Pavel Tsatsouline on the Science of Strength and the Art of Physical Performance

197 Comments

Tim Ferriss and Pavel Tsatsouline on Strength

This episode was a real treat. It was one of the most enlightening and lucid conversations about physical training I’ve ever had.  If you want strength, power, endurance, and flexibility, it’s all covered in this one interview.

[UPDATE: Pavel also answered your 15 most popular questions in a follow-up episode, now below]

Pavel Tsatsouline is Chairman of StrongFirst, Inc. and was born in Minsk, USSR, which is now part of Belarus.

In the 1980s, he was a physical-training instructor for Spetnaz, the elite Soviet special-forces units. Pavel is now a subject matter expert to the US Marine Corps, the US Secret Service, and the US Navy SEALs. He is widely credited with introducing the now ubiquitous kettlebell to the United States.

Over the last several years, Pavel has become a friend, and his input was critical to the success (and experiments) of The 4-Hour Body.  His massively popular post on 80/20 Powerlifting and How to Add 110+ Pounds to Your Lifts appears on this blog.

Whether you’ve heard of him or not, prepare to have your mind blown, and I don’t say that lightly 🙂  Enjoy!

This podcast is brought to you by 99Designs, the world’s largest marketplace of graphic designers. Did you know I used 99Designs to rapid prototype the cover for The 4-Hour Body? Here are some of the impressive results.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What’s the most valuable exercise tip you’ve ever received or learned? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Enjoy!

Do you enjoy listening to this podcast? If so, please leave a short review hereIt’s important for keeping the show going.

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Selected Links from the Episode

Show Notes

  • How Pavel and Tim first came in contact [1:00]
  • How others define Pavel as “world-class” [2:00]
  • Considerations for designing training for top performers [5:00]
  • The biggest misconceptions about Pavel Tsatsouline [11:25]
  • When in doubt, what’s the minimum you should train? [18:00]
  • How to train “grease to groove” [21:15]
  • Approaching training as a practice [35:45]
  • Prioritizing skills that lead to strength [39:20]
  • The most counter-productive myths about strength training [42:20]
  • Pavel’s hypothesis for the science behind hypertrophy [48:30]
  • What is preventing new powerlifting records? [1:02:00]
  • Deadlifts, kettlebells, and the most common mistakes with both [1:10:00]
  • Morning rituals [1:13:50]
  • Most frequently played music [1:16:50]
  • Pavel’s writing mechanics [1:18:05]
  • Current professional improvement endeavors [1:21:30]
  • Mobility, flexibility, and the goal of full side splits [1:22:45]
  • On the malfunction of over-sharing [1:39:00]
  • What Americans can learn from former Soviet culture [1:40:20]
  • Mitigating distractions [1:48:40]

People Mentioned

Posted on: January 15, 2015.

Please check out Tools of Titans, my latest book, which shares the tactics, routines, and habits of billionaires, icons, and world-class performers. It was distilled from more than 10,000 pages of notes, and everything has been vetted and tested in my own life in some fashion. The tips and tricks in Tools of Titans changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for sample chapters, full details, and a Foreword from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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197 comments on “Pavel Tsatsouline on the Science of Strength and the Art of Physical Performance

  1. Wow, this is one of the most informative podcasts I’ve ever listened to–when I was finally done listening, I had about 6 or 7 new tabs open of stuff that’d I’d Googled after hearing you guys talk about it. Great stuff!

    Like

  2. Those soviet weightlifting record can’t be broken because in 1988 they started drug testing out of competition. Previous to this an athlete could use drugs 11 months of the year. Now they must be much more careful.

    Like

  3. Great Podcast! New Drinking, or Training Game. Every time Pavel says “Excellent TIm!” you have to drink or make a Squat!

    I can’t really express how much i appreciate it when Pavel would say a thesis and end it with the sentence:”Now what does that mean?”. Because most of the time it wasn’t 100% clear to me what he meant and the second thing s that in conversations many people are afraid to ask further, which has many reasons. Wer nicht fragt bleibt dumm!

    I have two Questions:
    With the SLOW FIBERS TRAINING PROTOCOL, do i understand it right that i am supposed to do one Squat in Super Slow Motion with the Duration of 1min.

    And Pavel, you mentioned you only drink Coffee in the morning is this part of Intermittent fasting. And when is the first time you eat something on a normal Day in which you won’t be burning much calories.

    Thanks, Theo.

    Like

  4. Hi Tim,
    In trying to focus on simple effective actions that drive massive change, I was interested in trying to keep a food journal to truly give me an analytical perspective on the shit I put in my mouth. As Zig Z says, “No one accidentally ate anything”. Any good food journal apps you would recommend?

    Like

  5. Very interesting conversation! I’m curious- so slow fiber hypertrophy sounds a little bit like anaerobic endurance but it’s not, huh? If somebody periodized their training with strength, then power (power being what Pavel describes as the neurological strengthening rather than strict hypertrophy) and lastly anaerobic endurance… would the slow fiber training would still be in the strength/ hypertrophy phase?

    Like

  6. Tim, I’m a fan. I found this to be the most confusive episode published so far unfortunately. To someone trying to make sense of the right fitness regimen, this doesn’t make sense. Everyone seems to have their own regimen, completely different from the others, and it’s presented with a “Everyone’s doing it wrong!” attitude. So many of these things are in contradiction with the 4h body and many studies too (n. Of reps, time under tension, training slow/fast twitch muscle fibers, failure impact on size etc.), and hearing your (non) reaction surprised me.

    I appreciate what you’re doing in all fields. In the fitness world I wish you tried to make sense of the various misinformation, whereas I didn’t see that happening. Unfortunately quite the opposite. I hope this changes!

    Like

  7. Tim, you mentioned a name in the podcast Max Plank which is actually Max Shank a strength coach from San Diego who is now the Master instructor of RKC. I had the opportunity of having him as instructor. He is the strongest and most rounded person I have ever met. His “bang for your buck” philosophy and “carry over” methods deliver. I would recommend you watch a few of his videos on YouTube (I like the one arm ring push-up and 400# swing) and have him on the show.

    Like

  8. Tim, you said that you wanted to get back into strength training. There is something new that you would really enjoy. Master Strength, http://www.masterstrength.com, was developed with Bill Gillespie, a world renowned powerlifter & Master Strength & Conditioning Coach. This programs is a innovative game-like program to develop strength, speed, mobility, and athleticism. The program is very advanced and quick recovery is of the utmost importance, so it can be combined with patented pre and post workout glutathione supplements to enhance results.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Tim,

    Your blog and books are fantastic! Thank you! Is there away to get this Pavel Tsatsouline interview in a written paper?

    Like

  10. Tim Big Fan, Pavel disagreed with lifting to failure and did not explain why. I would have thought you would of asked some questions or explain your perspective and results. I am a bit confused now, can you please clarify. Thank you.

    Like

  11. Hi Pavel & Tim,

    Thank you for an incredible/zero fluff podcast. I’ve started training with Kettle bells using the practice that Pavel outlined in Simple & Sinister. One of the key components in hard style training is breathing technique. I’m having some trouble due to a deviated septum. Is there a good workaround? The ultimate solution is to have surgery, but I’d like to continue my workouts leading up to that event. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    All the best,

    Tyler

    Like

  12. Fantastic episode. Using Pavel’s ‘slow technique’ has allowed me to maintain my strength while losing 15lbs last year.

    Like

  13. I took a Masters level course in Periodization when I lived in Houston – it was great to hear about it again. As a dietitian I focus on food/meal planning more but still give suggestions for workouts. I loved this interview.
    My favorite part of the interview was Pavel’s music choices – my favorite 2 stations on Sirius are Octane (hard alternative rock) and Symphony Hall (classical). Not much in between.

    Like

  14. Lighting bolt…I am 1/2 way through listening and something hit me. The things that Pavel discribes as a way to build strength happens instinctually by 2 people I know – my twin baby boys. They are 10 months old, they plank tighting all their whole body all the time. They are constantly opening/closing their hands, almost as of squeezing the air. Another position they tend to do is a “super man” style plank on their chest with their whole body tight. They also tend to hold their arms out at around 45 degrees like most babies. All of these things are done through the day, but they tend to hold the plank positions for 5-10 seconds. I would speculate that human babies need to build strength quickly in order to survive. They also are operating on a lot of instinct, not tainted by cultural “workout” spirts. I wonder of there is anything to learn from something humans already do naturally but then forget…

    Liked by 1 person

  15. The picture of guys with a face mask is always a turn off. Means you are a terrorist or a thug. If you would not want your identity known for an act of violence, don’t do it.

    Like

    • Hi Pavel and Tim,

      I currently follow the “S&S” routine = 1-arm swing and turkish get-ups. Can you point us readers to a strength routine that can be applied when traveling (i.e. no access to gym/kettle bells)?

      Lastly, thank you guys for 2 incredible podcasts and the wealth of information! Simple and Sinister has been a game changer 🙂

      Cheers,

      Tyler

      Like

      • Tyler, look into bodyweight training. Most of the time all you need is floor space and a place to do Pull-ups. I have traveled with a mat and a pair of gymnastic rings. Pavel’s own Naked Warrior, Paul Wade’s Convict Conditioning series, and Al Kavadlo to name three out of a growing trend of simple strength based possibilities. For more advanced Scott Sonnon has Warrior, Commando, Primal (and others) for training in the ‘field’. And I’m currently doing Christopher Sommer’s gymnasticbodies.
        Following correct techniques gets the results.

        Like

  16. What do people think of the High Intensity Training (infrequent sessions and always to failure) covered in Body by Science? It’s totally contrary to Pavel’s high frequency, volume and never to failure approach. I am wondering which one to follow.

    Like

  17. Wow, Tim where do I begin, profound talk here and could not have come at a better time, I’m turning 40 in 2 months and and unlearning everything I know about training and starting from scratch.Its Humbling if i may say so….
    So is
    that 3 to 5 reps and 3 to 5 sets but how many times a day?? and can you use the hollow bod position for 10 seconds for the same way (3 to 5 reps for 3 to 5 sets) again how many times a day,
    AND this including pulls ups 3 times a week ??

    Thanks again this is truly mind blowing if you considering a life time of pushing your body under the instructions of coaches and creating injuries,now its about longevity and STRENGTH.

    Like

  18. Wow, Tim where do I begin, profound talk here and could not have come at a better time, I’m turning 40 in 2 months and and unlearning everything I know about training and starting from scratch.Its Humbling if i may say so….
    So is
    that 3 to 5 reps and 3 to 5 sets but how many times a day?? and can you use the hollow bod position for 10 seconds for the same way (3 to 5 reps for 3 to 5 sets) again how many times a day,
    AND this including pulls ups 3 times a week ??

    Thanks again this is truly mind blowing if you considering a life time of pushing your body under the instructions of coaches and creating injuries,now its about longevity and STRENGTH.

    Like

  19. Tim asks some strange questions sometimes. It got uncomfortable when he asked what he wants to change about himself.
    More relevant and interesting for listeners might have been the topic of nutrition 😉

    Like

  20. Agree with Pavel and all that he says, truly the voice of experience.
    On the other hand, Tims advertisements for design service at the end don’t always work out well. Just getting someone in to whip out a logo for 10 bucks or whatever isn’t a good tip when developing your brand and business. I made that mistake and it’s cost me more to patch it up later down the road!

    Like

  21. Pavel, Poliquin, and Sonnon are the three coaches I’ve followed for the longest. Tim, add Scott Sommer (gymnasticbodies mentioned below) to your podcast list. I’ve listened to his Barbell Drugged interview on YouTube repeatedly.

    Like

  22. For something new in sport science point google & google scholar at: the Stanford Cooling glove, and the temperature sensitivity of pyruvate kinease. By the end of the tour you should know why muscular fatigue is connected to muscle temperature.

    Like

    • Two additional points: the German men’s team that won the world cup used these cooling gloves at half time and out ran all of the other teams in the second half; you can build one of these things on your own for about $100 and the only tools you need is a drill, a boring bit, a wrench, and a screw driver. I’ve built one, and have tried it in my training. As found in the strength training studies, I can get out around 50% more sets if I use the cooling glove between sets than if I don’t.

      Like

  23. Tim! Awesome stuff, as usual. Just wondering if you’ve heard of Scott Sonnon. I’ve got no stake in this, but he sounds like someone you might wanna interview: grew up w/abusive father, institutionalized for learning disabilities, degenerative joint disease, world champion martial artist, national wrestling coach, and now a fitness magnate. Like I said, no personal interest except I’d love to hear you interview him.

    Like

  24. Hi Tim – new to the ‘Experiment’ but glad to have found you.

    Perplexed that Pavel is such an advocate of FMS and also bemused that you did not pull him up on the glaring and published deficiencies of the approach:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3109893/

    The tacit structuralism and causal narrative (movement dysfunction > injury) of FMS seems pretty wobbly in both athletic and general populations.

    Otherwise an amusing and informative listen.

    Like

  25. Pavel refers to “Kat-Tay” ?? When speaking about breathing techniques. Anyone know what he is referring to? Tried a couple of different spellings in Google with no hits. Thanks

    Like

  26. What are your thoughts on eating in the middle of the night? I’m going to give it a shot, but wanted to know if anyone has tried it and what they thought??

    Like

  27. the most valuable exercise tip I’ve ever received or learned: recovery is just as important as stimulation to achieve adaptation.

    Like

  28. what size grippers would Pavel recommend for an average female beginner? And how exactly (frequency/duration) to use them to progress to the next level?

    Like

  29. Pavel mentions a former weightlifter that still trains and does jump squats at 200 lbs. I don’t understand his name, could someone please help me.
    Also great podcast, many insightful ideas both intelectual and with practical applications.
    Thank you

    Like

    • Tim, in your book 4 hr body you say you must have 30g of protein within the first hour of awakening. Just hear you interviewed and you said you don have breakfast, can you please clarify. Thank you

      Terrance Brennan Brennan Group Consulting 914 714 9432 terrancebrennan.com

      >

      Like

  30. Hi Tim,

    Listened to your podcast “the art and science of learning anything fast”. You talked about increasing your deadlift from 300 to 600 pounds in a short time, which is very impressive!! Pulling the weight from the floor to the knees. I want to experiment with this method and see how it works for me. So I really like to know what your training plan was? Trainingfrequency per week? Sets and reps per workout? Intensity?

    Best,

    Andras

    Like

  31. This is one of the best podcast I have heard from this blog (although there are others which were very good too). Thanks Tim! You book Tools of Titans rock!

    Like

  32. Dear Tim
    I’ve read 3 of your books but 4 Hour Chef and loved them all. Tools of Titans to date I’ve read 3 times and 4HWW twice both I use as reference as well 4 Hour body I’m on my second read through.
    I’ve gifted Tools to 3 people and 4HWW 5 to 5 people.
    I have a question why do you recommend the kettlebell swing when from what I’ve read it doesn’t work up body ?
    Love your books and how you right keeping at it.
    Dutch M

    Like