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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Awesome review guys! Sounds like a fantastic experience.
Great review! My trainer, and the other trainers in the kettlebell studio where I go, are all RKCs. In January I did the HKC. Thank you for mentioning that. It’s a great “stepping stone” to the RKC and if you take the HKC, then register for RKC, the $$$ you paid for HKC can be applied to the RKC. I believe there’s a time limit so check the web site. This organization is top notch!
Rob Exline Whole 9EE says
Thanks for this great review. I am looking forward to the article on the training. I just booked my airplane tickets for San Diego in August for the RKC there. I am now 3 months out exactly. Looking forward to it… and nervous…
Very cool; I’m really looking forward to the next post!
Nice post. Looking forward to Part 2.
What do you guys think of the new finish on the DD kettlebells? Overall, do you think their kettlebells are worth the cost, especially since they’re made in China now?
Great review, thanks. And what an awesome photo!
Great review guys. I’d add one thing that’s missing here: the camaraderie. It seems impossible to develop such great relationships in 3 days, but my experience—and that of all my RKC friends–was that we each made a solid network of new friends from around the country and the world that we can lean on for advice, tips, referrals, and more. There’s something oddly satisfying about knowing that as much as you’re suffering at The Evil Russian’s hands for 3 days, so is everyone else. Really, some of the best times I had during my weekend were during dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, with everyone rehashing their day, bitching about how sore and tired they are, and how nervous they were about the next day.
Overall, I think you definitely captured the essence of RKC weekend. Kudos on a great effort, a fantastic review, and congrats on joining the Party…comrades.
Melissa @ Whole9 says
@Mary: Thanks for adding the HCK to RKC information – I didn’t know you’d be able to apply the cost. That is a great deal!
@Rob: We’ll hit you as soon as we’re back from Hawaii! Can’t wait for you to experience it for yourself.
@Chris: I just got a women’s handle 16K with the new finish. It’s a bit rougher than I expected, but once I file down the handle a bit, I think I’m going to like it. In my experience, the DD kettlebells are worth every penny. I’ve bought and used several different brands before, and none hold up the way DD ‘bells do. (I’ve had my DD 12K for about 5 years now, and after throwing it, dropping it and leaving it outside in wet conditions, it still looks damn good.) Save up and buy the best, so that you only have to buy them once.
@Scott: First, thanks so much for the comments on our RKC-related posts, and for your encouragement. You’re right, we met some great people at our cert and hope to continue to make connections through the organization going forward.
thanks for the review! one of my crossfit trainers is RKC certified and prior to reading this review I kinda took him for granted but now you’ve opened my eyes as to how much knowledge he has in this area so definately will take advantage of him :) right now he’s on his way to San Francisco to get certified in Olympic Weight lifting. Im new to the whole workout world so im still so excited about all this :) thanx!I
I just discovered you guys from a podcast (Latest in Paleo) and really like your approach to nutrition/health. It’s always cool to find like-minded people to learn from. It’s also very timely to see your review of the RKC program as I’ve been considering getting certified for my own personal knowledge and for the challenge that it represents. Thank you for putting that together and all the other content you put out there.
A couple of things that I’m curious about…
– Did you consider any other certs, like the IKFF? What made you go with the RKC if so?
– What’s your take now on the crossfit-style KB swing with it going well above chest level (what the RKC prescribes I believe) to above the head?
Michael, they pretty thoroughly answered both those questions in their post.
The first paragraph (after the intro): “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.”
In the “Answer” to “Question 3:” “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.)”
Good review! I also want to add that Shawn Mozen’s Agatsu Kettlebell Certification is a serious weekend that covers all of the same elements, including a fascinating marketing seminar. Shawn was in the initial group that learned under Pavel, that included our mutual friend Jason C Brown. Shawn also covers mobility, workout design, bodyweight movements, and has a demanding test at the end. You come out a very able practitioner of the kb arts, for less than $1000…
Melissa @ Whole9 says
Paloma: Yes, take advantage of your trainer and learn some KB moves outside of what CrossFit programs (which is a stupid version of a fantastic movement).
Michael: While the AKC or IKFF programs are certainly valuable, they’re not as well known (or, in my view, as well respected) as the RKC. I’ve not taken either cert, so I can’t do a direct comparison, but we ruled out the AKC because we have no interest in competing in long cycle, and thought the RKC presented a greater depth and breadth of movement. The IKFF program seems similar to the RKC in content, but to be honest, the RKC is far better known by both fellow fitness professionals and potential clients. If you’re going to spend the time and money to get the “letters” (especially if you’re in the first category above – full-time KB trainer), then it was my view that I should get the letters that meant the most. Again, this is just our opinion, and we mean no disrespect to the other certification processes that do offer effective technique and coaching instruction.
As for the “American” swing, we’ve never done it in our own workouts, nor did we make it the “default” swing when we owned our CrossFit affiliate. Our Occasionally we’d perform it as a variation in our own training (just for fun), but as a rule, if you’re going to swing, the Russian swing has always been our default (and in our experience, should be yours as well).
I really like your training articles…keep it up…miss the old blog training stories too.
Tony rOSA says
Welcome aboard! I met you at Jeff Martone’s Crossfit KB cert back in Feb 09 at CF NYC. I earned my RKC last Sept in Philly and it was a phenomenal experience. To be honest, the level of expertise and overall professionalism blows away the Crossfit Level 1 cert. Don’t get me wrong, I love Crossfit and believe it has changed many lives for the better, when it comes to Kettlebells, too many affiliates are running blind. I continually run into resistance from my colleagues when it comes to the overhead swing. For some reason, there is this perception that the OH swing is superior to the traditional swing because it’s a ‘harder’ move. I’ve read Coach Glassman’s analysis of the overhead swing vs. the traditional swing; on the surface, it makes sense, but in reality, the potential for injury is too high. Anyway, you are a respected and recognized voice who can perhaps elicit change. Please continue speaking out.
Melissa @ Whole9 says
@Nate: We miss our training articles too. Thanks for the note, we’ll be doing more of this in the future.
@Tony: Of course I remember you – I coached your cert in NYC! Nice to see you’ve gone on to become an RKC as well. Maybe someday we’ll do a post about why the American swing is dumb – we like to poke the bear from time to time. ;) Thanks for dropping by!
Thanks for the info on the RKC Kettlebell course. I am interested in the continuing series. I have been looking into the RKC/HKC for some time. I would like to know if you or any of your readers have attended the Tactical athlete courses with Jeff Martone. They offer a kettlebell course which I believe is the same as the Crossfit kettlebell course as well as a full instructorship in the Tactical athlete system, which is about a week long course (5 day). For the money and the content it seems like a better deal if you do the 5 day Tactical Athlete course verses the RKC. Eventually as time permits I would like to attend both the Tactical Athlete course and the RKC/HKC. On a side note I do not see why people get so out of whack when they get on the subject of the American swing vs. the Russian swing. There is about the same amount of information for and against. If you take each swing as a separate exercise (training it and teaching it as such) there should not be a problem with either. Calling an exercise “stupid” and unsafe for “many” can be applied to many if not all exercises. Example: Snatch is a stupid exercise and unsafe for many. Or you can say the Snatch is an exercise that should be taught correctly, coached properly, and trained with appropriate weight starting out. Thanks again.
Cool information on something I was not really aware was out there. My one issue though is that if you go off the logic that because 99.6% of people can’t do an American swing correctly means gyms shouldn’t the movement, then I’d imagine you’d be hard pressed to find movements where all clients have perfect form all the time. Could you elaborate what specifically is unsafe or has potential for injury that maybe you learned from this certification as opposed to writing it off without explanation?
Melissa @ Whole9 says
@Jeff: The fact that most folks don’t have the technique, mobility or flexibility to do them correctly is just a small part of our thought process. The idea that swinging overhead is better just because it’s harder is what we take issue with.
When we get home (we’re in Hawaii now), we’ll consider writing up our thought process on why we don’t do the American swing (much like we did with the Sumo Deadlift High-Pull article). Thanks for the comment.
Great! Thanks for sharing your experience guys. Honestly, people does not really use kettle bells in workouts they’re more on the barbells. But you guys have changed things and people impressions about kettle bells.