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Why Strength Trumps Conditioning by Aleks Salkin


“The emphasis on brute, low-rep strength differentiates the RKC system.  Most Strength & Conditioning methodologies . . . heavily lean into conditioning while de-emphasizing strength.  Probably because it is a lot easier to smoke someone than to make him strong.” 
-Pavel in “Enter The Kettlebell”

For whatever reason, it took me years to fully appreciate the significance of this line in Enter The Kettlebell.  I’m sad to admit, but it didn’t completely sink in until last year – even after being certified as an RKC.  I read a blog post by Master RKC Geoff Neupert wherein he gave the most perfect example I’ve ever heard of why being strong is better than being merely “conditioned”.  Here’s an excerpt:

"When I went through my RKC in 2005, we still had the one-hand switch Snatch Test. I had to perform 74 reps at my bodyweight. Here’s where what I am about to say will disgust you -

I only trained for 3 weeks for the Snatch Test. That’s it. Here’s exactly what I did -

I snatched using the 32kg and figured out that if I could do 3 sets of 15/15 that I could do the 74 reps with the 24kg. So I did that for 3 weeks, did the Snatch Test to confirm my training was on point – passed it easily – took a week off, then went to the RKC and officially passed it.
How’d I get away with doing so little?

Because I am strong. And I was stronger then. And that has ALWAYS been the focus of all my training. ALWAYS."


I can’t tell you exactly how many times I slapped my head in frustration, but it was a lot.  OF COURSE!  It all made sense finally!  All this strength talk – it wasn’t about “Here’s strength, and now you have to do conditioning too” – it was about “Congrats on your strength.  You now have conditioning to boot.”

Without strength, conditioning is SO MUCH HARDER!  With strength, it’s so much easier!

And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense.  The stronger you are, the lower your body’s rate of perceived exertion.  That means your body doesn’t feel like it’s doing as much work, so it can keep doing what you want it to do. 

At the Fighter’s Workshop last September, Pavel gave a perfect example of this.  He told us during one of the lessons about a study on the effects of strength training with long-distance bicyclists.  Cyclists who were put on a program that included 4 sets of 4 heavy squats during the week improved their times without doing any additional riding.  The reason: Their bodies didn’t feel like they were working as hard, so their endurance went up.

Still need more proof?  Last example: When I got certified as an RKC, I could perform my snatch test (100 snatches with a 53 lb kettlebell in five minutes) – but not without pushing my body’s pedal through the floor.  It took more out of me than I took out of it, because I put the majority of my effort into conditioning, NOT strength.  Since reading Geoff’s post, my sole focus has been on strength – to the detriment of conditioning training.  Monday morning, I decided to have a go at my snatch test.  I did 80 reps in a row, followed by two sets of 10, and was barely sweating and only breathing a little heavy.    What was my previous best? Fourty reps in a row, with some wailing and gnashing of teeth thrown in.  My training has consisted of a lot of heavy lifting, and even traditionally “conditioning”-based moves, such as the kettlebell swing, have been done with a focus on strength – namely heavy double swings and very heavy one-arm swings. 

If I could go back in time and re-train for my RKC… I actually wouldn’t.  I learned a lot about what not to do by doing it the hard way.  I am re-learning by doing things the easier way.  If you are involved in any sort of endurance event, it would be foolish not to include heavy strength training in your repertoire of weekly activities.  Hire an experienced coach or trainer, who can custom-make a strength-based program to your needs and watch your performance soar.  Don’t regret not doing it sooner; just enjoy knowing what you know now.


Aleks Salkin is an Omaha-based RKC who trains clients to move better, lose fat, and most importantly, get strong.  Check out his blog!

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