilling classes.

Attending open mats
This may seem fairly obvious, but open mats can be an excellent time to dial in the skills learned during the rest of the week. By using this time for drilling and light flow-rolling, it enables one to be much more focused and efficient with their energy during regular sparring sessions.

Working on your “game”
I often make a point of focusing on one particular aspect of my game during sparring sessions. For example, if I know that I need to work much more on a particular guard pass, I’ll make a point of allowing my opponent to pull guard so that I can work on that position. I’ll focus on finding openings to use the intended guard pass, even if it’s not necessarily the best choice at the time. Either way, I’m still learning, even if I’m simply learning when not to use that particular pass. Regardless, I’m still becoming more familiar with the move.

Slowing things down
I believe it’s especially important for practitioners in the 40 plus age range to focus on slowing down their game. We’ll never beat the younger and faster opponents using speed and power. Instead, our strength is in our patience and wisdom, which can both be applied directly to our game. When rolling with a younger opponent who is faster and more aggressive, I try to compensate by slowing down my game and looking for openings. I focus on keeping my breathing controlled, and moving deliberately. I patiently wait for my opening before utilizing explosive power. This conserves my strength and energy, and often will tire out the younger opponents. It’s all about economy of motion and energy. I learn a lot from rolling with more advanced players and I try to observe how patient and deliberate they often are.

Proper warmup and cooldown
I make a point of stretching before and after training. Even just a few minutes makes a huge difference. This eases the strain on our bodies and reduces recovery time.

After putting our muscles through such an intense activity, it’s especially important to hydrate enough. If I’m feeling particularly dehydrated, I’ll sometimes grab a Gatorade on the way home. However, I try to avoid such drinks because of all the added chemicals. Instead, I’ll reach for a banana or a peanut butter sandwich as a means of replacing lost electrolytes. But mainly, I focus on drinking a lot of water.

Strength training
For BJJ players who are 40 plus, it’s especially important to maintain a strength and conditioning program. I find that even just twice per week is plenty, and it shouldn’t be too strenuous. Just something that focuses on the major movements can be enough. I do a simple barbell or kettlebell routine that provides training of the hip hinge, squat, push, and pull. The emphasis should be on training the movement with some added resistance. It’s not important for us to constantly be maxing out, but instead to make our focus training the movements. Adding some resistance will help us to develop added strength. And we should never sacrifice form. Using proper form in our strength and conditioning routines will help us to train our bodies to move properly while sparring, which will help to reduce injuries and will reinforce the various movements we learn in class. As an example, the Turkish Getup is an excellent complement to the standing guard pass and the technical standup. It’s also a crucial part of Pavel Tsatsouline’s Simple & Sinister strength and conditioning program.

I’ve found that using these techniques allows me to train much more efficiently and more safely. I’ve found my game improving more rapidly and I’m able to spend more time on the mat. I hope you find some benefits in these observations, and I welcome your feedback as well.

Product Review: TRX GO Suspension Trainer

TRX Suspension Training System

TRX Suspension Training System

The TRX Suspension Training System is a fantastic portable solution for anyone who wishes to travel with a portable gym that’s flexible enough to provide a complete workout.

As Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners, it’s important to find ways to stay fit while traveling. We’ve all had the experience of returning to our Jiu Jitsu academy after a prolonged absence due to travel, work, or family commitments. Therefore, I’m always searching for ways to exercise while on the road.

I recently purchased the TRX GO Suspension Training Kit and finally had an opportunity to use it on a business trip. I just returned from a trip to Los Angeles, where I had the opportunity to use the TRX GO in my hotel room about every other day. In this review I’ll share a few of my initial thoughts.

When I travel, I often don’t have time to do a proper workout at the hotel gym every day, and my schedule doesn’t always allow me to find a local Jiu Jitsu academy where I can train. Therefore, I’m always searching for a good way to get in a quality workout in limited amount of time. Sometimes just taking the elevator down to the gym and back can eat up 10 minutes, so any workout I can do in my hotel room saves valuable time. I have a routine of bodyweight exercises that I do when I travel, but without a pull-up bar I’m not able to effectively get in pulling exercises, so I was very eager to try TRX.

The TRX suspension training system was created by a former Navy SEAL as a way to get in a full body workout while on deployment in places where there wasn’t access to gym equipment. As the concept caught on, he turned it into a very successful and wildly popular product, which can now be found in gyms around the world and is used by amateur and professional athletes from many disciplines.

The TRX GO Suspension Training Kit is the entry level suspension kit and sells for $99.95 on Amazon. The product arrived neatly boxed and comes with a convenient carrying pouch which I found perfect for travel. Weighing just one pound, I didn’t have to worry about the weight of my suitcase when traveling and the convenient size made the unit extremely easy to pack. I did a lot of research on the various training kits, which range in price from $99.95 to $229.95. I discovered that I chose wisely and that as an occasional exercise tool for travel, the entry level model suited me just fine.

TRX Suspension Training System

The first time I used the TRX GO Suspension Training Kit in my hotel room it was easy to anchor it in place over the hotel room door. I decided to follow one of the workouts included in the iOS TRX app I downloaded. The workout I did consisted of several circuits in carefully timed sequences and the app provided timing for reps, rest, and for adjusting the TRX trainer to the next exercise.

TRX Suspension Training System

In general, the workout was more strenuous than what I expected, though I frequently had to interrupt the workout to take time to figure out how to do the next exercise. The app does include videos and instructions for each exercise, but it certainly interrupts the flow if it’s necessary to learn from the videos while trying to get in a workout. Even with this minor setback, I could see great potential in the product.

The next time I went to use the TRX trainer, I tried a different approach. Instead of going through the cycle of 24 exercises in my chosen workout, I decided to create my own workout based on the exercises listed in the materials included with the unit. I chose a push, a pull, a hip hinge, a squat, and something for abs in order to create a full body exercise. Instead of doing each exercise for a specific time period, I focused on a specific type of movement for an appropriate number of sets and reps. I also did the exercises slowly and controlled enough to allow me to focus on proper form.

Although I didn’t get the cardio benefits of following the TRX video, by choosing simpler exercises that I could master quickly and by doing fewer exercises while focusing on proper form, I found the workout to be very beneficial. I would recommend any new TRX user to follow this method. Just focus on doing a few exercises and do them with perfect form rather than try to take on a huge variety of moves that are unfamiliar and new. Eventually, we can work up to doing any of the entire sequences in the TRX online workouts.

On my recent trip, I did go to the hotel gym on alternate days to do some cardio on the treadmill or the elliptical, and on my off days I went to a local Jiu Jitsu academy to train. The end result is that I found that I was able to stay reasonably on top of my fitness even though I was traveling for business. The great advantage of TRX is that you can do any number of different types of workouts, whether for strength, core, conditioning, etc. and all with a single piece of equipment in the privacy of your hotel room.

I found it to be extremely helpful to not have to be concerned with creating a new workout based around the equipment available to me at the hotel gym. When traveling on business, it’s not always possible to devote as much time and energy to our workouts as we would at home, so being able to use familiar equipment is a huge bonus.

I’m very pleased with my new purchase and I highly recommend the TRX GO Suspension Training Kit to anyone with a busy travel schedule. It’s a fantastic way to stay fit with limited time and resources.

TRX GO Suspension Training Kit