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Elite Law Enforcement Adds Kettlebells to Their Arsenal

December 7, 2012 04:30 PM

Ever since I was a kid I have been obsessed with law enforcement. I was a kid hooked on Columbo, Mod Squad and The Rookies. For my 12th birthday, I got my first fingerprint kit. It didn’t take long before every solid surface in the house was covered in black or white powder and sticky tape marks. All I wanted when I grew up was to be a cop. A detour in high school along with some bad decisions put that dream to rest.
In December of this year, I had the incredible opportunity to meet Sgt. James Fairfield, The Special Deputy US Marshal assigned to the Florida Regional Fugitive Task Force. I actually met James when I was looking for someone to build a 12-foot climbing wall for my adventure race training camps. It turns out that James is not just a total badass cop but he is a very skilled carpenter who donates his time and talents to building and repairing orphanages in third world countries with a charity he helped to start,
When I met James, he was several weeks into recovery from a surgical procedure to repair a torn pectoral muscle suffered while on a training exercise. He supervised the construction of the wall, which gave us time to talk. We talked about his rehab and his own training as well as the training of his team.
Tight quarters and a lack of equipment made training his team difficult, so I offered the use of my gym in exchange for handyman work. I talked to him about the benefits of adding Kettlebell training to their workouts as a way of adding non-impact conditioning, while improving their mobility and flexibility.
The learning curve with Kettlebell training is much smaller than with Olympic lifting and best of all, they take up very little space and you don’t need a ton of other equipment.
Some of the guys including James either own a few bells or have worked out with bells in the past. When I heard they were self-taught, I cringed. That is when I had the brilliant idea of having the team to the gym for a workshop.
I am an RKC level 2 and a CK-FMS as well as a certified personal trainer. That only qualifies me as a pretty decent and competent Kettlebell instructor. In no way do I claim to know how to train police officers or other specialized units for job specific requirements. They have people for that. It is very important that I am very clear on this and hopefully if you are reading this article, that you are very clear on this as well, unless you have specialized training in that area.
My goal for the workshop was not to convert them from their current workouts nor was it to change the way they train. My goal was to teach them to safely and correctly do some basic Kettlebell exercises that can be added to their repertoire as well as teach them some very simple corrective exercises and drills that they could use for warm ups.
On the afternoon of January 5th I arrived at my gym. I was in my 3rd week of being in a cast from a broken foot. I had to wear a clunky Doc Martin clog on my other foot to help keep my legs somewhat even. This was going to be a bit of a challenge.
I looked out my roll up doors as the TAC team’s mobile command post pulled up. Next thing I knew I was being introduced to the team’s Public Relations officer who was talking on two phones at once giving directions to the media on how to get to the gym. I quickly forgot about what I wanted to teach and became very aware of how ridiculous I looked in my cast and Doc Martin.
The sign of a true professional is being able to overcome and adapt. Ok, that might actually be the Air Force but it’s what I had to do.
A group of about 20 guys showed up. Because of the size of the group, I had my brother help me out.
First thing I wanted to do was to get an idea of what type of mobility issues I was dealing with. In a large group, I like to use the Face the Wall Squats from Enter the Kettlebell. This is a perfect way to get a quick assessment of ankle restrictions, shoulder mobility issues and an overall indicator of movement. To further open up the chest and shoulders, I used the "prisoner" style squat with their hands clasped behind their heads, it was a position these guys were familiar with!
TACteam facethewallsquat
As suspected, many of the guys could not squat without coming up on their toes. The next drill I use is the Hip Flexor Stretch from Super Joints. I find that tweaking it a bit will also help improve ankle mobility. The beauty of these simple drills is that they can be used as an assessment if you have a sharp eye and some CK-FMS training, and they can be used as movement prep and corrective exercises.
For the hip flexor stretch I like to have my client start with the front leg at 90 degrees. Make sure to cue your client to move from the hips and stay tall throughout. If they can’t feel the stretch in their hip flexors, cue them to squeeze their butt cheek. That usually does the trick. I make sure that they keep the front heel down as they shift their weight forward. We do about 3 reps and then I have them move their front foot back a couple of inches and repeat the drill keeping their heel flat on the ground. As long as their heel maintains contact, we will continue to move the front foot back a couple of inches every few reps. You will find if you repeat the Face the Wall Squat, many people will be able to squat without their heels coming up.
We followed this drill with Pumps. Again, I like to make sure ankles are mobile so I have them push back until their heels hit the ground, and while keeping heels down, I have them push back and deeper into the stretch.
After our warm up and my secret assessments, we began to teach. I already had an idea of who was going to need extra attention because of my observations. Whether someone has deadlifted or not, I always begin with the Face Away From the Wall Deadlift. Not sure if that is the proper name or not, but that is what I call it. Don’t be surprised at how many people cannot do this simple drill.
The hip hinge may seem second nature to us, but for many of our clients, especially coming from a job with a lot of sitting, this is tough. Have them find the crease where their upper thighs connect to their hips and then have them use their hands to push themselves back until their butt touches the wall. Make sure the hips stay high on this drill, otherwise you end up with a squat. One of the cues I like to use before we push back to touch the wall is that I need to be able to read their shirts from across the room. This helps them raise their chest and keep it up and open while performing the hip hinge. If they cave, I just remind them that I need to read their shirts.
We spend quite a bit of time on the wall drill. I begin teaching them to create tension with each repetition as they stand up. I continue teaching parts of the swing using the wall drill. We focus on one cue with every set of five reps. First is driving the feet into the ground. Second is pulling up the knee caps, then cramping the butt cheeks and then bracing the abs, breathing into "the shield", and finally, pulling the shoulder blades into their back pockets. We then begin my "tap it and snap it" drill. This is my cue for them to hinge back, tap the wall with their butts and then quickly snap to attention. We do lots of reps before we ever touch a bell.
Once everyone got this drill, we got the Kettlebells. I had to explain to the guys that despite the fact that I know they are awesome, super strong and really macho, we were still going to use the 16k bells. I think they were relieved.
Using the cues from the wall drill, we deadlifted with Kettlebells. It’s amazing how fast things fall apart when weight or speed is added. Don’t be afraid to put someone back against the wall for the "tap and snap" drill. From there we progressed to swings. Things got ugly fast! Many of the guys that are used to doing quadriceps dominant exercises reverted to squatting their swings while using a front raise to get the bell up. I kept repeating the cues from the wall drill and eventually things improved. Towel swings from the RKC worked wonders for those who were doing KB front raises.
It is important to remember that everyone learns differently. Some cues may work for some people but not for others. Some people learn by seeing, some by hearing and some by doing. Find what works for your client. It make take some trial and error but once you find the right drill or cue, things will improve quickly.
Without having a lot of time for corrective exercises, coupled with the fact that I may not see these guys again, I decided to teach the Goblet Squat. I love the Goblet Squat because it allows someone who may not have access to a barbell a chance to squat. Since many of these guys have injuries and movement compensations, the Goblet Squat allows them the benefits of squatting without the continuation of grooving poor movement patterns and habits.
I know many people don’t see the Goblet Squat as a corrective exercise, but when broken down as we learned at the RKC, you will find a new tool in your arsenal to help your client move better while getting stronger. It’s a great exercise to open the hips while working on ankle and thoracic spine mobility.
Add a few cues I heard from Dan John about pushing the bell away with your chest and you have a great functional exercise disguised as something a little more hardcore. Considering that these guys may be in up to 97 pounds of equipment while maintaining deep squat positions, this is a perfect exercise.
Next up was the Turkish Get Up. I could spend a couple of hours on this exercise alone but due to time constraints, I decided to keep it simple. I wanted them to see how each step of the Turkish Get Up could benefit their performance, improve their movement, help them overcome compensations and mimic some of the tasks they encountered on the job and in the field. Just spending time perfecting the roll to press, propping up to the elbow, then the hand and finally the high bridge, is plenty to impact someone’s movement. Kettlebells from the Ground Up has great drills to truly make this exercise, "A inch wide and a mile deep".
We never got around to using bells. Judging from the amount of shoes dropping all around me, it was a good call on my part.
When Sgt Fairfield was asked by one of the reporters why they were doing the class, he responded: 
"We need something a little bit more dynamic. This type of training affords us the physical stress in a positive way that is more similar to the kind of unusual circumstances we’re faced with while loaded in heavy gear, operating in uneven terrain and in close quarters environments".
For the officers, adding Kettlebells to their workouts are a match made in heaven; for the bad guys; it’s a match made in hell!
Here is a simple workout that can be added to an officer’s current training program or can used by any beginning clients. Sets, reps and weight can be easily adjusted to fit fitness levels and goals.
The beauty of the simplicity is that it can be done quickly, mixed in with other training or made longer by adding more sets.
Warm up with 10 reps of prisoner style Face the Wall Squats with hands locked behind head. Perform 5 pumps focusing on pushing heels into the floor at the top position. Follow with the Hip Flexor stretch, moving the front foot back an inch or two with each rep until the heel comes off the ground. When the heel comes up, move the foot back out until you find the "sweet spot" where the heel remains in contact with the ground. Perform the stretch while concentrating on pushing the heel into the ground. It’s ok to allow the knee to move past the foot for this.
5 sets of 5 "Tap and Snap" deadlift drills facing away from the wall. Each set have your client focus on one or two cues such as keeping the chest open, driving the feet into the ground, cramping the glutes, pulling up the knee caps, or whatever they need to work on.
Five sets of:
5 Kettlebell Deadlifts followed by 15 swings. (I like to use several DLs before swings to help groove the hip hinge patten).
5 Goblet Squats
1/1 Turkish Get Up with or without the bell.
There are so many workout possibilities using just these three exercises. Sgt. Fairfield puts swings and squats into sets of workouts that might include, tire flipping, sprints, pull-ups and rope climbs. The guys think they are doing something hardcore but I secretly know that I am keeping them healthy and helping them move better. I don’t know about you, but keeping my city’s police officers healthy makes me sleep better at night.
tpd tac kb4

Laurel Blackburn NASM CPT, RKC Team Leader and CK-FMS.
Laurel is the owner of, Boot Camp Fitness and Training and Tallahassee Kettlebells in Tallahassee, FL. She is also currently the only Dragon Door Kettlebell dealer in the Southeast. She has recently become a very proud Nana, to Ava Blackburn. Follow Laurel’s journey to "break the stereotypes of grandparents everywhere" with her new alter-ego, Super Strong Nana at You can also check out her fitness programs by visiting, or