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Strength From Failure or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the 44kg

April 3, 2012 10:45 AM

SteveHoliner ART
I have a serious love-hate relationship with the 44kg kettlebell. I first tried to press it at the Philly RKC in 2010. Though I didn't get it at the time, it went up about a month later with some tips from Geoff Neupert, Shaun Cairns and Steve Milles.
Between the RKC and the July RKC II, my weight dropped from 225 to 195 and the 44kg became my half bodyweight press test. Over time, I was able to get the 44kg up about 90% of the time in either arm. My stronger arm was more consistent than my strong arm. However, the Beast eluded me. I could push press it, but it felt insanely heavy. I focused on the 44kg and posted several makes of the 44kg press with each arm right up to the week before the RKC II.
I got to the RKC II prepared to nail the press. And failed. I was crushed. Things happened so fast. There was very little warm-up and mentally, my head got the best of me. I knew I had it and didn't deliver when it counted. It was extremely disappointing. Especially since I had about five makes recorded on my phone. I also felt horrible because Phil Scarito was my Team Leader at both the RKC and the RKC II and Steve Milles, one of his Assistant Instructors at both certs, is not only my boss at Five Points, but a role model. I felt like I let them down. With encouragement from them and my kettlebell hero, Emily Bearden, I got past it and had an amazing RKC II experience. It's impossible not to learn and get stronger at these workshops. Some pointers stuck out that could be applied to my press. Mark Toomey gave a great talk about approaching the bell. Seeing Ken Froese press double Beasts for reps was inspirational. Ken went on to write about the importance of the clean and how he could tell a press make or fail by it. Pavel and Dan spoke about how the only way to get better at pressing is to press. I soaked it all in.
I got home to NY by 12:30, instructed my 4-5pm kettlebell class and by 5:30 had the 44kg press with each arm done and posted for review on YouTube. The next morning, I got word from Phil that I had officially passed and was an RKC II. Awesome.
Now the hard work began. I was going to own the 44kg. I created a clean & press program for myself involving heavy double kb reps and heavier single kb reps.


  1. I would not allow myself to go lower than double 36kgs and would not go over 40kg single clean and presses for a month. The 44kg would go untouched.
  2. I’d do 2x3 rung clean and press ladders with the 40kg.
  3. The 40kg was followed with 2x3 rung ladders with the double 36kgs without re-cleaning.
  4. This was 2-3 times a week.
  5. Clean and jerks twice a week on non-pressing days. The loads, reps and single or double kettlebells would vary based on how my shoulders felt.
I could feel myself getting stronger but resisted the urge to pick up the 44kg. I transitioned from my program into Dan John's 40 Day Program. I have to thank Nathan Flores for sending me his program breakdown. The 40 Day Program allowed me, as father of two, a busy Strength Coach and Muay Thai practitioner, to make serious gains in an extremely focused and effective amount of time. My exercises and personal goals for the plan were as follows: 48kg Clean and Press, 48kg Pull-up, 400lb Deadlift, 48kg Pistol, 48kg Turkish-Get-up. I would go through the exercises in the order as listed.


  1. Based on Dan’s Program my clean and press sets/reps would be based on either 2x5, 5/3/2, 6x1 or 1x10. I would clean and press 5 days a week.
  2. I allowed myself to use double 32kgs due to how often I would be pressing. Later, I also used double 28kgs while my ribs healed from being kneed (the joys of Muay Thai).
  3. I’d do Indian Club swinging between sets for any presses and pull-ups and jump rope to stay loose between the deadlifts and the pistols.
  4. The wonderfully tortuous ab wheel was the last thing I did before finishing and stretching.
  5. I left the 44kg alone.
On the last day of week 1, I was able to clean and press double 40kgs for 5x1 and 1x2. I knew I was going to get that press before I even stepped foot in the gym. I was surprised at how easily they went up. It felt great.
Two days after, my gut was telling me that something big was going to go down. It had been about a month since I set my own press weight restrictions and I took the training wheels off. I didn't even attempt a single 44kg press. I went straight to the double 44kgs and nailed it first try.
Needless to say, the Beast went up for 2x1 right after. Now it feels lighter than the 44kg did just over a month ago.
The bottom line is that I wouldn't have gotten the double 44kg press had I passed the RKC II half bodyweight press at the event. I would have thought this press was months, if not years, away. I had to fail to become stronger. It helped to fail in the company of great people. The power derived from the knowledge and motivation within the RKC community is incredible. We are all going to fail at something. It's how we react to that failure that defines us.
Onto the double Beast press.
Thanks everyone.

Steve "Coach Fury" Holiner, RKC II, CICS, LIFT is a Strength Coach and Personal Trainer at Five Points Academy in NYC. It is at Five Points that he also practices Muay Thai Kickboxing. Steve is also the founder of Coach Fury’s Kettlebell Club which runs out of Brooklyn, NY.
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