A Pressing Matter

 JasonMarshall1 JasonMarshall2 JasonMarshall3
The Beginning

I remember hanging out at my buddy’s (Alan Martin, RKC) house when his first set of kettlebells came in. He ordered 5 bells. A 16kg, 24kg, 32kg, 40kg and 48kg. After the UPS guy finished cussing us, we opened the first box…which one do you think we opened first? The 48kg, of course! And the first thing we did with it? Swing it overhead and hold it there upside down for as long as we could until we let go and ran like scared chickens, of course! After Alan’s wife started noticing the small craters in her front yard, we were banned to the alley or the park across the street. This was back in 2004 and we’d just discovered kettlebell training by following online training logs of the likes of Marc "Spud" Bartley and Donnie Thompson. We figured if the strongest powerlifters in the world could benefit from a 53 pound chunk of iron, then so could a couple of newbie lifters like us. And so our journey began.

After a couple years of tinkering with these new toys, a more concentrated training effort starting developing. When we decided to start training people with kettlebells, the next logical step was attending an RKC. Plans were made, registration was completed, and we were slated to attend the RKC in October of 2007.

Through this decision, a certain amount of responsibility starting weighing me down. The need to be prepared started to trump other priorities I had during the months leading up to the cert. Alan and I decided to meet with a couple of RKC’s in Houston (David Cogswell, RKC and Jay Armstrong, RKC Team Leader), to get some tips and pointers, buy some more kettlebells, and get some training materials. Thank goodness we did that! It was probably the longest drive I’ve ever made to go buy something I didn’t know how to use, but the payoff was well worth it!

After dropping my commercial gym membership the day after we returned home, I devoted the 3 months leading up to the RKC to kettlebell training in my living room. I had the book, Enter The Kettlebell, an 8kg, 16kg, 2-24kgs and a 32kg. I worked my way up through the Right of Passage (quicker than the protocol calls for) to 5 ladders of 5 rungs with the 32kg. I didn’t have access to a pull up bar so I did lawnmower rows with stacked 24’s or, towards the end, a 24kg and 32kg held on with a towel instead of the weighted pull ups the program calls for.

My goal, as many aspiring RKC’s, was to get my instructor certificate, but also to attempt the Beast Tamer Challenge. The challenge calls for a strict military press, tactical pull up, and pistol with a 48kg. Just by working my way through the ROP and "practicing" my snatch test, get ups, and a few other prerequisites, I was able to press the beast consistently, but with some effort prior to going to St Paul. The pistol and pull up were still a bit behind, but within reach, so I forewent the opportunity to attempt the challenge.

The press is arguably one of the most challenging lifts and the approach is, in the words of Senior RKC Dan John, a "simple, but not easy" lift to train for. Former Master RKC, Kenneth Jay, said in order to press heavy kettlebells, you need to, well, press heavy kettlebells. So basically, it’s simple, not easy, and you just have to do it. I would have to agree with both of their statements.

It was interesting going back to my training logs from the months leading up to my first RKC. I stuck to the plan within ETK (which went completely against my previous habits) and did a lot of really good things to help in my preparation. Here’s a week’s worth of workouts from that training cycle:


Heavy Day – ETK

Arm Bars – 16kg – 3 L, 3 R

Get Ups – 16kg – 3 L, 3 R

5 Ladders, 5 Rungs per Ladder w/ 32kg (1 Clean per Rep) 150 Cleans, 150 Presses

Superset w/ Bent Towel Rows w/ 32kg + 24kg (Matched Reps per Rung) 150 Rows (75 per arm)

One-Arm Swings – 32kg – 200 Reps, 10 mins.

Total Reps: 615



Variety Day

Mobility Work


5 Burpee Push Ups then Elbow Bridge for 30 count

Did this 7 times in 10 minutes

Practiced Wind Mills

4x5 w/ 24kg - each arm



Light ETK Day

Mobility Work

5 Ladders, 3 Rungs Each w/ 32kg (1 Clean per Ladder) 30 Cleans, 60 Presses

Superset Each Rung w/ Bent Towel Rows w/ 2-24kg, 60 Reps

RKC Snatch Test w/ 24kg***

35 L, 30 R – Total 65 reps

Total Reps: 215 


***It’s worthy to note that the RKC Snatch Test was a different format back then. The reps were based on bodyweight. My rep goal was 64 with one hand switch.


"Mastering" the Technique

This was the beginning of my training journey with kettlebells. I learned so much at my first RKC about tension, rooting, effort…all of which helped in improving my press. The simple, yet effective techniques Pavel preached about in his effort to reverse engineer the most talented and strongest athletes started making sense in my own training. I was hooked and continued my quest for "easy strength" and to be "deceptively strong."

During this phase of my training, the excitement of being a newly-minted RKC carried over to my training, and I’ll have to say that it wasn’t all for good. When I should have been listening to my body a lot more, or focusing on my mobility, I was too worried about my pressing strength. This caught up with me quick, even at my young age, and I was quickly sidelined with a shoulder injury. Thankfully I had just signed up for the first CK-FMS.

After drinking from fire hose of information that is the CK-FMS course, I realized my lack of, and need for, an extreme mobility makeover. My T-spine was a wreck and the culprit of many of my issues. I could barley make it to the top of my ankles in a toe touch. It was pitiful. So I vowed to spend as long as I needed with corrections and light conditioning work. The heaviest bell I picked up during that 3-month period was a 12kg. I learned how the Get Up could communicate so much in terms of mobility and stability and learned to enjoy finding my body in space. Kalos Sthenos was released not too much long after and I was inspired to dig even deeper into this centuries-old exercise.

Owning the Standard

Even though I spent quite a bit of time away from "the heavy stuff," I came back lighter and stronger. I quickly entered a powerlifting meet and hit PR’s in my squat and deadlift in a lower weight class. I felt better after each every training session and shoulder pain became a thing of the past on my pressing days.

Through all this practice (note I said practice and not working out), I developed somewhat of a mastery in the press technique. It’s not perfect, but to the point where my focus changed in the lift. Refer to the "Dominata" article by Pavel to completely understand this. I guess my lifting practice started to become more intuitive rather than cognitive. I learned to gauge the appropriate level tension/effort needed for each particular size bell I used in training and ratchet the tension/effort up and down unconsciously depending on the lift.

This didn’t come overnight, by the way. And it didn’t come without a complete understanding of the standards of each lift, specifically the press. When I teach (and taught) the press I had to rethink what I used to think about when I first learned it. What made the movement what it was and what were the essential components needed for a safe and effective press. These were the things that became second nature:

- Clean the bells to the rack and pause motionless

- Press with knees locked, neck neutral, and no back bend

- Keep the entire body, especially midsection, tight

- Shoulders must stay down

- Lock out the elbows and pause motionless

- Power breathe

- Lower the bells without losing tension, keeping forearms vertical (leading with elbows)

- Pause for a second in the rack without losing tension and press again

I do all of these things in practice and I teach all of these things in my training sessions. But sometimes I forget one or more if I’m asked to demonstrate. It only happens when the weight isn’t heavy enough and I got called out on this at the most recent RKC.

I was asked to demonstrate a heavy double press for the students and to observe the standards in action. I picked up a pair of 32kgs thinking that was enough for a demo and I couldn’t really "feel" the weight. I bumped up to 36kgs and "felt" it a little more, but it was soon pointed out by the Chief that my breathing pattern was misrepresented for the standard. Again, I should have chosen a weight that would have demanded the level of focus I had come to unconsciously practice and just focus on pressing the weight. Instead, I chose too light and my breathing pattern was off.

Putting It Into Practice

So here’s how I would do it again if I were to rewrite my story from the beginning of my kettlebell journey. I would have focused on my mobility, flexibility and stability, first. I would have paid more attention to the issues (and sought help to correct them) that made me who I was when I discovered kettlebells: all the injuries, athletic experience, bad lifting habits, etc. Can you say CK-FMS? Then, I would have started learning the basic standards of each lift that make up the Level I RKC curriculum. I would have focused on those standards until they became second nature. Not forsaking the requisite mobility, flexibility and stability I had previously attained goes without saying. Then, and only then, would I begin working on my "major league" pressing goals, one of which is a strict press with 2-48kgs.

The awesome thing about training is that it’s NEVER too late to go back to the drawing board. We always have room to grow and improve as long as we’re willing to humble ourselves, look at our situation through another lens, and seek smarter people to help us along the way.




Jason Marshall is an RKC Team Leader, CK-FMS, and owner of Lone Star Kettlebell. He trains clients from all walks of life out of his back-yard shop/gym in Lubbock, Texas. You can contact Jason by email: jason@lonestarkettlebell.com and through his website: http://www.lonestarkettlebell.com.


Jason and his 10 month old daughter Britton