Taming the Beast

Taming the Beast
By Shaun Cairns, Master SFG, OBT (Original Beast Tamer)

This program was designed and implemented by myself when I prepared for the very first official beast tamer challenge which was held at the October 2005 RKC in St Paul.

The Beast Tamer Challenge

This challenge consists of 3 lifts; one arm military press, pistol, and tactical pullup all done with a 48kg kettlebell to strict rules of performance.

I had to overcome 3 challenges:
I had never done a single pistol let alone one with a 48kg kettlebell in hand,

The heaviest kettlebell I had was a 32kg bell, and
There was only 4 weeks until I left for the USA

No problem.  I was confident these challenges could be overcome and on the 30th September 2005 I became the first person to achieve the Beast Tamer Challenge at a bodyweight of 116kg (see http://www.strongfirst.com/achieve/beast-tamer/ for a full list of Beast Tamers at StrongFirst).

In order to overcome the challenges above the following program was designed to ensure success.  Note that this program was designed not as a way of building base strength but instead to focus one’s strength for a particular competition.

The program is 4 weeks in duration and covers the following training concepts:

  • High frequency, high intensity, low volume work as described in Power to the People to build low gear strength
  • Grease the groove work for building the correct neural pathways
  • Drop sets to extend the workload with correct form

The movements that will be trained are:

  • Barbell side press – to develop shoulder strength
  • Kettlebell clean & press – to develop correct pressing technique
  • Deadlift – to develop low gear power in your hips
  • Progressive pistol – to slowly build strength through full range of movement
  • Weighted pullup – grease the groove

It is a 5 day a week program, training Monday to Friday.  Not difficult to remember as it is the same program for each of the 5 training days in the week.  And each week is the same as the previous week.  The only change day-to-day and week-to-week is poundage.

Morning Power Program

1 x 5 Barbell side press
3 minute rest
1 x 5 Barbell side press with 80% of the first sets weight
3 minute rest
1 x 5 Deadlift
3 minute rest
1 x 5 Deadlift with 80% of the first sets weight


GtG Program (repeated minimum of 5 times throughout the day)

1 x 5 Kettlebell clean & press on each hand
1 x 5 Partial pistol on each leg
1 x 3 Weighted pullup in drop set style

Notes on form:

  • The morning Power program is performed as described in Pavel’s Power to the People.
  • The kettlebell clean & press is performed with a relatively light weight, i.e. 24 or 32 kg kettlebell.  Each clean is performed as a loaded clean and the tension created by the loaded clean is maintained throughout the press.  It is critical that tension in the butt and legs is maintained as this will prevent your hip from shifting out past the line of your shoulder which would disqualify you from a strict clean & press.  Once cleaned do not hang around as the tension will dissipate and your press will be compromised.  Exhale forcefully at the top of the press.
  •  Perform the partial pistol with an adjustable height bench or similar apparatus (I found the smith machine to be an excellent piece of equipment for this move as the bar is stable and can be adjusted incrementally – probably the only safe move to be done on a smith machine!).  Use a 32kg kettlebell.  Position yourself with your back to your bench; stand on one leg holding the kettlebell in front and lower your butt to the bench.  Do not sit on the bench as this releases all the tension and will make coming up extremely difficult; just touch the bench lightly and return to the starting position.
  • Weighted pull-ups are performed with 2 x 16kg kettlebells hooked onto your toes.  The first rep is done with both kettlebells; at the bottom of the first pull-up drop one kettlebell and perform the second rep with just one kettlebell; at the bottom of the second rep drop the other kettlebell and perform the third rep without any weight.

Week 1:

  • For side press and deadlift start your top set with about 50% of your 5 rep max adding a small amount of weight every day
  • Start the partial pistol with a very high bench
  • Train Monday to Friday and rest on Saturday and Sunday

Week 2 and 3:

  • Continue adding weight on the side press and deadlift
  • Lower the height of the bench for the partial pistol
  • Train Monday to Friday and rest on Saturday and Sunday

Week 4:

  • You should be starting the week at your first weeks 5 rep max and finishing the week around 10% more than your first weeks 5 rep max
  • This week you should be doing full pistols

Give yourself a few days and test yourself.