The end of Hardstyle vs. Kettlebell Sport?

Gaining a deeper understanding of the RKC Minimum Program…

Me and Dr. Mark Cheng, RKC Team Leader in Middletown, CT

Something that eluded me when I first read Enter The Kettlebell by Pavel was the seemingly inordinate amount of time and space he devoted to getting ready to swing. He goes into a ton of detail on picking the bell up, squat and deadlift form, wall squats, etc. When I read all that I felt it was hopelessly remedial. Surely someone with all my experience in traditional weight training and Kettlebell training knows how to squat!

What changed ALL my thoughts on this was the weekend’s Kettlebell and Functional Movement Patterning Seminar with Dr. Mark Cheng, RKC Team Leader at Modern Self Defense Center in Middletown, CT. “Doc” had us start out “learning” to squat for the first 3 hours of the seminar. And it really was learning! He corrected a number of poor movement patterns that we all had. What was really interesting was that he underscored ALL the points Pavel went into in Enter The Kettlebell: Pry the knees out, pull yourself down with the hip flexors, pinch a coin with your glutes when you go back up.

Getting such a thorough and detailed breakdown and instruction in proper squat form to build the Swing on made all the difference in the world! And it gave me an incredible new perspective on the Swing as a fundamental, remedial and corrective movement.

It was the same with the Get Up. The lat and hip engagement going on when we drilled it slow and perfectly with Dr. Cheng was absolutely incredible. I got a completely new appreciation for the seemingly “simple” or “basic” movement. After the seminar, I began to appreciate the Swing and the Get Up as fantastically deep “catalogs of movement.” This brought me back to my traditional martial arts days and kata. In traditional martial arts, you learn forms or kata – long, memorized performances of movements and techniques. The purpose of kata is to give the practitioner a “catalog” of techniques performed properly for practice and as a reference. In any kata there are endless connections and patterns that can be discovered. Even the simplest, most basic kata has an endless amount of detail and knowledge in it.

This is the appreciation I gained from Dr. Cheng for the Swing and the Get Up. Two deceptively simple movements that could be broken down into infinitely detailed and complex movement patterns that – when performed and drilled properly – give a reference and a method for training the body to move properly. OUTSTANDING!

Working with Dr. Cheng also gave me an appreciation for why Pavel made such a big deal out of the Get Up and the Swing in Enter The Kettlebell. The exercises represent FUNDAMENTAL human movement patters that can be drilled over and over again for constant benefit no matter what the practitioner’s level. And they are the BASE for EVERYTHING that comes after in Kettlebell training.

This brings me around to another point that my friend Rolando Garcia made yesterday at the Dr. Cheng Workshop. I asked the question: “How does one incorporate Hardstyle training into their training regimen for Sport style Kettlebell training.” Dr. Cheng gave his answer and then Rolando added that he considers Kettlebell Sport a sport like tennis or basketball or football or whatever. He uses Hardstyle training to create efficient movement patterns, build strength and body awareness and correct imbalances in ALL the athletes he coaches. He lays the foundation with Hardstyle and that makes the “sport specific” training work that much better. Pure genius! And pretty much the end to all the Hardstyle vs. Sport debate in Kettlebells – but I won’t tell anyone if you won’t…

So, if Hardstyle training is a fundamental and foundational training style, couldn’t we think of movements like the Hardstyle Swing and Get Up as fundamental movement patterns like a white belt technique or kata in Karate? The same white belt techniques that a black belt still works toward perfecting? And, just as practicing basic strikes and blocks teach and perfect fundamental movement patterns like proper hip rotation and stability, can we look at the Swing and the Get Up as teaching fundamental movement patterns like proper hip, glute and lat engagement, as well?

More evidence about the foundational nature of Hardstyle training…

With the new knowledge I gained from working with Doc, I started going back through “Enter The Kettlebell.” Something I noticed on page 31 is that Pavel mentions both Steve Cotter (Senior RKC) and Anthony Diluglio (RKC). There are a few interesting points about this. Both of these guys have had a strong influence on me. Anthony Diluglio was really where I got my introduction to kettlebells. I got a 16kg bell from his company Art Of Strength and his “Kettlebell Training Clinic, Volume 1” DVD. It was actually that DVD that originally taught me how to use a Kettlebell.

And, of course, my connection to Steve Cotter is that he, along with Ken Blackburn, certified me as a Kettlebell Teacher through their sanctioning body, IKFF. I had a great time doing the Level 1 CKT with those guys and I learned a TON. Both are fantastic athletes.

So, what’s the point? The point is that both Steve and Anthony STARTED out as RKCs under Pavel as far as I can tell. Steve Cotter went on to form the IKFF and promote Kettlebell Sport primarily and Anthony Diluglio went on to start Art Of Strength. Both Steve and Anthony went on to somewhat different styles of training from the strict “Hardstyle” training taught by Pavel, but they both started with a BASE of Hardstyle training and that base is evident in what they teach and how they teach it.

That’s it for right now. I’m off to see when the next RKC is offered!



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Kettlebell Seminar at Modern Self-Defense Center

Me and Dr. Mark Cheng, RKC Team Leader in Middletown, CT

Mark Cheng Kettlebell Seminar Group Photo

Saturday 6/20/2009 Modern Self-Defense Center in Middletown, Connecticut hosted Dr. Mark Cheng, RKC Team Leader for a Kettlebell and Functional Movement Patterning workshop. I’d heard great things about Dr. Cheng so I was looking forward to the seminar for a while. I was absolutely NOT disappointed! Dr. Cheng is a fantastic teacher and has an understanding of the details and intricacies of movement that is inspiring and humbling at the same time.

Mark Cheng Kettlebell Seminar

We spent most of the morning working on a SINGLE movement pattern – The Squat. I think everyone there, including myself, thought they knew how to squat. The fine details we got from Dr. Cheng were really eye opening.

Mark Cheng Fixing Zach at the Kettlebell Seminar

The immediate impact Dr. Cheng had on me and my training from this one “simple” set of drills and corrections was:

  1. My deadlift immediately felt stronger after working these new movement patterns with him.
  2. My hips and hamstrings felt noticeably “better.” I’m not sure exactly how to define better. All I can say is that the new movement patters I learned for the squat from Dr. Cheng had my hips feeling noticeably “lighter” and more open. I’d describe the sensation as very similar to the feeling I get after a really good yoga session. My flexibility and my circulation felt noticeably better.

From the squats we moved into the Kettlebell Get Up. Again, I learned A TON about movement patterns in this seemingly simple exercise. In particular, loading the lats and opening the thoracic spine. Once again, it was a humbling, frustrating and absolutely inspiring experience to “crawl” through an exercise I’ve been doing for a long time and considered myself to be well experienced with.

Interestingly, when we finished the Get Ups my shoulders, chest and upper back felt great. I had the same feeling in my upper body that I had in my lower body after the squats. Amazing what moving properly can do for you!

From the Get Ups we moved into one and two handed Kettlebell swings. Again, a deceptively simple movement done correctly created a great learning and training experience.

The swings were actually my favorite part of the seminar. Mainly because Dr. Cheng really picked on me and my form. He also made me train ALL my sets with the 32kg Kettlebell because I was “MSDC’s resident Kettlebell coach.” It was great and I learned A LOT about firing the glutes to propel the Kettelbell in a swing.

Throughout the day Dr. Cheng did a great job of tying together the movements we were doing with the basics of the squat we practiced at the beginning. It was really cool to see where the squat movement patterns were in the Get Up and the swing and all the other things we do as gireviks and martial artists.

Dr. Cheng is an outstanding teacher and is absolutely full of knowledge about human movement patters. And he’s completely accessible, funny and friendly. Thank you, Dr. Cheng and thank you Chris from MSDC for hosting him!



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CrossFit and Benchmarking Fitness

Today turned out to be a landmark day for me in my pursuit of world class fitness. I took my best friend, Kate, to CrossFit USA in Berlin, CT for her first CrossFit workout.

I was planning to do the WOD (which was a bit intimidating) but Merle had another idea. In his infinite wisdom Merle suggested that I do the “first time” workout along with Kate both to lend her some support and to see how my fitness had come along in the month or so that I’ve been training with at CrossFit USA.

Now, this is the same workout I blogged about in my post CrossFIt will change EVERYTHING. The workout that had me laying on the floor in Merle’s bathroom for 30 minutes feeling like an adolescent who drank too much at a party.

Me After Crossfit

Up to now, I had no idea where my fitness stood other than I’ve been LOOKING a lot leaner and more muscular. While Kate was doing her warmup I went out and did the first part of the WOD Merle had posted for my warmup – Run 1 Mile wearing the 20lb weight vest.

I got back from my run and we got into it. Once again, the workout is deceptively simple:

Row 500 meters
40 Wall Squats
30 Sit Ups
20 Push Ups
10 Pull Ups

I got through this workout in 6:33 minutes. That’s less than half the time I did it in last time – and I did full kipping pull ups instead of the jumping pull ups I did last time.

So, lets summarize:

I added a 1 mile run WITH a weight vest and did full kipping pull ups and STILL got this WOD done in less than half the time it took to do it a month ago. AND I was completely fine after the WOD. In fact, I could have probably done a few more rounds!

Now that’s progress!



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