We (Dallas and Melissa) completed the RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) certification in St. Paul, MN from April 29th – May 1st. This post is our review of the RKC, for those of you interested in becoming certified as an instructor and coaching others in the use of kettlebells as an effective fitness tool.
The RKC: By the Numbers
The RKC is, in our view, the gold standard of kettlebell certifications. It’s the most recognized, the most highly respected and the one you want after your name if you’re going to make a career out of coaching kettlebells. It’s also one of the more expensive seminars, one of the most time consuming in terms of preparation, travel and the long weekend itself, and one of the most physically demanding weekends we’ve experienced to date.
Cost: $1,500 – $2,300 for the certification itself, depending on when you register. Add to that travel expenses – airfare, hotel, rental car and food. (You’re lucky to have a cert in your area of the country; most folks have to fly.) Add an additional $50 – $350 for preparation materials from Dragon Door (books, DVDs, kettlebells, etc). and a varied amount for preparatory lessons with an RKC, if necessary.
Time Commitment: 1 – 6 months to prepare, depending on the proficiency of your kettlebell technique, strength, general physical conditioning and coaching experience. Five days for the event itself (two travel days and three days for the actual certification).
Physical Demand: On a scale of 1-10, the RKC certification itself gets a 7.5 ranking. You’ll be working non-stop with heavy (for your size) kettlebells for two 10-hour days, and performing several challenging workouts a day. On the third day, you’ll then be expected to perform perfectly on a variety of physical tests, followed by a demanding coaching session (and, of course, yet another workout.
Sure, the RKC is a lot of money, a lot of time and a whole lot of work…. but what you get for your efforts was, for us, well worth the cost. The weekend itself brought a wealth of experience on a number of levels.
The RKC: What’s In It For You?
First, we increased our kettlebell skills to a surprising level. Working with certification leaders like Pavel, Jeff O’Connor and others brought our practice to a new level. (We expected to improve our technique, but not to the degree we both experienced during the cert. Despite the fact that both of us have been working with kettlebells for over five years, and Melissa has been coaching professionally for three, our movements were dialed in tighter than ever by the end of the first day.)
The biggest surprise, however, was how much the RKC taught us about how we moved. We expected to pick up new skills over the weekend, sure, but we didn’t expect to learn so much about our own bodies, limiting factors and movement patterns – things that carry over to so many other aspects of our training.
Take Home: The things you will learn about good movement – and your own movement – at the RKC will apply and transfer outside of just kettlebells, to your Olympic lifting, strength training, skill and conditioning work. The quality and amount of personalized critique, feedback and instruction you will receive over the course of the weekend is unparalleled amongst all of the other fitness certifications we’ve attended.
Second, the RKC is an instructor certification, and they take that responsibility seriously. It’s not just about demonstrating good form, it’s about being able to evaluate, correct and fine-tune the form of others. Any good coach knows you can’t just yell, “Push your knees out” at increasing volume as your client sits knock-kneed in the bottom of a squat. You’ve got to have 17 different cues for the same exact movement, because everyone responds differently to verbal, tactile or visual feedback.
Throughout the course of the weekend, we learned endless coaching cues, analogies and drills all designed to make us better, more effective coaches (and get better results for our clients). Every tip we learned gets stored in our mental rolodex, to be pulled out next month or next year, when we are in just the right situation with a trainee. Add that to the cues we’ve accumulated during our years of coaching and owning our (former) CrossFit gym and we’ve got ourselves a pretty good supply of tricks designed to make our clients stronger, fitter and healthier – and make us look like damn good instructors.
Take Home: The RKC certification will gift you with countless ways to coax the best movement, the best technique, the best form out of your clients. Make sure to take detailed notes every second of every day – and not just during lecture, because some of the coolest tricks come from the team leaders and assistants during your group sessions.
Third, provided you meet the mandatory requirements and pass your certification, the RKC gives you the most respected title in kettlebell coaching. If you want to make your name as a kettlebell instructor, you must have “RKC” after your name. There are other instructor certifications out there, certainly – CrossFit offers one, and there are other kettlebell “styles” like the AKC, but in our opinion, the RKC represents the best of the best, and is the one that will most effectively sell your services to others.
In addition, the RKC community is extremely well developed and organized, and can afford you the most assistance in getting your coaching practice off the ground. In fact, we attended a very interesting marketing lecture during the third day of our cert, designed to help the new RKC make the most of their new credentials and build their business. It was practical, applicable stuff for the newly christened instructors, and we came away with more than a few good tips for the Whole9, too.
Take Home: If you want to make a name for yourself coaching kettlebells, you HAVE to have an RKC certification. While you can acquire plenty of well-respected “letters” after your name in the strength and conditioning field, when it comes to kettlebells, the title “RKC” has no substitute.
Finally, the weekend was one of the most physically demanding certifications we’ve attended… and we’ve done a lot of hard stuff. One thing that surprised us about the cert was the serious strength component, which was reflected in our tasks and tests throughout the course of the weekend. It’s not just about demonstrating safe, efficient, effective technique, it’s also about being strong and fit. And if you’re not prepared for the physical demands, you may be in for a bit of a shock.
In addition, they beat you pretty hard for the first two days. There isn’t a lot of leeway for being tired, for hands ripping, for muscles cramping or grip fatiguing. You’re expected to move (and move fast), and every movement was ordered as “perfect practice.” (No one got away with sloppy technique at any point during the weekend.) The days were long, the ‘bells never got any lighter, and the swings were endless. ENDLESS.
It wasn’t just physically demanding, either… there were plenty of mental challenges to overcome. (See Melissa’s prior post about the RKC for more insight on the mental aspects.)
Take Home: If you can make it through that weekend without breaking down – all the practice, skill work, workouts, and tests; all the instructions, reviews, questions and demands – then you’ve earned the right to feel pretty good about yourself. And that experience should be enough to carry your confidence for a long time to come.
The RKC: Is This For You?
Because of several factors already mentioned – the cost, the time commitment, the physical demand – the RKC isn’t for everyone. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before signing up for the RKC.
Question #1: Do you want to make coaching kettlebells your primary business, either as a trainer or as the owner of a kettlebell-focused gym?
If the answer is yes, then start preparing, because the RKC is an invaluable (and necessary) step in your professional kettlebell coaching career. If the answer is no, then think twice about whether you can spend the time, energy and money. While the RKC was an amazing experience for us (and we do plan to use our certifications), not everyone can afford taking five days and thousands of dollars to have a meaningful “learning experience.”
In addition, we’d recommend you have some coaching experience before signing up, too. You’re expected to have a pretty sharp “eye” throughout the course of the weekend, and especially during your instructor evaluation. You can’t learn to spot movement flaws, limiting factors and technique weaknesses in a weekend, which means you’ve got to practice your coaching skills just as much as your kettlebell skills in the months leading up to the cert. We used just as many of our own personally-developed coaching cues during the weekend as we did the cues they taught us, which meant we had even more tools in our arsenal to help our fellow RKC candidates and coach our “victims.”
Question #2: Do you want to incorporate kettlebell movements (like the Turkish get-up, clean and press or snatch) into your gym or coaching practice, using kettlebells as one tool of many?
If you fit this category, perhaps as the owner of a CrossFit gym or a private training business, then you’re going to have to decide for yourself whether the RKC is right for you. The certification will certainly help you improve your own skills, fine-tune your coaching ability and deliver you the right “letters” to have credibility within the health and fitness community, but it’s a pretty specialized certification for someone who will only use kettlebells occasionally in their practice. In addition, you need to be pretty well prepared before you attend the cert, which usually necessitates a few months of private coaching with a local RKC-certified instructor in your area.
You might also consider the HKC Instructor Certification, also from Dragon Door. It’s a step down from the RKC – you cover only three movements, and the tests aren’t as difficult – but it’s still a highly credible certification that will help you be a better instructor (and would be a great preparatory tool for the RKC). The second answer to Question #1 still applies to you, by the way. Practice your skill work and your coaching before you sign up for either certification.
Question #3: Do you simply want to be able to teach your CrossFit classes safe and effective kettlebell swings (generally the only movement programmed in CrossFit workouts)?
Is this you? Good on you for wanting to improve your skill work. First thing first, however… for the love of Pavel, immediately ditch the “American swing.” It’s stupid, it’s unsafe for many, and 99.6% of your class will never do them correctly anyway. (To paraphrase our good friend Dutch Lowy, harder isn’t better, better is better. If you’ve got a burning desire to perform a movement that will take the kettlebell overhead, it’s called a snatch.)
Next, don’t bother with the RKC – taking the cert just to learn how to properly swing is overkill. Instead, find an RKC-certified trainer in your area to give you (and your class) some proper lessons. The RKC can teach you cool variations on the swing, too – things like double-KB swings, the DARC swing and power swing – so you can keep your clients sweaty, happy AND injury-free.
Question #4: Do you just want to learn more about how to incorporate kettlebells into your own training, without instructing others
Cool – we like that idea. There’s far more to strength and conditioning than what CrossFit teaches, and kettlebells are a great tool to add to your fitness arsenal. Until you’re proficient with the basic kettlebell movements, though, the RKC isn’t for you. You should instead work with a local RKC-certified instructor, either with private coaching or group training, so you can learn the movements safely and effectively (and omit any bad habits before you start ingraining them into your movement pattern).
If there isn’t an RKC in your area, our friend Sarah Lurie is the author of “Kettlebells for Dummies”, and has some amazing resources for teaching yourself kettlebells. (Find them in the Whole9 Amazon store.) Start with Sarah’s instructional tools, and keep an eye on the Dragon Door site for an RKC or HKC Certified Instructor in your area.
The RKC in Review
We hope this review helps you decide whether the RKC is right for you. If so, next week we’ll be featuring a post all about how we prepared for our certification. We’ll discuss everything from conditioning to hand care to programming (without giving away TOO much of what your RKC cert will entail – we don’t want to spoil the surprise!)
Got questions about our experience, the certification itself or what it means to be an RKC? Post them to comments.
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