The Barbell Strength RKC Prep Program

by Jason Kapnick on September 28, 2016

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The instructor cadre from last year’s RKC at Catalyst SPORT.

The instructor cadre from last year’s RKC at Catalyst SPORT.

Much has been written about the synergy of kettlebells and barbells. They complement each other’s “blind spots” extremely well. Training properly with either will make you better at both. The RKC is the world’s premier kettlebell certification, and I can tell you first-hand that the skills I learned at the RKC have made me a better powerlifter.

This program is intended for an RKC candidate who wants to keep barbells in his or her program, while still building the requisite work capacity and skill to excel at an RKC Workshop. Whether you’re a powerlifter, football player, strongman competitor, or simply a barbell enthusiast, this program will get you strong, conditioned, and ready to impress at the RKC. It is also great for would-be Beast Tamers (just add some pistol squat practice).

When preparing for the RKC, there are three Pillars of Success you must consider:

  1. Work Capacity. The RKC has evolved beyond its brutal and punishing roots, and is now more focused on teaching skills and helping you become a skilled instructor. But, it is still a challenging three days which will test your fitness. Be prepared for multiple workouts per day, interspersed with lots of drills and technique practice. And oh yeah, there’s a snatch test in there too.
  2. Maximum Strength. The role of maximum strength is less obvious than work capacity (after all, most men won’t have to handle anything larger than 24kg, and women 16kg). Being strong will make your RKC weekend so much easier. When heavy kettlebells feel light, you can more effectively focus on technique.
  3. Movement Quality. It is important to safely and effectively place kettlebells overhead, squat, and have good hip extension.
The rack position is a crucial kettlebell skill. Here the author demonstrates the “loaded clean” to drill lat engagement and rooting to the floor.

The rack position is a crucial kettlebell skill. Jason Kapnick demonstrates the “loaded clean” to drill lat engagement and rooting to the floor.

It is worth noting that I have not included “kettlebell technique” on this list. While having familiarity and skill with the kettlebell will greatly benefit you throughout the certification weekend, it is not essential to show up with PERFECT skills. The purpose of the course is to teach you these skills, and the master RKCs, team leaders and assistant instructors meet will give you all the coaching you need to pass the rigorous skills tests on the last day of the certification. The amount of progress candidates make during the RKC is nothing short of mind-blowing. So, work on your technique and get comfortable handling kettlebells, but don’t sweat it if you’re not perfect.

This program focuses on Pillars #1 and #2 (strength and work capacity), while also giving you ample time to gain familiarity and exposure to the “Big 6” kettlebell lifts tested at your RKC. While Movement Quality (Pillar #3) is absolutely crucial for success at the RKC, it mostly beyond the scope of this article. I highly recommend finding an FMS certified professional in your area for a movement screen before starting this (or any) program.

This program should be run for 6-10 weeks prior to the certification workshop.

The Program:

Day 1—KB Press & Deadlift

A1. Single Arm Press Ladder (1,2,3,4)x3
A2. (Weighted) Tactical Pull-up 3-5 sets of 5-8 reps

  1. Deadlift 5,3,2; then drop 20% and 3×5 with 2:00 rest.
  2. Kettlebell Skill Practice: 10-20 minutes

Press Ladders: Use the classic “Rite of Passage” progression. Add a ladder each week, and then once you get to 5 ladders, start adding rungs to the ladders. Build volume.

Deadlift: In week 1, pick a weight you can perform 8-10 reps with. Perform a set of 5, rest, a set of 3, rest, and then a set of 2, all with that same weight. Then, take 20% of the weight off the bar and do 3 sets of 5 with just a 2:00 rest. Each week, add 5-10lbs per week to the 5,3,2 sets.

Deadlifts are the key to unlocking maximal strength.

Deadlifts are the key to unlocking maximal strength.

Day 2—Snatch Density and Work Capacity

  1. Snatch Density Training

B1. Double Kettlebell Clean 5×8
B2. Double Kettlebell Squat 5×6
B3. Rack Walk 5×10-15 yards

Farmer’s carries will build a strong grip while encouraging good posture and alignment.

Farmer’s carries will build a strong grip while encouraging good posture and alignment.

C1. Farmer’s Carry 2-4 sets of 15-20 yards
C2. Hang from Bar 2-4 sets of As Long As Possible
C3. Ab Wheel 2-4 sets of 5-8


Snatch Density: Perform snatches on each arm every minute on the minute (EMOTM). Add reps each week, and decrease number of minutes as necessary. Try to “arrive” at being able to do 10 snatches per arm for 7 minutes (a snatch test plus an additional two minutes). For example:

Week 1: 5/5 x15 minutes
Week 2: 6/6 x12 minutes
Week 3: 7/7 x10 minutes
Week 4: 8/8 x10 minutes
Week 5: 9/9 x8 minutes
Week 6: 10/10 x7 minutes

In reality, your progression might not be as linear or quick.

B1-B3: Perform these as a super-set, without setting the kettlebells down. Rest a few minutes between sets.


Day 3—Swings and Get-Ups

  1. Turkish Get-Up – 8-10 Total Get-Ups. Vary the load each week (wave loading).
  2. Heavy Single Arm Swing Volume—20 minutes. Choose a kettlebell 1.5-2.0x your snatch test bell. Perform as many sets of single arm swings as you can. If you manage more than 10 sets per arm, the pick a heavier kettlebell next week.

C1. Single Arm Rack Carry
C2. Chin-Ups
C3. Bulgarian Split Squat


Day 4—Bench Press & Squat

A1. Close Grip Bench Press 5×5
A2. Chest Supported Row 5×8-12

  1. Front Squat 5×5

C1. Single Leg Deadlift 3×8
C2. Paloff Press 3×8
C3. Kettlebell Armbar 3×8-10 breaths

The author at a powerlifting meet in June 2015, where he posted a 1,555lb total, culminating with a 660lb deadlift.

The author at a powerlifting meet in June 2015, where he posted a 1,555lb total, culminating with a 660lb deadlift.



Jason Kapnick is the co-founder of Catalyst SPORT, one of New York City’s top kettlebell training facilities. He has made multiple Elite powerlifting totals, with best lifts of 545/355/660 in the 198lb weight class, and achieved the Beast Tamer Challenge at his RKC in April 2013. He can be contacted through


Get Rid of Nagging Back Pain and Build Abs of Steel

by Laurel Blackburn on September 21, 2016

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kettlebell drill for back pain Laurel Blackburn

The most common complaint I hear from my clients is back pain. Just Google “back pain” and you’ll end up with over a million hits.

As a personal trainer, I know that also means there’s a huge population out there that can benefit from my expertise. From a business perspective, that also means building my client base and increasing my business.

But, before you dive into marketing to people suffering from back pain, let’s look at a few important points, and by important, I mean, IMPORTANT.

I am not a physician, physical therapist, chiropractor or other medical provider. I can’t diagnose problems. If you are not a medical provider, you shouldn’t either.

If a client comes to you with back pain or any type of pain, your safest bet is to refer them out to a trusted professional. I have aligned myself with the best chiropractor, physical therapist, massage therapist and dietitian in my area. If I’m ever in doubt, I refer them out.

Now, assuming my client has been medically cleared and has no restrictions, I can get to work.

The drills I demonstrate in the video below came from trial and error and by combining concepts learned from my RKC, and RKC-II certifications, CK-FMS and Z-Health.

I was totally surprised that most of the time, my clients experienced immediate pain relief. If they then spent several weeks of dedicated time doing the drills, the pain was gone.

Although I have many success stories from using these drills, my favorite is my client, Karen.

Karen is in her mid-50s and suffered from chronic back pain. She tried everything from acupuncture, massage, chiropractors and even surgery but never got long-term relief.

We began with simple back presses using a wedge—because lying on the ground was too painful when we started. We also did the back presses and the pelvic glides while standing. After several weeks, we were able to start doing them on the floor.

Once her pain subsided, we added kettlebell deadlifts, swings and get-ups. It wasn’t long before she was able to start running; something she never thought she would be able to do again.

I knew I was on the right track when her son—then was a chiropractic student—came to watch one of our sessions. He told me that if everyone did these drills and deadlifts, then he wouldn’t have a lot of patients.

Although the little combo in the video below is not the only answer to relieving back pain, I find it’s a great place to start. If nothing else, your clients will end up with better posture, better movement, and a bulletproof core.

For beginners who have been cleared:

  • 5 back presses using a thick towel as a tactile cue under the small of their back.
  • 10 pelvic glides

Repeat 3-5 times.

This combination can be done before getting out of bed in the morning and in bed before going to sleep.

Once the back presses become stronger (use your hand/arm to test) then add resistance:

Place a light kettlebell overhead and cue them to press their lower back to the floor and pull the kettlebell to mid-chest with straight arms. The back must stay pressed through the entire range of motion.

  • 5 back press with pullovers
  • 10 pelvic glides

Repeat 3-5 times.

In the video below, you will see the option of additional triceps extensions along with isometric contractions.

Try these as movement prep prior to training. These drills/exercises are also great in group classes.


Senior RKC, Laurel Blackburn owns Boot Camp Fitness and Training and Tallahassee Kettlebells.  Look for Laurel at or

In her early fifties, Laurel is out to prove that age is just a number. Her goal is to motivate and inspire people everywhere, both young and old that strength, flexibility and mobility can get better with age. Follow her adventures on her blog:


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