It’s right smack bang in the middle of cert season in the US. There are RKC events going on all over the country – from St. Paul to San Diego to Chicago – as well as in Hungary, Italy and Korea. The RKC has truly become the global standard, and leader, in kettlebell training. As both kettlebells and functional movement have grown in popularity and understanding there has been a massive growth too in numbers attending the RKC and even the post-RKC events such as the Certified Kettlebell Functional Movement Specialist course and RKC Level II.
While this is great and the growth of the RKC community is a great thing – the short version is it gives us a bigger collective brain to solve problems and keep advancing – it seems like there is starting to be a lack of good ol’ fashioned common sense in preparing for these events. Just because something has become more popular doesn’t mean it will be any easier to pass. In fact, I think the technical standard today is far higher than when I did the RKC, although maybe I feel that way because looking back I now think I understood nothing about kettlebells when I attended the RKC in June ’09. So here is a list of things you can do to help you get yourself ready for the RKC –
Don’t treat the RKC as you would a normal fitness industry certification. Meaning, unlike other groups who certify instructors who arrive at courses as absolute beginners in a subject we expect you to have spent considerable time on kettlebell training already. While the format has changed slightly the Snatch Test used to do this for us – if you couldn’t complete one hundred Snatches in five minutes we’d know straight away that you were likely going to struggle with the weekend. At the very least you should already be able to perform without hurting yourself the 100 Snatches as well as all the other RKC Basic Six exercises of – Swing, Get Up, Clean, Press, Squat. These movements are tested using double Snatch weight bells – for men this will likely be double 24s and for women likely double 16s (although you will probably not have to test the Press with double 16s but with 12s or 14s instead).
This means as a minimum you will need to be able to perform at least five reps on each exercise (ten for Double Swings) with those weights just to be able to test.
The caveat here is that testing is the penultimate thing done after three days of training. During the teaching portion of the weekend you learn by doing. In other words, while learning how to teach the Swing you will do the Swing. In fact, you’re probably going to do about a thousand of them with weights ranging from a single Snatch weight bell to Double Snatch weight to something even heavier, maybe up to even 36kg for men. So if you’re planing to attend you will need to make sure that your lower back and hips, as well as your grip strength, are strong enough to do that many Swings. This is an often overlooked part of the weekend. I had no opportunity to train with Dragon Door kettlebells before attending the RKC for the simple reason that they weren’t available in Australia until six months after my trip when I became the national distributor. Because of this I was only able to train with competition bells in the lead up to the RKC. While my technique was ok the biggest issue I encountered was the extra grip requirement of training with thicker handles! On the Saturday night I couldn’t even turn the door handle to my room as I couldn’t hold onto it!
You’ll also be doing lots of overhead work in both the Get Up, Press and Snatch portions of the weekend. So you need to be strong enough overhead to deal with having a bell pressed out overhead for long periods of time. There will be times when you will be expected to have a bell overhead for up to two minutes in a static contraction. While testing for the Press is with double Snatch weight – you’ll need to be able to get five reps – you will probably want some strength reserve to allow you to work with that weight at a comfortable level. My suggestion is that men should be able to Press a 32kg for at least a few reps.
All the while you are learning the progressions for these six exercises you will be doing Swings. At my RKC my diary shows almost two and a half thousand in various forms over the three days. Mostly with double 24s. If you plan to be one of the few who manage to make it to day three without walking like Quasimodo I suggest you spend a lot of time training Swings otherwise the sheer volume of work is going to tighten you up and affect everything you do on test day.
Here is the general continuum for how attending the RKC should work –
Discover kettlebells and realise they make all of your other training redundant when used in conjunction with Hardstyle training principles.
See an RKC instructor for technique assistance. Honestly, this is probably the most important step and nearly everyone excludes it. What point is there in practicing bad form? It will just make it harder to fix you on the day as you will have more deeply ingrained your mistakes. See a knowledgeable instructor right from the start and you will find the whole journey much more enjoyable. Don’t bother learning anything other than Swing, Get Up and Squat at this point. It takes months before people start doing Swings well and only then is it worthwhile even teaching them anything else. All that happens if you rush this is they wind up with poor Cleans and Snatches and likely some kind of injury.
Attend the HKC. While this isn’t a pre-requisite for the RKC I believe it should be. The result at the RKC for those having attended the HKC is far better than for those coming directly to the event, especially if they have come without any previous contact with an instructor. Not only that but with the rebate available for those doing the HKC you basically end up with an extra day of training with a Senior or Master to fine tune your form further. So you’ll get to see what the expectations are like for our instructors, the level of strength and skill required, have your technique gone over with a fine tooth comb and you get a discount at the RKC.
In between the HKC and your RKC you should again spend time with an RKC. This is now to learn Clean, Press and Snatch as well as the differences between single and double bell training.
Once you’ve got your HKC and learned how to do the next three moves it is time to move onto Rites of Passage from Enter the Kettlebell. For men you need to be able to complete this with Pull Ups and a 24kg bell in under an hour or you’re not strong enough to even think about going to RKC. At this point, even though you’ve learned double bell work, you don’t need to be doing any. You should also be spending time working on your teaching skills as you do get tested on your ability to train others at the RKC.
Once you can finish the ROP with a 24kg in under an hour you’re now ready to start thinking about the RKC. At the very least you will likely need to start building your Snatch numbers up and developing your work capacity to cope with a weekend of double bell drills. But fear not because you have spent adequate time on creating strength first – because when you are trying to develop strength endurance, first you must have strength. The best formula to follow is to use Brett Jones’ RKC Preparation programs. I find about three months worth of this is enough to put the icing on the cake for people. They can be found here. I differ in my recommendations to Brett in that I don’t think the body necessarily needs to be prepped to work for three days straight – it either has the capacity or it doesn’t. As we used to say in the Commandos – you don’t need to practice being cold, wet and hungry. What I do suggest is following his program using one of the three workouts on three days per week and doing a single bell workout followed by the next workout with double bells for a month, just alternating single bell to double bell workout to workout. Then the remaining two months it goes double bell, single bell, double bell within the week. Each week you swap which workout is single bell but always two workouts per week with double bells at test weight. You will also need at least one workout in there to retain max strength and I suggest a day where you do 3 x 1,2,3,4,5 Double Presses (no Clean in between) plus Pull Ups. Tack some Snatches onto this day and you’ve got a decent day of training. Then a fifth and final day of training needs to be added in that has lots of Snatches. There are many ways to build up the numbers but as long as you can do five per hand with test weight at the beginning of these three months you should be fine.
The final piece of advice is that you should stop ALL other activity at least three months prior, and in some cases as much as six. This is for all those cardio junkies who wonder why they can’t seem to gain strength – it’s because you’re exhausted all the time! For some women in particular this is vital as they are already challenged in the strength gain department and need all the recovery they can get. I recommend all my clients cease all activity outside of kettlebell training for at least three months prior – no running, no martial arts, no team sports – nothing other than kettlebells. And within the kettlebell training I insist they stick only to the Basic Six. There is no running test at the RKC nor is there a max Pistol test. As Senior RKC Dan John says you must keep the goal the goal and when the goal is to pass the RKC having paid all that money to train, travel and attend there is simply no need, other than ego, to be doing other activity. I have actually seen people fail at the HKC because of lack of focus – a 32kg Pistol done a week before instead of practicing Swings or gaining fitness for an all day training event. Looks good on FaceBook, not so much when you don’t pass on the day and walk away feeling like you’ve wasted the entire day as well as your money.
Obviously if you’re in Australia we constantly have people come to learn more about kettlebell training with us and I currently have online clients getting ready for various RKCs. Our new website will be up soon and will feature an online training option so even people outside of Australia will be able to have guidance to get ready for a certification – even if there are no local RKCs we’ll be able to do technique corrections online. But the bottom line is always the same – if you fail to prepare adequately you will likely fail. While my plan is longer than many would hope it is 100% successful and breeds strong, experienced instructors once they pass the RKC. By developing strength gradually as well as experience with kettlebells they turn up at the event ready and enjoy their weekend instead of suffering and hoping they pass.