The path less patterned

One of the things I can never understand is how people can turn up at an RKC and still not be ready. It’s one thing if they’re injured leading up to it but still want to attend – no one expects a miracle if you’ve been hurt. But how can a healthy person turn up and not be ready?

It would be somewhat understandable if the RKC was a new course. With the way the fitness industry is most trainers expect to pay some money, attend a course, and walk away “certified’ as an instructor in whatever it is. In my opinion, that’s utter garbage and has led to the dismal state of the industry as it stands today all around the world. But the RKC isn’t new. It’s been around since 2001, and is well known for how tough the standards are. A quick search on the internet, or even reading the testing standards on the sign up page, will provide all the answers you need.

But still I often have to speak with students at the end of the weekend who haven’t satisfied all the requirements to pass. Some, having been told all weekend that their form is sub standard are ready to hear this. But others stare back at me, obviously surprised by having failed something. I suppose the fitness industry standard of passing everyone makes many believe that the teachers for the weekend had just been talking tough about the high standards.

If I had to nail down one thing that I felt was the leading cause of not being ready it’s pretty simple – not enough time spent on patterning. Trainers are not exactly the smartest people on the block usually. I mean, we just pick things up and put them down again for a job, right? And it always strikes me as odd that we’ll tell clients they need to train with someone certified in using a particular tool, but many trainers will get their education off YouTube. Things that make you go hmm…

So imagine a trainer, seeking to do the RKC, sitting down in front of their computer searching for RKC standard videos. There aren’t many around to be honest. We have some on our YouTube channel but even they are mostly focused on fixing specific elements of individual lifts, rather than just showing what good form in each lift entails. So there you are, looking for good videos on RKC standard technique, and all you find is one awful video after another. And so it’s not unexpected that you walk away thinking that your own poor technique compares well to the videos and that you’ll be just fine at the RKC.

Except you won’t.

Back a few years Dragon Door used to send out a list of required reading materials for the RKC. The list included: Enter the Kettlebell, Return of the Kettlebell, Super Joints, Relax into Stretch, Resilience, Naked Warrior and Power to the People. If you’re an RKC hopeful my first question to you is how many of those do you own, and how many have you read? Would you sit a university exam without having read the textbooks and expect to pass? So how come you come to the RKC – a very physical test – and expect to pass without having put in the required amount of time learning? (All of these are available from in Australia).

The second step, after reading those books, is to get in front of an RKC and have them check your form in all the basic exercises. Don’t be surprised if it takes an hour just to get you doing swings correctly. At this point, early in your kettlebell journey, I wouldn’t even bother about any skills other than the first three – two hand swing, goblet squat and get up. There’s a reason these are the same exercises taught at the HKC and it’s because they are the ideal starting point for home training as well as for instructors to better learn about kettlebells.

The big reason the HKC is so important is one thing – patterning. While all the more advanced kettlebell drills such as cleans, snatches and jerks are performed one handed to begin with it’s best to start with two hands on the bell. Additionally, for many people they’ll actually need to learn how to squat properly. The goblet squat was never intended to be a strength exercise, but a patterning exercise – one that taught high school kids quickly and safely how to squat en masse. The get up may be the ultimate patterning exercise for a variety of issues. Someone who can perform a solid get up will be able to perform a variety of other exercises well too.

In Australia the odds of passing the RKC are about 50% if you haven’t previously attended the HKC. But if you’ve been to the HKC those odds change to 90%. If I told you that you’d be guaranteed to make over a hundred thousand dollars if you just spent a day and $500 doing some kettlebell training would you go? Because that’s about what you’ll earn as a PT over the two years following your RKC. That one time $500 investment will pay off double over the following two years. Think about it – $500 to earn $100,000. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

If you haven’t grasped the gist of this yet, the step by step process for passing the RKC should be: buy and read ALL the books listed, train with an RKC, attend the HKC, and finally start working on attaining the strength and fitness standards needed for passing the RKC. Don’t think you’re talented and special and can avoid the patterning work, because you’re not and you can’t. I’ve seen more people who thought they’d be able to wing it fail the RKC than I can count. Don’t jump the gun, don’t waste time watching YouTube videos from other training groups, and don’t think you’re talented enough to pass without having done the work prior. Better men and women than you have tried that path and failed. Pay your dues, work on the basics and get the patterns right before adding load or volume. Attend the HKC. Workout with an RKC. Your chances of succeeding on your own are slim.

The RKC isn’t impossible. There are more than enough RKCs worldwide to show that passing isn’t that hard. Yes, it’s a tough weekend, and yes, you will be pushed. But if you’ve spent the time prior working on the patterns, attending an HKC, and working with a local RKC, you will be fine.