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Bringing Hardstyle to the Grid Iron

June 13, 2012 11:02 AM

MarkWechter article
Before I elaborate on what we are doing with our football program at Washington Township High School, I think it is important for you to know how we got to this point…the RKC Hardstyle way of training.
We are the largest high school in Southern New Jersey. We have been very good year in and year out for the last 25 years. Blessed with conference championships, playoffs appearances, state championships, state rankings, and national rankings over those 25 years, many schools in our area have modeled their programs after ours. During most of those years, I taught health and physical education and ran the strength and conditioning program for our football program. During those early years, we were always the biggest, fastest, and strongest team on the field and we took great pride in our year-round strength and conditioning program.
But something changed for us around the turn of the century. Other teams began to catch up, matching us with their strength and conditioning programs. Our school district got larger and we had more and more players in our program. On average, over the last 10 years, it was normal for us to have upwards of 200 players in the program in grades 9-12. It was difficult to coach all of those athletes with limited staff and facilities - especially trying to do lifts such as squats and cleans. Our weight room is incredible, but with those numbers, it turned into a logistical nightmare.
So, what to do… Plate loaded machines began to enter the picture. Though safer and easier to supervise, it’s not effective for athletes… We started to get "soft". Over the last five years we slowly became smaller, weaker, slower and most significantly, softer! Last year was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We were 3-7, our first losing season in 25 years. I began to do some soul searching. People blamed the X’s and O’s, but I knew it all stemmed from our lackadaisical approach to training. During those years of "soft" training, I had become frustrated with the abundance of misinformation about training and all of the gadgetry that was dominant in the fitness industry. It was misleading for our players, coaches, and parents.
I began to research "old school" training techniques and programs. I felt that those principles were still pure and effective. Luckily, I found Pavel and Dragon Door. I became a student again. I started off with simplicity…The Naked Warrior. I read the book and watched the DVD over and over. I began to instill those concepts as preparation for the use of kettlebells. It was a hard sell to the players at first, but they quickly bought in. As I was teaching the students the concepts, I was practicing them myself. I could not believe the results that my players and I were getting with the use of the concepts from The Naked Warrior.
I learned that athletes have to be able to control their own body weight before they can worry about external resistance. We did this for three months. During this time I was training with kettlebells in preparation for the RKC. The players witnessed my training sessions and physical improvement and they wanted to start right away. We practiced patience however. We began doing things from Enter the Kettlebell. Everything was still being done "naked"; without load. We did a ton of "naked" TGU’s. Finally, we had a two-week technique and safety boot-camp on RKC hardstyle kettlebell training at the end of June. We started with the basics and are still doing the basics six months later, but with more intensity.
Over the last six months we have focused on swings, squats, and presses. Along with that, we focus on mobility rather than static flexibility. That’s it…! At first the "gym rat" players wanted to do more - especially isolation exercises and the bench press - the cosmetic exercises. As the training sessions progressed in difficulty, the players realized that this was all we needed. We "wave" our loads throughout the week, changing our approach from "grind" to "quick" every two weeks as recommended in Return of the Kettlebell. The players’ technique is very good, but we always remind them during their training sessions that the technique can always improve, and cue them appropriately. We continue to apply of the concepts that were taught from The Naked Warrior.
The swing has been the center of our universe. It is the ULTIMATE exercise for football. It teaches hip snap and it allows you to train power, strength, and/or endurance. At this point, my players can successfully complete the following conditioning protocol with the swing: eight sets of 20 seconds of swings and 10 seconds of rest. At the end of eight sets, they rest for 40 seconds and repeat the above. They can do that five times easily! It is about a 23.5-minute workout. Not only is it great physically, but the mental focus and toughness it involves is awesome.
Our players carry themselves with physical confidence because they know they are functionally fit and "linked". The best part of it…they see the cosmetic benefits as well - gaining lean muscle mass and shredding body fat. We currently have a player who was 310 lbs at 45% body fat in January. Now, he is 243 pounds and 14% body fat and is contributing at the varsity level. The great news is that he is only a junior so we will have him for another year. This style of training has completely changed his life. He aspires to be an RKC. The individual success stories go on and on. It all boils down to this…we got away from being fancy and looked at the obvious. An athlete needs absolute strength, absolute power, and absolute endurance before he/she can worry about being specific in their strength and conditioning programs. That is what we are developing and will continue to develop. Our players have bought in!
Training with kettlebells the RKC hardstyle way has also changed the morale of our team. In the past, our upperclassmen would have "rights" on gaining access to equipment first in the weight room. The weight room can only hold so many pieces of equipment. During the regular season, due to time constraints, I could only have our "varsity first team" players train. That has changed dramatically. Now, all 86 players in grades 10-12 can train at the same time. We have close to 116 kettlebells and are getting ready to order more. We utilize a large training room with matting when the weather is inclement. If the weather is good, we carry the bells to the football field and train. All you need is space and a good surface. We now embody the true sense of TEAM - the entire team trains together at the same time, doing the same exercises, EVERYONE feels a part of the big picture. Our sophomores benefit the most from this, and we have just scratched the surface. I can’t wait to see what the sophomores can do in 3 years when they are seniors.
This how we progressed our team:
January – March, 2011: We focused on Pavel’s Naked Warrior concepts. At this point I was preparing for the RKC in May of 2011. I did not want to have the players training with kettlebells until I was proficient and had the teaching progressions down. It was time worth spent because our players were physically disconnected. Pavel’s concepts went a long way in preparing our players’ physically and mentally for kettlebells. We were "practicing" at this point.
April – May, 2011: As we progressed though the Naked Warrior we began do many of the "RKC 6" movements. Routinely we performed lead-ups drills for those movements without a kettlebell. We were still in "practice mode". We were able to teach the hip hinge for swing, dead lift, and learned to squat. We spent endless hours on the TGU. A great movement for teenagers! We worked on pressing "naked" as well.
June, 2011: At this point, it really came together. When the players picked up the kettlebell for the first time in June, they truly understood what is was all about. Our journey began with swing and TGU practice throughout the month of June.
July, 2011: Continuing with ETK program minimum and swing and TGU training sessions, we began squat and press technique practice. August was the official start of the football season, and we were prepared to begin serious training sessions in a safe manner.
August, 2011: We trained before practice every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Our sessions were about 40 minutes after we completed our mobility sets. Our mobility progressions included TGU’s. Beginning with Press and Squat "Russian Ladders", we would progress the ladders throughout the week. I feel that the Russian Ladder system may be the best set/rep system ever devised for football. Then, we would finish with swings as our conditioners. Swings were the ONLY mode we used for conditioning. We did not do extra sprints and things of that nature. We were the best conditioned team in southern New Jersey and the best conditioned team I have ever coached in 20 years.
September, 2011: Once September rolled around we were into our game schedule. Our week is very short considering we play most of our games on Friday night. I like to get the brunt of the work done early in the week so they "have their legs" for the game. With that said, we train on Monday and Tuesday. It is not ideal working out back to back days, but it worked out for us and we were fresh come Friday night. We did Squat and press ladders on Monday, and TGU (light) and swings (high volume) on Tuesday. It was a great program for us because we were able to maximize participation/training in a shorter period of time and sustain this pace through the entire season.
Last season we kept it basic and now are at the point where our players are very good at ALL of the "RKC 6". We are able work more variety (same but different) and our players believe that the RKC system works. The sky is the limit at this point. I am currently preparing to attend the CK-FMS in June. I can’t wait for the RKC and CK-FMS marriage. I believe this will elevate our program even higher.
Most importantly, this program is changing my players’ lives, catapulting them into a lifetime of proper fitness with the concepts they are learning. Win or lose, it will be well worth it. Speaking of winning football games, the reward for coming off a 3-7 season was that the pre-season picks had us finishing last in our division for this season and not achieving a winning record. That had never happened to us - we are usually a top five team each year. Going into our first game we were picked to lose… They were wrong. We finished the season 7 – 4, played for the conference title and advanced to the semi-finals of the state tournament, finishing with a top ten ranking, and I was nominated "Coach of the Year". Our kids looked great!
The consensus from the fans was that our players looked physically fit. This style of training breeds a "get after it, don’t quit" attitude. We "Bring the H.E.A.T." to everything we do. H.E.A.T. is our acronym for Heart, Effort, Attitude, and Toughness. And, that is how we are playing football. As long as we keep doing that, win or lose, we will be successful. Ultimately, all of this training is about developing usable life skills.
It does not end here…I have begun to install the RKC way into the Health and Physical Education curriculum with my junior students at the high school. Taking a full semester I will be teaching the basics starting with the Naked Warrior and see if we can get to Enter the Kettlebell. Seeing our success, other teams in our school want to begin training the RKC way as well and I plan on working with those teams at the end of our football season.
It really does work, but it took a lot of personal discipline to get to this point. What I mean by that is this…I have been doing this for 21 years and have "stolen" concepts from a lot of different programs to put together what I thought was a good program for our teams. It took a lot of willpower, at first, not to "add" other concepts to the RKC way. Now, it’s a no-brainer.
People always base success on wins and losses in the coaching profession. They ask if what we do is worth it if it does not translate to winning. I always say that it is worth it, even if it only changes one person’s life for the better. Our RKC program has already done that and more. Lastly, we feel we will win more than we will lose and our kids are winning every day in life. Be steadfast, and believe that the RKC way is "simple and sinister".

Mark Wechter, RKC
Washington Township High School (Gloucester County), New Jersey
Health and Physical Education Teacher
Head Football Coach
(856) 371-5912
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