An Interview with Keith Veri, RKC Instructor
By Adrienne Harvey, SrPCC, RKC-II, CK-FMS, Primal Move Nat’l Instructor
On your bio, you mentioned making a dramatic transformation. What inspired you to make that change and pursue a career in fitness?
It has happened more than once, the first time was in about 1994. Basically, I went from a lean and mean 175lbs to 300lbs. I started out wanting to be bigger and stronger and kept gaining weight until one day I got on the scale at 300lbs. I had the attitude of "get big or die trying". At the same time, I was strong, but on top of it all was fat! I am about 5’5" tall, so I was very round! I wasn’t doing any cardio, just big lifts, and soon I started to have health issues, including high blood pressure.
Heart problems, cancer, and many other health issues run in my family. And until this point, I hadn’t had any problems. But now, my blood pressure was through the roof, I was living on antacids, and I weighed 300 pounds! I’d never thought of myself like that. I’d been an athlete my whole life! It simply happened because I just kept eating. I wanted to get bigger and stronger, but it got away from me.
Enough was enough. I used the mindset I developed as an athlete to get myself back on track. Soon, after I finally started to lose the weight and was down to 240, a friend of mine opened a gym and asked me to run the personal training department.
But just as things started to get better, and after I had lost about 150lbs, my mother went into the hospital for a week to have surgery for lymphoma and cervical cancer. Then she had started to have complications. They couldn’t get her blood pressure down, and were unable to control other issues as well. I was working at the gym when I got a call from my Dad. He said that everything was ok, but I needed to come home. So I said ok, and went home to find out what was going on. When I got home, my father told me that my mother was gone.
When this happened I had a major setback, and it turned on my desire for food. I started chowing down and gained back about 70lbs. Now I have "before" pictures at 300, and others at 250-260. I will never forget the day that one of my clients called me a fat-ass and encouraged me to get back to my weight loss. And while I love food—I am not the kind of trainer that does not like food—I got back on track. At that point, my career really started to take off. After losing the weight, I started working in multiple health clubs, teaching aerobics, kickboxing, cycling—you name it. I was pretty much everywhere!
Then I moved in to NYC in 1999 and started working for Crunch Gym, teaching kickboxing and cycling. But also during that time, some other issues began to rear their ugly heads. I started to have bouts with eating disorders—bulimia and exercise-anorexia. I wound up in the hospital for almost 2 weeks with pneumonia because of it! I had been teaching 30 classes a week in NYC and would also get on a treadmill and run for eight miles before teaching. All while only taking in as many calories as I thought I was burning on the treadmill.
I got back out of my own head after getting sick and went head-first into the fitness industry. I started working for Crunch Gym full time and was making a good living there plus I became a master trainer for indoor cycling which added an extra revenue stream when I would teach groups of 50-100 how to coach and train others twice a month. Having the opportunity to teach took me to another level with my own coaching and career. I started to present at fitness conventions and was always learning, educating, and wanting to evolve.
I met my wife in 2004-2005 through a mutual friend, and the next thing you know she came to New York. After about a year, we wanted to move down to Atlanta, and Crunch transferred me. (I started teaching yoga along with kickboxing and cycling. I have been a big yogi for a long time and it is one of the things that has kept me sane since about 2001. I am one of those 190lb guys who is still flexible!) Once I moved to Atlanta, I taught cycling, yoga, and kickboxing at three different clubs and was still presenting as a master trainer. Then Crunch closed all its clubs in Atlanta.
Finally, while I was working for another club in 2007, I found kettlebells
. I thought they looked cool, and jumped right in. I knew they were going to be my new type of training. I also didn’t want to work for other people anymore. So, I took my one car garage and turned it into a gym with kettlebells, sandbags, ropes, and medicine balls. And I also loaded up my Toyota Tacoma with sandbags
, kettlebells, and big battling ropes and started leading classes in nearby parks. Soon I was working all week in my garage with individual clients, leading classes of 15-20 people in the parks, and leading indoor cycling and other classes at a nearby gym. I was basically having a ball!
Then Atlanta started getting cold and rainy, I got tired of working at that gym, and suddenly the parks wanted money from me. At that point I knew I needed to find my own small space. I was lucky enough to find a 2,500sqft space sharing a parking lot with the hair salon my wife owns.
At first, my space was very run down, but the landlord was willing to knock down all the walls. I put in rubber flooring, brought my kettlebells, my heavy bag, the battling ropes and some Concept2 Rowers and opened my gym. I’ve been there for five years now.
But around the same time my gym started doing well, my son was born, then my dad passed away from a massive heart attack at age 56. This put me on a big downward spiral. All the sudden I hated my business. It was no longer something I was passionate about anymore. I was done, and I was tired of losing family members at an early age. I was upset that my son now had no grandparents from my side of the family because of heart disease and cancer.
I believe it is our divine right is to do everything we can to survive. My father hadn’t taken care of himself and that realization wore on me. I almost closed the gym three times. I felt hopeless and worthless. But, my wife and I had a long talk, and we decided to turn it all around. Once again, I took life by the horns, and fell back in love with what I was doing. We were into it so much that in 2011, my wife started competing in natural figure, and I started competing in natural bodybuilding. We both turned pro about two years ago.
Keith Veri just before his first NPC show in 2011
How do you train for your competitions?
We do two shows a year and train using only kettlebells, bodyweight and barbell deadlifts—along with great nutrition. Back in the day, all the old school bodybuilders were pretty much training the same way. And, I was already set up for it in my facility. I do about every push up
variation, along with barbell deadlifts, bent-over rows, and many exercises with kettlebells including presses, weighted pistols, front squats, push presses, jerks, double snatches, and more. I also like to combine exercises in chains, complexes, and ladders for adding volume. I like to use heaver loads, and lower reps for more sets to build up my body.
I have been using this method starting in 2011. At my first show in 2011, I weighed 160lbs, at my most recent show in 2014, I peaked at 177lbs. At the time of both contests, my body fat was between 3-4% so I was able to add 17lbs of muscle over time. I got in shape with kettlebells, bodyweight
, barbells, and no machines.
How did you get started training with kettlebells?
When I first started with kettlebells, I was tired of how I had been training. Even though I was into running and a lot of cardiovascular training which helped me get down to 150lbs, I was not happy there. I didn’t like being skinny, and I needed to add a strength training component. I saw them one day and ordered a 30lb kettlebell. It was rough, but I loved working with it. At first I only had that one kettlebell—and everyone else used it too. I was hooked and it took my training to a whole new level. Being able to train with this unconventional method in my garage was great. Soon I started ordering more kettlebells, and first went to the RKC in 2008.
What brought you to the RKC?
I wanted to be certified and knowledgeable about kettlebells. So, I did RKC, RKC-II
, and the CK-FMS. Unfortunately I let my RKC-II lapse, but was able to recently recertify as an RKC
What's next for you, your training, and your business?
Right now, I’m focused on taking the story of my life, journey, and transformation and using it along with kettlebells, barbells, nutrition, and a mental toughness component to teach people how to transform their bodies. I want to really help them transform with balance in their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual lives.
It’s not really about me anymore, my craft helps me be the father and husband that I was put here to be. I think there has to be a "why" as to why you do what you do. Anything that requires a sacrifice or commitment to those goals needs a reason. My reason is that my mother and father both died at a very early age, and my sister had and overcame breast cancer last year. This all makes me want to be sure that my body is more resilient, and to build toughness. I want to be physically and mentally prepared to handle anything and everything that comes my way. That's why I do what I do. It would be wrong for a preventable disease to take me early in life because I wasn’t taking care of myself.
Now for my fitness business
, my role is to really focus on transforming people, to keep learning and to keep teaching. Being a student makes me a better coach.
Kettlebells have been a big part of everything since 2008. I’d eventually like to help to teach people who want to become kettlebell instructors. Teaching seems to bring out all my passion and abilities.
I was also recently certified in Scott Sonnon's FlowFit system which is all about assessing and correcting movement. At the gym, I am creating a system with all these things together. Then at some point I want to write a book about my own journey, of going from fat to fit, from 300lbs to pro natural bodybuilding. I've shifted to building my business around a mission of transforming bodies and integrating the concept of bodyweight and kettlebells. I also want to get more involved with Dragon Door while hosting HKC
, RKC-I, and RKC-II workshops here at my gym.
Losing weight is not an easy thing, and when I was dealing with the problems that caused it along with addictions etc., I gained a lot of wisdom. While I am not the smartest guy in the bunch, when I look at what I've gone through I think my experience could help someone and change their life in some aspect. I can show them that there are ways of getting through it.
He is hosting two Upcoming Dragon Door Kettlebell Certification Workshops at his facility in Atlanta, Georgia: