Why The HKC Is The Answer To (Almost) Everything

by Dan John on November 11, 2015

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HKCKettlebellGetUp1

Sometimes, when I repeat the same answer to a question more than a few times, I begin to wonder why people even ask me questions.

Exercise for Fat Loss?
“Swings, goblet squats and Turkish get-ups.”

Elderly clients?
“Swings, goblet squats and Turkish get-ups.”

Travel related issues for elite athletes and collision occupations?
“Swings, goblet squats and Turkish get-ups.”

Most people come to coaches and trainers wanting a magic wand treatment, Harry Potter and the Six Pack Abs, but what they NEED is hip flexor stretching, t-spine mobility, rotary stability and basic movements. They NEED to move. They NEED to open the hips and spine and shoulders.

They need the information from the HKC.

I have spent my life trying to understand weightlifting. It seems to me that there are three important keys:

  • Fundamental Human Movements
  • Reps and Sets
  • Load

Sadly, I think this is the correct order that we should approach weightlifting. First, we need to establish the correct postures and patterns, then work around reasonable “numbers” of movements in a training session. Finally, we should discuss the load. Sadly, the industry—and I am guilty of this as well—has switched the order and made a 500 pound deadlift the “answer” to improving one’s game or cutting some fat.

And, please note, I said “training session.” Oh, I can work you out:

“Hey, go run to Peru!”
“Hey, go do 50,000 burpees.”
“Hey, go swim to Alaska.”

But, please don’t think any of that is going to improve your skill set or your long term ability to do anything from sports to simply aging gracefully.

At the HKC, we learn what I consider to be the key patterns to human movement: the swing, the goblet squat and the get-up. The “Hip Displacement Continuum” (HDC) is a term I invented to discuss hip movement. The HDC has two ends: the swing and the goblet squat. The swing demands maximal hip hinge and minimal knee bend while the goblet squat demands maximal hip hinge along with maximal knee bend.

HKCNicoleKettlebellGetUp

They are the same—but different—in their ability to remind the body of the most powerful movements it can perform. The get-up (not the “Turkish sit-up” as I often note) is a one-stop course in the basics of every human movement from rolling and hinging to lunging and locking out.

So, the HKC covers basic human movements in a way that is unlike any other system or school. As I often argue, add the push-up and, honestly, you might be “done.” Here are the basics of proper training:

  1. Training sessions need to be repeatable.
  2. Training sessions should put you on the path of progress towards your goals.
  3. Training sessions should focus on quality.

So what it the key to quality? I have a simple answer for most people: control your repetitions.

In teaching the get-up, or when using this wonderful lift as a tool to discover your body, keep the reps “around” ten. Now, you can think about this as a total of ten with five on the right and five on the left, or you can try ten right and ten left. But, please don’t make a war over the numbers. Do the get-ups, feel better and move along.

I have noted that if I do get ups as part of my warm up along with some get up drills for “this or that” (the highly technical name I use for correctives), I am sweating and pushing into a “workout” around ten total reps. Certainly, at times you can do more. But, week in and week out, think “around” ten reps for the get-up.

The goblet squat seems to lock in around 15-25 reps per workout. I offer you the “Humane Burpee” as a way to try this concept:

10 Swings
5 Goblet squats (put the bell down between your feet under control)
Inchworm out to the push-up position (walk on your hands)
5 Push-ups
Inchworm back to starting position
10 Swings
4 Goblet squats (put the bell down between your feet under control)
Inchworm out to the push-up position (walk on your hands)
4 Push-ups
Inchworm back to starting position
10 Swings
3 Goblet squats (put the bell down between your feet under control)
Inchworm out to the push-up position (walk on your hands)
3 Push-ups
Inchworm back to starting position
10 Swings
2 Goblet squats (put the bell down between your feet under control)
Inchworm out to the push-up position (walk on your hands)
2 Push Ups
Inchworm back to starting position
10 Swings
1 Goblet squat (put the bell down between your feet under control)
Inchworm out to the push-up position (walk on your hands)
1 Push-up
Inchworm back to starting position

Finished!

That’s 50 swings, 15 goblet squats and 15 push-ups. 8-5-2 will give you the same results with less swings, if you need to do less (Only 30!).

One of the great insights, among many, that I picked up at the RKC is the idea of doing twenty swings with one kettlebell and ten swings with two kettlebells. After doing literally hundreds of swings a day, I noted that my technique held up fine in that ten and twenty range. It is the basic teaching of sports: don’t let quantity influence quality. In other words, ten good reps is far better than dozens of crappy reps. If you want more volume, just do more sets.

Absolutely, there are times when you should do more than twenty. There are times when you want to do all kinds of things. But, most of the time you just want to keep moving ahead. I usually call these the “Punch the Clock” workouts and I think they are the key to staying in the game.

So, you may ask, is this enough?
Over time, yes!

Tim Ferris, RKC-II, tells us in his excellent book, The Four Hour Body that there is a minimum effective dose (MED) of everything fitness related. Although the number I am about to share has a bit of wiggle room, it seems that 75-250 swings a day is the “wheelhouse” for the swing MED. Yes, you can do more, but you want to be able to do it literally day in, day out, year in and year out.

Finally—and don’t take this as a joke, I mean it—if it is too light, go heavier. And, if you went too heavy, try a lighter bell. Doing the little “Humane Burpee” with a big kettlebell is a killer workout. But, it is simple to scale it up or down by simply changing the kettlebell, it’s that simple. When you look at movement first, then reps, then for whatever reason, the loading makes more sense too.

This is the essence of the HKC and I love it. In a one-day course, we learn and do (a lot of “do”) the three core movements of the kettlebell world.

Prepping for the HKC is not as complex or deep as the three-day RKC. Showing up “in shape” and ready to learn would be ideal, but I would also recommend include some additional mobility work and perhaps some work on the hinge, squat and some basic rolling to prep for the event.

The time you spend prepping for the event pales in comparison to what you do AFTER the HKC. I always send along the following Twenty Day Program to guide our attendees deeper along the RKC path.

(One note: during the HKC, I always include waiter walks and rack walks as part of the get-up section. From there, I show the one arm press and introduce the kettlebell clean. This way, the participant has the tools to prep for the RKC. I trained for the RKC with clean and press, swings and what I thought were snatches at the time. So, I ask people to press as soon as they can with kettlebells.)

HKCKettlebellGobletSquat

The First Twenty Days

Fresh from a new learning experience, there is always a tendency to want to do everything at once. But that approach is tough to do and fraught with long and short term issues. The first twenty days after the HKC experience should be a time to strive for mastering the movements and training the positions. Don’t add speed and volume to poor movements—take your time to practice.

These twenty workouts can be done five days a week (for a total of four weeks) or three days a week (sneaking up on two months) or any way you choose. These will provide the ground work for a solid base. Strive for mastery.

Daily Warm Up

It is generally a good idea to go through some mobility drills especially for these areas:

  • Neck
  • Shoulders
  • Thoracic mobility
  • Hips

Each week, take one day to do a full “toes to top” mobility workout.

It is recommended that you do the hip flexor stretch during each warm up and cool down period; it can be done very well with an easy set of goblet squats. Many find a few easy sets of swings, a few goblet squats and a weightless set of one to five get-ups on both sides to be enough of a warm up.

Day One

3 Get-ups right, 3 Get-ups left

Practice hip hinge

Goblet squats: 2-3-5-2-3-5-2-3-5

15 Two hand swings
1 Goblet squat
Ten reps of high knees “March in Place” (Each time the right foot hits is “one rep”)
Recovery breathing (up to two minutes)
Do this for a total of 3 rounds.

5 Minutes of pressing practice.

Day Two

2 Get-ups right, 2 Get-ups left

One hand press (Start with “less strong arm” and alternate arms. “One rep” is one arm right hand press and one arm left hand press)
1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3

Day Three

1 Get-up right, 1 Get-up left

30 Seconds of two hand swings/30 Seconds of “Fast-Loose” drills
20 minutes total time

Practice goblet squat

Day Four

10 Minutes of get-ups (alternate right and left)

15 Two hand swings
1 Goblet squat
10 Reps of high knees “march in place” (each time the right foot hits is “one rep”)
Recovery breathing (up to 2 minutes)
For a total of 3 rounds

Day Five

5 Get-ups right, 5 Get-ups left

One hand press (Start with “less strong arm” and alternate arms. “One rep” is one arm right hand press and one arm left hand press)
1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2

Day Six

3 Minutes of get-ups (alternate right and left)

30 Seconds of two hand swings/30 Seconds “Fast-Loose” drills
10 minutes total

Goblet squat: Several sets of 5 with a pause at the bottom

Day Seven

1 Get-up right, 1 Get-up left

One hand press (Start with “less strong arm” and alternate arms. “One rep” is one arm right hand press and one arm left hand press)
2-3-5-2-3-5-2-3-5

Day Eight

10 Minutes of get-ups

Practice hip hinge

Practice goblet squat

Practice press

Day Nine

15 Two hand swings
One goblet squat
10 Reps of high knees “march in place” (Each time the right foot hits is “one rep”)
Recovery breathing (up to 2 minutes)
For a total of 5 rounds

One hand press (Start with “less strong arm” and alternate arms. “One rep” is one arm right hand press and one arm left hand press)
1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2

Day Ten

5 Get-ups right, 5 Get-ups left

30 Seconds of two hand swings/30 Seconds “Fast-Loose” drills
5 Minutes total

Goblet squats
2-3-5-2-3-5

Day Eleven

5 Minutes of get-ups (Alternate right and left)

One hand press (Start with “less strong arm” and alternate arms. “One rep” is one arm right hand press and one arm left hand press)
1-2-3-5-1-2-3-5-3

15 Seconds of two hand swings/15 Seconds “Fast Loose” drills
10 Minutes total

Day Twelve

1 Get-up right, 1 Get-up left

30 Seconds of two hand swings/30 Seconds “Fast-Loose” drills
5 Minutes total

Goblet squats
1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2

One hand press (Start with “less strong arm” and alternate arms. “One rep” is one arm right hand press and one arm left hand press)
1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2

Day Thirteen

10 Minutes of get-ups (Alternate right and left)

15 Two hand swings
One goblet squat
10 Reps of high knees “march in place” (Each time the right foot hits is “one rep”)
Recovery breathing (up to 2 minutes)
For a total of 10 rounds

Day Fourteen

1 Get-up right, 1 Get-up left

One hand press (Start with “less strong arm” and alternate arms. “One rep” is one arm right hand press and one arm left hand press)
2-3-5-2-3-5-2-3-5

Day Fifteen

1 Get-up right, 1 Get-up left

30 Seconds of two hand swings/30 Seconds “Fast-Loose” drills
5 Minutes total

Goblet squats
1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2

One hand press (Start with “less strong arm” and alternate arms. “One rep” is one arm right hand press and one arm left hand press)
1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2

Day Sixteen

15 Two hand swings
5 Goblet squats
1 Push-up
10 Reps of high knees “march in place” (Each time the right foot hits is “one rep”)
Recovery breathing (up to 2 minutes)
For a total of 10 rounds

Day Seventeen

5 Minutes of get-ups (Alternate right and left)

One hand press (Start with “less strong arm” and alternate arms. “One rep” is one arm right hand press and one arm left hand press)
2-3-5-2-3-5-2-3-5

Day Eighteen

3 Get-ups right, 3 Get-ups left

30 Seconds of two hand swings/30 Seconds “Fast-Loose” drills
20 Minutes total

Day Nineteen

Goblet squats
5-10-5-10-5

One hand press (Start with “less strong arm” and alternate arms. “One rep” is one arm right hand press and one arm left hand press)
2-3-5-2-3-5-2-3-5

Day Twenty

1 Get-up right, 1 Get-up left

30 Second of two hand swings/30 Seconds “Fast-Loose” drills
5 Minutes total

Goblet squats
1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2

One hand press (Start with “less strong arm” and alternate arms. “One rep” is one arm right hand press and one arm left hand press)
1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2

HKCKettlebellSwing

So, there you go! The HKC is more than just the entry into the kettlebell world. It is the foundation of everything you will learn. The three movements of the HKC are the core to conditioning, mobility and goal achievement.

Welcome aboard.

***

Master RKC, Dan John is the author of numerous fitness titles including the best selling Never Let Go and Easy Strength.

Register for the Upcoming 2016 San Jose, California RKC taught by Master RKC Dan John with Senior RKC Chris Holder, and RKC Team Leader Chris White

Dan has spent his life with one foot in the world of lifting and throwing, and the other foot in academia. An All-American discus thrower, Dan has also competed at the highest levels of Olympic lifting, Highland Games and the Weight Pentathlon, an event in which he holds the American record.

Dan spends his work life blending weekly workshops and lectures with full-time writing, and is also an online religious studies instructor for Columbia College of Missouri. As a Fulbright Scholar, he toured the Middle East exploring the foundations of religious education systems. For more information visit: http://danjohn.net

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  • Jay Armstrong

    Some great points. Practicing thousands of bad reps will make you better at bad reps and encourage injury. Reduced reps with a greater focus on quality (sometimes combined with an increased load) can lead to better movement skills. Thanks for the fine article Dan John.

  • So many great points in this post–REQUIRED READING!!! The twenty days of workouts and the “Humane Burpee” FANTASTIC! Going to try the humane burpee today and inflict it on my small group tomorrow night. Good times. Thanks for answering so many questions people may have about programming, progression, and the “now what” after someone takes an HKC workshop. POWERFUL post. I hope people realize what a gift is sitting here.

  • Michael Krivka

    I’ve been a strong proponent for the HKC for quite a while and Dan John has given me even more reasons to be in love with this program. The HKC is not an “RKC-light” – it is the foundation for the RKC and supplies that missing links in most athletes training programs. Our baseline at my gym is your ability to perform all the techniques in the HKC at a high level; in other words, you don’t go on to the Clean, Snatch and Press until you can do the TGU, Goblet Squat and Swing. The HKC is where you start getting the baseline for all future movements with the Kettlebell and will also set the standard for many barbell and bodyweight techniques.

    Overlook the HKC at your own expense, because your mastery, or lack thereof, of the techniques contained within the HKC will spill over into your RKC techniques. Poor comprehension and performance of the HKC techniques will be reflected in your RKC techniques.

    Time to stop being subtle here: go to the HKC and get the training, especially if you are planning on becoming an RKC. You will thank me for this piece of advice – I guarantee it! 🙂

    • John Du Cane

      Great comments Mike, thank you!

  • Outstanding post. There are so many paths one can take after the HKC, but you nailed it with a training program that helps solidify the newly honed skills for the long-term … for training and teaching … and puts them on the path, perhaps, to the RKC.

  • Gail Owens

    Wish this course/training/certification, the HKC was available in UK. Desperately needed!

  • Paul Britt

    Simple, effective, and smart. Another Grand Slam. Get to an HKC and become better

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