My “Big Three” Takeaways from the RKC Certification Course

Last weekend (February 19th – 21st) marked a pretty amazing weekend for myself and about 17 other very lucky individuals in San Jose, CA.  It marked a weekend where some of the top minds in strength and conditioning all came together to get better.  To get better personally, professionally and physically.  It was a meeting of the minds at the Dragon Door Russian Kettlebell Certification (RKC) course.

12743720_10153237378451364_2994669176557776592_n(Photo Courtesy of John Du Cane)

This was a 3-day very intensive hands on and lecture course where each soon to be freshly minted RKC instructor was lucky enough to brush elbows with some of the best minds in the business – Dan John, Dr. Chris Holder, John Du Cane, Chris White, Robin Sinclair, and Seth Munsey.  This list of instructors gave me goosebumps when I first heard about the opportunity to attend my first RKC Dragon Door event.  A little history of how a few of these instructors are very prominent in my past and current endeavors.  Dr. Chris Holder was my Strength and Conditioning Coach at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo from 2000-2003 (I hope I didn’t give away my age) when I spent my time in the weight room training for Track and Field in college.  Dr. Holder had a huge influence on me continuing my athletic success post college as well as getting back into the field of personal training and owning my own personal training studio.  Needless to say, Dr. Holder is doing amazing things still down at Cal Poly in what is his second tenure there and he is one of the kindest men you will ever meet.

Dan John is the reason I attended this certification.  About 10 months ago, I was seeking out a mentor and coach in my field to help me to grow and continually improve in the fitness industry.  I realized I wasn’t even practicing what I was preaching – to have a coach myself – and now I have been lucky enough to be accepted in the intentional community he has created at his home gym and to be able to work with him on an ongoing weekly basis.  This has provided me so much “learn by doing” coaching feedback, it is like having the encyclopedia of fitness right there by your side at each training session.

John Du Cane is the founder of Dragon Door and we were lucky enough to have him around for the weekend as well.  He was in charge of putting the RKC event on as well as all the great photography.   He also reminded  all of us how truly lucky we were to have all these great minds together under the same roof!

Seth Munsey and I go way back to about 2007.  I joke with Seth that every time we are at a continuing education event we will always see each other!  Seth is one that definitely practices what he preaches and it shows with his coaching and teaching.  I am striving to be as well versed as Seth in my training business and coaching as he is, and he is a true professional in every way.

As for Chris White and Robin Sinclair, it was my first time meeting both of them.  They both have years of “in the trenches” training knowledge with an array of clients from athletes to stay-at-home moms and that is what made their input so invaluable.

So, back to the weekend.  I really wanted to summarize the RKC course and give my top 3 takeaways from a weekend that was packed with dozens upon dozens of gems.  So, here it goes!

1.  Relaxation/Tension Relationship With the 5 (or 6) Fundamental Human Movements

When thinking of what exercise and athletics really boils down to, it is so much based on having the correct relaxation/tension relationship.  How relaxed you are will also trigger your arousal as well as your corresponding heart rate.  Dan John continued to say over the weekend that you need to be a 4 to be a great discus thrower (on a 1-10 scale of arousal, a four means you can still smile while you are making your turns in the ring).  I realized that a big detriment to my athletic career is that I would walk around a 7 when I should have been a 4.  Now, how can you train this relaxation/tension relationship?  In the world of kettlebells it is easy:

Relaxation = ballistic exercises – Swing, Clean, Snatch
Tension = strength/grinding exercises – Squat, Press, Turkish Get Up

Having a problem relaxing?  Work on effortless swings with a lighter kettlebell, and make them look and feel as effortless as you move up in load.  Then, when you get really good at the heavier lower rep swings, go back to the lighter bell and the pattern and effort should look exactly the same according to Chris White.  Work on breathing and keeping your heart rate in a place where you can perform some of these exercises for higher rep ranges without a problem.  It is recommended that the Swing can be programmed for anywhere from 75-250 reps each workout without detriment.

Lacking some good overall strength qualities?  The squat, press and get-up family is what you need!  Start with a single kettlebell and learn to goblet squat.  From there, if you can get your bicep next to your ear, start pushing that kettlebell overhead.  Now, the get-up is a series of several very technical moves and I would suggest finding a professional to help you with this, but you can start with something as easy (or hard) as balancing a shoe on your fist!  Try it and you will see what I am talking about.  It forces you to “own” each position of the get-up without killing yourself with load.

Here is the other thing that Dan brought up in his lecture on program design – there are only 5 basic human movements you can train, so there is really no need to get too fancy!  Oh…and then there is that 6th movement that we tend to miss out on that is a goldmine for all of our clients.  Each one of these movements correlates to the tension/relaxationship relationship shown above as well as one other important note.  All of these movements can be placed in 3 separate categories, either one of an athlete building “thrive” movements, hypertrophy “sex drive” movements, or having integrity with the horizontal environment, the “survive” movements.   So we will label each movement as one of the above and go into a little on why each movement is so important.

1.  Push – Hypertrophy “Sex Drive”

These include Waiters Walk, plank and all their variations, push up, pressing, etc.


(Photo Courtesy of John Du Cane)

2.  Pull – Hypertrophy “Sex Drive”

These include double Kettlebell Front Squats (I know, a squat that counts as a pull – tell me your lats are not being used to keep the bells at your chest), pull up variations, etc.

3.  Hinge – Athlete building “Thrive”

These include Dead lift, KB swing, Clean, Snatch, Standing Long Jump, etc.  Think maximal hip bend, minimal knee bend.

4.  Squat – Hypertrophy “Sex Drive”

These include Goblet Squats, Front Squats, and any type of single leg (pistol) variation.  Think maximal hip bend, maximal knee bend.  Try a bottoms up version of the kettle bell front squat (below), and you will be surprised how much total body stability it takes to find the bottom of your squat.  Some athletes and coaches will just use this one move as an “assessment” and compare it to whatever their baseline is with the movement.

IMG_8831(Photo Courtesy of John Du Cane)

5.  Loaded Carry’s – Athlete building “Thrive”

These include any kind of carry’s – suitcase, waiters walk, bear hug walks, etc.  This is one that will build an elite athlete and iron out imbalances like no other category of exercise.   Loaded carry’s are also very self limiting (just grab and start walking, and set down when you feel like you are going to lose your grip!)

6.  All other movements – “Survive” movements

Mainly crawling and getting down and up off the floor (think of our aging clientele that sees the floor but never wants to touch it with their hands or knees!) These “survive” movements are the defense we have against this well underserved population from slipping and falling.  Being able to have integrity with the horizontal environment is integral here.  Forms of crawling, get-ups, get-downs, rolling etc. work amazingly well.

So, to make it very simple, in order to keep muscle mass and maintain our libido, continue to do all of the “Sex Drive” movements.  Maybe if we did this we would rely less on the drug companies and the libido boosting medications people are taking these days and more on our own bodies being able to produce the necessary “drugs.”  These include movements 1, 2 and 4.  The rep ranges that seem to work very well for these movements are 20-30 in a workout session per category.

Movements 3 and 5 are our athlete building “thrive” movements.  These really work the engine of the body – the posterior chain (butt!) and all aspects of the core.  These rep ranges can be a little higher 75-250 for some of our hinging movements (KB Swings) and carry something until you can’t anymore and set it down – it’s that easy!

Movement 6 we need to do more and more as we age, “survive.”  My 67 year old father joined me over the weekend and when I told him I wanted to show him this great exercise and to get down on the floor, he looked at me in disbelief!  “What?  That, down there?” he said.  Dan reminded us that the #1 riskiest thing people do over the age of 60 is get in and out of the shower.  The mortality rate of this one activity has been shown to be higher than even cancer!  If we can increase the confidence of the aging population to get up and down from the floor we are really making progress!  Doing something as simple as teaching them how to get up and down off the floor around five times on each side of the body would be a really good workout.

Below you will see a great drill of myself and fellow RKC Ashley Palmer performing a Turkish Get Up while balancing a shoe on your fist.  This forces you to own each position of the movement while having the requisite stability and mobility to not drop the shoe!

IMG_8825(Photo Courtesy of John Du Cane)

2.  Being Able to “Grease the Groove” with Pull-Ups and Presses

Have you never been able to do one single pull up, but would really love to learn where to start?  Dan John recommends a little different approach than most would take.  First, how long can you just hang from a bar – or a dead hang hold?  If it isn’t at least 30 seconds, then you need to start hanging and increasing that neurological demand on your grip and brachiating (think of those monkey bars that you swung from when you were 10 years old with ease!)  Once you can hang for 30 seconds, try a minute.  Now, hold yourself at the top of a pull up for 10 seconds with your chin up over the bar.  If you can do that, try for 30 seconds.  Congratulations, you have just performed the two most important aspects of a pull up! Do these two drills a few times a week, then put it all together and that small middle portion of the pull up tends to catch up without too much trouble at all!

As for presses, think the same concept here.  Can you place your bicep on your ear?  Congratulations, you have performed a top of a press!  Now, do that with a kettlebell over your head and go for a walk.  This waiter walk position and walking makes for a great core and shoulder stability drill and will prepare your upper body for the rigors of placing heavy stuff overhead without bad things happening.  Now, take that kettlebell and place your thumb on your sternum and with a nice vertical forearm go for a walk!  These rack walks are no fun for our bodybuilder friends (years of bench pressing) since it forces you to use all of your postural muscles of your upper back and lats to hold that kettlebell in the “rack” position.  Now that you have mastered the top and bottom of the press, go ahead and do that middle part – with a light enough weight to start that you can “grease the groove” and make sure you hit those top and bottom positions with ease!  The middle portion of the press will usually take care of itself, just so long as you have the stability and strength at the top and bottom of the movement.

I know this sounds too simple, but truly give it a try.  You will be amazed!

3.  Don’t Put Off the Essentials

There were a lot of eye openers of things I need to start adding and addressing in our gym.  For the most part, they are those essential things that we as humans will usually put off for a rainy day, or things that just aren’t as “sexy” to talk about.  But these are usually the top things that need to be addressed early on with new members upon their first couple visits.  What is funny is a lot of these things came in groups of four.

The first four numbers Dan John suggests you give to a brand new client:

  1. Eye Doctor – This should be an annual check up. Eye Doctors can actually see your veins and arteries as well as blood vessels and can usually spot a problem if there is one.
  2. Dentist – this should be a twice a year check up. Every 6 months, make sure you are getting your teeth cleaned and x-rays.  Also, it’s a good habit to listen to your dentist and floss – twice a day works nice here.
  3. Medical Doctor – Make sure you schedule an annual physical. You never know what your body may be hiding from you until you go and rule things out.
  4. Veterinarian – We have plenty of clients who are dog and cat lovers, we should provide a veterinarian that we know and trust.

Four things to continually work on as a business owner:

  1. Be a professional – All the time!  Even when your client may not be watching you. This came up time and time again over the weekend.  If you perform 99 perfect snatches during the snatch test, and then rep #100 you let the kettlebell slam to the floor – well…congratulations, you just failed the snatch test.  Picking up these heavy (or light) implements and setting them down LIKE A PROFESSIONAL really hit home for me.  Every time we go to address a kettlebell and pick it up, be a professional.  Your client is watching you and will be mirroring you on everything you do.
  2. Be Pro-Active – Usually waiting until it is too late for anything, is a very bad tactic. If you see someone performing a movement with bad form it is your duty to be pro-active and help them.  If you see a situation at the gym where anything looks to be a concern, bring it up right away.  Being pro-active will lessen headaches in the long run.
  3. Be Appropriate – This can range from the program you design for a client all the way to what you post on your social media outlets. Realize that everything you do will come back to only you.  And it is your fault if you were innapropriate.
  4. Be Safe – Now I know this one sounds easy, but a lot of people are not thinking of their own safety or the safety of others around them. This gets pretty important when you are swinging heavy kettlebells over your head.  My experience last weekend with this was simple.  I came into the week with an injury.  I had actually sneezed and severely injured my neck 4 days prior so I let the instructors know that I may not be able to complete the snatch test.  When asked the day before by another participant if I was able to do the test, I was trying to make a good reply to the question like, “I may or may not, but I should know by tomorrow.”  Dan John told me “I will fail you if you attempt to complete the snatch test.”  He knew just as well as I did that I was injured and safety was the primary concern.  Having that extra layer of support with safety in mind is a huge deal and kept me from risking re-injuring my neck.

Finally, when asking for a client to change, there are four levels of resistance we should truly understand:

  1. Start > Easy – Usually saying you are going to “start” to eat vegetables or “start” a new exercise routine, there is very little resistance.
  2. Increase > Harder – If we want to try to “increase” vegetable intake, this starts to become harder with compliance. It is also harder to “increase” the load on an exercise for the first little bit.
  3. Decrease > Really Hard – Asking someone alternatively to “decrease” their refined carbohydrate intake, or to “decrease” something they are currently doing in excess becomes really hard to overcome.
  4. Stop > Nearly Impossible – Our paleo friends have a lot right with nutrition, but what becomes nearly impossible is to tell a client to “stop” eating diary all together or to “stop” drinking alcohol cold turkey.  Usually this habit won’t last very long since it isn’t in the client’s locus of control as much as just being able to “start” to have a little less diary.

Now I could go on and on about so many more aspects of the weekend, and I actually plan to write a follow up article on the top cues and drills for the 6 movements tested in the RKC – The Turkish get up, Double Kettlebell Front Squat, Clean, Snatch, Swing, and Overhead Press.  This weekend was also a reminder to continue to do at least one continuing education certification/seminar a year to sharpen my saw as a professional.  Doctors have conferences they attend at least once a year, Lawyers do the same.  Let’s start to think of our profession in the same way as these professionals and we can really go a long way to changing the way fitness is being utilized all over the world!