Ultimate Sandbag workout: more variations for kettlebell athletes

Josh Henkin, and some great new exercise ideas for you:


Kettlebells around the world: Slovenia Kettlebells

Now, these guys are working hard. This is what a long cycle set looks like. Ten minutes is the usual competition time period.

Notice how relaxed their bodies are and how they pace themselves- one rep according to a set time line. If you want the ultimate in conditioning, this is where kettlebells will take you.

Thanks guys!

Highlights from the “Age of Quarrel” Kettlebell Seminar

With the likes of such kettlebell greats such as Steve Cotter, Mike Mahler, Jason Dolby, Andrew Durniat, Ken Blackburn just to name a few, this was an amazing event and one that I wish I had attended myself.
You can see the variety of different styles and techniques being utilized for this seminar. Plyometric exercises ( my students will know those 😉 ), stretching and mobility/flexibility work, Indian clubs and the good old kb exercises really made for an exciting event.
Enjoy the video!

Mike Mahler – telling it straight.


Mike Mahler is one of the top level figures in the international kettlebell and fitness community today, and a man whose name and reputation loom larger than life. Known and admired for his straight talking, no-nonsense approach to personal development and physical fitness, he is one of those modern day personalities that lead by embodying the essence and veracity of their own teachings.  I recently had the chance to ask Mike a few in-depth questions about his own path as a sportsman, the development of his business Aggressive Strength , his ongoing research and study into the field of hormone optimization, and the trials and tribulations of his own personal journey. Here is a rare insight into a remarkable man.

GKJ- Hi Mike, thanks for taking some time out for us at Gaijin Kettlebell Japan. As you probably know, although kettlebells are still very much an unknown quantity here in Japan and still in the early days, you are quite well known. Your name, your books and dvd’s pop up on Amazon.jp and the Japanese internet regularly. How is your own kettlebell practice progressing? What other forms of exercise do you use to supplement your personal physical development?

Thanks for doing the interview. My kettlebell training business has come a long way. I went through Pavel Tsatsouline’s RKC course in early 2002 and started my kettlebell training business full time in May of 2002. My very first workshop in Northern Virginia had eight people. Now there are probably hundreds of people doing kettlebell workshops all over the US and all over the world. There are several certification options now and more kettlebell information than ever before.

The first few years of my business were very difficult. Very few people even owned kettlebells and it was not something that people were either familiar with or cared about. I kept pushing hard and in 2005 my business hit a critical mass and my income tripled. Workshops started filling up fast all over the country and my DVD’s started to sell really well. I pushed hard for the next few years doing tons of workshops and producing several Kettlebell DVD’s.

Regarding my own training, from 2001 to 2006 kettebell training was my primary source of working out. I used other tools as a supplement such as clubbells, resistance bands, body weight drills, but kettlebells were the primary focus. In 2006 my wife and I moved to Las Vegas. Going from an apartment to a big house allowed me to set up a nice home gym and add some variety to my workouts. Now I use kettlebells in addition to thick barbell training, trapbar for deadlifts, I have a pull-up station for pull-ups, chin-ups, and hanging leg raises. I also cycle in clubbells, power rings, resistance bands, sledgehammer training, and battling rope work. Finally, I like to do some 2-3 mile walks a few times a week with a 106lb weight vest. My goals are more strength, power, and conditioning these days and I like to have a fair amount of variety to keep things enjoyable.

GKJ- Your work now with Aggressive Strength expands to cover a wide range of topics and disciplines. What is it you look for in a topic of study to expand your base of knowledge?

I look at real strength as much more than how much weight you can lift or how fast you can run. Being in great physical shape is no doubt important and a critical component of being strong and fit. However, I like to encourage people to take what they learn from training and carry it over to other aspects of life. Be a better person. Be more assertive and pursue the life you want, rather than settling and just coasting through life. Being strong in the gym but weak everywhere else is not real strength.

Aggressive strength is a philosophy on taking charge of your life. It is about taking self responsibility for your health and well being on several fronts. renegade_row

I like studying things that improve the quality of one’s life. This is what led me to the field of hormone optimization as you are only as healthy as your hormones. If you do not optimize all the major hormones: insulin, growth hormone, DHEA, Testosterone, DHT, androstendione, progesterone, estrogen, thyroid hormones, glycogen etc you can forget about being your best and enjoying life fully.

GKJ- Recently, you released some very interesting work on hormone optimization for health and well being. What brought this about? As an athlete and trainer that is getting older, does this type of issue become more and more important to you? In a nutshell, what advice do you give people who approach you with these kinds of questions? How much of this is really a “science” ?

Often we study things that are self serving and then we realize that other people can benefit from the information. This is why it is important to share our stories in life as many can benefit from our personal journeys.

This is the case with my devotion to learning about hormone optimization. I went through some stressful periods during the first few years of my training business. In addition to financial stress, I was dealing with personal stress on many levels, which eventually resulted in a severe case of pneumonia. I almost died from this and by the time I had medical treatment they had to pull 40 liters of fluid out of my lungs. I realized full well where an overload of stress will take you.

Stress literally kills and ironically many people are addicted to stress. Stress causes the hormone cortisol to rise and an increase in cortisol activates the fight-flight mechanism which makes us very alert. Many people are actually addicted to this state and that is why they crave stress. Stress makes them feel important and alive. Some level of stress is no doubt important as we do not grow and feel enthusiastic when everything is easy. However, too much stress kills healthy hormone production and places you in an accelerated aging state. If your cortisol goes up and stays up for too long you will eventually crash hard.

Mike CC Photo

When I was going through high stress I was literally in an andropause state. This is what many men experience when they are in their 50s. However, I was only 29 at the time. My sex drive was non-existent, my sleep was off, my workout recovery was declining, and my overall zeal for life was low. I was getting depressed often even though I was doing the line of work that I always wanted to do.

I just did not want to live life this way and started studying endocrinology. The more I studied the more I realized the strong connection between optimal hormone levels and overall well being. When your hormones are healthy, you are healthy. When your hormones are optimal you have a feeling of being able to take charge of the world. Your sex drive is high, your mood is great, your strength is solid, and you sleep well every night. This is where I am now and have been for several years. My hormones levels are great and I feel strong, energetic, and excited about life.

When people come to me asking me advice on optimizing hormones, I tell them that they need to get detailed blood work to see where they are at. If someone does not have blood work then I am not willing to offer any advice. It is like someone saying they want to add 50lbs to their bench press when they have never bench pressed before. How I am supposed to help them if I do not know where they are?

Regardless, some basic information that helps with hormone optimization is:

  1. You must get 8 hours of deep sleep every night. Deep sleep meaning no tossing and turning and sleep where you dream vividly. Without adequate sleep you will not produce growth hormone, testosterone, DHEA, and all of the other important hormones. Sleep lowers cortisol and increases Melatonin. It is the ultimate anti-aging practice.
  1. Eat organic at least 90% of the time. 100% is even better. If you eat meat or any animal products (dairy-eggs) you must eat 100% organic. Meat, dairy, and eggs that are not 100% organic are loaded with hormone disrupting chemicals. They are loaded with chemical estrogens with disastrous effects. Look at the way animals are treated on factory farms and do not have the illusion that consuming factory farmed meat is even remotely healthy. Even if you could care less about the animal’s welfare at least show some respect for your own body and health and feed it only the best. Develop a relationship with a local farmer and get all of your meat, eggs, and dairy there. This is much cheaper than getting organic meat and dairy at the supermarket. However, it is worth paying the extra money for your health. What you spend now will save you money later on expensive medical bills.  I tell people that if they are not willing to invest in high quality food then I am not willing to help them with hormone optimization as clearly they do not care. Don’t expect me to think about how to help them all day when they are not even willing to do the basics to help themselves.
  1. Have a balance of protein, fat, carbs at every meal. Barry Sear’s The Zone (30% fat, 30% protein, 40% carbs) is a good place to start. This keeps Insulin stable and a good amount of healthy fat is required for adequate hormone production.
  1. Do high intensity training 3x per week such as sprinting, sledgehammer striking, circuit training. This kind of training ramps up growth hormone and helps keep body fat low. When you are fat you have more estrogen receptors which lowers testosterone.
  1. Don’t drink beer. Beer is loaded with hops which is highly estrogenic. At least look for old Scottish Ale which is made with “gruit” instead of hops.
  1. Work on stress management. Meditation, chi-kung, tai-chi, yoga are all great ways to handle stress.
  1. Take magnesium lotion twice per day. Magnesium is a critical mineral for optimal hormone production. The lotion is a more efficient delivery system than tablets or powder. Rub on 2 teaspoons twice per day. Works very well to increase DHEA. The brand I use is Dr Shealy’s Magnesium lotion: http://www.springvalleyherbs.com/catalog/item/2872

Also make sure to take 30mg of Zinc Citrate daily. Zinc is critical for testosterone production and also helps block the conversion of testosterone into estrogen.

Beyond the above, I only work with my online clients for personalized hormone optimization advice.  I have spend too many years and dollars studying this field and I am not willing to offer more free advice. People can also learn more from the Collision Course DVD set which contains a hormone lecture and comes with a hormone optimization e-book.

GKJ. You have an upcoming book: Live life aggressively: what self-help gurus don’t want you to know. What is the book about?

It is basically a protest to all of the self help books out there now. It is a more brutal and in your face approach to how to take charge of your life. I am tired of moronic advice such as attitude is everything and fake it until you make it. I am tired of the focus on positive thinking and sayings such as everything happens for a reason. Thus, I am basically putting down some very straight forward information on what you must do to take charge of your life and be successful and why the advice that many self-help gurus espouse is flawed and ineffective. People are loving the information that I put out in my online magazine and the book will be in the same vain.

GKJ- One great thing about you Mike is that you do a lot of collaborative seminars and projects with other sports and training personalities, sharing your own knowledge and making the joint project stronger because of it. Do you see value in collaborative projects such as these?

Collaborating with the right people is powerful. It gives people much broader and more comprehensive information. In 2008 I decided to stop doing kettlebell beginner workshops to focus on other interests and put on more progressive and innovative workshops. For example, last year I put on a big 2-day workshop called “Collision course” which covered battling ropes, strongman training, body weight training, and kettlebell training. This year I am putting on a course called “Kettlebell Training In the Age Of Quarrell.” It will be a three day course that covers all of the many ways to use kettlebells effectively. The course has an incredible line-up: Steve Cotter, Ken Blackburn, Jason Dolby, Andrew Durniat, and myself. It is going to be a three day course that breaks through all of the confusion on how to use kettlebells effectively for a variety of goals. It is going to be an incredible course.

GKJ. Well Mike, this has been a rare glimpse inside for many of us, and you have certainly given us plenty to think about. What is the future for you? Where do you see yourself in ten years? What would you like to have achieved?

Thanks and I do not look at life that way. There is no point planning on where I will be in ten years now as that is too far out. Instead I trust my abilities and work ethic and do not worry about where I will be. I know what I am capable of and what sacrifices I am prepared to make to keep growing as a human being.  Focus on the moment and apply myself now and the future will take care of itself. Achievements, while important, are also illusory. Achieving goals is often anti-climatic as put people put off living now for some hopefully future happiness. Work hard and achieve goals but learn to enjoy the process where ever possible. Be serious about your goals but do not take yourself too seriously. As the Hindu Text The Bhagavad Gita states you have a right to your actions but not the results of your actions. Make your actions count.

With regards to this year I will have my book completed and I am looking forward to having a great course with the all star Age of Quarrell line up which will in turn be filmed for another information packed DVD set.

Thanks Mark for taking the time to do the interview.

CC Photo 1

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Interview with Steve Cotter

Steve Cotter is one of the cornerstones upon which the international kettlebell community forms a rock solid base. Traveling tirelessly all over the world supporting those that want to learn practical physical skills that they can utilize and perfect throughout their lives, he teaches simple and attainable techniques. At the same time he instills in all who learn from him the fundamental body, breath and self poise and control that marks a true practitioner of the kettlebell sport .

Steve is a constant blur of energy; teaching a seminar all day, interacting with his students in the evening, and on the internet until the early hours answering peoples questions and giving his advice and support freely. His instruction is pithy- you can tell from every word or thought that streams from his consciousness that he takes what he does and what he represents as a teacher very seriously.

I took some time last week to ask a series of questions to Steve on a range of topics, from kettlebells, Qigong and beyond. Here’s a look at the man himself.

GK: Hi Steve, thanks for taking some time off from your busy global
It seems that you are everywhere at the moment- last week it was
Finland and Sweden, now you are headed for Italy. It is obvious to anyone that knows you that you pour an incredible amount of energy into what you do. What drives you?

SC: I believe fundamentally that people want guidance and inspiration. I see that there is incredible interest in physical culture and I know that I try to teach with the highest level of integrity. That is to say, I put my heart and soul into sharing what I know, and also I am able and willing to replace my information with new and better information when it appears. water_skipper_3(2)

I believe in the Individual. Within the individual is the Divine. So to be blessed with the ability to teach is a responsibility I do not
take lightly. Our nations throughout the world today need strong and vital people in order to
thrive. I take it as part of my responsibility to share my education
and experience with the world.

GK: You seem to have come out from the last few years of the international kettlebell community as the leading proponent at this stage. How do you feel about being the main ambassador for the global development of the sport?

SC: I am pleased to be able to offer a voice of reason to kettlebell
training community and also be a bridge between the East and West.
The global community is hungry for good information and coaching, as well as the inspiration and confidence to be able to see things
through to the accomplishment of their goals. The ego cannot be so big as to push a specific agenda upon the students of the art. I look to simplify the learning process and bring high quality learning into everything that I do, not only with kettlebells, but with movement in general.
I am American and I love my nation. However I can say that in America today people are used to products that are marketed with excessive hype and a level of arrogance and dishonesty. Part of the reason is because the media is so powerful in the USA and also we are quite isolated;  most Americans do not have regularly access to people from different cultures.

However, in other parts of the world, and in particular in Asia, humility and respect are still valued. I think because of my extensive training in traditional martial arts from the time I was a boy, I was able to appreciate the significance of honor and respect and humility and self-discipline. So I bring these qualities with me wherever I go to teach, and people respond very well to that. So it has afforded me the opportunity to be a representative for kettlbell training across all nations and all peoples. We are all very much the same in essence and we all wish to improve our lives.

cotter It is an honor to be able to spread kettlebell lifting on every continent now and in so many countries. I see the goodness in this world, every time I teach and travel, when people welcome me to their countries. We all sweat together, and when it all boils down, we are all not so very different after all. Within this training, there is a community, a brother and sisterhood, where we can all come together in common goals of health, fitness and well-being.

GK: There are probably many  people out there in poor physical shape, and look at some of the results with kettlebells and feel that for them, its an unreachable dream. What’s your advice to your average 9-5 person who wants to get back in shape and take charge of their health and well-being once again?

SC: First of all, the goal is reason enough to proceed. Where there is an idea and a will to make it happen, all that is needed is the right knowledge. So as a tool, a kettlebell is a very practical and user friendly option for an average person’s fitness needs.
First a good education is necessary. To get the right advice and the main principles and techniques for safety and effectiveness. IMG_2112 Next, belief in self is crucial for progress. The reason to take action is for your own benefit, so be consistent, and stick with it.

Finally, as the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. It is more
about what you do over time than anything else. Start slow, learn the basics well and make a commitment to yourself and your dreams. Go a little at first and keep adding a little more at a time, gradually. Over the course of months and years, you will be a different person, an improved person.

The science is well established, and if applied to a focused and committed mind, anyone can achieve peak fitness with kettlebell training.

GK: Currently, we live in a time where many people, given the global market conditions, are suffering under increasing burdens of stress. Often, taking care of health becomes secondary to other obligations, and many people struggle to find balance in their lives. Do you have any advice for those people in the kettlebell and international fitness community who are under severe pressure these days? What do you think is the key to finding an inner balance with all the different elements in our lives?

SC: Yes, first I will discuss the mental and emotional components of success, because that is what we are talking about. We all wish to have a good life and to be successful. Most people are willing to work for themselves, and simply would just like the opportunity to do so.

The power of the mind, our mental constructions and projections are immense beyond what we can understand. There is sufficient research and evidence to suggest that we actually ‘create’ our own experience and existence. So beliefs and attitude is central to success. This is a foundational principle. Whatever one puts their mind and energy into, the results will come of that.

Physiologically, we work to harmonies the body’s energies and mechanism. I believe a balanced approach to health, fitness and well-being is the solution for all of us, to varying degrees of need. The aspects of deep breathing, relaxation and mental concentration upon the quality of breath and movement are surely still unchartered areas of human performance.

Most traditional cultures have a concept of balance. The Chinese refer to what they call the yin and yang. With inner clarity the external aspects will simplify. This has more to do with our attitude and presence of mind than any other factor.

GK: So what you are saying Steve is, it is exactly at times of stress that we need our practice most- whatever it is that gives us that sense of center and the resilience to keep going, even when other people are saying ” its too hard” ” I don’t have the time and energy” and quitting their own personal disciplines etc ?

SC: I am saying that people need to have a strong belief in their self, in their own creative process and possibilities. Part of this is the training, the daily discipline and investment in oneself; just as important or even more than the physical training is the mental outlook. We have to choose to take a positive outlook or not;
through the daily practice and the weeks and months and years of training we are also developing our practical and marketable skills as human beings. In time of plenty and times of shortage, there is always a market for excellence and quality.  So, instead of focusing outwardly on the difficulties that we may be currently experiencing, we can and should focus inwardly on developing our own power and skills.

GK: Qigong is also a very important part of your own personal repertoire. Can you explain briefly for us what this is all about? Will the future see you doing more and more of these kinds of seminars? Do you see a link between Qigong and kettlebells?

SC: Qigong is a health system developed within China. Some refer to it as Taoist yoga. Qi or Chi refers to the idea of a life force, or it can be viewed as energy or breath. Gong or kung is hard work or a skillful ability. So Qigong is energy mastery or breathing skill. There are hundreds of different variation of Qigong, including medical Qigong to facilitate healing, martial Qigong to increase the power for fighting and Qigong for health development, which is the most widely practiced.

The basic components of any qigong method involves the coordination of deep breathing with relaxed movement and deep concentration. The most well-known form of Qigong is Taijiquan (tai chi ch’uan). The reason to practice Qigong is to cultivate the increased development and flow of our body’s energies. Whereas physical exercise such as kettlebell training and martial arts strengthen the bones, muscles and tendon structures, Qigong strengthens the organs, which are also muscles. In addition, hard physical training is draining to the body, it breaks the body down and the body must recuperate from that. Qigong helps us with this.

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Qigong is gentle on the body and it builds the body’s energy and
health and vitality. So to be a well-rounded athlete and person and to have vital health throughout our lives, we must balance the hard and soft of physical training with energetic training, such as Qigong and meditation.
The IKFF system that I teach is the leading proponent of linking
kettlebells with Qigong because we want to strengthen both the
structure and the energetic body, and these modalities are a very
complimentary way of doing so.

Qigong is still very new and largely unknown in the West, however in recent years I have seen more interest in people wanting an education in the energy arts of Qigong. As their bodies get stronger and more vital through kettlebell training, they take a keener interest in longevity, which is to maintain that increase in fitness and vitality across their life. So this is where Qigong comes in and where we will see more and more education on these arts moving forward.

Lineage and a direct source of information is very important when
learning and teaching valuable art forms, and especially with training in a system with as many subtleties as Qigong. So I am very grateful to have been accepted as a student to the Grandmaster and lineage holder of the Little 9 Heaven system of Qigong (nei gong) via Master Kao San Lun :

GK: What, in your opinion, do you see as the future of the kettlebell sport? Its been nine/ten years now since the reintroduction of the sport in the US and globally. Do you see any signs of stagnation, or do you think that it is successfully integrating into the mainstream sporting consciousness?

SC: It is integrating into mainstream consciousness slowly now because we have new and improved information and new leadership at the head of the educational process of spreading the sport. It is surely a work in progress.
While kettlebells have been a breath of fresh air with regards to how we train the body, for the first 10 years they have often been marketed as some ‘hard core’ tool for ‘hard-living’ comrades. All shticks and gimmicks aside, the real value of kettlebells is for the every day person. Most people are not “hard-core’ , and rather than that, they have complex lives and need simple solutions to their fitness and health needs. In addition, to be “hard-core” is a goal for the ego, but it is not practical for most. When we are young and athletic, we can go-go-go.

n1217403473_364778_5064660However in real life, people in their 40s, 50s,60s and beyond can’t just continue to push and push. As with all things, there is a natural limit. So they must have a system that can be sustainable over time, not one that will pump the body up when young but break it down and injure it in older years.

So now we have much more balance in the way that kettlebells are being taught to the mainstream.
The IKFF is reaching out to all demographics and showing that at a very basic level, an unfit person with the desire to change, or a senior or a child, or almost anyone else can use kettlebells safely and effectively.

GK: You spend most of your life meeting people from all walks of life and backgrounds, traveling all over the world to teach. What have all these experiences taught you about yourself?

SC: This is a very important question. There are several key things. Some of them validations about theories that I once had.

I had always wondered if needs and wants were fundamentally the same across all cultural or national boundaries. I have found that they are. We all basically have similar or the same basic interests and desires. So this is illuminating and encouraging for me. Human have strengths and frailties, so interacting with such a broad base of people from across the globe enables me to see myself as more human.

I will say also that more than before, I recognize that to be called a teacher is the greatest of honors and with that comes an enormous responsibility. When someone invites me to their country, or comes to my course, it shows great commitment and sacrifice on their part. That should not be discarded, and it reminds me to give my heart to what I do. I think that it reminds me not to become a guru, or to allow my position to change me in a way that brings me away from my goals. I think it is fantastic to be considered a teacher and a leader, and there, to me, there is no higher honor. I am reminded of that balance between ego and humility, the proverbial teacher/student relationship. I’ve learned to be more mindful and consider both facets of the equation and look for those opportunities to both teach and learn.

GK: Please tell us about Ken Blackburn. You often describe him as your main partner/associate/ brother, and the both of you working together really seems to bring out your individual skills to the fullest. He seems like such an essential part of what the IKFF is all about.

SC: I believe in the highest quality, and I believe in comprehension and balance.

To be truly gifted in one area of specialization is great, those types of talented people are valuable to all organizations and communities. However, to be a leader in the mold that I consider to be a great leader, is to be well-rounded in your expertise. I believe this is a special gift that not all can have. In fact few have.

I have traveled the world, and have interacted in one form or the other with almost every expert of significance in the Western world, when it comes to kettlebells and their integration into the functional fitness movement. Ken is very rare in his diversity of talents and how many important things he can do at a high level.

My idea of an organization is like a family. In some ways, I am like a parent and I want my children to become better off than me, greater than me and to expand past my own potential. I believe any loving parent would want the same for his or her children. The way  to create this is by providing opportunity.


So to me, for the IKFF to grow into a great and truly meaningful organization, there must be opportunity for growth and their must be a way, and this is of highest importance—there must be a way for the organization to be bigger, to be about more than just the founder.

Like in a family, if the father or mother is the greatest that will ever be, then the children feel they cannot have as good of a life. Yet, what the parents really want is for them to have a better life, to learn from their experience and to benefit from our works.

I consider leadership to be the most crucial aspect and to me leadership means that you care for your people, like your own children and family. The only way that I can create something great and meaningful for this world, is to do it in a way that it can grow beyond just me and that those top people from within can grow to their own highest potential. This way the art and the system of knowledge can live and can improve over time from generation to generation.

So, I selected Ken because he has all the qualities that are needed to lead and he has the same high standard for expertise in all his skill sets that I do. He seeks mastery and this is necessary for anyone. Batman needs Robin, it is that simple 😉

When I decided to create the IKFF, I did so having learned from the mistakes of others. I did not wish to build a team filled with number twos. By that I mean I didn’t want to surround myself with people who will always want to follow for the rest of their lives. I determined that I would help to develop leaders, which means there must come a time when they will become #1. And I am comfortable in my role. The art and the responsibility to teach is more important than me or any one person. Today is my day, yet tomorrow it may no longer be for me to be in the spotlight.

Of course Ken is vital to the IKFF. I developed it to be that way, it is by his own merits. In addition to this, the team of instructors we are developing also have many of the same attributes that make Ken Blackburn a great teacher and leader in our field.

GK: Lastly Steve, what’s your own personal goal?

SC: My goal is to facilitate the growth of strong, focused societies,
nationally and globally, through its people. I see a key to this goal in being the strengthening of the mind and body on an individual basis, through the use of comprehensive health programs like what I offer and through the IKFF programs.

GK: Thank you for your time today and we here in Japan wish you a safe trip, and hope to see you here in the East some day soon!

SC: Thank you very much Mark, it is an honor to be able to teach and I am thankful there is interest in the information I have to share. I actually teach quite regularly in the East and have run course in Malaysia and Hong Kong for the last few years.

Next year I will run courses in Taiwan and the Philippines. Also I have been receiving more inquiries from students in Japan who wish to learn my system. Japan is a culture I have a lot of respect for, so when the day comes that I visit to teach, it will be a very happy time!

Note- If any readers have questions for Steve, please feel free to write in/comment and I will have Steve answer your questions for you.


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Interview with Rannoch Donald, on Simple Strength & Kettlebell Scotland

2903_177996015103_576070103_6436573_3321094_nIts not often that you come across another person over the internet that you immediately feel an affinity for, but  it is a testament to Rannoch Donald’s strength of character and enthusiasm for everything he does that permeates even over the ether.

Ranked the #4 RKC trainer in the world by his legions of happy customers, Rannoch has carved a path of his own, working with both the IKFF and Steve Cotter, while at other times with such RKC heavyweights like Mark Cheng, bringing his students and customers sound advice and the practical means to achieve their best. With all around him, he maintains a rock solid integrity; you can be sure that if you ask Rannoch’s opinion, he will tell it to you straight, and it is his frankness and willingness to listen that has earned him a place at the very top rank of the international kettlebell community.

I took some time out recently to ask Rannoch a series of questions, mostly regarding his current activities in Scotland and the latest developments of his own activities as a teacher and self-practice.

Here is the first part, from a man who is known by one name…

GK. Hi Rannoch, thank you for your time today. Lets start off by please telling us a bit about you, your background, your interest in kettlebells and physical fitness in general .

Thanks for the questions. I am 47, have trained in some form or other most of my life. My first passion was martial arts and over the years I’ve been lucky enough to train with some exceptional instructors in a number of disciplines. I am a product of the 70’s martial arts boom. One of my earliest instructors was a charismatic Malaysian called Jarrod Lee who opened my eyes to the sheer diversity out there.
For many years I labored under the illusion that being fit was the purpose of training. I had something of a wake up call when I broke my leg a few years ago and realized that not only was I not as fit as I thought I was, I wasn’t healthy and I really struggled to bounce back.

The traditional rehab methods offered little improvement, so I did my homework and began with simple mobility drills, moved on to include body weight exercises and finally introduced kettlebell practice. Within a short time I found myself in better shape than I’d been in 15 years. What really amazed me was I could achieve this in a fraction of the time I used to “work out”. And the great thing is this is available to, and achievable by, everyone.n576070103_2752395_1447

I realized that my previous efforts did not reflect certain key criteria.

  • Firstly, I needed to be honest with myself regarding the time I have available, not just to train but to recover.
  • Secondly, as a father of three with a full time job, understanding the methods required to enhance my health, not just my fitness, were absolutely critical.
  • Thirdly, that those methods reflect my abilities, are sustainable and not based on the latest routine of some professional sports star with an entourage of personal chefs, physios and coaches.
  • Finally, that my practice reflects my interests. For example, as a middle aged martial artist, I am looking for balance, symmetry and strength, not massive muscles. My practice, and what I teach, is designed to create and promote power. And that is what every aging athlete should be after.

The key to all this is to treat you efforts as practice. The object is to get better at what you do and remain injury free. That what you do is sustainable. The endless desire to add weight to the bar is ultimately self defeating, there will come a time when the tide turns and all you have are over use injuries and creaking joints.
So I think in terms of tai chi and yoga masters whose movement and performance improves with age. This is key; performance is a product of practice. Practice allows you the time and space to refine what you do. Ultimately that manifests itself when you come to perform.
On this subject, many people decide to get back “in shape” by taking up a sport. A word of caution – you will be lousy at the sport and you wont get fit. Technical skill and physical preparedness are two different things. This goes back to your practice reflecting your needs and interests. So we need a method that creates resilient, healthy, lean and strong individuals who can transfer those benefits to the activities they pursue.

GK. What, in your opinion, is the state of kettlebells today?Its been 8-9 years now since the rediscovery/reintroduction to the general population, and we have seen it gradually integrating itself into the sporting community. What do you see is the future? Where is this all heading?

It’s been great to see how kettlebells training has re-evolved. If we can ensure a high level of coaching then Kettlebells will become standard issue in any progressive training environment. Unfortunately the “hard core” perception of KBs has had an inverse effect with some commercial interests trying to “aerobicize” them, creating bizarre drills and turning them into yet another craze. But when used properly Kettlebells provide a unique challenge. Few tools provide such intensity and such a wide range of benefits across strength, endurance, speed, flexibility and co-ordination. For me, kettebells provide the essential base for my practice. They are not a magic bullet. Nothing is. Used correctly they provide a fantastic return in a relatively short period of time. But as with so many things ultimately effort = results.
My own focus is in promoting in everybody an integrated practice, so along with mobility and body weight, kettlebells provide a well rounded approach.

GK. Many of the readers here, both young and old, are in the process of training or are looking at building themselves a new program. Probably most of them fit these goals around daily work commitments and families as well. What key ingredients do you feel are necessary for an effective long-term fitness strategy for a man or woman who works 9-5? How would you suggest a person assesses their current workout regimen?

Firstly, consider your needs. This requires a tremendous degree of courage because most of us have to first accept we are not as fit, young and healthy as we thought. Many people who come to my workshops get the kind of wake up call I had a few years back. But all this is good because it provides a realistic base from which to start. What I really want is people to take charge of their own well being and the easiest way to do that is to take a serious look at where you are right now.
Once you know where you are you can map out where you want to go. One step at a time, one session at a time. Real fitness and well being is not hemmed in by the constraints of prescriptive programs and inflexible routines. It works because it responds to your life style, your schedule and your abilities. In addition, your practice must leave you with the resources to get on with your life, deal with your job, take care of your family. Anything that leaves you spent is not sustainable.
Also, the mental benefits of training are well documented and can’t be underestimated. There is a self sustaining energy that comes with regular practice.

GK. You and I have had many discussions about the concept of sustainability in terms of a life long approach to fitness. Can you explain in a nutshell what we are talking about here?

It’s important to be open to variety with regard to the methodology of your workout routine and change that is naturally occurring in your body on  a day to day basis, but it’s equally important to not become a victim to novelty. Focus on the basics. Choose a few things and learn to do them exceptionally well. This in turn will pay massive dividends when it comes to tackling bigger tasks. On of my favorite quotes is –
Only those who have the patience to do simple things perfectly will acquire the skill to do difficult things well“. -J. Friedrich von Schiller.

GK. In your own personal journey, what is the greatest challenge for you?

It’s the same as everyone else. Simply getting on with what I know needs to be done. Simple as that.

GK. Rannoch, what drives you? What keeps you going?

The prospect of growing old disgracefully! Being around to see my kids and grow into the the amazing adults I know they will be. I often speak at workshops about our responsibility to the tribe, or in other words, the society we live and work in. Once you stop contributing, you become a burden. I want to contribute as long as I can. I simply want to be awake for the journey; we all need to be participants, not observers and realize that vibrant health is our natural state. We’ll all go the same way at the end of the day but you can influence how present you are for the trip.

GK. What is Simple Strength about? I see you have been developing your site- can you tell the readers a little about what you are working on?

The new Simple Strength website will be unveiled in the next week or so. it will integrate the Simple Strength blog and Kettlebells Scotland under one roof, making it easy to access information, workshop details and articles. It will also highlight events like the forthcoming IKFF CKT Certification in September and our workshop with Frank Forencich of Exhuberant Animal.

GK.So..what is the future for you? Where do you go from here?

As much fun as it is to rub shoulders with Martial artists and athletes I am really interest in people exactly like you and me who simply want to be fit and healthy. This stuff is not the domain of commercial gyms, nutrition companies and personal trainers. It is the natural right of everyone. All you have to do is get on with it.

GK. Thanks for your time Rannoch. I am sure we will be chatting with you again in the near future!

If you have a question for Rannoch, please feel free to write in. Here is  a link to his Simple Strength site:


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