Note: Because I no longer follow fitness programs, but I do still love to read about strength training, my book reviews are of the books themselves–writing, content, etc–not necessarily endorsements of the programs contained in them. When I believe a program can be improved, as I believe they all can, I do my best to explain my recommendations, based on my own experience. My only motivation is to get better at what I love most: lifting!
I bought a copy of Pavel Tsatsouline’s book Return of The Kettlebell while I was at the RKC certification in June of 2009. It is a follow up to the beginning and intermediate programs contained in Enter The Kettlebell (my review). It teaches a couple of new lifts, but more importantly for anyone looking to build muscle, it adds a kettlebell.
RTK is a book about building muscle, while most of Pavel’s other works have focused on developing lean, wiry strength without adding size. The sequel to ETK is about adding size, but you can certainly get stronger while doing it.
Why two kettlebells?
Want to know the best way to build muscle? Assuming you’re resting and eating enough to grow more lean mass, it is as simple as doing more work. Then, taken a step farther, it is about doing more work in less time. We define work here by the total amount of pounds lifted during a kettlebell session.
If you complete an amount of reps with one Russian kettlebell, is that more or less work than if you put one in the other hand as well? Well, I guess it could be, if you use two one-pound kettlebells versus just one 24 kilo bell, but let’s not get silly here.
The more weight you lift, the more muscle you can gain. That is the premise behind RTK’s programming and movement selection.
Where Enter The Kettlebell focused on the kettlebell swing, snatch, press, and Turkish get up, Return of the Kettlebell focuses on the double snatch and the long cycle clean and jerk.
The snatch, press, and double front squat are part of what is called the “grind block,” while the Long cycle is part of the two week ballistic block. Every two weeks you go between the two.
Double kettlebell snatch
Just like it sounds. You snatch with one bell in each hand. But in this program, the snatch is the prelude to the double military press. RTK calls for ladders of double snatches into press ladders during the grind block. You finish each set of ladders with front squats with the weight you are using.
This is a way to get a lot of work done in a limited amount of time.
A jerk is essentially the act of putting a weight overhead without pressing it with your shoulders and arms. You do this with your hips with one shallow dip, then exploding upwards and dropping under the weight. The “cycle” part is that you clean the bells between each jerk.
If it sounds like a lot of work, it is.
Much like ETK, the programs here follow a light, medium, and heavy day wave pattern. In theory this allows you to get prescribed amount of work done on each day. I did not find that to be the case at all, but I did make good progress on the program for a while. Then I began experimenting with it and it got even better, as I’ll talk about in a moment.
The problems I had with this program are the problems I have with every program. I do not believe that following someone else’s rep, weights, and movement schemes is the best way to make progress.
I believe that everyone can know what movements/exercises are best for them at any given time. And that is how I now use Return of The Kettlebell: as a guideline for things to test with biofeedback. I do not get injured by my lifting, I do not strain, and I do not put any stock in the “no pain no gain” mentality.
It is possible to get great results from the minimal effective amount of effort. I discover what that amount is for me every time I train now, because I test everything. If you’d like to know more about that, please take a look at my Grip and Rip DVD review (editor’s note: currently off the market), which talks a lot more about Gym Movement and the testing protocols.
I am not trying to scare anyone away from this book. I am just urging caution about following someone else’s program too precisely without questioning the toll it is taking on you. Training longevity is my goal, and that is why I won’t commit to by-the-numbers approaches to movements and reps.
I love Return of The Kettlebell (the book, not the program) because I am a fan of anything and everything to do with strength information. I view this book as a variety of things to test, nothing more. But the writing is also fun and engaging, and I will continue to experiment with all of Pavel’s programs, because I believe they can all be improved, either by him or someone else who is curious enough to keep asking questions.
One very common question I get is regarding Return of the Kettlebell vs Enter the Kettlebell. I personally think ETK will give you a foundation that will prepare you for the escalating challenge of RTK. And focus on RTK if your main goal is muscle and you want to use the kbs.
Lift heavy, be happy, stay safe, have fun! If you’re meeting all of those requirements, don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong!