An Interview with Don Berry, Doctor of Chiropractic, SFMA, CK-FMS


Dragon Door: How did you first become interested in kettlebells?

Don Berry: I was introduced to the kettlebell by Mike Krivka. When I first met him in the park, he put a kettlebell down on the ground and said, "This is what we're going to work with." I was wondering what that hell is that thing? There should be a warning label on kettlebells that says "You have no idea where this thing will take you, no idea!"

I took about a dozen private lessons with Mike, and after that, kept working on my own and asking him questions. The more I read about kettlebells, the more I became interested in knowing more. I bought a bunch of DVDs, books—everything that came out—because it piqued my interest.

Dragon Door: What caused you to originally seek out Mike?

Don Berry: I've practiced martial arts for a long time, and one of my friends had trained with Mike. He said that I should look into kettlebell training to get fitness level back up. I had been a little sick, was having some pain in my hip, along with some other issues. My friend said it was really cool and that I should look into it. I knew about Mike because he was teaching martial arts in a neighboring town, so I met up with him and that was it!

Dragon Door: Which martial arts do you practice?

Don Berry: I study a system called Wing Chun, which is what Bruce Lee started with when he was in Hong Kong.

Dragon Door: How have kettlebells helped with your martial arts?

Don Berry: It really helps to prevent injuries—that’s really the biggest thing. Of course kettlebells also build stamina, strength, and all the things any martial artist needs. But I see the kettlebell as a primary source of injury prevention and rehabilitation. Particularly in Wing Chun, we get a lot of shoulder abuse and shoulder issues. Kettlebells are now part of the program that I teach. I teach Wing Chun and all of my students also know how to use kettlebells. They’re our tools. Kettlebells are a part of the three Wing Chun classes each week. I don't teach any kettlebell-only classes, but I do use it in my office for rehab.

Don Berry Kettlebell ChiropractorDragon Door: How did you decide to first attend the RKC in San Jose six years ago?

Don Berry: I wanted to get certified partly because I’d heard how demanding the workshop was and I wanted to do it to see if I could do it! I trained for at least six months, working with Mike and others who had recently taken the RKC, though they were the last group who had to take the snatch test with only one hand switch. When I took the test, we were the first group who were allowed as many hand switches as we wanted—as long as the reps were completed in 5 minutes.

Dragon Door: Were you able to pass at the workshop?

Don Berry: This is the greatest story—I didn't pass at the workshop. The snatch test was easy for me, but I didn't get certified that weekend because my squat was horrible. I couldn't break parallel without going into a real kyphosis—my thoracic mobility was restricting even my goblet squat. So, I spent a lot of time working with some Team Leader level RKCs up in Philly and learned about mobility. Passing the RKC was a lot more than just snatching a kettlebell 100 times in 5 minutes, it was about learning how to move.

The biggest lesson I got from the RKC was that it isn't about the kettlebell or doing snatches, it’s about movement. That idea has been the cornerstone of my chiropractic practice. I don't even consider myself a chiropractor as much as I am a movement specialist, teaching people how to move again. I do various therapies—spinal manipulation is one of them—but mostly what I do now involves movement restoration, and teaching people how to move. These are all the wonderful things that came from the RKC.

Dragon Door: How are you using the RKC ideas in your practice, specifically?

Don Berry: Whenever someone comes to my office for something like knee or neck pain, we do the SFMA, which is really similar to the FMS but it’s for clinicians. Then, I base my treatments on the SFMA findings. Even if their knee hurts, if I find a primary dysfunction somewhere else then that dysfunction will become my main goal. When we work to correct this dysfunction, it will take the pain away from the knee or neck, or wherever they’re experiencing pain. Of course I will also address the area directly to soothe the inflammation, but unless I correct the dysfunction, that pain will just come right back.

From there, we work with corrective exercises like crawling, specific yoga poses, foam rolling, or doing a Turkish get-up. It's a nice progression and much of it is built on the study of developmental kinesiology. As babies, we begin on our backs, then start rolling and rocking, crawling, half kneeling, and then we stand up. And our whole rehab program is based on these same stages of development.

Dragon Door:
Do people from a specific demographic or with particular injuries come to you more often than others?

Don Berry: I treat a big variety of people, but I mostly see middle-aged moms, the "Aunt Betty" as Gray Cook would say. I don’t see many star athletes, but I do treat a lot of people who are in the gym, and some high school athletes. Again the majority of my patients are average 40-50 year olds who drive back and forth to work, and play golf on the weekends.

Dragon Door: How did you originally meet Marty Gallagher?

Don Berry: At the time, I was training with Team Leader named Will Williams—he’s long been off the reservation, but I just loved training with him at the time. He’s a former Marine drill instructor with a booming voice and he was about 6'4" 260lb with 7% body fat at the time. I have a full setup at the house and he and a few other instructors would come and do seminars. One of the RKCs had met Marty who didn't live that far from me, and brought him to visit during one of the seminars.

Even though we were doing kettlebell, not barbell squats and deadlifts, he still walked around and corrected their technique. He was still teaching people how to move, because that’s Marty's style.
Don Berry and Marty Gallagher

Dragon Door: After you trained with Marty, you set two national records for the squat for your age group and weight class?

Don Berry: I set one last year in April and the other record was about one year before it. Both records were set at raw AAU events. I squatted 415 in the first one, and the second was 420—just 5lb more, but I still broke the first record I'd set which was cool.

Dragon Door: It's very cool, especially considering your initial struggles with the kettlebell squat at the RKC!

Don Berry: Exactly, now I can squat very well. When I look at a picture someone snapped of me at my first RKC, when I couldn't break parallel and was hunched over that kettlebell, I think, wow! It's amazing how much has changed, but it takes patience.
Don Berry Barbell Squat

Dragon Door: As a chiropractor, what do you see as some of the specific advantages of RKC style training?

Don Berry: The biggest thing is teaching people how to move. We have such a sedentary lifestyle that most Westerners have no clue how to hip hinge. There's nothing like deadlifts the way they're taught in the RKC. Most people have already been taught so many bad things—from other clinicians or on the job where they’ve been taught to lift with their knees. Can you imagine that?

Something that is so cool is how many of my patients—and I’m talking about "Aunt Betty" not about the college kids who want to be trainers—have gone on to the HKC. It’s exciting to see someone change from a sedentary person with low back pain to someone who's in the gym helping people move, train, and get strong because of what they've learned in my office.

Dragon Door: That is a really big change! Do you have a specific story you could share?

Don Berry: Right away I think of Marsha, who is now an HKC. She was living in Fredrick and commuting 1.5 hour one way to DC, and she's a grandma. Now she's rocking it. She's teaching kettlebell class and a TRX class at the local gym in her little town of Brunswick. And it all started with her rehab program.

She want from rehab to fitness—which is what I want everyone to do. And she's not the only one, about a dozen more patients have done the same thing, and we're talking grandmas, not just the kids!

Dragon Door: It's so exciting for people to learn that there's still hope for moving without pain. You've mentioned knees several times since we've been talking. How are you addressing most of these knee issues?

Don Berry: There’s so many people who come to the office with knee issues and knee pain. The first thing we do is to rule out trauma—I will ask if they hit it, if they tripped, or if someone or something hit the knee. If not, then I start looking above or below. Of course I will address the knee and inflammation. But we're usually looking at ankle mobility or hip mobility and 90% of the time, it's ankle mobility.

So we start working to restore motion and mobility—you can really see the lack of ankle mobility when they do the overhead squat test in the FMS, it just shows up like BINGO! The SFMA and FMS are the coolest tools. What was I doing before I had them?! It was like old sea captains trying to sail ships without a compass!

Dragon Door: How long have you been a chiropractor?

Don Berry: Twenty five years.

Dragon Door: What's your favorite kettlebell movement or exercise?

Don Berry: The swing. I can always strive to perfect it, it’s simple, and it's beautiful.

Dragon Door: What have you found to be the best kettlebell move for helping a majority of your patients?

Don Berry: The deadlift is probably the best thing for helping my patients move. It gets them to learn the initial full hip hinge, how to use their body to lift things, and move around the bell. But just for me, if I can do any exercise with the kettlebell, I do the swing. It's one of the things I was taught at the RKC, "The Swing is King" and it is.

Dragon Door: What's are your next goals for lifting or for your practice?

Don Berry: I have been working really hard on my goal to really hit a 500lb squat by the time I turn 55. As for my practice, soon I’m going to Boston for the SFMA Level 2, and will continue to learn as much as I can from Gray Cook—everything he says, I do!

Dragon Door: Have you chosen a meet for your 500lb squat?

Don Berry: There's one in Virginia at the end of April, so I’ve been working hard.

Don Berry Wing Chun thumbnailDr. Don Berry is President of Berry Chiropractic Center in Frederick, MD. He can be contacted through his website, BerryChiropracticCenter.com.