Notes on Pavel’s – The Quick and the Dead

Pavel published a new book last year titled The Quick and the Dead – Total Training for the Advanced Minimalist. After his appearance on Joe Rogan recently, I discovered a copy in my local library.

In this post, I will give a review/summary of the book and my initial experiences with the workout plan.

Pavel - Quick & Dead

The Quick and the Dead: Total Training for the Advanced Minimalist (Amazon USA)

Explosive Strength

The theme of the Q&D is how to develop explosive strength. I don’t play any sports or do martial arts, so I initially thought this book would be of no interest to me. But Pavel made a case that in addition to the benefits we normally associate with explosive training, it also has a powerful anti-aging health benefit.

First, we lose speed, then strength, and then endurance. Muscle fiber loss happens in a preferential manner where the Type 2 fibers go first. He cites that an 80-year old sedentary man will have lost half the Type 2 fibers he had at age 30. Power or explosive training helps defend and restore this loss.

A World War II vet not prone to babying himself or others, Prof. Yakovlev prescribed accelerations as the number one exercise choice for the elderly to stimulate both the plastic and the energetic processes (in other words, muscle building and aerobic). Beefing up one’s mitochondria and fast-twitch fibers with power training is a great prescription for turning back the clock.

Pavel also has charts describing the improvements the different forms of exercise have on different aspects of fitness. Power training does as well as Strength training on hypertrophy plus has the benefit of improving Aerobic Power almost as much as endurance training.

In other words, it is an efficient mode of exercise.

Respect the Rest

The big idea from the Q&D to me was how we need to allow sufficient time between sets to get the full benefit of the exercise and to minimize soreness. If we take a set too long or if we rush back into the next set, lactic acid becomes the “enemy”.

Acid is the enemy of both tension and relaxation, drawing one into the stiff no-man’s land in between. It muffles the brain’s commands to the muscles, inhibits all three energy systems, and interferes with contraction and relaxation – read: strength and speed – in many ways.

Pavel likes 3 minutes between sets of the same muscle group. That seems like a long time, but it makes sense. The book has a lot of supporting science and charts. I didn’t dive too deep into those pages. I figured I’d just test it out for myself. More on that later.

I also thought about how increased rest times would have the spillover effect of reducing injury rates, as we ideally would begin each set ready to give 100% without fatigue impacting our form.

Push-Ups and Kettlebell Swings

Like Pavel’s other books, the Q&D is focused on just 2 exercises. One push and one pull. To build explosive strength, power push-ups and kettlebell swings are used.

Cycle between the 2 exercises to make the most use of your time. Do 10 sets of 10 reps of each inside a 3-minute set.

  • Start your timer.
  • Do 10 explosive power pushups.
  • Then wait to the 1:30 mark to start 10 reps of kettlebell swings. You can do one arm or 2-handed. I’m doing the 2-handed.
  • Then wait to the 3-minute mark to begin the 2nd cycle.
  • Do 10 cycles.

The entire workout takes 30 minutes.

There is a lot of pages on how to know when to add bands to your push-up or increase the weight of the kettlebell. I skipped over most of that. I’ll use intuition. Get the book if diving into these details is important to you.

Train every other day or 3 times a week.

2 Weeks of Q&D

Pavel had a bunch of pages that were too deep into the details for my interest level. I figured I would just test it out for myself. The Q&D seemed like a solid plan.

I ease into everything, so for the first week, I increased the sets from 4 to 5 to 7. The first thing I discovered is I am not used to waiting around that long between sets. It seemed like an eternity at my glitter gym. The second thing I discovered was I did not get any soreness (DOMS), but I did get tired, so I felt like I both got a great workout and there was nothing holding me back to return to the gym in 48 hours.

For week 2, I wasn’t a good comrade. I increased my reps to 15 for both the push-up and the 2-handed kettlebell swing, while keeping each set at 3 minutes. This had the benefit of me not waiting around as much and I felt 5 sets was enough. For me, I felt like I got more out of the 15-rep sets than the 10. However, I felt a little soreness.

I’ll keep tinkering with the Q&D. I’ll experiment with 12-reps next. I like it so far. I don’t want to use push-up bands, but I suspect I’ll need them soon. Either that or a weighted vest. Off to eBay?

Pavel doesn’t like machines. I don’t know how much of that opinion is marketing and how much is real. I get how the guy that made kettlebells famous in the USA would want to dismiss machines. But, for our needs, I’m wondering if you could pair 2 machines (a push and a pull) and get the same benefit? Maybe even cables? For now, I’ll stick the push-up and kettlebell swing, but I’ll likely experiment with other pairs later.

Thoughts?

What are your thoughts on explosive training? For some of you, seeing me step away from slow lifting after almost 9 years might be a shock. But, I figured a change would be nice. My intention is to do the Q&D for 12 weeks, which is how many weeks Pavel uses in the book. I’ll report back then.

16 Comments

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  1. @MAS
    Interested to see your results.
    Art DeVany was always a proponent of using explosive movements. I haven’t seen anything from him in the last three years or so. Last I heard, he was working on an anti-aging book.

  2. Awesome podcast! Thank you!

  3. thanks for posting this – I’m intrigued! Based on what you read, would there be any reason not to cycle through 2 or 3 different push/pull exercises in a single workout provided they are done “explosively”?

  4. @norlee – I suppose you could if you were able to calibrate every exercise in the routine to find the right level of resistance that allowed 10 seconds of exertion without being too easy. You would also need to get from push to pull and back every 90 seconds. If you are in a shared gym, that might be a problem. With the pushup and KB, you just camp there until the workout is finished.

  5. Pavel’s anti-glycolytic training protocol attempts to minimize glycolysis since, he says, it releases acid, ammonia, and other metabolites that induce cellular damage and create other hormonal problems (such as increased cortisol). Slow lifting seems to *embrace* the glycolytic state. Any thoughts on the divergent philosophies of the two approaches?

    I’m also curious why you changed his 6 minute circuit to 3 (see the first figure in the “Summary: Swings and Pushups” chapter). My reading of the earlier chapters suggests that the sequential *pairing* of sets of 10 (so that, for example, you do 20 push-ups in about 70 seconds) is necessary to get enough ATP depletion in a small enough time window for a training effect. I wonder if that’s why you liked sets of 15 better–it’s edging closer to Pavel’s protocol.

    Anyway, I also just started this (I’m a lanky ectomorph, 6′ 2″). So far I’m finding it to be a very pleasant, low-stress workout. I look forward to your 12 week report.

  6. @Greg – Great comment.

    I want to do a full post on your first question. I’ll tackle that this weekend. When it is up, I’ll leave a comment on this thread.

    I returned the Q&D to the library, so I don’t have the book in front of me now, so I can’t tell you what page I was looking at. But there was a spot where Pavel mentioned doing the 2 exercises for 10 sets and completing the workout in a time-efficient 30 minutes. That is where I got the 3-minute protocol from.

    The 15-rep set was just me exploring. I went back to the 10-rep this week.

  7. @MAS — That’s right, 10 sets of 10 reps of two exercises, spread over 30 minutes. But the sets aren’t evenly spread out it time.

    His hypertrophy workout (which he calls “10/2”) consists of five circuits, where each circuit is 6 minutes long. Here’s the timing for each circuit (the first column is the starting time of a set in minutes:seconds):

    0:00 10 swings
    1:00 10 swings
    3:00 10 pushups
    4:00 10 pushups

    So every 6 minutes you’re launching a *pair* of sets for a given exercise, initiated one minute apart. This is much harder (at least it is for me) than uniformly launching a set every 3 minutes.

    My understanding of his set pairing is that it creates sufficient ATP depletion and glycolysis (you need some) in a short time window to efficiently stimulate the training response. His model suggests that spreading the sets out uniformly in time would be less effective for both hypertrophy and endurance.

  8. @Greg – Have you found a difference in soreness or recoverability by doing the split you just described?

    I use the stopwatch on my iPhone and begin each exercise within 10-15 seconds of when I should. I don’t get too exact.

    I’ll try the split you outlined tomorrow.

  9. @MAS — I haven’t had any problems with soreness or recovery at all. But I was doing metabolic circuits (pullups, pushups, step-ups) before this–they were much tougher since I did minimal rest between sets. The Q&D workout with all its rest intervals is pleasant in comparison.

  10. @All – The follow-up post to Greg’s question has been posted.
    http://criticalmas.org/2020/02/pavels-quick-dead-vs-hit/

  11. This is at best an interesting workout in and of itself. As much as I love Pavel, this is not a complete routine/program for most anyone. KB swings are not a pull of any kind. A swing is a hinge. There is no true upper body pull action at all (rowing or pull-up motion) and very minimal squat/lunge/quad stress. Simple and Sinister with just KB swings and TGUs was closer to a real minimalist routine although still severely lacking. For some people who are simply trying to maintain minimal mobility and functional strength, this could be useful periodically. Even then, it’s still not better than some basic upper body pushing (any press), pulling (row or pull-up), squat (any squat or lunge variation) and hinge (deadlift or swing). A quick routine that one could do forever would be 6-10 reps of an upper body push, 10 KB swings, 6-10 reps of an upper body pull, 10 KB swings, 6-10 reps of a squat/lunge, 10 KB swings, repeat. Rest 1-2 mins in between exercises. Easy. Couple this with regular walking and some occasional cardiovascular stress (I would prefer intervals to long, slow cardio most of the time) and you are pretty minimalist and cover your bases.

    Simple and sinister plus some strength work as I have outlined above is also a sustainable strength and power protocol. 10 swings, 1 TGU, one strength set, repeat 10x.

    10 swings and 10 push-ups is just too basic. I can’t believe there is a whole book about this.

  12. @ZAP – I’m on week 4 now and I already know you are correct. These 2 movements are not enough. I was going to wait to start swapping exercises, but I can already tell my legs and back are barely being worked.

  13. @ZAP and @MAS — I also concluded that swings + pushups weren’t enough. So I switched to a split while keeping his time and reps schedule: (pullups + pushups) on MWF, (step-ups + hyperextensions) on TuThSa.

    But this still seemed unbalanced (e.g. pushups too easy, pullups too hard when sets are 50 seconds apart). No “effective reps” with his fixed rep schedule.

    Yesterday I threw in the towel and went back to circuits: (pullups + kettlebell presses + hyperextensions) on MWF, (inverted rows + decline pushups + step-ups) on TuThSa. Six circuits only take about 15 minutes, followed by 30 minutes of jogging / sprinting. Pretty minimal and safe.

    @MAS, are you going to swap exercises?

  14. @Greg – Yes. Today, I experimented with explosive goblet squats in place of the KB Swings. It has potential. I have other ideas. I’ll post on them once I have them tested.

  15. interesting about the optimum rest time (3 mins), clearly if volume/load on the muscles rather than intensity and muscle damage are the goal, then somewhat long rests would presumably help achieve the maximum effort/accumulated load on the muscles

  16. Pavel put a ton of time and effort in designing this program, I was one of his test subjects for it several years back, and the reps/sets are set that way for a reason. By changing them up you’ve effectively thrown the entire basis of the program out the window. Simple & Sinister was the same idea, if you can do more than 10 explosive reps with the weight you have, get a heavier bell(or do a harder version). I’d suggest following the program as written for several weeks before reviewing it. One of my trainers used this to pass two of her StrongFirst certifications, one having a one arm push-up as a strength test.

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