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Simple, Not Easy

December 28, 2010 12:11 PM

What do successful coaches and athletes attribute success to? Most often it is perfecting particular aspects of their game within good productive practice sessions. This concept is applied from youth sports through collegiate to the professional levels. In fact, the concept transcends sports and applies to many things. In the fire service, we break down complex protocols into simple, repeatable steps in order to ensure consistency in executing the correct action every time. Kettlebell training is no different. The key to excellent performance lies in mastery of the basics.

Have you ever heard the term or concept of "taking one step back to take two steps forward."? This means readdressing your training at the basic level so that when you return to your activity or sport your performance is better because "the little things" have been polished up and fine tuned. In turn, you are that much better because your foundation is that much stronger. The little things… The basics in almost every sport may be things like: Foot positions, stance width, speed of movement, proper muscle activation, particular angles, movement pathways. This rings especially true to the Kettlebell practitioner.

Master RKC Brett Jones often warns people against chasing the "shiny" lifts or techniques until they have their basics solidified. We're taught in the RKC system that the deadlift is the base movement pattern to develop the swing, clean, and snatch. If these basics aren't solid you may find you are working against yourself during your kettlebell session and not realizing, or missing the deeper benefits of the training. You will often see people working on the clean or the snatch, and clearly see through their movement, that they really need to put in more repetitions of deadlifts and swings; which would lead to a better understanding of the dynamics and power generation of the hamstrings and hips. More reps at the basic level will develop the discipline to hold the lines and angles, as the force during the movement changes.

Pavel, very early, teaches that you should think of your session as a practice session rather than a workout. Ask yourself, do you do this? The truth is, it takes some discipline to maintain the focus of getting better at each skill during a practice session as opposed to whether you are sweating enough or breathing hard enough. I was comforted in hearing Brett declare in a room full of students, that he is still in search of the perfect rep….of a SWING! Not a bent press. Not a windmill. Not an overhead squat. And this is a Master trainer in a room full of people unabashedly saying that he still works on his SWING.

WOW! So where does that put us? When was the last time you assessed your own swing form, or had someone check your form for you? Angles, speed, tension, relaxation, power production, breathing, stance width, foot placement, shoulder position, spinal alignment... Humbling – yes, a good idea – absolutely!

What if you took a step back and focused on perfecting only two exercises? Imagine what would happen if you dedicated a good period of time to work on perfecting your form, timing, breathing, tensioning/relaxation, etc? Your overall strength, endurance, your performance of your other kettlebell lifts, or your performance in your chosen activity or sport would skyrocket!

Strangely enough, if you re-read or read, for the first time, ENTER THE KETTLEBELL, you will find the RKC PROGRAM MINIMUM has already mapped out a program for you. It is simple and can be brutal as you step up your intensity – very easily done with heavier and heavier bells. Yet, it gives you TIME to address the basic elements mentioned earlier.

I believe very strongly in taking a step back to gain foundational perfection. For someone who is just beginning their kettlebell journey, and is wondering about programming, this is an excellent route to take. Master RKC David Whitley in a recent presentation, encouraged students to - "Take the time OWN the movement" – this simple statement is a golden nugget. The Program Minimum gives you the blueprint to do just this.

Pavel gives you a program to strengthen your entire body—cardio, respiratory system, skeletal, muscular system and their connective tissues. The program focuses only on the Swing and Get Up, but will surprisingly ALSO simultaneously develop your mobility, stability, and baseline strength. It will quite simply give you: (as I quote ETK) * The conditioning of a world-class fighter * Rapid fat-loss * a back of steel * muscular, flexible and resilient shoulders * a skill base for the rest of the RKC drills. From someone who strives for 'perfect practice' it sounds good to me!!

As I said, I believe VERY strongly in this program. So much so, that I am going to start out my 2011 doing just that. I will take before and after photos, weigh in, and conduct baseline strength and performance tests. I will do the RKC PROGRAM MINIMUM for 8 weeks. Who is with me??? If you decide to take this opportunity (or put your clients through this) drop me a line at Let me know your experiences and discoveries. This program will be simple, but, rest assured, it will not be easy. I would love to have some comrades to endure this course with me.

Zar Horton, Senior RKC, is a Battalion Chief and an EMT-Paramedic in the Albuquerque Fire Department. His kettlebell and functional movement studio is FIREBELLZ.