From Broken to Team Leader

by Paul Britt on December 17, 2014

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Paul Britt Double Press At RKC

I was broken in October 2012 at the RKC-II. It happened because I was stupid and I let my ego get the best of me at the certification. I thought that I only had a minor training injury prior to arriving in St. Paul for the workshop. I had been working on heavy double presses on a day that I was tired, but due to having to attend this particular cert, I stayed with my “program”. In the middle of my final set, I felt a sharp pain on my left hip and back. I dropped the kettlebells and decided to take a few days off. It was still bugging me a few days later, so I went to a chiropractor. The consensus was that it was just a minor strain and that I would be okay to attend the certification. So off I went, with some kineseo tape to hold me together for the three days ahead of me.

I knew the snatch test would probably put too much stress on my back, so decided that I would wait till the last day to take it. I was able to get through all of my Level 1 skills and the half-body weight press on day 1 without too much trouble. But, I had a few problems with stability that I should have paid more attention to during the skills test. I noticed that I struggled with my foot on the left side for the get-up as it did not want to stay locked down as I moved through the different parts of the movement.

I initially started out with lighter weights than normal, just to allow me to get through the certification. I had a past Master RKC give me a hard time about the weight and I let my ego override what little sense I had and I bumped my weights up. Sometime during the day, I felt a pop in my back on the left side. I did not really feel a lot of pain at the time, so I kept on training. I got back to the hotel in a lot of pain and barely slept. When I got up the next morning, I literally had to drag my leg as I walked down the hall to find some Advil. I ended up buying eight packages and using four to get to breakfast and the first half of the cert. I had to take the other four to get through the rest of the day. The last day was even worse, I thought about just quitting, and I should have. Unfortunately, I am a little stubborn and hate to give up. At that point, nobody really knew what was going to happen to the RKC after that weekend, so in my head, I had to get through the weekend and earn what could possibly be the last RKC-II certification. So I pushed through and passed all of the tests except for the Jerk and the Snatch test. I knew that I had 90 days to send the video into someone to pass those two skills. Turns out that was not going to happen for a long time.

I knew as soon as I got off the airplane in Dallas that I was not right. I struggled to get out of the seat, get to my bags and walk to my car. I ended up getting home and telling my wife that I had screwed up and was badly injured. The pain was pretty constant, so I took off from all training for what was supposed to just be November, but it ended up being a nine month break. I had to train my lead coach, Justine Deets RKC, to pass her HKC and RKC skills without being able to perform them myself. She was my gym replacement while I was recovering. I hosted an HKC in January, but was unable to assist because even picking up 12kgs caused me a lot of pain.

I was not healing, so after the first of the year, it was time to see someone about it. I ended up being referred to the top spine doctor in the area. At my appointment he told me that I had herniated discs at L4-L5 and L5-S1, both on the left side. He informed me that it was a lifelong injury and that my days of heavy lifting were over. To say that I was not thrilled by that was an understatement, so I decided to show him that I would be back to heavy lifting again. I went with a non-surgical solution for the problem and had a series of injections into my back that gave some minor relief. While the injections did not allow me to start lifting again, they did allow me regain some everyday quality of life. It was at that time I met Dr. Steve Horwitz, DC (and now RKC instructor). Dr. Horwitz worked with me on my nutrition and showed me how to ease the inflammation and pain with proper supplementation. Once my nutrition was dealt with, I was able to start healing and training again.

I had scheduled an HKC/Primal Move Certification Weekend with Master RKC, Andrea Du Cane and Senior RKC Jay Armstrong, but was not really doing much in the way of training yet. Andrea knew about the injury, so she would not let me do much during the HKC. I was the ‘go-fer.” While I was finally moving better, I was still in pain with bad movement patterns most of the time. I was able to participate in the Primal Move Certification that weekend and found that it was life changing for me. I was able to go through the workshop pain free. It was amazing how much better I felt just going through the workshop. The one day workshop was like a reset button. It was the first time I was pain free during my day to day activities of living. It improved my movement, eased my pain and that definitely helped my outlook. I had been in a depression since being injured because I was unable to train and burn through my day to day frustrations.

Andrea and Jay also showed me a few drills, including pendulum swings. I also started playing with Figure 8’s as they allowed me to strengthen my posterior chain without moving through painful patterns and positions. I also went to town with Primal Move and added in Convict Conditioning on a daily basis. I would train something every day, but never to failure or into pain. That was my training program for about 3 months and every day I felt better, moved better and got stronger. My focus was on healing and avoiding pain. I spent lots of time on the pullup bar, doing handstand pushups and Convict Conditioning skills on top of daily Primal Move work.

In October of 2013, I hosted an RKC with Andrea Du Cane, Master RKC leading the workshop. She asked to see my skills as an Assistant. I hadn’t trained with any weight over 16kgs in any of the RKC Basics prior to the certification weekend. This was one year after blowing out my back and I figured that it would be ugly. I had not even attempted any of the skills with my snatch test weight prior to this attempt. I was actually scared when I was asked to do it as I knew it was going to be a hot mess. I was pain free and nailed my skills test. After that it was as if I had been freed from a dark hole. Andrea had to keep me reined in all weekend because I was so excited that I was able to train again. She told Shane England RKC, that they had “unleashed a monster”, I could not stop playing around with the kettlebells. I participated in as many of the drills as the attendees did as I tried to fix the bad habits that got me into the position I was in.

After that weekend I continued to train and work on a lot of rehab style work to get back to a decent level of strength. In that time, I was able to host and assist at several HKC’s and RKC’s. I improved my skills and movement at every event I attended. Andrea let me assist at every event and she helped me improve my skills at every certification. If it had not been for her friendship and mentoring, I would not have been able to train or teach at the level I am at now. In July, I was promoted to RKC Team Leader, based in part on my ability to come back as a better instructor because of my injury. It forced me to re-evaluate everything that I was doing as an RKC. Prior to this, my skills were not as good as they should have been. The injury made me a better coach, and I became stronger because of it. I have to use the RKC Principles correctly to avoid being injured again.

Paul Britt Coaching

I was able to get to the point where I was able to press half bodyweight again and knew that I had to try RKC-II again. In October, I hosted the RKC-II at my gym. We had a great group of strong people in attendance. Like the last time, Day 1 was RKC I and our strength requirement test. I felt that it was the easiest and best RKC recert test that I have ever performed. My skills were dialed in and the snatch test was by far my best one that I have ever completed, it was almost easy (the snatch test is never really easy). I passed RKC-II after a long weekend of heavy lifting. I had gone into the weekend with some trepidation, because I had been hurt. It was probably harder for me mentally than physically due to my last attempt ending so badly. I was nervous going into the testing as I did not fully believe that I could get through it without being injured, but I only had a slight issue with my left side pistol stability.

RKC-II Group Photo in Texas

What did I learn from all of this? I learned a lot, though I wish I had learned it without being injured. I was once taught that experience came after you needed it. I hope that someone uses mine to avoid taking the same path. Do not terrain into pain. If you are injured and your life is not in danger, take a break and heal. Do not let your ego cause you to do stupid stuff. There is no certification that is worth permanent injury and we hold a lot of certifications during the year. That is why I am glad that I chose to stay with the RKC. Dragon Door and the RKC’s focus on being a great instructor and their focus on the safe building of your skills is why I am proud to be a part of this community.

What’s next? I am training for the Beast Tamer. The plan is to do it for my 48th birthday at the October 2015 RKC led by Master RKC Andrew Read. There is still room and time to sign up for that certification.

***
RKC Team Leader Paul Britt has been an RKC kettlebell instructor since 2006. He trains clients at Britt’s Training Systems, his award-winning Hardstyle Kettlebell Training Facility in Rockwall, Texas. Paul has served as an assistant instructor at many RKC and HKC Courses, is a Certified Kettlebell Functional Movement Specialist (CK-FMS) and works with some of the top Chiroprators in North Texas. Please visit his website brittstrainingsystems.com for more information.

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Master RKC Andrew Read Performs a Kettlebell Bottoms Up Press

The learning and skill continuum that begins at HKC and progresses through RKC and RKC-II follows a fairly straight line. We begin with patterning exercises in HKC—two hand swings, the goblet squat, and the get-up—before progressing to one handed variations on these themes such as the clean and snatch, and the double kettlebell front squat at the RKC. The work done on the get-up lends itself to pressing and snatching which in turn leads to the double push press and jerk as well as the windmill and the bent press at RKC-II.

At RKC-II, people usually face one of two problems, either their thoracic mobility is poor and they struggle with the double overhead work (as well as the windmill and bent press) or they struggle to get their heavy press. As much as the old RKC saying, “To press a lot, you must press a lot” does ring true for many, it may also lead to bigger problems down the line.

About a year ago I wrote an article for Breaking Muscle (Single Kettlebell Ballistic Complexes: How to Save Your Shoulders and Still Work Overhead) which explained the three different types of AC joint set up that people have, as well as possible ways to train long term without damaging yourself. But that still doesn’t help us with the heavy press goal if we’re on our way to RKC-II, does it?

When I wrote Beast Tamer, I outlined many different press plans that could help you get through a sticking point in your press training. I’ve learnt a bit since then and want to outline a plan below that will help you get through your sticking points without risking injury.

What we need is a drill that gives us the same feel as the heavy press and the same effort—all without placing the same strain on the AC joint. This is where the bottoms-up press (BUP) comes into play. The BUP is an interesting drill. Interesting in that I have used it as a one-size-fits-all solution for a variety of problems with the press. Not gripping the kettlebell tightly? The BUP will fix that. Not staying tight in your press? The BUP will fix that too.

The BUP is ideal for our needs as it teaches great form while forcing you to use less load. That may sound problematic, but the body doesn’t register how much you lift, only how much tension you generate. If your form is even slightly off, the kettlebell will fall. This is what makes the BUP ideal as a learning tool. It is automatically apparent what needs to happen and where the point of failure is.

Imagine that the fulcrum (center of rotation) for this movement is not the delicate AC joint, but instead a point midway between the deltoid and the elbow—essentially the middle of the bicep. By focusing on having your elbow move around that point while doing a BUP you will teach your whole body to engage during the press. Likely you will find this feels significantly different to what you have been doing when overhead pressing.

One of the things to keep in mind in relation to the BUP, is that it has a great effect up to a point. I don’t believe that past 32kg they do much to boost your press as the skill becomes its own lift. Prior to that they can be a valuable tool to teach you tension and alignment. Do not make the mistake of turning the drill into an exercise. The goal is never to have the best BUP in the world, rather to use the BUP to build your press.

Low reps are a must with the BUP, as the CNS fatigue from the high grip demand is intense. 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps seem to work best prior to your limit presses for the day.

The other side of this equation is that healthy shoulders are not built from pressing alone. For every push, you must have at least one set of pulling to counteract it. While the pull up is usually the choice of functional trainers, I’ll caution against it as the lat also acts as an internal rotator of the arm, so if all you do are presses and pull ups you’re just as likely to end up with bad shoulders as if you only did presses.

At RPT, we use a variety of weighted mobility drills to achieve healthy shoulders. Here’s how a press workout might look:

Lying dislocates with weight – 3 sets of 10 reps. Paired with push-ups for 3 sets of 10-20 reps.

BUP – 2 x 5 at 50%

Y-T-Row – 2 x 5-5-10

BUP – 3 ladders of 1-2-3 reps combined with easy light two-hand swings in between to help shake the tension out.

Perform a rear support—think of it as a face up plank—for 60 seconds and then do a get-up on each side. Perform three super sets of this as a final shoulder health practice. Make sure to stretch after and “unglue” all the tension you’ve built up in these muscles during training. Pay particular attention to the triceps, lats, traps, and shoulders.

***

Andrew Read, Master RKC, Author of Beast Tamer, is head of Dragon Door Australia and Read Performance Training. Recognized as Australia’s leading functional strength trainer he is a regular contributor to Blitz, Inside MMA, International Kickboxer, Oxygen, Ultrafit and Breaking Muscle. His coaching background spans nearly twenty years having worked with many Olympic and world championship level athletes.

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