Monday, April 20, 2009

Why A Certified Kettlebell Instructor Is Your Best Bet

If you are new to kettlebell training,then please keep this this in mind...If you want to learn correct kettlebell technique and you want to practice kettlebell strength and condition, then you ought to hire a professional. Why you ask?

Consider this. April is tax time. Can I do my own taxes? Not anymore. I own a small business and I feel it's just too risky. I probably could pull it off but the risk/reward is a bit out of my favor. Let's say I did decide to do them. That's cool but how comfortable would you feel following my advice on how do yours? What if I had a website and even posted some instructional video on YouTube? Since I'm not a CPA, I'd say it would be a losing proposition for you. Wouldn't make much sense.

Let's take this a bit further. Let's say I was an attorney and my speciality was small business consulting. Still probably not the best idea to ask me for tax advice. If I was a resposible person, then I'd have a relationship with a CPA I could and would refer you to.

I'm at wits end on this subject. In the last week, we've seen Jillian Michaels attempt to demonstrate kettlebell exercises (a full on travesty)and more and more "instructional" videos posted to places like Youtube by personal trainers. Folks, the fitness pie is huge and we do a huge disservice not sharing it. I wouldn't consider teaching someone how to use a TRX and a personal trainer shouldn't be trying to teach kettlebells. Can I use a TRX? Sure can but I shouldn't teach others. If I do a kettlebell consultation and the potential client and I decide that kettlebells aren't going to work well for them, then guess what? I smile, shake hands and send them to a certified Personal Trainer. Someone I know and can refer them to. The pie is too big for me to try to eat it all and I want everyone to get fit. Kettlebell or not.

Why are most personal trainers afraid to send potential business out the door? I think that they mostly come from a place of want instead of plenty. That's why and it's a shame. Oh, they think, "if I don't teach this person kettlebells then they won't be a client." Perhaps. But are you more important then they are? It reminds me of the ReMax commercial on TV when a real estate agent doesn't listen to what the client wants and trys to get them to look at houses that are the antithesis of what the client stated they would be interested in.

If you want to be a kettlebell instructor why not get certified? If you aren't going to do that, then why not just stick with your knowledge base?

If you aren't a personal trainer but you are interested in learning how to use the kettlebell, then you NEED to find a certified instructor in your area. DVDs offer you no feedback and when I work with someone who is self taught from DVDs, their form is ordinarily wildly different than what they've been watching. Wildly. But they don't realize it. They wonder why their lumbar hurts etc. Well because your form stinks. Sometimes it's really hard to fix a movement pattern that has been grooved. DVDs are great if you know what you're doing. Otherwise, reconsider.

The real challenge is that the Russian Kettlebell has become the hot fitness tool. There are knock off kettlebells and knock offs of knock offs. I play golf. I stink. I still bought quality clubs. They aren't custom made but I didn't buy them at Sears. I bought them from a golf pro. Did he earn a commission? Yes he did. Are the clubs the right ones for me? Yes they are. Get the right tool and get the right teacher. You'll be so glad.

If I can help with any of your questions, then please feel free to comment here and I'll answer.

Sandy Sommer, RKC

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At April 20, 2009 at 7:26 AM , Blogger fitness-siren said...

I agree with you on the topic. This is the reason why I am getting certified this coming June. I also have a cosultation with Mark Reifkind this Thursday! I am so excited!

Great post!


At April 20, 2009 at 8:17 AM , Blogger Sandy Sommer, RKC said...

Have a great session with Mr. Reifkind! Use all he shares with you and your June RKC will go smoothly.

At April 20, 2009 at 10:08 AM , Blogger Chris J said...

I agree, videos are not the best to learn from, but for a while they were the only thing.

I have no problem with personal trainers learning kb and teaching them, as long as they learn right. The big box gym I belonged to, the whole reason I got into kettlebells, knew how to do 1 thing and only 1 thing with kettlebells. How to swing them around. More along the lines of swinging a kettlebell not doing a kettlebell swing.

However like I said last week on the phone, I've worked with an RKC that seemed more interested in getting what ever certs he could, and not working with people. I like the concept of a group class, but when you have 40 people to 2 RKC and 6 people off to the side trying to be AKC, you need to look at your class and adjust. Not just sign more people up, and try to get them to do the group thing.

Another RKC I talked to, was interested in getting me into his cross fit gym, but because my schedule wasn't convent for him, he ended up blowing me off.

I think that's the problem with certifications sometimes too. They're good, they're worth it, it's worth having a certified pro teaching you... I've been dive master / asst instructor in diving. I would teach classes of 6 people at the most, how to breath in an alien environment.

I also teach self defense classes, and martial arts. The self defense classes I'm solo on, and there have been Martial Arts classes where I've been the only "Instructor". Am I a black belt? No. Have I been doing it for 24 years, yes. Do I know how to teach people to fight without injuring them, most of the time (but look at what I teach, sometimes accidents do happen). Does not having a black belt mean I'm not qualified to teach? No. Because I'm high enough in rank now where teaching people is part of my training, so I can become a blackbelt.

I'm sure you can think of a Cert or 2 that says you can train, but doesn't really teach you so you feel like you can. At the same time, I'm sure that there are people out there that get the certs but still do their own thing (I've seeing it in Diving, Martial Arts, and Computers).

Most Personal Trainers, aren't trainers to teach the person and make them better, they're there to get paid. If they work for a big box gym, they get a small percent of the price the place charges, and has to teach the way the place wants them to. My PT was fired because he was doing what the clients wanted an not what the gym wanted.

At April 20, 2009 at 10:49 AM , Blogger Sandy Sommer, RKC said...


I certainly wouldn't take SCUBA lessons from someone who wasn't certified LOL. Obviously there are exceptions to almost any rule.

My classes were limited to a certain size but my sole focus now is on private instruction as the client seems to get a lot more. I make less money but I want my students to see the most results.

At April 20, 2009 at 10:59 AM , Blogger Chris J said...

Sandy, you're one of the few then, which I think is a good thing. I also prefer to deal with people of that mentality. Shows they're after more than just a pay check.

As for scuba, back in the day, before it became a regulated industry needing certified instructors, that's how you learned. Found someone with gear, or bought your own, trial and error.

There were these things called J-valves. You had no idea how much air was in the cylinder and when it stopped supplying air, you reached back and adjusted this rod, that opened the secondary valve. Which usually gave you enough air to hit the surface. You also hopped that it didn't get hit on the dive while you were in the wreck. Otherwise you were in big trouble.

Oh, and is the class in June a beginner level class? I'm sure you guys will have something to nitpick my form about (if I make it).

At April 20, 2009 at 2:13 PM , Blogger Sandy Sommer, RKC said...


Love your comments. Class isn't necessarily a beginner's class. So far we have 6 RKC signed up to attend. Beginner's are welcome for sure but everytime I meet with another RKC I seem to pick something up so I'd hope you'd learn a few things at least!

At April 20, 2009 at 7:01 PM , Blogger bikeboy600 said...

Good post Sandy, I unfortunately fall into setion of learning of a video... though I have just completed my first kettlebell workshop... in which I am really glad I did, your right about form, My form was pretty good on the swings but did need slight corections, I also learnt how to perform the turkish getup in safe manner, one exercise thats taking a bit of practice, but i know have some good tips to work.... I will be looking for a personal trainer till my experience and from further improve on what it is!


At April 20, 2009 at 11:33 PM , Blogger Jennifer said...

Another analogy is an internal medicine or family practice doc trying to do surgery or some such...

At April 22, 2009 at 4:32 AM , Blogger mike said...

It took me a while to figure out exactly why this post bugged me. I finally figured it out but it looks like Chris covered a lot of it.

A lot of personal trainers and especially kettlebell guys seem to collect certification like they were a rare commodity. A lot of them seem to be using them as a substitution for what they are supposed to represent, experience. It's not necessarily unfair to call this chick out on her technique but to say a cert is the only way to go is a bit off. A lot of RKCs had their first lessons from one of Pavel's DVDs. Pavel doesn't posses a magical juju that allows him to teach better via DVD than anyone else. So it's a bit unfair to call out all video learning as inherently bad.

It's my opinion that attempting to compare and RKC to 8 years of med school and a couple years of residency is out of line. That said, the same thing could be argued there. A medical degree denotes nothing more than experience. There was a time when medical degrees were new and at that time, it was generally healthier to go to non-licensed doctors than licensed ones. The reason is that the non-licensed doctors had been doing it for years, even decades, all the licensed ones had only been doing it for less than a decade. It all comes down to pieces of paper that indicate experience.

At April 22, 2009 at 5:42 AM , Blogger Sandy Sommer, RKC said...


Thanks for your feedback. I don't think I communicated my points well enough.

There is nothing wrong with a DVD. For workout ideas etc. But instruction IMHO opinion includes feedback and a DVD (at least today) can't do that.

Many, many folks I have trained who are self taught kettlebell enthusiasts needed more than a few new movement patterns to become safe and proficient kettlebell users.

I get coached by other RKCs monthly and if I didn't I would not keep improving. Pavel has a frickin' coach!:)

Mirrors can be abused if you become too reliant on them, I think.

For what it's worth, Dr. JEnn MD was simply saying it seemed to me that everyone is best served by staying in the area of expertise. I train many ways myself. The only thing I teach is Hard Style Kettlebell Practice. Doing anything else would make me a fraud.

At April 24, 2009 at 9:27 AM , Blogger John Scott Stevens R.K.C. said...

"A lot of RKCs had their first lessons from one of Pavel's DVDs."The bottom line is no one can accurately learn a movement based skill from a video and certainly not from a book. You can imitate the positions you see but you can never learn all the nuances of a movement without an experienced hands-on coach. Only an experienced coach can catch mistakes before they lead to injury or bad habits. Only an experienced coach knows what it takes to get you to accomplish X because he or she has already done it. Only an experience coach can get you to FEEL what it is like to do a technique correctly. Is it possible to learn to run like a NFL running back or dribble and shoot like an NBA star just by watching the games on television? Maybe for a few very rare individuals, but they are one-in-a-million. The general population simply does not learn that way. Mastering a movement-based skill is learned by feel, not by sight.

DVDs and books will get you started, but without someone providing corrections it is very easy to go the down the wrong path very quickly. I also teach martial arts, and this is a huge problem in the martial arts. Just because someone can learn A technique from a video or book doesn't mean that they've learned all the subtle nuances of the technique or should proclaim him or herself a black belt or master. I can guarantee that if someone's only learning is from video or books then they have only skimmed the surface and in fact haven't learned crap. One day they'll come across someone who truly KNOWS the technique and the difference in quality will be stark!

I know that this sounds harsh, but I've experienced this first hand many times from both points of view.

I was one of those guys. I had Pavel's books and DVDs. I trained without consulting an RKC. I thought I had it all figured out... then I went to the RKC cert. Before the cert I could do 12 minutes straight of swinging a 62lb kettlebell (because I was doing it wrong). Within a few hours at the RKC cert my technique was corrected and improved to the point that doing a correct Kettlebell swing with a 35lb kb was way more challenging than the 62lb-er done incorrectly ever was.

Before I went to the RKC a kettlebell swing was just swinging a kettlebell.

While I was at the RKC I was blown away by all the detail, nuance and corrective drills that went into making everyone's swing so much better. They had an arsenal of drills that were guaranteed to make the client feel what it is like to perform the technique correctly. All of a sudden the swing was no longer about swinging a kettlebell it was about mastering muscular tension and relaxation in the legs, glutes, abs and lats to an extent that swinging even a light kettlebell correctly became an awesome and punishing form of conditioning. There is no way I could have learned this material from a video or a book. This is just one of the things that makes the RKC so different from any other movement based learning experience I’ve had before. The RKC has proven drill methods that will make a client FEEL what it is like to perform a movement correctly, then the client will go directly into performing the movement.

As an RKC, from time to time I come across coaches and personal trainers that love kettlebells and are teaching them to their clients. They talk up a good storm and come across sounding intelligent and well educated on the subject. When I ask them what exercise progressions or corrective drills they use to take someone from zero to performing the swing safely and correctly they are lost. When I ask them how they assess someone’s movement patterns to determine if that person is ready for advanced techniques such as the kettlebell snatch I get a blank stare. When I ask them if they can one arm press ½ their bodyweight or perform 200+ snatches in 10 minutes with a 53lb kettlebell they fall silent. Then I watch their technique. I'm horrified to see what will ultimately result in massive injury both to themselves and to those they teach. To add insult to injury they are barely able to use a light kettlebells so they are not even close to receiving the maximum potential benefit a kettlebell can provide.

I would not recommend even the world’s most respected personal trainer if he or she is not a certified kettlebell instructor to teach even the most basic or remedial kettlebell techniques. My experience has shown me that a personal trainer or coach is no more qualified to teach kettlebell than I am to teach a golf swing.

Anyone can watch a DVD. Most people can read a book. Very few people can use a kettlebell correctly.
When it comes to teaching kettlebell, leave it to those that can do and have been taught how to teach.

"It's my opinion that attempting to compare and RKC to 8 years of med school and a couple years of residency is out of line."This is true. A 3-day RKC certification should in no way be compared to 8 years of med. school. Keep in mind that despite 8 years of med. school there are still bad doctors out there and not all med. Schools are created equal. Similarly, all kettlebell instructor certifications are not created equal.

"It all comes down to pieces of paper that indicate experience."The paper any certificate is printed on is worthless. They are good and bad RKCs just as there are good and bad doctors. All certifications are not created equal. However, a certified individual has undergone training and experiences that the general population has not. While not every certified individual is qualified, there is an over abundance of unqualified individuals that are uncertified. If you are looking for quality, seeking out a certified individual is good place to start.

At April 24, 2009 at 2:23 PM , Blogger Sandy Sommer, RKC said...


Great great post! You really have clarity of thought and eloquently lay out the rationale for your opinion. No one could communicate it this clearly and for that I "thank you."


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