June 2007 RKC kettlebell certification

This article has been transferred from my old blog in June 2007, where I wrote this right after I got home from the event.

Team leaders: Kenneth Jay (Denmark); Brett Jones (Pittsburgh); Mark Reifkind (northern California); Chris Holder (San Jose); and Franz Snideman (La Jolla)

Franz was my team leader, a young, professional, and unassuming guy whose wife is also an RKC and assisted on another team (though invited to be a team leader). Each team leader had assistants. On my team they were Spencer Bradford, who was young and serious, and Greg Nichols, who was from Grand Marais, Minnesota, about my age, and very helpful.

There were at least six other CrossFitters at the event: Chris Netley (Crossfit Inland Empire), Bill Henniger (Rogue Fitness/Crossfit Columbus), Troy Taylor (also Rogue Fitness), Chris Brown (Crossfit Fort Collins–he was one of the assistant RKCs on another team), Michael Latch (Valley Crossfit), and Eric Cimrhanzel (I believe from Texas).

So, here’s what we did. This is from notes I wrote from memory the night the event ended. I know I’m leaving out some things, and some remedial drills and their purposes are probably missing. For that, the team leaders would probably have me do at least twenty squat-thrusts.

Snatch test, for my weight class and gender 26 reps with 16 kilos; I passed. People were nervous about the snatch test but I had a feeling it was the least we had to worry about–who knew what else was in store for us?

Progression drills for the kettlebell swing. The first thing to teach is the kettlebell deadlift, to find out how well they can squat and lift. It makes sense to start teaching how to protect the back when lifting or moving with any kind of load. The following three techniques are important to know:

  • Bracing (harden the abs as if for a punch);
  • A slow, restrained exhalation like a hiss, with hardened abs, without letting all the air out;
  • And the Valsalva maneuver.

Instruction on the kettlebell swing:
Tailbone is high when the bell swings back; it’s not a squat. Hike the bell back and then project energy forward (not up and down). Extend hips forcefully and completely. Shorten the abs suddenly at top of swing (chest or shoulder level) and slam feet onto ground. Knees and hips lock crisply and obviously.

Next, troubleshooting/correction of fellow students’ swings.

Starting at midday on Friday we were told to carry a kettlebell everywhere we went–bathroom, lunch, etc. Ouch! They referred to this as “bonding.”

Workout: “Kettlebell weight ladders” led by Chris Holder.

Instruction on the Get-Up:
Partner taps on the traps to remind you to keep the “up” shoulder sucked down in its socket. (But contrarily I believe in shrugging it up whenever anything is overhead.) The transitions are the hard parts. Take time to get the legs and the “down” arm organized and stable for the transitions.

Instruction: Get-up progressions and remedial drills. Progression: learn to get-up to your down elbow, then to the half-kneel, then to standing. I wondered why the get-up is taught before the press and here’s the reasoning Franz gave me:

  1. It teaches the person right away how to get the entire body involved, including shoulder stability and how to keep the shoulder in the socket, which they need to know before doing the press.
  2. Starting from the ground in almost a bench press position allows the person to naturally progress into the top position of a standing military press.
  3. Teaching the get-up with new people can tell you a lot about how they learn, any structural limitations they may have, and mobility issues that need to be addressed.

Troubleshooting/correction of fellow students’ get-ups.
Keep safety in mind when lifting the bell from the ground onto your body before pressing it, and when passing it from one side to the other.

Workout: “Abbreviated RKC program minimum” led by Jon Engum: swings and get-ups.

Instruction: the clean:
Think as if cleaning to waist. Elbows in tight, forearms vertical, hike bell back with tailbone high between cleans.
Lecture: Program Design and Simplicity in Training (Brett Jones): the swing can be a good workout drill for any sport. He gave a lot of examples and made the case clearly.
Workout: 100 swings led by Brett Jones. I had to have my hands taped for the first time and I can’t remember whether I swung the 16 or 20 kilos.

Keep the shoulder down and in socket (again I say, no, shrug and use the delts to stabilize); use lats to support the press from underneath. Partner taps on the traps to remind to keep shoulder down as in the get-up. Think of power going down through the shoulder AND up through the forearm. Visualize the press as having the bell supported by the forearm, not the hand. Get the chest out at the top so weight is balanced.

Gymnastic tension drills taught by Mark Reifkind: various “bridge” positions are used with a partner. These test the body’s ability to tense enough to hold position when partial support is removed. I did well at this thanks to CrossFit.

Instruction: the snatch.
Pull it up with the highpull technique; use the “fast hand” to punch/flip the wrist and arm under the bell as it approaches overhead. Lock out. Keep the shoulder in the socket (no! Shrug it up at the top, whenever anything’s overhead). To come down, break first at hips, then fast hand to flip bell down, swing back like at the bottom of the basic swing. Keep tailbone up and hike back between snatches.

Workout: the snatch with three weights, led by Kenneth Jay. “Fifteen seconds heavy, 15 seconds medium, 15 seconds light” and he didn’t say how many times we would go through it. My three kettlebells were 20 kilos, 16, and 12. I had never snatched 20 kilos before, so I practiced for a few tries with my team leader to make sure I could do it before the workout started. No problem now that I had learned such good technique. My hands had to be retaped in the middle so I missed 30 seconds. I think we went five rounds but I’m not sure.

Instruction: Front squat.
There were some people with good front squats and some that need a lot of work because of cantilevering forward and/or rounding the back. I’ve practiced this a lot thanks to CrossFit so I didn’t need much correction on this one.

Remedial drills for the front squat: Use the “wall squat” if trainee can’t squat without leaning forward. Having the toes a few inches from a wall helps people keep their back upright. I have a feeling some people with this problem also need to build back strength in addition to practicing the skill. There are other remedial drills for the squat, lots of them, and I need to look at the manual to refresh my memory. (Insert 20 squat-thrusts for punishment here!)

Workout: “RKC Basics,” led by Franz Snideman: clean, press, squat complex; then get-ups. He used the ladder format–do one rep of each, then it’s the partner’s turn; do two reps of each, switch partners, do three reps of each, switch partners; etc. and I don’t remember how many we did. He went really fast, and my partner Diane and I fell behind early. I used the 12-kilo bells.

Whew! Dinner time. One more day to go.

Review of all drills, practice with your team.

Technique testing of:

  • Swing two KBs (this drill hadn’t been taught) for 10 reps;
  • Get-ups, 2 reps per side;
  • Clean and press 5 per side (?);
  • Snatch 5 per side;
  • Front squat 2 KBs 3 reps.

Pavel (creator of the RKC and chief instructor) stopped by while I was waiting in line and said, “It looks like you might make Dave proud.” Yay! (I had told him at lunch that I work for Dave and that he said hello.) I found Pavel to be gracious and professional although a demanding taskmaster–no surprise there.

Technique competition: Team leaders/assistants select a team member to compete. Our team leader selected a guy named Mike, from Reno, to represent our team in the competition.

Technique competition and evaluation by all the instructors. I believe our teammate Mike came in second but I’m not sure I remember correctly.

Lunch. While we were eating, we started to see the volunteers coming into the community center gym and filling out waivers, and we were all very nervous about having to be evaluated while training them. Some people, including myself, were concerned there would not be as many volunteers as there were of us, and we didn’t want to “share” a client with other students because it would be hard for everyone to get a word in edgewise. I decided there was nothing I could do about it except talk with my fellow trainer(s) in advance about how to avoid talking over each other.

As it turned out, there were more volunteers than trainers, and I had two clients. Neither of them had used kettlebells before. I taught them the deadlift, the basic two-handed swing, the one-handed swing with hand-switching at the top, and the get-up. I was happy with how this all went and happy at being able to calmly focus and not get flustered. My two clients were a young man and an older woman. Neither had used KBs before, but they both had decent flexibility and got the hang of what I was trying to get them to do very easily. Before we knew it the hour was up and we were to carry all kettlebells into the gym. Nothing was to be left on the field.

“NOTHING! The field is to be COMPLETELY CLEAR!” screamed Kenneth Jay, the excellent senior RKC who was to lead the “Grad Workout.” He was young, tall, blond, Danish, and goodlooking, and his instruction was bracing and entertaining because he screamed like a drill sergeant with that cute European accent. This was effective for keeping us moving and getting us organized, but it was also thrilling because you felt like you were in the Special Forces on a strange planet, far, far away.

The Grad Workout was:
30 seconds basic two-hand swing,
30 seconds clean, step, press, step, press, step, press, etc., bells down and then switch to swings, etc. and repeat until everyone crosses the finish line at the opposite side of the sports field.

I thought in CrossFit terms: “thirty seconds of this, thirty seconds of that (like CrossFit); women are to use 12 kilos (which is light for me), it can’t be more than 10 rounds until we get to the end (like CrossFit), so no biggie.”

Kenneth Jay led us (with his back to us) and did the drills himself as well, so he had to scream especially loud. “DOWN BELL!” “SWING!” “DOWN BELL!” “CLEAN! PRESS! STEP! PRESS!” … “IF YOU’RE FINISHED AND WAITING, GET BACK OUT HERE! WE WILL ALL FINISH TOGETHER!” I don’t know where he gets the energy to work out and scream. It was awesome, though the sun was hot. Many of the volunteers were sitting in the shade watching us. I seemed to have the shortest legs and therefore brought up the rear. My male trainee had stuck around to watch and came over to congratulate me at the end. Very nice of him!

Every nice thing anyone said or did meant a lot to me, and there were plenty of supportive and encouraging things. This helped me with the emotional (or “mental toughness”) side of the whole long weekend.

Finally, the team leaders gathered us up and told us we passed. Franz said this is his first time (out of five) that all of his trainees passed, so he seemed especially happy, as were we all. I was a little bit giddy at having gotten through it all–the planning, the travel, the 30-mile commute from my friend’s house each day to arrive on time, taking care of my callused and blistered hands, dealing with the physical and social demands, and being able to focus on the reason I was there instead of getting caught up in my own hang-ups–I’m proud of myself. Most of those aspects probably are no big deal for a lot of the people who were there, but for me to be able to enjoy something like this is a big change from even three years ago.

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