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Z-Health Principles in the RKC School of Strength

April 12, 2010 12:51 PM

Author's Note: This article is both textually and conceptually dense. Please read it through several times. Thanks!

The people who continue to inspire me and have contributed to this article directly or indirectly: Pavel Tsatsouline, Dr. Eric Cobb, Dan Sullivan, Anthony Robbins and Tony Blauer.

Being a performance professional carries a great responsibility. A responsibility that stretches far beyond what most in the industry ever consider contemplating, yet alone let become a conscious integrated part of their profession. Dan Sullivan, one of the world's most successful business coaches, once said: "All progress starts by telling the truth," which in my mind is one of the most profound statements of all time and deserves deep contemplation. So with that in mind, I will tell the truth regarding a subject that relates to the Strength and Conditioning profession. There is no single factor in strength training. There is no single best way to develop strength. There is only the best approach you (and your coach if you have one) come up with when you have consciously, and with clarity, defined your goal and made a detailed plan with possible contingencies. This means that unless you very specifically define your objective and the circumstances pertaining it, chances for success will be slim to none.

Combatives expert, and creator of the SPEAR system, Tony Blauer puts it like this: "The clarity with which we define something determines its usefulness" and when a guy like Blauer talks- I listen. If you are thinking right now: "what the heck is he trying to say? I just wanna put heavy stuff over head but he is talking about defining and clarity and single factors?" allow me to elaborate. If in your own training or in training your clients you use the word "always" and "never" in the context of "one should always use maximum tension when lifting" or the other extreme "one should never use maximum tension when lifting" I can guarantee you one thing: At some point you will be wrong. Using words like "always" and "never" in a context of how you perform a skill will inevitably be detrimental and will lay the foundation of not thinking and not questioning the approach you (and/or coach) have chosen to reach your goals. More appropriately, a phrase like "?it depends" will set you and your coach up for further clarification on what exactly the goal is and how you get there.

"Disturbance in the Force there is?" -Master Yoda
In recent times there has been a "disturbance in the force" (sorry, just finished watching Star Wars) regarding the principles and methodology of the Z-Health system and if it fits with the RKC School of Strength. The short answer to that question is "yes, absolutely" and here is the explanation: Z-Health is a neurological performance based system that enables you to chose the right tool for the job at hand whether that being lifting kettlebells or improving your golf swing. Z-Health teaches you that there is no such thing as a general "this is the best way to press a kettlebell" but rather "this is the best approach for you at this moment to reach your clearly defined objective of pressing a heavy kettlebell based on the current knowledge we have about the nervous system". So when people with Z-Health experience attend the RKC and go "No I shouldn't use my lat when I press because Z tells that me that I should be as relaxed as possible during lifting" it is a misapplication of the founding principles of Z-Health. Recognizing one of the most fundamental neurological principles known as the SAID (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands) principle Z-Health will always be about choosing the right tool for the job because you get good at what you practice. That bears repeating: Z-Health will always be about choosing the right tool for the job because you get good at what you practice. Neurophysiology and structural mechanics tell us that the "best tool for the job" in the specific case of lat involvement in heavy pressing is practicing generating tension and contracting the lat for reasons like: 1) alignment and structure (Newtonian physics), 2) co-activation, and 3) inhibition of specific joint reflexes (if done correctly). Just avoid the pitfall of using the lat in a way that puts the brakes on the pressing movement. With the RKC being a school of Strength and looking at the common denominators of exceptionally strong people, one will find Newtonian physics, co-activation and inhibition of specific joint reflexes among the abilities of these people. The strong individuals are usually pretty good at generating tension so why not take a lesson from that? Doing what the best people in their field are doing is a powerful approach to succeeding yourself. Motivational coach Anthony Robbins says that "success leaves clues", which basically means that you have to figure out what it is that successful people are doing that you are not and then copy it. Sounds like "reverse engineering" right? Now where might you have heard that before in a strength development context?

A word from Dr. Cobb of Z-Health Performance
As a few of you may know, in addition to being a Master RKC, I am currently
working towards the Z-Health Master Trainer program while beginning work on my PhD in neuroscience. This has given me ample opportunity to spend time with Dr. Cobb of Z-Health and pick his brain about the many fitness systems that are out there and his take on them - particularly the RKC. With his permission, I have included an excerpt of one of our conversations. I think
you will find it refreshingly honest and practical:

"I love the RKC system from what I have seen of it. Pavel is one of the few fitness professionals in the industry that I read everything he writes and I find very, very little I ever disagree with in the context of the RKC School of Strength. I also feel the same way about the CK/FMS program. While we may choose to do things differently, Gray Cook seems to me to be an ultra-professional and talented guy. I can say the same thing about a large number of systems that are out there. I may not agree with them, but as long as we are all putting in the academic and practical research time, different ideas and approaches will always develop. This is actually REQUIRED to push the training and healthcare professions forward and I firmly believe that we can always learn something from anyone - even if what we learn only helps us solidify what we already know. From my perspective, it's not about choosing one over the other, but instead gaining as much education as you can without forgetting that "dabblers" are rarely good at anything. Mastery takes work. So my suggestion is always to look around, attend whatever courses interest you, then make an informed decision about what you want to master. As we've already discussed, the only real danger in this is mistaking the mastery of one skill as the goal for everyone. It always comes down to understanding what your athletes need and having the skills to help them achieve it...

So with all that in mind I would like to elaborate on one very concrete subject that tends to get the fire going in an already heated but unnecessary debate when it comes to strength development, the RKC approach and Z-Health principles. "Should one use maximal full body tension when lifting?" is a question that often causes RKC and Z people to bump heads. The head bumping is quite unnecessary (but sometimes entertaining to look at) because the answer is not "yes" or "no" but rather "it depends". It depends on your clearly defined goal- for what reason are you lifting? What are you trying to accomplish? What are you capable of now and what is required? If your goal is to get as strong as possible in a one repetition maximum lift then, in the majority of your training, you should do what the strongest people in the world do- generate maximal tension. Remember the SAID principle rules. On the other hand if your goal is enduring-strength then only applying 1RM appropriate tension to a lighter load will not bring you closer to world record level simply because of fatigue buildup. In this case the majority of practice should consist of generating adequate tension. That will be the "Z answer" to that question, which does not contradict the definition of the RKC School of Strength.

The RKC School of Strength defined
The RKC is defined as a School of Strength, which means that we teach general principles on how to practice the skill of maximal strength development based on the what the strongest people in world do- that is the objective. The main sub-objectives in the RKC are safety (internal and external), uncompromised positions and body structure, low to medium fatigue levels for the majority of a practice session and reaching the goal as fast as possible. So whenever we (RKCs) apply maximal tension to a submaximal load it is specific intentional practice for when the day comes attempting that new PR. This approach makes perfect sense ? practicing a skill that is required to reach the goal, which also by the way, is a basic Z-Health Principle.

About Kenneth Jay
Kenneth Jay has been in the RKC system since 2004 and was made Senior in 2006. In 2009 Kenneth Jay was promoted to Master RKC. He is also a dedicated Z-Health practitioner and will start the Z-Health Master Trainer program in May 2010.

Kenneth Jay is based in Denmark in a small town north of Copenhagen where he coaches elite athletes and other high profile people. He is currently concluding his master thesis titled: "The Effect of Kettlebell Training on Physiological Performance Parameters and General Health: A randomized controlled trial" and will have two peer-reviewed articles out during 2010/2011. If you want to follow Kenneth's research a bit more is a good resource.

Kenneth has just commenced the preliminary work towards his PhD in neuroscience and is constantly working on building his company Threat Modulation ApS ? the Human Potential Project.

Kenneth Jay can be hired to do signature workshops, seminars and private coaching on anything related to physiology, Z-Health, Kettlebells and behavioral-based combatives.

If you need to contact Kenneth Jay he can be reached by email at: or by visiting​