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Barbells and RKC…A Match Made in Heaven

May 23, 2012 01:30 PM

JasonMarshall Article
After college, I decided to (finally) use my Exercise Science degree and join a gym. In my own weird logic, I thought I had to have a minimum level of strength before I could even join, so I trained in my bedroom with a couple pair of dumbbells my mom bought me for my birthday and, of course, my own bodyweight. Once my preconceived level of strength was reached, I headed to the local gym and signed up for a membership. As a new member, I was still intimidated by anything related to free weights since it had been several years since I had trained, so I stuck to the machines for a good while until I was able to use a full stack for reps on a few of the implements (like the pec deck and adductor/abductor machines). With the barbells in the corner calling my name (and probably laughing at me), I finally broke free of the machines and began to explore my limitations with the barbell.
Muscle & Fitness was unfortunately my initial guide during the first year or two. Partial reps, squirmy form, and the 3x12 routine quickly infected my routine, resulting in the dreaded ILS (Invisible Lat Syndrome). It wasn’t until I discovered powerlifting through the West Side Method that I started to question the efficacy of what I was doing, and the technique of the lifts I was choosing. This exploration eventually led me to the RKC where I have become a disciple in progress within the School of Strength. Presently during my Hardstyle years I feel I’m stronger and more capable than I’ve ever been in my entire life, due to smart, safe, progressive training, with an emphasis on quality over quantity.
Last year, Jeff O’Connor, Master RKC, asked me to assist him with a barbell course he was teaching for a group of special operators. I jumped at the chance and was so intrigued to see what the "Redneck Ninja" was going to come up with. Being a strength junkie myself, this felt like a whole new can of worms was about to be opened up. I couldn’t wait to see what he had in store for these true heroes and supermen of our day.
Watching Jeff explain and go through the progressions of his course with these men (most of whom I might add could’ve easily been mistaken for Under Armour models and professional athletes) was jaw-dropping. Despite the fact that he only had a weekend to teach some of the more complicated lifts, they were overly impressed and astounded at the intricacies as well as the no-nonsense, logical progressions. A recurring theme seemed to be, "do this and you can move to this…if not, own this movement first." Jeff’s progressive style through each lift and movement fit so well with the Hardstyle modality, but, as I observed, was so backwards from how I’d been taught. It figures that I had a long laundry list of injuries and bad habits that I had to clean up and correct after my first RKC. One aspect of the course that really stood out to me was the ability for the progressions to have a great carryover into what these guys did for a living, which is defending our country.
Barbells are tools, no more than kettlebells are tools. The kettlebell mixed with Hardstyle is an excellent and appropriate place to introduce any client or athlete to the School of Strength. The barbell mixed with RKC is a great place to expand on that knowledge, to introduce, and to progress the classic Olympic and Powerlifts in order to increase the effect of general athleticism.
As an example, leading up to my last powerlifting meet of 2011, I used a combination of the big 3 barbell lifts and kettlebell lifts to prepare for my meet. Of course, I tapered towards the final weeks before the meet to just the big 3, but kettlebell and various specialized barbell lifts were a vital part of my prep cycle. The foundation and focus of the RKC Hardstyle principals in my kettlebell practice was essential in my training program. For instance, the Bent Press and Double Front Squat were staples during this cycle as accessory drills. While heavy Swings, Snatches, and Get Ups were used on my recovery days.
Here’s a sample week:
Heavy Squat and Bench
- Squat
o Work up to a heavy single (roughly 90% of 1RM)
o Then 3x3 @ 80% of heavy single with a pause below parallel…wait for "up" command
- Bench
o Work up to a heavy single (roughly 90% of 1RM)
o Then 3x3 @ 80% of heavy single with a pause…wait for "press" command
Accessory Work – 3-4 Rounds - Moderate Pace, but not rushed
- Bent Press – 48kg – 1L/1R
- GHR – holding 20kg – 10
- Floor Press – 2-48kg - 5
- Spread Eagle Sit Ups – 24kg - 5
- Double Front Squat – 2-40kg – 5
Active Recovery and GPP
- Work with classes
o A typical day might consist of ladders using the RKC basics: Get Ups, Goblet Squats, Presses, Snatches and finish with a short set of Swings (5-10 min with 24kg)
- Mobility and Stretching, No Lifting
Heavy Deadlift
- Work up to a heavy single (roughly 90% of 1RM) using competition stance
- Then 6x2 @ 80% of heavy single on 45lb plates using competition stance
Accessory Work – 3-4 Rounds – Moderate Pace, but not rushed
- Bent Press – 48kg – 1L/1R
- GHR – holding 20kg – 10
- Suitcase Deadlift – 185lb – 5L/5R
- Evil Wheel – 10
- Dead Stop Swing – 48kg – 5
Active Recovery and GPP
- Work with classes
o Same as Monday
- Mobility and Stretching, No Lifting
- Off
As a recommendation to the budding powerlifter, I would say to start out basic. Learn the lifts first and don’t over think the programming. The most important aspect of powerlifting outside of strength, is technique…and you can’t practice technique if you’re maxing out every week. For me, my technique improved as my mobility improved, which happened to be a result of FMS and the RKC. My strength then improved, because my technique was better and I had the principles of the RKC in my toolbox, which became second nature in the application of my powerlifts. Basically the lines between the two started to blur and meld together. I think the same thing can happen with any athlete, in any sport…with the appropriate foundation and progressions applied.
Progressions are key to learning any skill. As with the powerlifts or Olympic lifts, the learning curve can be pretty high once you start putting serious weight and/or speed on the bar. The establishment of proper technique early on can build an unshakeable foundation of which you can build a massive pyramid of performance and skill upon. As with the RKC, we start with the deadlift before the swing, the swing before the clean, and so forth. The RKC Barbell Course will teach smartly aligned progressions from lifts that amply mobility restrictions, to eventually lifts that magnify power production and skill.
As a trainer that trains both general population and youth/professional athletes, I have found it necessary to implement barbell training into their programming. Having a place to start teaching the lifts and a roadmap to follow makes all the difference in the world. The RKC combined with Jeff’s RKC Barbell Course did that for me and my athletes, as well as I think it can for others. The objective with my athletes is to make them better at their sport or activity by using the tools I’ve learned in the RKC. Jeff’s translation of RKC into the world of barbell training has made that job with my athletes much more effective, as well as some of my general population clients who have now become deadlifting enthusiasts.
The course won’t put you on the stage at the next Arnold or put you on the platform at the next Summer Olympics, and that’s not its intent. But it will teach you how to handle a timeless implement of strength and how to teach it to others…safely, progressively, and effectively. If you are a coach or work with youth athletes, this course is a must. The idea is not to make you or your client a king or a stud in the gym, but to make you or your client a king or a stud in your/their sport or activity.
The next action step would be to sign up and get to the course, then go home, set up a rack and a platform, and get started.

Jason Marshall is an RKC Team Leader, CK-FMS, and owner of Lone Star Kettlebell. He has been a competitive powerlifter since 2003 with competition bests of 446 - Squat, 297 - Bench, and 601 – Deadlift in the 181 lb weight class. He trains athletes and clients from all walks of life out of his back-yard shop/gym in Lubbock, Texas.
You can contact Jason by email: and through his website
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