Since this article was so librally (mis)quoted lately, I felt I should add this nifty little intro. This article was really all about my training style, a year and a half ago. At that time, I really was unique: Imagine me having my clients do CrossFit's "Fran" with two kettlebells for the thrusters, in the middle of a 24 Hour Fitness. These days there are a lot more people combining kettlebells and crossfit, but still not in commercial gyms.
My training philosophy has evolved into something completely different from either one. If you read the last part of the article, it leads into what my training is all about now. Right now what I'm most stoked about is a recent trip to California where I learned how to do flips on the traveling rings at the old muscle beach. If you're not familiar with "traveling rings", I wrote an article about it when I first heard about it. Check it out. These days I'm all about fitness being the most fun part of your day.
Ok, that's enough intro, here's the origional article:
The best of both worlds
I’m a little unusual. Every day I combine the Russian Kettlebell Challenge program with the CrossFit program. There are probably a dozen people in the world who really combine both programs, and I gaurantee I'm the only one who does it with clients in a commercial gym. It gives me a unique perspective on blending programs.
The RKC and CrossFit Differ in Intent and Focus:
The RKC Program
1.) The main focus of the RKC program is technique over program design.
2.) In the RKC Program safety is viewed as part of performance.
The CrossFit Program
1.) Program design is the main focus.
2.) Power output is the main goal above all else.
Much has been made about how different the two programs are. This is not a bad thing. If peanut butter and jelly were both the same, why would you put both on the same sandwich? The reasons they are different is why they compliment each other.
CrossFit’s biggest contribution: “For Time”
CrossFit introduced the idea of reducing every variable in fitness (strength, muscle endurance, endurance, power, skill) to one variable, time. They have workouts with variable, but preset loads and reps. To reduce the amount of time it takes you to complete the workout, you must increase multiple variables at the same time.
Origionally, I believed that this form of “cardio” training, or circuit training wouldn’t benefit me, with my endurance background. I figured what I really needed was more strength. Experience has shown that it is actually the reverse, that the strongest athletes do best in the CrossFit style stimulous. This has lead CrossFit Coach Mike Rutherford to introduce “Black Box ME CrossFit”. To drastically simplify the idea, it’s CrossFit with strength days more often.
Where the RKC Program Comes In
Nobody does strength like the RKC Program. The biggest contribution that Pavel has made to the world is teaching people tension. Tension equals strength. Tension equals safety.
On strength days, the all of the Power to the People and Naked Warrior rules come into play: Squeeze the bar, corkscrew your feet, squeeze your butt, wedge yourself between the bar and the ground, keep your sets and reps low. This is THE way to build strength.
CrossFit is all about doing the Olympic Lifts with light weights and high repetitions. This IS kettlebell conditioning. Kettlebells were made for high rep snatches and high rep clean and jerks. The kettlebell is the IDEAL tool for CrossFit. In fact, all you really need for your “garage gym” is a couple kettlebells and a pullup bar.
How Do I Know the Best Mix of Strength Days to Metabolic Conditioning Days?
Probably the best answer is to listen to your body. Some people follow crossfit.com’s 3 on 1 off schedule to the “T”. Steve Maxwell has mentioned that with his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, he can only hit the metabolic conditioning hard maybe once or twice a week tops.
How Hard Should I Push It On Metabolic Conditioning Days?
Ok, I know at CrossFit they joke about Pukie. I know in the Russian Kettlebell Challenge Book Pavel talks about workouts being “a puker”. You don’t actually need to puke. If you do puke, then maybe you should wait more than five minutes after dinner before you do that workout.
Once again, it comes down to listening to your body. Steve Maxwell mentions on his Grappler’s Workout DVD that some days you can really push it, and other days you just “survive for time”. No one can survive pushing all out balls to the wall all the time. A possible rule of thumb would be to hit most of your metabolic workouts at 80-90%, and go all out 100% balls to the wall once or twice a month.
Most importantly, listen to your body.
How Often Should I do Strength Days?
As often as possible. Just keep the sets and reps low, and stay fresh. Don’t wear yourself out. Don’t think of your strength days like a workout. Think of your strength days as practice.
Tension takes practice, and focus. Tension equals strength.
Leave some reps in the bank every day. Stay fresh. Listen to your body.
How Will This Serve My Sports Performance?
Blending the RKC Program and the CrossFit Program will serve your sports performance if you are always aware that you are using the programs to serve your sport. The Challenge with CrossFit is that it is easy to make it into a sport all by itself. Resist the temptation.
Coach Glassman has said that CrossFit is not the “Workout of the Day”, it is simply “Constantly varied, functional movement, at high intensity”. What that means to you is that you can scale it to fit your needs. You might cut the sets and reps in half. You may alter the weight. You can design your own metabolic workout. Usually what it means is doing significantly less volume than someone who only CrossFits.
One of the biggest benefits of the strength protocols from the RKC Program is that you could definitely get away with “practicing strength” on the same day or alternate days as your sports practice without it hurting your performance. Strength training done the RKC way won’t leave you sore before your skill practice.
Why Do You Blend the Two Progams?
Because it’s fun. Seriously, life is too short for me to do a training program that I don’t enjoy. The first time I ever snatched a kettlebell, I was in love. The first time I ever did CrossFit’s “Fran”, I was hooked.
The two programs both share true functional movement. True functional movement is more fun than bodybuilding nonsense because of the complexity of functional movement. Dumbed down training is boring for the same reason that tic-tack-toe is boring, it’s actually too simple. Strength training that requires skill is like Chess – it never gets old. There is always another level, another nuance. You could say the same thing about the snatch.
The relative complexity of it is what makes it fun. It’s the same reason that a kettlebell snatch is more fun than a kettlebell swing. And both are more fun than a tricep kickback.
Metabolic conditioning is fun because you get to push yourself. There is a challenge to it. Strength training is fun because there is something inherently satisfying about ripping big weights off the floor. What do they both have in common? People just like to do them. Have some fun! Lighten up! If anyone emails me about kipping pull-ups vs. tactical pull-ups, this is my answer. I do them both because they are both fun, and they serve different things.
Wait, What About Elite Performance?
What about it? Both programs are known for that. Blend them intelligently, and you’ll get the best of both worlds. And you just might have more fun also.
The Best Part of Blending the RKC Program and CrossFit
To straddle two similar but different worlds, it forces you to think. To be in the middle causes you to question everything. You will not have the luxury of taking Pavel’s word for it. You can’t just get high on CrossFit Kool Aid. Sometimes real brilliance emerges out of the heated debates between the two communities. Sometimes you aren’t sure where it stands until the dust settles and you take some time to look at what’s going on and what you’re about.
Arguably, the most powerful part of combining the two programs is figuring out in your head how and why you would do that. If you coach and train others you have to look at whether or not your clients really need this. If you spend some time really hanging out at the Dragon Door Forum and the CrossFit Forum, at one time or another both sides will force you to question things you have thus far taken as absolute truth. The process of questioning those truths is what takes you to places you’ve never been before, and allows you to learn things you might not have otherwise been open to.
Josh Hillis is an RKC, attended the RKC Combat Applications Specialist Seminar, a Level 2 CrossFit Trainer, and an NASM-CPT. Josh is a personal trainer in Denver, CO, and can be reached at www.joshsgaragedenver.com.
Some of the CrossFit Workouts known for high intensity:
2.) Fight Gone Bad
Some of the RKC Workouts known for high intensity
1.) High Octane Cardio
2.) DOE ManMaker Workouts
3.) Steve Maxwell’s Grappler’s Workout
4.) The Maxercise Metabolic Meltdown
5.) The Secret Service Snatch Test
1.) Power to the People, by Pavel Tsatsouline
2.) The Naked Warrior, by Pavel Tsatsouline
3.) The Coach’s Strength Training Playbook, by Joe Kenn.
4.) The Performance Menu, Issue #3, April 2005
By Josh Hillis
National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer
National Academy of Sports Medicine Performance Enhancement Specialist
Russian Kettlebell Challenge Certified Instructor
Russian Kettlebell Challenge Combat Applications Specialist
CrossFit Level II Trainer
© Joshua Hillis 2006