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How a 44-Year Old Chiro Beats the Butts Off 22-Year Olds in Semi-Pro Football—And Other Tales of Kettlebell Power and Glory…

November 10, 2011 10:00 AM

Dragon Door:   How did you discover kettlebells?
Dr. Michael Hartle:   Through a colleague in the strength and conditioning world. We talked about it and he had mentioned Dragon Door, so I looked into it around 2002-2003. I bought a 16kg and a 24kg, then they sat in my gym. I have my own facility for physical therapy and rehab with our patients; it also doubles as our training center. The kettlebells sat in the corner gathering dust. Every so often I’d pick one up and play with it, not knowing what I was doing. I met Pavel in 2004 at the NSCA National Conference. He was there at the Dragon Door booth and mentioned the RKC certification to me. Eventually in April 2006, I went. It was funny because at that same April RKC Certification, Mark Cheng, Mark Reifkind, Mark Toomey, and myself were all certified. So out of that same cert came these Team Leaders and eventually Seniors. I was Team Leader the next year in 2007 and then been doing it ever since.
Dragon Door:   How long have you been a chiropractor and have you used that with your knowledge from the RKC? It seems like they’d be intrinsically connected.
Dr. Michael Hartle:   I graduated in November 1993. About six or seven years ago, we started our own physical therapy department to my clinic because I got tired of sending my patients to some of the physical therapy clinics in town and having them not get better. I hired a young man from Ball State University and we incorporate kettlebells into various rehab exercises. Haven’t gotten totally one hundred percent kettlebells. We still do other corrective exercises.
Of course now I’ve gone through the CK-FMS course I’ve added in those exercises in as well too. With all that we do in our rehab facility using a lot of ideas from Stuart McGill, Craig Williamson, Janda, I came to the CK-FMS already understanding a lot of the fundamentals. The main thing for me was learning the actual Functional Movement Screen. Along with the various corrective exercises, and the different things that may happen during the test. Then there's the physiology and neurology aspect of it, Brett Jones and Gray Cook do a great job with that.
Dragon Door:   What’s your favorite thing about kettlebell training?
Dr. Michael Hartle:   Efficiency — I come from a power lifting background. Before I started playing semi-pro football six years ago, I competed in power lifting for almost 20 years. When I finally retire from semi-pro football I’ll go back to power lifting. From the weight aspect of it obviously 48kg or 106 pounds is just not that challenging weight-wise, but with kettlebells in just a half hour or 45 minutes I actually feel like I got a workout. Whereas with barbells after 45 minutes okay... now I’m just warmed up.
For football, obviously you’re using the kettlebells to train for conditioning and strength at the same time. I think what drew me to the RKC method is the constant drive to better ourselves, the emphasis on technique and form. Quality versus quantity. Whenever I coach people in power lifting I want to make sure that their technique and form is perfect before they even put an ounce of weight on the bar. When someone gets fantastic results and none of them get hurt, they’re a personal billboard for the RKC.
Dragon Door:   You mentioned semi-pro football. What position do you play?
Dr. Michael Hartle:   Defensive tackle, sometimes I sub in as center.
Dragon Door:   How has your kettlebell training affected your performance on the field?
Dr. Michael Hartle:   Tremendously. My shoulders can take a beating. Just tackling people and stuff like that. Get ups, windmills, arm bars really help with that, they are important for a lineman in the football season . I'll also throw on my cleats and do cone drills or agility drills, then go into kettlebells. For football I do a lot of strength work — see-saw press, military press, renegade rows, squats, swings and snatches — variations thereof.
Dragon Door:   Could you give me a typical workout or an example work out of what you would do with kettlebells and agility drills together?
Dr. Michael Hartle:   Sure. I like to warm up with joint mobility, Brettzels. Jump rope for a few rounds, couple of minutes each. Then I’ll usually go outside and I’ll either do one of two variations. Either I’ll do the agility ladder, which is basically a 10 yard 30 foot long rope ladder or various track and field drills or various speed drills and hip activation. After I get done with that, usually I’ll do some running with a sled, or just running — short running. We’re talking 10 - 20 meters. The average football play is four and a half yards. So I need to be at least trained for that. But I’m not a long distance runner by any means so I don’t need to be going forever.
After that I usually take a five or ten minute break and then I’ll usually do a little swing/snatch thing to kind of warm myself up. Then I get into the workout — the kettlebell workout. Military press, renegade row, Turkish get ups, that kind of stuff, windmills. Sometimes I’ll do more lower body stuff and sometimes I’ll actually throw in barbells for deadlifts. I’ll do that and of course variations of swings.
Dragon Door:   You mentioned the arm bar — I think that’s an often overlooked but very powerful practice — I remember first seeing it on the Resilient DVD. How long have you been practicing them?
Dr. Michael Hartle:   We learned the arm bar at RKC I in 2006 and I didn’t really do much with it until I really started with football. For me, it’s almost like a rehab exercise when the shoulders taking a beating with football. It makes a world of difference helping my shoulders recover. They’re still maybe sore by the next game, but my mobility, my flexibility is still tremendous.
Dragon Door:   Putting yourself back together and getting stronger at the same time, you know, it’s amazing. You’re also 44 and still extremely active with football. Do you feel that training in this way has helped keep your longevity, for lack of a better term, as an athlete?
Dr. Michael Hartle:   Most of the guys that play semi-pro football are half my age. There’s one pretty good sized kid who was 18 or 19 years old, and played center — we were talking after the game, and he said "holy sh*t, I got beat up by a 44 year old!"
Dragon Door:   Wow!
Dr. Michael Hartle:   Kettlebells have certainly helped. Along with other parts of the equation, too I try to get a massage once a week, I use a foam roller, joint mobility and stretching. I’m also a board certified nutritionist so I make sure to eat right, try to get enough sleep and all that kind of stuff.
Dragon Door:   I’ve actually had similar conversations with a few people that recovery, mobility, nutrition, rest are as important as the training sometimes. You can’t have one without the other.
Dr. Michael Hartle: The way I look at it is to think of an equilateral triangle, all the inside angles are all 60 degrees, they’re always equal. Training is at one corner, nutrition at another corner, and then recovery in another corner. And all three of them are just as important as the next one. Training isn’t more important than anything else — you can't get three hours of sleep at night and eat at McDonald’s every day. Going back to the formula which includes kettlebells, mobility drills etc., allows me to come out of minor injuries with no disruptions. I haven’t missed a game in six years. By keeping yourself healthy you recover a lot faster from those situations.
Dragon Door:   Absolutely. How about injury prevention? Do you feel like some of the training that you’re doing — of course, kettlebells, CK-FMS, things like that have lead to prevention of injuries during game day?
Dr. Michael Hartle:   Oh, big time. Let's say my shoulders are not bothering me. I still work on get ups, windmills and the mobility aspect because if a joint is more mobile with a greater range of motion, it’s harder to push it to its limit. Because if all of a sudden my joint gets in a weird position, which happens many times in football, but that weird position is still within my normal range of motion, I may be a little bit sore but not going to be injured.
Of course we have the other thing, too, kettlebells help tremendously with bone density. Maybe not as much as powerlifting, because lifting 705 pounds would require my skeletal system to be very, very dense to handle that kind of weight.
Even though a double beast kettlebell squat is just 212 pounds, you still have to be strong for that. There’s a push pull on the tendon that makes the bone density strong, decreasing fractures. In a contact sport, that means less chance of injury.
Dragon Door:   Off season does your program change? Do you go into more powerlifting? Tell me about your off season training.
Dr. Michael Hartle:   Well usually in the off season I’ll do more light corrective stuff. Not really pushing heavy weight or anything else. Just to give my body and mind a break. Last season, which was right after the CK-FMS, I went back to my getup and just balancing my shoe on my hand like they teach in RKC I. I just went back to the shoe, redialing, re-patterning my get up. After that I usually get back into heavier lifting with more rest time. When March or February comes around and the snow is gone I start running or sprinting again. I start the process of getting myself back in shape and ready to go play some football.
Dragon Door: Very, very cool! I know the timing in a football game isn't exact, but there are short bursts of very intense activity. Do you work the timing of that into your on season work outs?
Dr. Michael Hartle:   Yes. A lot of times they’ll tell you that the average football play takes about 10 to 12 seconds, with the average rest time about 50 seconds. So it’s between a one to four and one to five ratio with that. I do utilize that somewhat with training. There's this one exercise for example that I’ll do after doing my grass agility drills sometimes — I’ll do about 15 two hand swings with the 32kg or 24kg, then I’ll put the kettlebell down and sprint a straight 40 meters. My rest time is the time it takes to walk back. Next round I’ll do ten snatches on each side with the kettlebell — then the sprint. I repeat that pattern three times (six total sprints). One I’ll be swinging, next I’ll be snatching. In that regard I’m utilizing both sprinting, kettlebells and also a rest time somewhat similar to football.
Dragon Door:   Is there anything else you want to add about your training experience with CK-FMS, kettlebells, or any of the RKC principles?
Dr. Michael Hartle:   First I'd like to say thanks to John and Pavel for having the faith in me to promote me to Senior RKC. I’m humbled by that, and intend to continue to prove that they made the right decision.
The kettlebell is a fantastic tool that many people should use. I think it’s the best all around strength and conditioning tool ever designed. Much more than barbells just because of the efficiency and the economy of being able to use it anywhere. Football players and athletes of all ages could certainly benefit from utilizing kettlebells.
Dragon Door:   Thanks so much for letting me take up some of your Saturday, and have a great game today!

Dr. Michael Hartle, RKC Team Leader, is a chiropractic physician. Raised in the frozen tundra known as Minnesota, he once lived in Hawai'i while his father was stationed at Pearl Harbor during Vietnam. He has been practicing in Fort Wayne, Indiana for the last 16 years. A nationally-ranked powerlifter, who has won several national titles with USA Powerlifting, Dr. Michael is also the Chairman of the Sports Medicine Committee of USA Powerlifting (USAPL). He was the Head Coach of the USAPL World Bench Press Team for 8 years, winning the 2004 World Team Title.
For the last 5 years, he has been playing semi-pro football, defensive tackle, and loving it! He treats, trains and advises to all kinds of patients, from babies to the elderly, from youth athletes to NCAA student-athletes to professional athletes. He has three sons who keep him busy with their personal endeavors, including hockey, baseball, football, and of course, academics. You can reach him at