Kettlebell guru, Zar Horten is nothing short of a picture of health. The 49 year-old veteran firefighter appears to have zero body fat and doesn’t look a day over 30 - which isn’t hugely surprising given the fact that he started experimenting with the zen of training efficiently - ala Bruce Lee - at the age of 11. He met the legendary Pavel Tsatsouline, a former Soviet special forces instructor and current a subject matter expert to elite U.S. special ops units, nearly two decades ago. Inspired by Pavel’s outlook on training, Horton began integrating kettlebells - and Pavel’s unique techniques - into his training and coaching; the more he used this seemingly elusive tool, the more he fell in love with it.
[As a side bar: if the name Pavel Tsatsouline sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because he has accrued a hugely devoted following and is widely credited with introducing the ever-present kettlebell to the United States. As Chairman of StrongFirst, Inc., he is also a mainstay figure on Tim Ferriss’ podcast and in his worldwide bestseller, The Four Hour Body.]
To further Zar’s KB accolades, he is one of twelve Strong First Master Kettlebell Instructors in the world and has served as a stand-in for Pavel himself at several Instructor Certification Courses. He also owns FIREBELLZ, a premium kettlebell training center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Needless to say, this guy knows a thing or two about kettlebell training.
So where does TRX come into all of this? It just so happens that Zar and TRX’s very own, Chris Frankel, Head of Human Performance, have been good friends for several years. In addition to Pavel, Zar is one of Frankel’s “go to” experts on kettlebell training and instruction - and training in general. The TRX Training Philosophy is strongly aligned with the principles Pavel has brought to the fitness space. In addition to KB-specific training, Zar and Frankel have collaborated on Suspension Training and Duo Training workouts that all fit together.
ZAR’S RULES TO LIVE BY IN THE WORLD OF KETTLEBELL TRAINING (BASED ON PAVEL’S “STRONGFIRST” SYSTEM)
Neurologic Strength Training:
In a nutshell, instead of adding more muscle tissue to get stronger, the idea is to train our nervous systems to fully contract existing muscle with more force. The principals behind the idea of Neurological Strength Training are the cornerstone teachings of STRONGFIRST. These high tension, full body efforts are also used by TRX Training and Education.
Tension and Relaxation:
Oftentimes, the difference between high-level athletes and amateurs is their acute ability to apply tension and relaxation at the appropriate times at the appropriate levels. If an athlete is always tense and cannot relax the tension out of his/her muscles when there is no demand, they will run out of energy faster than an athlete that can go into full relaxation when needed. Moreover, an athlete that stays in the state of tension at all times will not be able to generate their true full amount of force or strength when they need to.
Think of a boxer.... He or she will stay relaxed until they need to fire off the hard shots and then go back into a relaxed state, moving fluidly until he needs to engage again. As a result, movements can become robotic and inefficient and not fluid and powerful. The right balance of activation and relaxation, and sequencing and timing is critical to the success of the elite athlete and everyday training population alike. Proper sequencing of contract-relax-contract is described by Dr. Stewart McGill as the “double pulse” and is maximized during ballistic moves with the kettlebell, like the swing and the snatch.
Avoiding Total Fatigue:
Training sessions should be short in duration but intense. The STRONGFIRST system is modeled after the Russian military training system. While the soldiers train up to 3-5 times a day, they would leave their workouts refreshed rather than beat down and completely exhausted. The point is, it’s very possible to make significant strength gains even if your training sessions don't floor you. Teaching how to “master the movements and manage the loads” are skills that the best coaches and trainers deliver.
Several types of breathing methods are used in the STRONGFIRST system: some to increase strength, some to sustain performance, and some for recovery. Breathing is key to efficient and optimized strength and conditioning training. (Note: notice Zar’s strategic breathing patterns during this KB swings in the video above).
Form & Repetition:
In the STRONGFIRST system, there is a focus on perfecting form and structure before loading resistance. In other words, one should progressively load resistance only when form can be maintained. The goal is to work within rep schemes that don't lead to form or structural breakdown. Putting reps over form will limit progress and increase the chance of injury.
Focusing on movement standards - the cornerstone of the TRX Education philosophy - and then changing the training conditions with load, speed or endurance is a consistent theme in great training and coaching systems. TRX is proud to be affiliated with great people and philosophies like Zar and STRONGFIRST.
The TRX Functional Training Course (FTC) shows you how to integrate multiple functional training tools - including kettlebells - into your training programs via our TRX Foundational Movement training philosophy.