Capable with Confidence: My RKC Level II Certification Experience

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“To strive actively to achieve some goal gives your life meaning and substance.”, Bruce Lee

I recently attended and passed my Russian Kettlebell Level II Certification Training. For those of you who have never been to an RKC Workshop, I found myself surrounded by individuals who were incredibly intelligent and strong, both mentally and physically. It was both amazing and humbling.

As I reflect upon the weekend, I believe that I prepared well for my Level II Certification, both physically and mentally and as a result I felt successful at both the skills that I was tested on as well as the skills that I learned. However, whether you are training for a marathon, your kung fu black belt or your RKC certification, even if you have successful training in the months leading up to your event, you never know how you will actually feel on the day of the event and if you will have a successful “test” day. The uncontrollable physical and environmental aspects aside, 80% of it is mental and you just have find your zone and “bring it”, in order to get what it is you came for, done.

Not to think but to do — “Our grand business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.”, Bruce Lee

Photography By Robert Cantrell

With that, even if you are capable, you must also have the confidence in your skills and strength to actualize that capability. If you lack the confidence, you might just get by without being pleased with your performance, or even fail.  By confidence, I don’t mean arrogance; there is a distinct difference between the two. By confidence, I mean knowing that you’ve trained sufficiently in order to achieve the goal that you seek. If you don’t succeed, then there is probably a good reason why you didn’t; and you will learn what it is that you need to work on in order to succeed the next time. Subsequently, you must go into the test or the competition, with this mindset of confidence. This mindset of knowing that you are capable of succeeding but accepting that there is a chance that you may not succeed; and if you don’t, that there is a good reason for it and accepting that result without ego and with confidence that you need to work on where you fell short in order to succeed the next time.

“Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious to even fail.”, Bruce Lee

When I reflect upon my RKC Level I Training, I picture myself at the training looking like a deer in headlights and completely confused as if it was the first time I had ever picked up a kettlebell although I had been training with kettlebells for three years. At least, that’s how I felt inside even if I may not have shown it on the outside. Given my work environment at the time, I did the best that I could to minimize stress, get enough sleep and have an effective training schedule in order to prepare. The other element that I had no idea about until I arrived at my RKC Level I was the effect that learning a completely different style of kettlebell training would have on my psyche. Talk about having to “empty your cup”; the water glass that was my mind was shattered to pieces within seconds of the first lecture presented.

I originally held and practiced a non-RKC kettlebell certification and I made the mistake pre-RKC Level I of taking my preparation for my RKC Level I into my own hands rather than training with an RKC Instructor or attending an HKC (Hardstyle Kettlebell Certification) Training. I knew very well that the RKC Style was different and I had some level of understanding about how different and had practiced. However, once I arrived at the training, I realized that I had not practiced enough. The only choice I had was to “bring it”. I had to get my mind right and put on my “competition” head in order to accomplish what it was that I attended that training for, done.

Note to those who are seeking their RKC Certification, either attend an HKC Certification workshop and/or train with an RKC Instructor in order to prepare. You can find an upcoming HKC Certification Workshop in your area HERE.

You can find a local RKC Instructor in your area HERE.

I took my learning experience from my RKC Level I and prepared much better for my Level II. Subsequently once I arrived in St. Paul, I was naturally relaxed about the training weekend and ready learn and to see for myself if my training had been successful. I did the following 10 things as part of my training to prepare for my RKC Level II:

Training that worked for me, in order to train for my RKC II:

1) Waiting to attend and training for at least one year before I attended RKC Level II. After attending RKC Level I, part of me was so rejuvenated from the new information that I learned and the people that I had met and what I had experienced with them, that I knew immediately that I wanted to continue to progress. However, the other part of me knew very well that after learning so much new information the best thing for me to do was to practice it on my own and to slowly incorporate it into my training with my clients and classes.

When you learn so much new information, it’s extremely important to let that information digest over time and to slowly incorporate it into your own practice, training and instruction. One year’s time was a perfect amount of time for me to practice the techniques that I learned, have some experiences, both successful and not so successful, practicing them and teaching them so that I could learn from those experiences and personally get stronger.

2) Control over work, sleep, and training schedule, and minimized stress. About 8 months ago I left a very stressful work environment to open up my own kettlebell and personal training studio, Iron Body Studios, with my boyfriend and RKC Eric Gahan. When I attended RKC Level I, I was knee deep in a stressful work environment and even though I managed to find focus at my Level I training, it prevented me from having peace from within at the time. Now, owning my own business has its own stresses, however, I have relative control over how I run my business and how I manage these stresses. With that, I am able to better dictate my work schedule and therefore maintain a proper training and sleep schedule. Scheduling in my own time to train and getting enough rest are fundamental for me to be successful running my business and working towards any professional goal that I set out to obtain. I see this time for myself as priority number one when it comes to my schedule.

Within my teaching and training schedule, I blocked out time specifically so that I could train myself. When I was training for my kung fu black belt I discovered that I achieve my best training in the morning. During the week, after I trained a client at 6 a.m., no matter how tired I was I would go to kung fu at 7:30 a.m. in order to train because I knew that I would not have the focus or energy later in the day. When I moved from Arlington, Virginia back to my home state of Massachusetts in 2009 I lost sight of setting aside this time for myself because I was primarily concerned with re-building my business. I did not start to make myself a priority again until this past fall/winter when I was given the opportunity to start fresh.

As a fitness professional who is in the business of motivating others and being a positive force in others’ lives, it is essential to set aside this time for myself so that I can be the best possible trainer that I can be for my clients. I am no good to anyone if I am sleep deprived and resentful because I am not getting the time to train for myself, learn new skills, read, and rest sufficiently after working a physically demanding job. As fitness professionals in an industry that is 24/7 and all about the client this is something that we must be strict about managing ourselves. We must learn to schedule in time for ourselves and stick to it; being a fitness professional is not just about the teaching and training, but also about recharging in order to have the energy and motivation to teach and train. It’s imperative to take time out and away to learn new skills and information so that we can not only be better, but also be the best that we can be.

SO, with that, when I was training for my RKC Level II, I blocked out specific times of the morning that I knew were ideal for me to train so that I could train myself. Not only did I have the most successful trainings during this time, but it also helped me to check something off my list so that I carried less stress throughout my workday. I plan to continue this schedule as much as possible as I believe it helps me to be a better trainer.

3) How I structured my training sessions. As I mentioned in my previous post, “The Journey Continues… Training for the RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) Level II” I structured my training sessions so that the first half focused on strength and skills, e.g. Turkish Get Ups, weighted pull ups or body weight pull ups for reps, heavy presses, pistol squat practice, etc. and the second half focused on endurance such as complexes.  If I had any time at the end of my training session I would spend about 5-7 minutes doing swing or snatch intervals and sometimes I would work in either racked or overhead carries with the swing intervals. My sessions comprised of a 10-15 minute mobility warm up and corrective exercises, 45-50 minutes of work and then 5 minutes to cool down, stretch and/or foam roll. The actual “work” portion of my training sessions never exceeded 45-50 minutes. On some days, if I had a long training session, upwards of 50 minutes, the day before, then the work portion of my training session for the next day would only be 30-40 minutes. You have to have balance across your training. You cannot train hard all the time.

I kept it simple and the first part of my training session pretty much remained the same each time and for the second part of the training session, I would cycle through many of the same workouts over a two-week period. Simplicity and repetition are keys to success in training.

4) Becoming stronger than I needed to be for my Level II testing standards. I am 61 inches tall and range from 115lbs to 118lbs depending the day, time of day or time of month, etc. At the weigh in at Level II I weighed in at 116.4lbs. This is a very healthy weight for me. I did not cut weight so that I could weigh in under 123lbs in order to snatch and press the 12kg (26.4lbs) bell as opposed to the 16kg (35.2lbs) bell. This is what I weigh when I eat normally and train regularly. Anything less than 115lbs then I am not eating enough and I don’t have enough energy to get through my day and anything approaching 120lbs or more then I am slow and sluggish and carrying more weight than my body frame can handle.

The weight that I needed to snatch and press based upon my bodyweight, 12kg (26.4lbs), was not a lot for my individual strength. Even though I was not required to snatch and press heavier, I wanted to be prepared to be able to press and snatch more than would be required. The reason why I wanted to be stronger than my testing requirements was because segments of the Level II training were going to cover the Push Press, the Clean & Jerk and the Bent Press. These are all movements that are meant to be performed with weight heavier than your press weight. I wanted to be comfortable working with a bell that was heavier than my press weight when it came time to practice these movements during their respective training segments. Subsequently, I maintained my max press weight of 16kg (35.2lbs) and my max get up weight of 20kg (44lbs) and trained snatches with 12kg (26.4lbs), 14kg (30.8lbs) and 16kg (35.2lbs).

In addition, since women had to perform one body weight pull up, I practiced pull-ups every time I trained, sometimes weighted, sometimes just body weight. I had already tested for my Level I by completing a set of 5 body weight pull-ups (I chose this over the 15 second flexed arm hang). Therefore, I wanted to make sure that I could meet or exceed that. In addition, a segment of the Level II training was going to cover pull up technique and I wanted to be able to do weighted pull ups so that I could apply any techniques learned to weighted pull ups during the practice time at the training.

As Master RKC Dan John says, “If something is important, then you should do it everyday.” Get ups, pull-ups and pistols were important to me during my training and so I did them every time that I trained. I have been asked if it is possible to over-train pull-ups. As long as you apply the right variety to your pull-up training whether you are doing body weight pull-ups or a combination of body weight pull ups and weighted pull ups, then no. In order to do pull ups well, you must do them often.

For example, in order to obtain my black belt in kung fu, I had to complete 100 consecutive military style push-ups in 2 minutes or less as part of the strength and fitness portion of the test. While training for this I did at least 100 push-ups every single day; sometimes more than that. The only way that I was going to get great at push-ups and pass that portion of the test was by practicing every day. Needless to say I had no trouble completing 100 push-ups in less than 2 min when the time came.

Based upon my ballet and kung fu background, I have been able to do pistol squats for some time now. Therefore during my training I worked on improving my pistol squat technique, especially with my left leg as it is not as stable as pistols with my right leg. I also wanted to have the ability to pistol squat with my snatch and press size bell, 12kg (26.4lbs), in the rack position.

In my previous post, “The Journey Continues… Training for the RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) Level II”, I mentioned that I was not as strong as I wanted to be, however, I surprised myself at Level II. As a result of my training I was able to comfortably work with two 16kg (70.4lbs total) bells during the push press and clean and jerk segments of the training. In addition, during the pull up segment, I achieved a weighted pull up PR of a pull up with a 16kg (35.2lbs) bell on my foot. I was able to get the bar below my chin to about my collarbone. Not to my chest, but I felt really good about the pull up attempt. After completing this weighted pull up, I was able to complete a set of 8 consecutive body weight pull ups, chest to bar. I was very excited about this strength accomplishment.

5) Rest Days. I am someone who can train 6 to 7 days per week and will take a rest day off when both my mind and my body have no desire to engage in any physical activity. While training for Level II, I found rest days more important than ever. For the majority of the four months of training leading up to Level II, I would train 5 days per week, 4 days with bells and one day of running and then take 2 full rest days off in a row. I was doing more volume in my training sessions than usual and pulling and pushing a lot more weight than usual. These 2 rest days were essential to allow my body to recover from the increase in volume and weight. As a result, the majority of my training weeks were very successful in that I had very good energy and was pleased with my results. I literally only had a few weeks of training that I did not feel great about. But I am aware that this is the normal cycle of training.

“…adaptation is cyclical in nature… Lower valleys tend to be followed by higher peaks and vice versa.” (excerpt from the periodization section of the RKC Level II training manual.)

6) Soft Tissue Work. Along with rest days, I scheduled in a weekly appointment to get soft tissue work. As I mentioned in my previous post, “The Journey Continues… Training for the RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) Level II”, I tend to have very tight glutes and hip flexors and if I don’t keep up with foam rolling and soft tissue work in these areas, the muscles in my thoracic and lumbar area will compensate for them. In addition, given all of the overhead work that I was doing, my back and shoulders needed constant attention. The soft tissue work, combined with rest days, corrective exercises and proper mobility work helped to keep me healthy and injury free during my training.

7) Met with another Level 2 to review basics and new techniques. As I mentioned in my previous post, “The Journey Continues… Training for the RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) Level II”, I met with Mike Perry, RKC II and owner of Skills of Strength in Chelmsford, MA so that he could review my basics and go over the new material that I was expected to learn at RKC Level II.

Basics Review. It was so incredibly helpful to have an objective eye review my basics and provide feedback on what I needed to improve. This is something that I would recommend that all RKC’s do not just when they are due to test, but as a regular “progress check” once every one to three months.

New Skills. Mike provided me with an overview of the new skills that I would learn at Level II. We focused on the movements that I was most unfamiliar with, such as the bent press. Even though I only spent one session with Mike, I felt more comfortable about what I was going to learn at Level II and subsequently more confident that I would have success learning the new movement patterns over the course of the Level II weekend training. If you plan to test for your RKC Level II, I would recommend that at a minimum, you meet with a Level II instructor to at least review the techniques that you will learn at the training, if not, train regularly with that instructor in the months leading up to the training.

8) Over-prepare. I over-prepared both mentally and physically and I believe that worked to my advantage. I expected to be required to physically work very hard that weekend and be put to the test mentally. By going into the weekend with that mindset I knew that I could handle anything that was presented to me.

9) Stay healthy and injury free. I focused on staying healthy, eating well, getting enough regular sleep and generally, not engaging in anything stupid that might put me at risk for injury. For example, I avoided any sparring matches ;), handstand push-ups (some of you know the story behind this one and if you don’t, then ask me :)) or invitations to participate in a Tough Mudder (as fun as many people may find them) :)…

10) Clearing my mind the day before the training. The week leading up to my Level II training, I was a nervous wreck. I was nervous about the training, I was a basket case about the plane flight (because the last time that I had flown to St. Paul I had been tremendously air sick on the flight both there and worse on the way back), I was anxious about packing, getting motion sickness medication from my doctor, you name it, I obsessed about it. As soon as I got to the airport and checked in for my flight and checked my bag, I sat down with my iPad and started to read a book that was completely unrelated to anything kettlebell or RKC related. I wanted to take my mind completely off the training that I was about to partake in and be relaxed and calm once I arrived. Whether you are getting ready to take a final exam, or engage in a competition, the best thing that you can do for yourself in the 24 hours leading up to the exam or competition is to completely clear your mind of anything related to that exam or competition. Needless to say, I finished the book on the plane ride over, it was a quick read, and I walked off that plane once I arrived in St. Paul, relaxed, anxiety free and excited, not nervous, excited for the weekend ahead.

As a side note, the book was “30 Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know by the Time She’s 30”, by Pamela Redmond, Satran. This is a book that all women should read whether they are age 18, 30, 45 or 73. It is a book that every woman can identify with and I highly recommend it. When I read the book on the way to St. Paul, I took notes in consideration of at some point writing a post about it. I have not completed that post yet, but I do plan to revisit my notes at some point to write a post related to the book.

As a result of all of this preparation for my Level II, I was able to truly enjoy the weekend of learning, making friends, networking and achieving some personal strength accomplishments that I did not expect to achieve.

The Sunday that the training was over, a group of us went out to dinner for that last night in St. Paul. At the dinner, one of the attendees kept saying to me, “I am so sad, this is the end… “ I said to him, “no it’s not. You should be excited, it’s just the beginning :)…”

With that, I leave you with this song that our bus driver and professional smooth vocalist Bryan Bassett sang to us on the way back to the hotel after the training was over, “Picking up the Kettlebell People”, video courtesy of Amanda Clark, RKC II… ENJOY!

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