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10 Essential Strength Books: Part 3 – Enter The Kettlebell!

Update: I have since written a review of the followup to this book. Please check out my review of Return of The Kettlebell if  you’re still interested when you get done with this one!

Kettlebells have changed my life. I know it sounds dramatic–it is dramatic–but it is also true.

First of all, Enter The Kettlebell! Strength Secret of the Soviet Supermen is not just for Soviets. It is also not just a book about kettlebells. It is a set of strength-training rules that always produce results and just happen to have the kettlebell at their center.

You can’t get a feel for the book or the kettlebell without knowing the man behind it all: The wiry, incomparable Pavel Tsatsouline, trainer of the Russian Special Forces.  Back in 2001 Pavel swam to the United States with a kettlebell in his mouth and a message for the flabby, weak, and narcissistic–I’m here to tell you how to get strong, like it or not. (As far as I know, Pavel did not actually swim to America, but he probably could). Love him or hate him, Pavel says what he wants and can back it up. And here’s my own personal plug to get you competing: Pavel is the creator of my beloved Tactical Strength Challenge. Get ready for Fall of 2009 now!!!

Kettlebells are at the core of Pavel’s Hardstyle system of strength, but Hardstyle is not merely about kettlebells. It is a set of profound strength principles that can be applied to any tool: barbells, bodyweight exercises, plyometrics, whatever you want.

But this is about the book itself, so enough kettlebell and Pavel talk for now.

Enter The Kettlebell! What You Will Find

  • Two programs for kettlebells. The Program Minimum gives you a foundation to build on, then the “Rite Of Passage” takes you from there, as far as you want to go. When you’ve finished either program, you can switch to the other or go up to a heavier kettlebell.
  • Descriptions of the required kettlebell exercises. Make no mistake: if you’ve never tried kettlebells, the moves are going to take some getting used to. The book is not a substitute for learning from a certified Kettlebell instructor (RKC), but it’s a great start.
  • How kettlebells can take care of your conditioning needs without treadmills or exercise bikes.
  • How to get really strong without getting any bigger (some people actually do want this)
  • How to warm up before your kettlebell workouts.
  • How to increase the flexibility required for kettlebell exercises
  • An awesome sense of humor. Pavel is funny as hell.

What You Will Not Find

  • Useless information

That’s about it.  Pavel is my hero and I’ve read all of his books over and over.  Kettlebells are not the only thing out there. And I am willing to admit that it is possible they are not even the “best” thing.  It depends on your goals.  But I am convinced that they are the best thing for me.  I’m shelling out a pretty penny to go to the RKC certification in June, because I know I am in this for the long haul.

Hardstyle becomes a lifestyle.  Kettlebells have taught me things about myself that I never would have learned.  Maybe I’m just a sick puppy, but I spend most of my day looking forward to the next hellish kettlebell practice I’m going to put myself through.  Here is a quote about kettlebells from another of Pavel’s books: The Naked Warrior:

Try it [kettlebells] if you’re so tough.  You’ll wish you were dead.

Pavel often says  that constant kettlebell practice makes you a better man (or woman).  I agree with him 100%.  If you have another source of self-improvement, go for it and Godspeed.   I would ask only that you consider this:

I hope you are a happy person.  I am, but that doesn’t mean I would turn down a chance to be even happier.  I was very athletic before I got into kettlebells, but that doesn’t mean I would have turned down greater strength or fitness.    I didn’t know how far I could go because I didn’t have all the tools in the toolbox.  Now I am in better shape than I ever thought possible and I’m stronger every single day because of the Russian madman and these big pieces of metal that I’ll spend the rest of my life swinging around.

If you are even the slightest bit curious, try Enter The Kettlebell!  If you have zero interest in owning it, at least go check it out at your library!  You won’t be sorry.

Enter The Kettlebell

PS: This is Part 3 in a series:  read Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5

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  • Ben Owens May 1, 2009, 9:00 am

    Great review Josh. Kettlebells are such a huge part of my life/training that I have a hard time remembering what I did without them. Like you said, they may not be the best thing, but they are the thing that makes me WANT to go out and train until it hurts so they are absolutely the best thing for me…and probably almost anybody else if they would give it a try!

  • Josh Hanagarne May 1, 2009, 9:51 am

    Agreed and agreed. Thanks Ben.

  • Josh Hanagarne May 1, 2009, 9:51 am

    Oh, and by the way Ben, my new Grippers just came.

  • David Cain May 1, 2009, 4:34 pm

    Pavel is THE MAN.

    I don’t often say someone is THE MAN, but if there ever was a MAN, it’s Pavel.

    I’ve actually let my kettlebell workouts slip since my sudden blogging obsession took over my life, so I’m going to jump back into the fold soon with a strict program minimum, or maybe my own variation. Last summer, before I discovered kettlebells, I ran every morning even though I secretly hated it. But I think I will begin a regimen of morning swings instead. Yeah. I feel stronger already.

  • David Cain May 1, 2009, 4:35 pm

    BTW, I love what you’ve done with the place. Thesis rules.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 1, 2009, 8:08 pm

      Yeah, thanks. I absolutely love it. Can’t believe I was trying to mess around with the code before.

  • flagmonkey May 2, 2009, 1:42 am

    DO you mix KB with Barbell-Training? I would be interested in some kind of routine of swings that can be mixed with a 3*5 BB routine.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 2, 2009, 7:02 am

      I do. Deadlifts are my favorite barbell lift. I also do a ton of pull-ups. One of the cool things about a lot of Kettlebell programs (including enter the kettlebell) is that there are a couple of core workout that you do each week, and then you have a couple of variety days where you can do whatever you want. Thats usually when I do barbell work. Deadlifts, squats, and overhead presses when my shoulder is behaving. It can be a difficult balancing act. Kettlebells are demanding and approaching a KB workout fatigued from deadlifts is a recipe for disaster.

      barbell 3×5 could definitely work with KBs. You’d just have to be smart and listen to your body. I spent the last year doing Enter the Kettlebell workout for 2-3 weeks, and then doing a deadlift cycle for 2-3 weeks. I could jump back and forth while taking a break and still progressing. Let’s talk more. I’d love to hear about what you’re doing.

  • flagmonkey May 2, 2009, 9:18 am

    I’m doing the “Practical Programming Novice Program” by Mark Rippetoe, pretty sure you heard about that. I started 2009-03-23 and i like it very much because of it’s simplicity and basic approach. The pressing excersises give my soulders a hard time and I try to substitute them, still haven’t found what fits my needs. Seems like some excersises are just not safe for everyone, no matter how much you try to learn lifting with good form and starting with light weights.

    I got two very old 10 kg KBs and one DIY T-Bar handle for swings. Any suggestions how to combine these with the 3*5 would be appreciated.

  • Al in Vancouver May 2, 2009, 5:26 pm

    flagmonkey: Rippetoe’s book is fantastic.

    I am new to using kettlebells. I am using them along with primarily BB/DB work as variety, or during deload.(S for the BB/DB lifting I am exploring several modalities: Rippetoe/Starr, Joe Defranco’s WSFSB and other Westside stuff). Life’s too damn short to explore all the interesting stuff out there

    Josh, best of luck with RKC!

    And Josh, I too was an English major. Will I ever get that degree out of my system?

    • Josh Hanagarne May 2, 2009, 6:05 pm

      That’s great to hear. I’ll be reviewing Starting Strength as part of this series. Ripptoe is a freaking genius. I have zero experience with the T-bar, so can’t really comment on that.

      As for that degree, I’ve made my peace with forever having the temperament of a critic, but letting other people like whatever they want. Trying to get people to admit that something “sucks” has been left behind me. That’s what most of my English classes were like: people in fingerless gloves (in June) drinking from thermoses that said things like “down with the world bank!”

      We were talking about Romero’s Day Of The Dead once and this guy actually referred to zombies as “vegetative non-life commodities.” Adorable.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 2, 2009, 6:05 pm

      Whoops! Al, I just realized that you were replying to flagmonkey. I think I addressed one of his questions in my reply to your comment.

  • Greg Fedderson May 24, 2009, 6:38 pm

    Enter the Kettlebell has forever changed how I train. I have learned more about fitness from that book than I did earning my degree as a Fitness Technician or my 3 Personal Training certifications. I wish that was a joke. I am currently on the Rite Of Passage program and I love it! I have almost completed it with the 70# kettlebell and I am excited to see if I can press an 88#. Kettlebell swings have also allowed me to deadlift again, my back still dosnt like alot of deadlifting but that is much better than no deadlifting.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 24, 2009, 7:33 pm

      Greg, if you can pass the ROP with the 70lber, you’re not going to have any trouble pressing the 88. I pressed the 88 for the first time when I could only press the 70 five or six times…in a day. Do you have an 88? You’ve got to come over and try mine.

  • Dimbo May 27, 2009, 8:32 am

    The world bank does suck!
    Its purpose is to create debt and keep people in debt.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 27, 2009, 8:42 am

      No disagreement from me on that point. I’m still not going to wear fingerless gloves to class on a 100 degree day in the middle of July.

  • Jake February 10, 2010, 2:46 pm

    I am interested in starting kettlebells. Is this the best book for it?

    • Josh Hanagarne February 10, 2010, 3:27 pm

      Jake, I believe so. Books will only get you so far, but this is a good one.

  • Karsten February 16, 2010, 7:33 am

    I didn’t know strength before ETK. I have to echo the sentiment expressed by others here. Kettlebells may not be the best thing in the world, but they are the best thing in the world FOR ME, because I love doing them, and do them HARD, OFTEN, never fail. I couldn’t brutalize myself into running or biking or lifting “conventional” weights on a regular basis, but all day I look forward to coming home and hoisting that crazy thing into the air above my head, and I NEVER skip a workout.

    Also, you are correct that this is a great place to start, but one needs professional instruction to be effective and safe. I started with just the book and DVD and didn’t bother finding instruction for a long time, and when I did, instantly progressed by simply not doing all of the stupid things I didn’t realize I was doing during every lift.

    *please forgive the capitalization, but it is simply to only way to express just how enthusiastic I am about KBs.