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Dragon Door Interviews Laurel Blackburn RKC Team Leader

February 16, 2013 05:30 AM

Dragon Door:  You've been running a successful boot camp business for a while, but how did you first discover kettlebells?

Laurel Blackburn:  When I started my business over six years ago, I belonged to a professional website for personal trainers.  Someone on the site was talking about kettlebells, so I googled it.   I ordered one but didn't know what I was doing.  I thought I could watch a video and then be able to train clients, I had no idea.  Thank God nobody was hurt.

Dragon Door:  How did you find out about the RKC?

Laurel Blackburn:  I remember David Whitley mentioned the RKC in a professional marketing group, and when I started looking for kettlebell certifications, the RKC came up again. I looked at the difficult requirements and realized there was no one nearby to teach me the swing!  I was self-taught in the beginning, then injured my hamstring and had to put off attending the RKC until September 2009 in St. Paul.

Dragon Door:  Since you were largely self-taught, what was your experience like at the workshop?

Laurel Blackburn:  The scariest thing was the snatch test.  Because everyone talks about it so much, I had snatch anxiety.  Back then we had to do the number of reps based on our weight in kilograms, so I had to do 64, which seemed impossible at the time.  Now I wish we could go back to that system!

I passed the test, but once we started the actual RKC, I realized it had been the easiest part of the workshop.  After the snatch instruction segment I could snatch all day.  Because I learned how to use my hips, it wasn't such a struggle.  Now they test at the end of the workshop, which is smart since some people attend the workshop not knowing what they're doing.  Everything was so much easier after I worked with an RKC instructor.

Dragon Door:  What are some of the biggest changes you’ve experienced with kettlebell training?

Laurel Blackburn:  The biggest change has been my physique.  I’ve always been into bodybuilding, but what amazes is me is when people talk about my arms and want to know about bicep curls.  I haven't done a curl in years because kettlebell training takes care of everything.  I don’t need tons of dumbbells, barbells, or machines to isolate individual body parts.  Back when I was bodybuilding, I did five different types of curls in one workout, just to build up my biceps. 

Kettlebell training also really creates stronger glutes.  When I started, I had a lot of back pain and now it's completely gone.  Many of my clients have also gotten rid of back pain.  Of course the major calorie burn from kettlebell training brings about weight loss. I think kettlebells are healing to the body, used correctly, they teach people how to move. It’s a simple tool, yet it does everything.

Dragon Door:  How did you decide to proceed to the Level 2?

Laurel Blackburn:  I wanted to set myself apart, and I wanted the challenge.  Making it through the RKC 1 was such a confidence boost.  There are only 5 RKC Level 2 instructors in Florida, and only two of them are women.  This time I didn't want to go by the seat of my pants, especially with clean and jerks, so I trained with Tim Shuman, RKC 2, in Orlando.  I think trainers need trainers.  I don’t have mirrors around me when I work out, so it's hard to get feedback. 

Dragon Door:  I think it’s important that we work together as a community and not just at the workshops, it’s fun and everybody learns.  How has your kettlebell certification has affected your business? 

Laurel Blackburn:  After the certification, I started kettlebell-only classes.  It’s hard because just like everywhere, people think that since they’re a personal trainer, they can teach kettlebells.   It’s crucial that people understand they need to train with an actual Russian Kettlebell Certified instructor.  People don't always think about seeking out a specialist.

Dragon Door:  I've seen your marketing materials and like how informative they are in that regard.  People need to train with an actual kettlebell instructor or they really run the risk of injury. 

Laurel Blackburn:  It’s about being able to move.  If someone can’t do a proper hip hinge, then they're not ready to swing a kettlebell. Other trainers and programs are all about swinging on the first day, when some people may need one to two weeks to work towards it.  It's important to focus on what happens on the way to swinging a kettlebell. The journey to the kettlebell swing involves improving posture, flexibility, strength, and being able to recruit muscles in the correct sequence.

Dragon Door:  Recently you trained two people for a very extreme obstacle course race called Death Race—did you use kettlebells as part of their training?

Laurel Blackburn:  We mainly used kettlebells for exhaustion purposes.  One of the main challenges in Death Race is to keep going for 48 hours.   They had to perform tasks while they were absolutely exhausted.  One of our workouts started with 500 swings and that was just the beginning.  We also used kettlebells for mile-long farmer's walks.  In the race, they ended up having to carry a log for about 30 hours, plus their pack. We also used kettlebells in wheelbarrows, and in their backpacks.

Dragon Door:  That’s intense.  You're also CK-FMS certified, how are you using it?

Laurel Blackburn:  I mostly use it with personal training clients, I screen them and add the corrective exercises to their program.  Also, when someone new to boot camp has an issue, we do a screen and have them work on their correctives before boot camp class.  

Dragon Door:  What are some of your current goals? 

Laurel Blackburn:  Eventually, I really want to do the Iron Maiden Challenge, but my big goal for 2013 is to continue building my kettlebell business. I also want to assist at an RKC Level 2 Workshop. 

I want to educate people about kettlebells, because they're not the little 10-pound things on TV.  I love teaching people how awesome kettlebells really are when used properly.   When I first researched kettlebell certifications, I looked at the RKC which was about $1,600 then and a program from another company for $399.   At the time, I thought kettlebell certifications were the same, so Mike (my brother/business partner) and I went to the $399 certification.  We didn’t know any better.  All we did was a million bad cleans and a written test.  We ended up tying hotel napkins around our arms because the bruising and swelling was so bad.   Even though I was "certified," I don’t remember learning about tension or keeping a straight spine, all I remember is how bad my forearms hurt. Wish I had just done the RKC or HKC first!  The RKC is like getting a Ph.D. in kettlebells as opposed to taking an online class. 

Dragon Door:  Earlier today, you mentioned training Special Olympics athletes?

Laurel Blackburn:  I got involved with Special Olympics track and field, and now I’m coaching powerlifting.  They learn the hip hinge with a kettlebell first, before barbell lifting.  It’s easier to grab a kettlebell by the handle—it’s even the perfect height off the ground.  Depending on their level of functioning, some of the athletes learn to swing kettlebells too.

The athlete I’m working with now totally understands what I’m saying, and does great swings.  We’ll warm-up with kettlebell deadlifts, kettlebell swings, rows, etc. before we start on his barbell deadlifts, bench press, and squats.  It’s easier to teach a goblet squat than it is to load a bar on someone's back.  I can teach them the movement and the form before they use a large heavy barbell. 

We use kettlebells with our track and field athletes for conditioning, and to teach them how to use their hips and glutes.  Many of the CK-FMS and Z-Health drills have been unbelievably helpful for our athletes with body awareness and better movement.  A lot of the athletes we work with have really weak cores, neck issues, shorter limbs and fingers.  The athletes with Down's Syndrome are flat-footed, so running and deadlifting are really challenging for them.  Teaching body awareness especially through the ankles and hips with the CK-FMS and Z-Health drills is so valuable.

Dragon Door:  After the games are over, I'd imagine their quality of life has improved.  Do you have an example of an athlete who has made an especially marked improvement? 

Laurel Blackburn:  One of our athletes, Chris, changed  his diet and started working out.  He lost over 100 pounds in the process.  He was watching Biggest Loser, and while I’m not a big fan of the show, it inspired him to lose weight.  He started on his own.  I coached him in track and field, then he started coming to my boot camp. Chris has also been training with kettlebells.  He’s gotten really strong and mobile.  All of our Special Olympics athletes love kettlebells.  It’s different and dynamic.  Everyone feels empowered when they've completed a set of swings, squats etc.  Kettlebells really changed the shape of Chris's body and helped in terms of coordination and flexibility.

Dragon Door:  What are your kettlebell group classes like?

Laurel Blackburn:  The classes I do are 30 minutes long, but I always say we do more in that time than most people do at the gym in an hour or more.  That’s another great thing about kettlebells, the time doesn't have to be split between cardio and strength training.  Instead of spending an hour or two at the gym like I used to when I was bodybuilding, I only need 30 minutes.  After a short kettlebell workout, my shoulders are pumped, my arms are pumped, and my heart is pounding out of my chest.  I know that I’ve burned a ton of calories but then I’ve also worked on full-body strength.  We only need two or three exercises in 30 minutes, and that’s why my clients love the class.  They don’t want to spend an hour or two at the gym. 

I also enjoy leading special programs and workshops.  In January of 2012, the Sergeant of the Tallahassee Police Tactical Apprehension and Control Team (a group which includes a few US Marshals) asked me to teach a kettlebell workshop.  They were interested in adding kettlebells to their training to help them move better, prevent injury, and improve their conditioning without extra impact on their joints.

More recently, I taught a workshop for the Derek Miles's staff of Physical Therapists at University of Florida.  They wanted to learn the basics of kettlebell training to enhance their physical therapy program for the athletes at UF, and their own personal fitness.  They felt it was important to learn the basics from an RKC instructor.

Dragon Door:  Now that you're an RKC Team Leader, what do you hope to bring to your new leadership role?

Laurel Blackburn:  I'm excited about the opportunity to get out there and help more people become RKC instructors.  I think I bring knowledge, experience, humor, and can really inspire others who—at first—don't think that they can do it because they're older.  Age is just a number, and I want to help blow away some of the barriers and excuses people may have for not training to become RKC or HKC certified.  If this grandmother can do it, then so can you! 

I like to build things, make things, and help people feel inspired.  That's what I'm all about.

In addition to running a successful kettlebell and boot camp gym, Laurel Blackburn writes a regular column for the Tallahassee Democrat Newspaper, and was recently featured in Tallahassee Health Magazine.  Additionally, her blog, (Breaking the Stereotypes of Grandparents Everywhere), aims to inspire people of all ages to lead a healthy active lifestyle.