The Art of Kettlebell Lifting

“How can I show you unless you first empty your cup” – Nan-in

John Medina tells us in the excellent Brain Rules“The human brain can only hold about seven pieces of information for less than 30 seconds! Which means, your brain can only handle a 7-digit phone number. If you want to extend the 30 seconds to a few minutes or even an hour or two, you will need to consistently re-expose yourself to the information.”

Last weeks IKFF Certified Kettlebell Trainer (CKT) certification was an exercise in constant exposure. Two days spent addressing and reviewing the essentials of Kettlebell Sport Lifting along with assistance work, mobility and Qi Gong. (The “tea cup” drill had many of us guessing)

The IKFF certification is an incredibly practical experience. The theory is explained in depth but always in tandem with it’s application. Once it gets in motion it stays in motion! Bang goes the comfort zone.

Kettlebell phenom Steve Cotter displays mind boggling athleticism. But beyond the martial skills and feats of strength is a measured, studious teacher who inspires everyones very best efforts.

Ken Blackburn
is huge. Not big. Huge. He is a mountain of a man with strength to match and frightening flexibility. He is also one of the most mild mannered people I have ever met and a patient and incisive coach. His mobility drills on both days were a high light.

Together they worked with an eclectic group of trainers, coaches and martial artists. I think it’s safe to say that everyone there had substantial previous experience.

Including myself there were three RKCs present. Five participants who had been through Kettlebells Scotland workshops showed up, keen to kick their training up an notch and eager to take advantage of world class coaching (almost) on their doorstep. Ray Wilson of AMAG, gearing up to fight at the Dog Brothers gathering in Switzerland, came down from Aberdeen. Will McCutcheon of NorthWest Kettlebells and Fitness who turned up raving about Brett Jones recent Fucntional Movement Screen workshop, along with Wayne Francomb travelled over from Liverpool. As did Ritchie, another previous workshop attendee. The irrepressible Gavin Moreton brought his good humour and fighting spirit with him from Edinburgh. It was a surprise and a delight to see so many old friends there.

Making comparisons between RKC and IKFF is pointless. Same tool, different schools of thought & methodologies. Sorry to disappoint, I am not about to go down that road. No either, or. No them or us. No black or white. Just turn up with an empty cup.

(If you are an Internet Ninja I suggest you head over to one of the many forums where keyboard bashing is a substitute for real physical activity, Lord knows you’ll find plenty of like minds and it will keep you away from any heavy objects)

Timed sets, Girevoy Sport style, were a revelation. Humbling. But Kettlebells have that effect. There is nothing quite like a kicking to make you knuckle down!

On day one we did 24 minutes straight with the Clean. The simple Clean takes on a whole new dimension 10 minutes in. Steve asked us to consider it as 1 minute work, just 24 times in a row. That helped for…not for long though.

You find yourself in a fairly interesting place mentally when you work like this. I talk in workshops about the difference between discomfort (good) and distress (bad). Well if discomfort is good, I had an absolute ball. Searching for recovery 15 minutes into a 24 minute set is a revelation. You should go there some time.

The timed sets throughout the weekend were a challenge whilst trying to master the body mechanics of GS style lifting. The whole process, breathing, posture, alignment requires incredible mindfulness. John Medina’s 7 pieces of information for 30 seconds says it all.

I loved the Clean & Jerk. It’s something I’d been working with a little. A number of people recently highlighted this as an excellent fighters exercise. Scott Sonnon whose “HardWork” Seminar I’d attended in Glasgow a few years back has written at length about it. I understand the C&J is once again a RKCII requirement.

There was also emphasis on the overhead squat. Again, done for time, this was a real eye opener. I was teamed up with exceptional all rounder Alan Orr whose CV is formidable. Like so many people who attended he seemed ego free. We worked out way through three timed sets playing unintentional mind games when we lost count of the minutes!

The main thing I noticed about the coaches & participants was the sheer joy of being there and working hard. Who’d have thought? Work as it’s own reward. No one complained, no one bailed, no one whinged.

On holiday this year we had three rules. (to be said in your best Anhuld voice)

  1. No whining
  2. No whining
  3. Still no whining

Host Stewart Agar of the The N.C.C.M.A made us all welcome as we messed up his beautiful venue spreading chalk everywhere. RKC Jason Dean seemed to grin all weekend, even when attempting the double 32 TGU! And I think it’s safe to say that fellow RKC Paula Wells (the only woman in attendance) pretty much wiped the floor with the guys present.

Finally, the Certifications handed out at close of play were truly earned. No question about it.

As for Steve & Ken, they are a fantastic team, professional, approachable and great fun. I can only say thanks for putting on such an excellent Certification.

So, nothing contentious here. The most formidable training tool I’ve come across just developed a new dimension. I am an ordinary guy, working on keeping the slings and arrows and inevitable monsters of middle age at bay and trying to keep up with my kids. My agenda? Simple…

Simple Strength

If I have anything to offer, it’s that I am happy to perform the experiments and offer up the results to anyone who wants to come and try it for themselves. As I’ve said before, this stuff works. But only if you do it.

What I can tell you is you can replace your gym membership, lengthy workouts and personal trainer fees with one piece of kit and some serious application.

I don’t teach anything I don’t do myself. And if it works for me chances are it just might work for you…

September 21st is PEACE DAY, check it out.

September 22nd we’ll have 100 days left of 2008. What will you be doing? Me? I’ll keep you posted.

September 28th Kettlebell Basics Workshop – Edinburgh

About the author

I am a movement maverick, exploring beginner's mind and beginner's body through mobility, bodyweight training, breathwork, mindfulness, kettlebells and martial arts, focussing on self care, pain free movement and resilience. Find suggestions to get you moving over at Want to move with ease and imagination? For individual or group instruction please contact me.
  • Guardian Lau

    Hey Rannoch,

    Yes, 24 minutes of cleans – my lats grew around 4 inches over that week end. I thought I trained hard, now I am training harder. Great to meet you chaps….. Didn’t realise you were all so hard, as well as nice guys !

  • Rannoch Donald

    I loved the 48 Laws. Is AOS as pre-meditated as it sounds???


  • Boris

    “The Art of Seduction” by Robert Greene. I’ll look into Shantaram.

  • Rannoch Donald RKC, CKT

    Always interested to know what folks are ready & lifting!

    I'm struggling with timed sets. I can see some long ones coming up. I love the simplicity, I love the "head" game.

    What are you reading at the moment?

    I have Shantaram (2nd attempt, lost the plot first time round!)



  • Boris

    Not bad – thanks for asking. I need to diversify a bit, but I’m happy with the GS-style training I’ve been doing lately.

    I forgot to mention that I recently read “Brain Rules” too!! It’s not the first time I’ve noticed our reading lists matching.

  • Rannoch Donald RKC, CKT

    Hi Boris,

    Ken is an absolute Gentleman. Very funny and a fantastic coach. It’s scary to see someone that big and strong move that quickly!

    As for the full splits with 2 32s overhead the only other person I’ve seen do that is Dave Whitely, another big, fun guy!

    How’s your training?


  • Boris

    I met Ken Blackburn this summer at a GS meet – great, great guy. Very helpful and approachable. Had a fun time at the post-comp dinner. I’d love to do a workshop of his sometime.

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