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Working Class Strength

Master RKC Josh Henkin coaching kettlebell cleans at the first public RKC in China

It is funny to think one little sentence would MOST peak my interest about kettlebells. Back in 2002, a little book that would change everything in fitness entered my library. The Russian Kettlebell Challenge really inspired me to give this little-known implement a big try. Of all the things written in it, this one small sentence summed up what the book was about:

"The working-class answer to elitist weightlifting."

At the time, I don’t know why this struck me so strongly, but looking back it all makes sense. I was never a gifted athlete, I had to work a LOT harder than everyone just to keep up. Even though I played sports for a long time, I had to scrap and do what others didn’t want to. I had to work on all the tiny little things that would allow me to become successful.

The same effort that I would train in sports was also necessary to overcome a serious back and neck injury. Injuries teach you that you can’t waste time and can’t have bad reps.

The phrase "working class strength" may sound uncool to some. But, I think teaching complex fitness concepts using a simple tool is actually VERY cool. As the old saying goes, "A great teacher is one who can make complex things seem simple." I think kettlebells do a wonderful job of that, and allow more people to access the great fitness we all need!

Most people don’t come to fitness professionals to become great lifters, they need help to improve their lives. This means "working class strength" is more about being efficient, purposeful, challenging, and in the end, making people successful! It is hard not to want to train more if you are experiencing success!

This idea of "working class strength" is the reason I thought combining our DVRT Ultimate Sandbag Training with Dragon Door’s Hardstyle kettlebell training was perfect! With kettlebells, Ultimate Sandbags, some bodyweight training, you can have one of the very best gyms around—even if it’s just in your garage or outdoors!

The tools don’t make our training elite, the intent, use, and results we get from them is what makes them truly special. Old time strongmen didn’t know about fascial line systems, multi-planar training, and specific energy system training. But they DID know that movement was king, and progressing it would build a body like no other!

If you look back through history, most of the strongest individuals weren’t using gyms stuffed with equipment. They concentrated only on what worked! And what works better for time efficient workouts than the three modalities of kettlebells, Ultimate Sandbag, and bodyweight training? Trust me, this is about ALL I use now, and think my workouts are more sophisticated and challenging than ever!

While these tools and programs work well independently, when you put them together something pretty amazing happens. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to find training dating back further than kettlebells, sandbags, and bodyweight training. And they accomplish very similar goals in very different ways.
Master RKC Josh Henkin Coaching 1 Leg Deadlifts at the first ever China RKC Workshop

Strong AND Stable

The power of this strength trident partially comes from learning to produce force while learning to control your body. Whether it is the unique leverage of the kettlebell, the instability of the Ultimate Sandbag, or the positions in bodyweight training, lifting is only PART of the equation. Training the smaller and bigger muscles in the way we were meant to move creates a strong and resilient body.

Iron Core

We call it "the core" because without a strong foundation, becoming really strong is literally impossible. You only have to lift your first kettlebell to feel the impact and relationship to real world core strength. If you don’t believe me, just grab a pair of 24kg kettlebells, clean them and try to knock out five solid squats. There is no way you will believe their combined weight is only 106 pounds!

Sandbags? Have you ever met a weak farmer? Lifting odd objects over and over builds a strong body like nothing else. Great old time strongmen like the great Herman Goerner, or the modern day strongmen like Steve Justa know that lifting odd objects means building serious strength from the trunk outwards. None better than sandbags!

Of course you can’t debate the results that gymnasts and martial artists have achieved with bodyweight training for centuries. Some of the most basic gymnastic exercises seem to be extremely humbling for the most advanced iron game athlete. Imagine if we combine all three modalities?!


When people think of strength, they will often think of the barbell. Yes, the biggest loads can be thrusted upon the barbell and is it impressive. However, big weight doesn’t mean everything and using barbells isn’t the only or even necessarily the best way to get real-world strong.

As the legendary Arthur Saxon stated, "Genuine strength should include not only momentary strength, as proved by the ability to lift a heavy weight once, but also the far more valuable kind of strength known as strength for endurance. This means the ability, if you are a cyclist, to jump on your machine and ride 100 miles at any time without undue fatigue; if a wrestler, to wrestle a hard bout for half an hour with a good man without a rest, yet without becoming exhausted and reaching the limit of your strength."

I would argue that NOTHING is more powerful in building all around strength then the triad of kettlebells, sandbags, and bodyweight training. Some of the greats have come to the same conclusion!

The great Sig Klein said, "I have always found the kettlebell to be one of the most useful and fascinating pieces of weight training apparatus. It can be handled in so many diverse manners that its application in the field of body-building exercises is almost without limit. You will have to hunt for a long time to find a more versatile piece of training equipment."

One of the best iron game historians, Jan Dellinger wrote, "Other than the sandbag, you don't need any other equipment." Many of the old time strongmen who accomplished amazing feats of strength had backgrounds in wrestling like George Hackenschmidt who also employed gymnastics as an important part of his training.

A Vice-Like Grip

It is no accident that kettlebells, sandbags, and bodyweight training have all been heavily touted for their ability to build incredible grip strength. Due to the weight distribution and ballistic movements, the kettlebell builds one type of grip strength. The lack of handle and unpredictable nature of sandbags gives you another, and anyone who has spent time building pull-up strength knows the you can’t have weak hands!

The Holy Trinity of Strength

A good friend recently asked me what I thought the NEXT big training tool in fitness was going to be. After thinking about it long and hard I told him I didn’t think there would be another big game changer. After all, kettlebells, sandbags, and bodyweight exercise are based on hundreds of years of training. But, what WILL change is the way our training evolves using them. Our greater understanding of the human body and the incredible versatility of these training styles are opening an exciting new world of functional training.

This isn’t an article about being a minimalist, but focusing on the things, tools, and ideas that REALLY make a difference! In strength training, being "working class" could very well mean being rich in movement and strength!

Master RKC Josh Henkin with kettlebell at the China RKCJosh Henkin is the author of DVRT, The Ultimate Sandbag Training System now available in paperback and ebook format.