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0800-Somewhere outside Sneads Ferry, North Carolina

July 14, 2011 09:00 AM

Thirty-six athletes stand on a field waiting for their RKC Certification to begin. Next to the field, there’s a gym, filled with lifting platforms, bumper plates, Oly bars, all the normal trappings of a well-appointed training facility.
The RKC Team Leaders and their assistants greet each athlete by their first name, not out of familiarity, but simply because no one here shares their last name. Each of these athletes has gone through rigorous selection to make the team, followed by training costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. They’re eager to see how the RKC can improve their performance on this field, and on fields yet to be seen.
No, this facility isn’t on a college campus, nor is it owned by a professional sports franchise; this is a secured section of a United States military base, and the athletes aren’t football or soccer players; they’re elite members of the United States military’s Special Forces.
When America or its allies dial 9-1-1, these are the men who answer the phone.
Same, but different
All of us in the RKC know that many of our techniques and teaching methods have their origin in the military. The danger in creating a program to aid and support the efforts of America’s finest warriors is not in making it too hard, but in making it too familiar. Thinking that creating exercises that replicate the movements or tactics of a military operator is a worthy goal has gotten many a civilian contractor in to serious trouble with the students showing up to "school". Publicity photos that feature a fitness instructor holding an E-Z Curl bar with a five-pound weight at one end as if it’s a rifle is more likely to elicit laughter from a operator than attention. In a word, you aren’t going to win the I’m-As-Tough-As-You-Guys contest. The good news is you don’t have to.
The RKC School of Strength provides each of its RKC-certified instructors with a toolbox filled to the brim with corrective drills, exercises and program design that have application in any athletic discipline, even in one where a missed play can mean being carried from the field permanently. Having faith in the value of the RKC system, being confident in its value to an athlete, regardless of his sport, has allowed the RKC carve out a niche in working with US Spec Ops.
Unless your initials are D-a-v-e W-h-i-t-l-e-y, the Turkish Get Up may not be your favorite kettlebell exercise. Too bad. Learning how to move from a supine position to a standing position under a load may come in handy when the concussion of an IED or a rocket-propelled grenade sends you back ten feet, flat on your back…with sixty pounds of kit strapped to your body…accompanied by the approach of several armed men (and a few women) who mean to deal you serious harm. Having taught at several military RKCs, we’ve never had to draw anyone a picture of how valuable learning, no make that mastering, the TGU is.
SWAT entry teams may need to withdraw from a position, taking a knee as they move back in to a position of safety. Imagine the descent of the TGU, from the standing position to the kneel; controlling that descent could be the difference between a damaged knee and an ND (look that up) or a safe retreat and recovery.
The new CFT (Combat Fitness Test) adopted by the Marine Corps features a ten-yard buddy drag, followed by a sixty-five yard buddy carry, all while maneuvering through obstacles. Will learning a swing help? Imagine how you learned a swing, first with proper deadlift form. If we can teach people that the safest, most effective and powerful way to start any lift is to sit back as opposed to bend over, and we drill that point over and over and over, how do you think an operator may move as he drags a fallen comrade (or just a training dummy) across a field? What about hoisting a buddy on to a shoulder? How good are you at teaching the hip power development necessary to perform a Snatch? How effective have you been teaching a Goblet Squat or Double Front Squat? Will proper knee tracking make hoisting a heavy load from the ground to a truck safer? Easier?
Will the Static Stomp Deadlift teach the proper rooting that leads to a structurally more sound shooting platform? Probably.
Grapplers improve performance with TGUs, lineman develop explosive and directional power with swings and snatches, golfers set up an address better with Goblet Squats; imagine the carryover of properly taught RKC techniques when athletic movement really matters.
Boot Camp is chaotic for a reason. If a recruit only learns his job under quiet and stress-less conditions, how effective will he be at basic tasks once the mortars start landing? The RKC is unique in that we teach the basics in a manner that re-introduces, re-focuses, and re-enforces constantly, so that when the load gets heavy, the match gets rough, or the stakes get high, brute strength, directed by proper movement is the norm, not the exception.
The difference between average and great is that the great are good; no make that very, very good at the basics. Don’t worry about Windmills and Two Hand Anyhows until you can swing and Get Up…really, really well.
An operator with a government LE agency told me he wanted to do a Bent Press more than anything else. When I asked him to show me his Get Up, he said he really didn’t do Get Ups that much. I asked him how effective he’d be if he could only discharge his sidearm, but not load it? Teach the basics; teach the importance of a complete approach.
Does It Help, or Does It Hurt?
Master RKC Jeff O’Connor observes that many times, the activities that make a powerlifter very good at squatting large weights may hamper his ability to run and jump. As part of the RKC’s involvement with elite military units, Jeff developed a Barbell Course for Operators, using RKC methods and protocols. Look, we see the facilities that these guys have available to them, and we know the competitive nature of each of them. It doesn’t take an MIT doctorate candidate to complete the equation:
Large Competitive Guy + Heavy Barbell Use
Poor Technique
The RKC offers performance-enhancing techniques, not just an excuse to follow Master RKC Mark Reifkind’s Tough Guy training progression of light, medium, heavy, heavier, injury.
The RKC-approved techniques make barbell lifting safer while re-enforcing RKC kettlebell techniques.
The Only Game In Town
The famous story of a riverboat gambler who, while stranded and waiting for a boat, finds himself involved in a crooked game of chance, losing his money concludes when his friend asks him why he’s playing a game he knows he can’t win. His reply, "I know it’s crooked, but it’s the only game in town" speaks volumes about how training can go astray when access to familiar equipment is denied.
Many SPEC OPS units are provided with "fly-away kits", in essence, entire gyms in large ship containers. What happens, though, when an operator is out of garrison with only a 24kg kettlebell and a suspended training device (commonly referred to as "rope") for an extended period of time? Imagine the loss to a unit or to the taxpayer when an operator returns to a training facility after an extended deployment, away from his beloved barbell, and during his first attempt at pulling 225 pounds off the floor, he goes down in pain with an injury.
The RKC has developed and teaches a program that re-enforces RKC principles regardless of the training tool available. Using a 16kg bell and bodyweight, an operator will not only keep himself in fighting condition, but will discipline his movement for an eventual return to a barbell.
MCMAP, the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program’s admonishment, "One Mind, Any Weapon" dovetails nicely in to RKC training protocols; bodyweight training feeds in to kettlebell lifting that feeds in to barbell lifting that re-enforces bodyweight training that improves kettlebell lifting, and on and on and on…
Regardless of the branch of service, the location of the base, or the course of instruction, each RKC event conducted for military Special Forces begins with a reading of the RKC Code of Conduct, and concludes with this statement,
"All of us in the RKC stand before you as representatives of a grateful nation. Your names will never be known to anyone except your loved ones, but your presence in our world will never be forgotten or repaid. You have chosen a difficult path so that the rest of us may choose an easy one. We sleep at night because you stay alert; we live free because you live to serve. We stand on your field, knowing we have little right to share this ground with you, but still, honored to stand in your company. If anything we leave with you today is of value, it’s our best way of supporting you, of standing before each of you, with a bowed head and a grateful heart. Thank you, and God Bless each of you."

Mark Toomey is a fitness instructor from Reno, Nevada. He serves as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in fitness and conditioning for the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps. He is the Director of Operations for Dragon Door Publications, a producer of cutting edge material on strength and conditioning and acts as a Senior Instructor for the RKC, the first and largest entity specializing in kettlebell and body weight exercise instruction. Mark is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a certified CK-FMS practitioner. He can be reached at With Dr John DiMuro, he has founded Exercise Intervention, a medically structured exercise program created for patients seeking an alternative to surgery or prolonged use of prescription drugs. Their website contains rarely seen material usable by both the clinician and the exercise professional.