An Interview with Sabra Epp, RKC-II, Iron Maiden

Sabra Epp Bodyweight Pistol
Dragon Door: How did you first start training with kettlebells?

Sabra Epp: About two years ago I found a Living Social deal for Northern Colorado Kettlebell (which later became Fundamental Strength) with Aaron Pierson. I bought the deal, went in, and the rest is history!

Dragon Door: Were you training at all before you tried kettlebells?

Sabra Epp: Yes, I had been doing a little CrossFit, and had been weight training for a while. But I was looking for a better gym and a better program. I had never tried kettlebells before, but had heard of them and wanted to give them a shot—and it just stuck! I didn't realize how big the kettlebell community was until later, but I was hooked pretty much immediately.

Dragon Door: Are you working as a full-time trainer?

Sabra Epp: Right now I work as a trainer at Fundamental Strength with Aaron, but I also work full-time at a firearms store, and am a handgun instructor for women.

When I first started with kettlebells, it was definitely just for fitness and fun. But a couple of months after I started, Aaron needed a sort-of apprentice to help out at the gym and teach classes here and there. At the time I knew I really didn't have the experience, but told him that I would learn everything I could and work hard. So, he said ok! Now my goal is to make training my full time gig.

Dragon Door: Did you do the HKC first or go straight for the RKC after training with Aaron?

Sabra Epp: I actually ended up doing the SF user course first since at the time Aaron was involved with them. Then he switched back to RKC. I actually did the RKC Workshop twice! The first time was for my certification a year and a half ago at Shari Wagner’s gym in Denver. The second time was at our gym in Ft. Collins, where I assisted and went for the Iron Maiden Challenge. A little over a month ago, I completed the RKC-II in California with Andrew Read and Chris Holder.

Dragon Door: The Iron Maiden Challenge is a huge undertaking, what inspired you to go for it?

Sabra Epp: When I first started, Aaron told me something about it. I brushed it off thinking it was way out of reach. But after a while, I started progressing really quickly with pressing and was looking for something to challenge myself. He told me about the Iron Maiden again, and I tried a pistol squat for the first time—luckily I had the mobility for it—and it wasn’t that big of a deal. But the press and pull-up were grueling! It was a fun challenge, something good to program, and a consistent goal to work towards for several months. That’s what really drew me in.

Dragon Door: Any tips for those interested in trying the Iron Maiden (women's challenge: pistol, press, and pull up with a 24kg kettlebell) or Beast Tamer Challenge (men's: pistol, press, and pull up with 48kg kettlebell)?

Sabra Epp: Yes, consistency and some hard grueling days are ahead... Some days I had moments where I thought I couldn’t get any stronger, and while I wasn't really ready to throw in the towel, I was ready to be ok with not being able to do it. But, you've got to just keep pushing. Some days won’t be the best days, and the really great days will be few and far between—but totally worth it.

Dragon Door: Which lift did you find to be the most difficult?

Sabra Epp: Definitely the weighted pull up. I didn't really have a problem with working right up to the 24kg kettlebell press, but I almost had to start my programming over from the beginning for the pull up. When I started, I could only do five sets of five bodyweight pull ups so I knew it would be a long road. I started by doing as many reps as possible with an 8kg kettlebell and as soon as I could do three for five ladders, I would move up to the next weight. That part alone took at least six months. So it was three days a week of pull ups and pressing—all heavy.

I think the challenge is totally doable for everyone, I don’t think you have to be predisposed for strength or anything like that. I think it just takes consistency and working through the grind for a while.

Dragon Door: Many times people have radically altered their training, but your approach seems different, what else did you do?

Sabra Epp: The only thing I had to cut was really heavy conditioning. Before working towards the challenge, almost every training session was conditioning with a lot of complexes, so I had to drop some of that so I could gain a little bit more muscle. But for the most part, I kept doing everything else the same.

Dragon Door: What do you enjoy most about kettlebell training?

Sabra Epp: Probably the variety, and how it can mix in with most anything. No matter what they do—running, biking, powerlifiting—any client who walks in can get to the next level with kettlebells.

Dragon Door: What are your other athletic activities?

Sabra Epp: When I am not being a gym rat, I really like to go downhill mountain biking. Here in Colorado, there are many resorts, so we ride the lift up, then haul ass down. It’s an absolute blast and fills up my summer schedule!
Sabra Epp Mountain Biking

Dragon Door: Does your kettlebell training help with mountain biking?

Sabra Epp: Absolutely. It takes a huge amount of endurance and leg strength to get down the mountain as fast as you can while staying agile. The asymmetric work that kettlebells offer is unparalleled—everything else seems super isolated by comparison. I like to use single arm complexes and single leg deadlifts—anything that isolates one side of the body versus the other really helps with balance. Kettlebell training helps you be able to move around on a bicycle really smoothly and get over obstacles. There's nothing better for it.

Dragon Door: Now that you've completed the Iron Maiden Challenge and are RKC-II certified, what’s your next goal?

Sabra Epp: Now I am working a little on strongman stuff and definitely using kettlebells for that. And I am also really interested in bodyweight training. I am keeping my eye out for a PCC workshop near here within the next year.

Dragon Door: What kettlebell drill do you enjoy teaching the most?

Sabra Epp: Probably the clean because it requires such patience, control, and power. It’s like training the body and mind at the same time. While you may have the power to get the kettlebell up, you have to kind of tame and control it to clean it. It also teaches tension. I also like to teach the squat. The double front squat is very strength-based and while most people are ok in a squat, adding weight changes everything. It takes a kind of brute strength to get out of the bottom of a squat.

Dragon Door: Since many people struggle with the clean, what are some of your best tips for teaching it?

Sabra Epp: Don't learn the clean with a kettlebell that is too light. I first make sure that my clients are capable of a good heavy single arm swing before we move onto the clean. It’s important to have an appropriately heavy kettlebell all the time when a client is learning the clean. I also use a kind of "scare tactic" by standing right in front of them—I haven’t had anyone hit me yet! And of course lots of practice, persistence, and patience. I also don’t let them get frazzled while they're learning.

Dragon Door: Do you have a favorite workout or complex that you like to use with clients or a class?

Sabra Epp: I really like this complex first performed on right side, then the left: swing-clean-squat x 5, then switch arms. It becomes a little bit of cardio as they work their way down to one.

Dragon Door: What's next for your coaching and training?

Sabra Epp: Hopefully, Aaron and I will be expanding the gym. And I want to lead more specialized group training. I want to get out there and meet more people. I'd love to make training my main gig, so it would be awesome to assist as much as I can and get out there more.

Dragon Door: What kind of specialized training are you wanting to do?

Sabra Epp: Sport specific—around here there’s a crazy amount of active people. They're biking, running, climbing, everything. I want to pull in groups from different sports and train them with kettlebells in a way that will help them get stronger for their own specialization like climbing, or biking.

Dragon Door: Who currently trains at your gym?

Sabra Epp: All kinds of people, but we definitely have many who are active in sports, which is what gave us the idea of the specialized group training. We get a lot of ex-CrossFitters who are usually injured, and we try to help make them stronger in a safe environment. We also have a lot of middle-aged women looking to build some strength and it's amazing how much their confidence grows after they train with us for a little while. The power of swinging that kettlebell, gaining strength, and seeing results really keeps them coming back.

Dragon Door: What do you like most about training and teaching?

Sabra Epp: I like the feeling of when a client can do something they didn't think they could do. When a new client walks in the door and sees some of our members working out, they might think that they can’t do it. But a few months later, they are working towards bigger goals than they’ve ever dreamed about. Seeing them hit those goals is the best part! I love it when people ask me questions about kettlebells, nutrition, or fitness. I like being a resource, so that's probably the draw for me.

Dragon Door: Are you doing anything special with nutrition at the gym?

Sabra Epp:
I am personally trying to work at it a little bit since it has always been an interest of mine. I am trying to learn as much as I can about nutrition and am starting to build a program, right now I have about six clients on it, and we’re testing it out.

Dragon Door: What are some of your favorite nutritional strategies?

Sabra Epp: I think it is important to be balanced. Helping people realize that they don’t need to be afraid of carbohydrates is probably my biggest thing. Specifically with women, because they tend to struggle and eat very low calorie and low carb. I want to teach people how to eat without counting calories or constantly being on a diet—while getting the performance they want and losing weight if they want. So far the program is working really well and people like it!

Sabra Epp Bodyweight PistolSabra Epp, RKC-II, Iron Maiden, trains at Fundamental Strength in Ft. Collins, Colorado. She can be contacted by email: sabra@wyldiron.com, phone: 970-443-7197 or on her website, wyldiron.com. Follow her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wyldiron and Instagram: @sabraepp