- WORK HARD. If you are not prepared to work harder than you have ever worked before, leave. Kettlebells are not for everyone--nor should they be. If you are willing to work very hard for months and months, welcome to Russian Kettlebells. If you just want to work a little, you can still improve at a personal level, but forget about becoming a RKC. They have a 30% failure rate. Why? Some people don't like working that hard. Oh well...
- Keep an open mind. Be prepared to check your ego at the door along with what you "thought" you knew about strength and power conditioning. This was humbling for me but probably the best thing that happened to my career. I became a student again. The world of the RKC is mind blowing--in a good way. You'll end up coming back into your current knowledge base a bit down the road, but at first, just listen with an open mind and realize you don't know everything. Mandatory! Buy Pavel's "Enter the Kettlebell" book and DVD. Go over and over them. Your discipline to these details will be rewarded with performance, but remember, this is only scratching the surface because ideally you'll have a real instructor to help you personally. Again, it was a humbling experience for me at first then I finally got used to being "schooled" on a consistent basis. No regrets. I'm glad to get the help...and needed it!
- Get help. You can't really learn how to properly use a kettlebell just by watching a DVD or looking at books or the endless BS on YouTube. Seek out a RKC instructor. If there is not one in your area, find one close enough to drive to. If it's too far to drive, save some money and go by plane, but get there! Ideally, find a RKC that has a special "Introduction Workshop" just for beginners. This is how I first learned. Everyone there was new like me. The group was small--about 6-8 people. We were all newbies and learning together. It was a lot less intimidating this way and easier to grasp...if you can call KBs "easy"...probably quite a stretch with that tag Comrades! Even if you just got one session this could be really helpful. :o)
- Stick with the RKC system. There are lots of people doing KBs, but the RKC rules in terms of safety and effectiveness. No matter how many stupid pet tricks you see on YouTube, stick with the RKC system. You'll improve without needless injury this way.
- Stick to the basics. I get a lot of people asking me which exercises I did and what they should do. I stuck with the basics: deadlift, swing, clean, press, Turkish Get Up, high pull, and snatch. My main exercises are the swing and snatch. I also did a whole lot of TGUs, CP, and enough deadlifts to grease the groove. I did some high pulls at the beginning to condition my shoulders for the explosiveness of the snatches, but after I got my shoulders tuned up, I stopped doing the high pulls for the most part. I've done thousands of swings! I can't emphasise the swings enough. If you get your swings as close to perfect as possible, then everything else will come with more efficiency. When I see someone not snatching correctly or jacking up the safety, I can trace it directly back to poor swing mechanics. Something is not right with the spine, hips, knees, or foot/ankle which ends up jacking up the snatch. Yes you have to prepare for your snatch test at the RKC, but you can nail the snatch test if you have a rock solid swing as your base.
- Take care of your HANDS! I didn't listen to those that knew better when I started. That was stupid. I learned the hard way to take care of my hands. I really got into the whole hand thing with KBs. I think I have the best hand care section on the web for kettlebells. Interested? Check out my Kettlebell Hand Care Tools & Tips Section.
Here are a few specifics on kettlebell exercises that really helped me improve VERY fast. Enjoy!
- Minute Sets of Two-Arm Swings: I love this protocol. I'll rip 20 two-arm swings at the top of each minute, rest, then repeat. It takes me about 27 seconds to get 20 reps with the 24kg. I started this with just ten minutes and now can go over 40 minutes straight. Lots of volume with short rest to keep your safety and form crisp--like a punch!
- Minute Sets of Snatches: Like the above but only 5+5 then rest, repeat. I do these now with the 24kg. Lots of volume with good rest. This format saves your hands and helps to manage fatigue. This will get you fit fast. I can go for 30 minutes now--that's 300 snatches. Not a bad day.
- SSST: This is a good reality check once in a while. It becomes a good motivator for your day-to-day training. I got really pumped about seeing myself go from basically one horrible 24kg snatch in May 2008 to 130 in 7:54 by New Years Day 2009. Amazing. I'll also use the 16kg and go the full ten minutes sometimes getting 200 reps. I haven't made it past 7:54 with the 24kg yet, but I will. My fitness is there now, just need to get the hands more and more prepared I think.
- 3:00 straight of 24kg Swings: This was one of Dr. Mark Cheng's recommendations to me. The first time I went past one minute without stopping, I thought I would barf. Then 2:00! OMG! Then next thing I knew I was at 3:00 and feeling strong as hell. These made a huge difference. They are like the SSST--a real gut check. There is NO WHERE to hide with 3:00 straight of swings or a SSST. You have it or you don't. Get over it. Then hit it again. Power to you!
- MV02 Protocol: The "V02 Max Protocol" is to me the ultimate "workout" with the kettlebell. I use the 15:15 protocol. Here are the basics--get 7-9 snatches in 15 seconds with the same arm, rest 15 seconds, then do it again with the other arm. Go a bit lighter because this workout is about SPEED. I can snatch the 24kg but use the 16kg so I can go faster. Start with 5:00 or so then work up. I can go 40:00 now. Lots of volume, super cardio workout, lots of mental toughness and discipline, but if you've got what it takes to work your butt off, the MV02 will provide!
- Clean, Press, TGU: I've done plenty of cleans, presses, and Turkish Get Ups too, but my "fitness" with the kettlebell came from the above. I've tried different approaches to the CP, but this is still my weak area. I don't really like them. I'm pretty clean with the TGUs too, but they are not my favorite even though all the RKCs rave about how great they are for you. I don't doubt that, but I like the swings and snatches more. Must be the speed for me...love to throw down man! Spend some time in the trenches with the TGUs though...consider them a "whole body" tune up of sorts.
In summary, these are my training tips for y'all. Again, I can emphasize enough finding a qualified RKC to mentor under. My main RKC mentors have been Delaine Ross, David Whitley, Mark Cheng, John Spezzano, and Anton Summers plus the clan at KBLA-Kettlebells Los Angeles. Despite my work ethic and passion for training, without them, I would not be ready at the same level I am today one week out from my RKC certification course.
After two decades of fitness and racing, I can say that the kettlebells rule as the ultimate training tool for strength and power. They have changed my body and given me back youth few teenagers have today, but more importantly, they have changed my spirit and brought back passion I thought was fading as I approached 50 years of age. I feel like a kid again...like Dr. Cheng told me last August while eating sushi, "You're just getting started! It will only get better!" Thanks Doc because you were correct!
Need more details? Check out my Kettlebells Section for all my handouts and important links that I found help along my journey.
Power to you Comrades! Train HARD as in HAAAARD Style, and of course...Enjoy the Pain! --Coach RJ