For reasons no one can remember, the recent Orlando HKC was scheduled on a Sunday. Tim Shuman, Franz Snideman, Laurel Blackburn, Ryan Blackburn, myself, and of course Chris Davis (the official host) all arrived early to make sure we were all set up and ready to go. Tim’s truck was riding heavy with kettlebells (thankfully he has a custom box for such things). After getting a fairly early start, we accidentally took the longer route among the nearly identical groupings of warehouse buildings before seeing Chris waving. We unloaded all the kettlebells and put them safely out of the way and towards the back of the gym – I was proud to see my “tough love heart” marked Dragon Door kettlebells among those to be used for the workshop. [My 48kg “Beast” kettlebell at home looks especially amusing with it’s little red heart marking] As participants arrived, we handed them their manuals (I’d never seen an HKC manual before this time) and the usual stack of paperwork, liability forms etc. I suddenly had even MORE respect for Nicole Du Cane’s organizational skills as she makes this potentially chaotic process look so effortless with waaaay more people involved at all the RKC, RKCII, CK-FMS etc. workshops. After everyone arrived with paperwork completed, we all went into the main room and made our introductions. I am always fascinated by these first meetings, because it’s interesting to watch how people grow, develop and change over the course of a workshop. Even though an HKC workshop is a single day, the next 8 hrs or so we would all spend together would be transformative and crammed full of information. It was cool to see that people of all ages, fitness levels, confidence levels, and backgrounds were present. There were more men than women present, but the ladies managed to represent just fine, thank you.
Since I had trained to go straight to the RKC back in October 2010, this would also be my first direct experience with an HKC workshop – so I was just as excited as the participants. I also hadn’t had the opportunity to officially help out at an event yet, so I was there, in my regulation khaki pants and RKC Instructor shirt – ready to help! [These are the first khaki pants I have owned in over a decade—this is a big deal for someone who wears only black, dark grey, or tiny bits of red. They look a LOT like the ones you see Pavel (his are Patagonia brand – which are insanely cool and durable) wearing in many photos and DVDs. Mine are from a brand called ExOfficio and are ridiculously comfortable.] After we all went around the circle for introductions, it was time for the initial strength testing—even though no one really knew each other—the atmosphere was very supportive as each person completed their strength test. That’s something I really love about the community surrounding the HKC, RKC, and Dragon Door: the strong sense of community and support. The strength requirements were: Men: 5 dead hang pull ups or chin ups, Women: 15 second flex arm hang OR opt to do the pullups/chinups instead. More on pull ups later, but it’s no secret that this is literally one of my favorite exercises ever. By the way, have you seen Al Kavadlo’s new book??!!
Tim was testing the camera with this picture, but I wanted you to see that I was actually wearing khaki pants. Those of you who have tried and failed to get me to wear something other than black should realize it takes a leadership responsibility, plus a heavy dose of “if Pavel wears them, then they must be cool” to go with it. They are incredible practical by the way. Need more in black…
A lot of people on the internet regularly ask me what’s the difference between HKC, Hardstyle, RKC, etc. The basic answer is that the HKC is the “entry level” kettlebell certification workshop from Dragon Door. You learn the kettlebell swing, the get up and the goblet squat – which are extremely powerful exercises. Ask my small group and you’ll soon find out exactly how much can be done with those three movements. The HKC is attended by fitness professionals as well as “regular people” who see it is a great goal and a great skill to develop for their own lifelong health. One of my clients was eventually inspired to attend an HKC. After she moved to California, she attended an HKC workshop, became certified and has been training clients of her own now! I couldn’t be more proud! The RKC Workshop lasts for 3 intense days and covers the basic “RKC 6” exercises: swing, clean, press, squat, snatch, and get up. But we all train “Hardstyle” which is defined towards the very beginning of the HKC manual as: “The reverse engineered body language of the most powerful people in the world”* The word or phrase hard style (outside of techno music circles at least) is often found in martial arts – refering to fast, powerful movements that utilize a good deal of controlled body tension, or hard style vs soft style, referencing external vs internal martial arts practices.
Every good lesson begins with the rules – kettlebell safety is always massively important – because these are such powerful and dynamic exercises, there are risks involved if we don’t know how to be safe. Like all exercise modalities, always check with your doctors first – but especially with kettlebell training as it is especially intense. Always be aware of your surroundings, wear the right (or no) shoes, practice common sense, keep moving when you take a break, stop before your form deteriorates, don’t slump! Always always always use good judgement and err on the side of caution. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so I would encourage you to get out your favorite kettlebell book or manual and review that section in the beginning. Go ahead and give it a good read right now. This is good information and we should all remind ourselves of it regularly!
Next, Franz Snideman led us through a joint mobility complex. It was a little different from the one I had been practicing for my own workouts and for the small group. It’s more involved in some areas and less in others. I really liked the warmup as presented to the HKCs – it’s a nice standardized, step by step process that can be used by people in a variety of fitness situations as well. And really, any excuse to do the prying cobra move is totally ok by me.
Much to everyone’s excitement – it was time to begin the swing – we reviewed the kettlebell swing standard (description) and began the drills leading up to learning it. One of the most crucial elements to the swing (and athletic movement in general) is the hip hinge. Personally, learning the hip hinge has changed SO MUCH about how I move – and my awareness of how I move. Because of the simple hip hinge I can swing extremely heavy kettlebells for reps (For example: the Beast kettlebell which is currently %84 of my bodyweight!), lift incredibly heavy objects (heavy in relation to my mass), and move safely during daily life. Also, I simply just don’t experience lower back pain and haven’t for years. We also learned the kettlebell deadlift – which is not only an essential step towards learning the swing, but a powerful and relatively easy lift to add to workouts. When I bring out the heavy kettlebells for my small group, we sometimes deadlift them for practice and for the fun of “hey I picked up something very heavy today and did it safely.” Next was a discussion of how and when to breathe (this practice has been especially helpful with singing, but also really reminded me of certain aspects of tai chi and qigong – where often the breath accompanies the movement in a powerful and useful way.) Related to breathing of course was the tension in our bodies – and how to start learning the timing of the breath as it relates to the kettlebell swing. Finally we went outside to do a favorite drill to learn the hike pass – or the beginning of the swing movement.
If there’s one thing that you should learn from kettlebell swings, it’s how to use your hips. Shakira jokes aside, I like to say that the hips comprise the biggest hinge in the body. When you can coordinate that movement within the kettlebell swing, the amount of power you can generate by using your whole body is simply amazing. You WILL surprise yourself. Learning to generate and control and release the full body tension necessary for the swing will also make sure that the swing really IS a full body exercise. And trust me on this, I’ve been able to FINALLY get the fitness results I’ve wanted because of the kettlebell swing. Results which previously had eluded me through trying nearly everything. Not even going to list everything I’ve tried over the years because frankly, it’s embarrassing! Kettlebell swings… they get the job done quickly and you can even keep your dignity!
In this picture, we are very excited about the top of the swing. It’s so crucial to have maximum tension, shoulders back and down, elbows straight, glutes and abs engaged STRONGLY, feet rooted firmly into the ground. Then as the kettlebell comes down with gravity, you go with it, hike it back again strongly and begin again. Control, tension, relaxation, timing, strength, coodination… the kettlebell swing really does have it all. This is why it’s so crucial you learn the correct form for performing a swing from an HKC or RKC instructor. Otherwise just flapping the kettlebell around, or doing some kind of lame front raise meets the squat combo isn’t going to give you the full benefit of this powerhouse exercise. Not to mention, safety is of the utmost. Who cares how fit you are if you’re always in pain, right? Let’s all get stronger together! After a whole lot of swing practice, troubleshooting, and variations (1 hand, hand to hand, etc.) it was time for a well deserved break – involving the group picture you see above and lunch.
*I also recently read the ever so interesting book In The Devil’s Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food the amusing quote from the author Stewart Lee Allen: “Eating well is, of course, the ultimate expression of power…” So I’m feeling pretty powerful over here right about now…..