Phil Ross demonstrates the health of his spine and shoulder by pressing Cathy Raimonda

Phil Ross demonstrates the health of his spine and shoulder by pressing Cathy Raimonda

I don’t know how many of you know much of history, but in September of 2011, I suffered a spinal cord injury and sustained permanent damage. In December of 2011, four levels of my neck were operated on. I underwent framenectamy, lamanectamy as well as other procedures to alleviate my spinal stenosis and remove the osteophyte that created my spinal edema (scar on my spinal cord). Needless to say, I couldn’t even hold a piece of paper in my hand until after the operation. Immediately after the surgery, I could not even bottoms up press a 10KG! (Now I can do the 28KG).
My son Spencer is 17 and one of the top ranked high school aged throwers in the country. He’s an RKC and is quite strong. I wanted to put a little more size on him, so I started incorporating some barbell training into his routine. We started doing dead lifts. I used to be able to rip 505 lbs of of the ground, but no more. Once I got over 305, my right hand (the side most adversely effected by the injury) would simply give out. I was getting very frustrated. During one training session, he suggested that I try to single leg barbell deadlifts. What a great suggestion! I’d been doing the Dual Bell Kettlebell Deadlifts for years, but it never dawned on me to do them with a barbell. At this point, I’m doing 185 max for my sets of 6 and my hand has no issue holding bar.
The point of the story is to simply talk about my deadlift numbers, but to listen to others and look outside o the box – especially when it comes to your own training. I’ve never had an issue coming up with solutions for others, but solving my own issue took listening to my kid!

Dirty Dozen Move # 5: The Kettlebell Press

There are not too many many things cooler than pressing heavy weight over your head. The Kettlebell press is one of the best methods available to enable you to achieve these great feats of strength.

You may say that I can press dumbbells and barbells and get the same effect. Yes, you can press dumbbells and barbells – and there is nothing wrong with it. However for the “Best Bang for your Buck”, maximum shoulder load with reduced shoulder stress and a greater recruitment of stabilizers, the Kettlebell Press can’t be beat.

The Kettlebell Press differs from the dumbbell press and the barbell press in several ways. Dumbbells and barbells have a unilateral weight distribution, so there is a less of a need for the body make adjustments. Due to the shape of the Kettlebell, with it’s offset Center of Gravity (COG), the position of the weight constantly changes during the movement of the press. This requires more involvement of the core, stabilizers and lats to complete the movement. The pressing motion starts in a racked position with a tensioning of the body ends with the full lockout and the arm pressing the Kettlebell in line with or slighting behind the ear. This motion upward is accomplished with a “J” pattern of travel. The degree of the “J” may vary from practitioner to practitioner.

When pressing, you not only want to focus on pressing the bell skyward, but think about pressing your body away from the bell as well. This will also aid you in rooting with the floor and employing total body tension. We also need to pay particular attention to the width of your stance. Experiment with the wider then more narrow stance. You will discover that you are able to create more tension with a less than shoulder width stance.

As with many Kettlebell exercises, root with the floor, bring your coccyx to your naval, contract your glutes and abs, pack your shoulders and engage your lats. Focus on an exhale with the eccentric movement of the press and an inhale with the concentric portion, all accomplished while maintaining tension and compression.

When pressing heavier Kettlebells, you may employ a slight hip hitch to the opposite side of your pressing hand. This will help you recruit more of your lats. However, be certain no to go so far as to turn the press into a side press. In addition to the Military or Kettlebell Press and the Heavy Press there are many other presses with Kettlebells. Push Press, Jerk Press, Bottoms-up Press, Waiters Press, Side Press and the Bent Press, to name a few. There are also dual bell versions of most of the aforementioned.

Good luck with discovering or enhancing your Kettlebell Pressing Skills! If you have any any questions or comments on this introduction to the Kettlebell Press or any of the other Dirty Dozen Exercises, do not hesitate to contact me.

Train Hard and Train Often – Coach Phil


Atlanta Falcon Training with Kettlebells

Dragon Door:   Given your extensive experience coaching strength and conditioning, what led you to try kettlebell training with your athletes?Jeff Fish:  I began researching the role of movement-based methodology in the early 2000’s and was fortunate to meet Pavel in 2005.  I learned a great deal from him—this was the first obtainable information I found for implementing kettlebells in a workout plan.  At the time, there was very little information available on safe, proper kettlebell techniques.  Now, I had the fundamentals of how to execute the exercises, and felt comfortable adding them to our plans.  Very quickly, I realized the power of the kettlebell as a training tool, and how it could expand and produce general and specific performance improvements that I could not achieve with other equipment.

Dragon Door:  What are the particular advantages with kettlebell training over a more traditional approach to strength and conditioning for professional football?

Jeff Fish:
  When I look at how to improve an athlete’s performance—no matter the skill level—I have many variables to assess: fundamental movement patterns, mobility, stability, restrictions, strength and power symmetry, core stability and dynamic coordination, prerequisite movement proficiency, just to name a few.  When I look at improving some of the key qualities for a professional football player—specific joint static and dynamic stability, functional strength and power output, metabolic training, efficient core function, transfer and application of force—the kettlebell is a tremendous choice to achieve results in a fast, safe manner while simultaneously improving overall movement.

Dragon Door:   What are your top kettlebell exercises for football players?

Jeff Fish:   I started implementing a program with kettlebells in 2005, using get-ups, different presses, squats, and single leg movements.  As an alternative to a barbell on the back, we train with them in the rack position, so the player maintains good torso posture when they’re working their lower body—subtle things like that go a long way.   I put together a complete teaching system addressing developmental stages, starting with new players who may have never even seen a kettlebell, up to a very advanced level—for players who have trained with kettlebells with me for a number of years.

We start with a base program of four exercises, and as the athletes become more proficient, we advance them into stage two movements.  Eventually they progress to where they’re doing everything imaginable.

Dragon Door:   Sounds like you’ve made this process very efficient!

Jeff Fish:   Yes, instead of spending an hour and a half in the weight room, we averaged only 45 minutes to an hour.  This was great for two reasons: first, the guys felt like they really did a good workout, second, they felt like they could still practice their sport afterwards.

Dragon Door:   Sounds like the idea of aiming to feel stronger after the workout, instead of exhausted…

Jeff Fish:  
Yes, that’s 100 percent true of our guys—no matter what position they play, they almost always leave feeling more energized than before the workout.  They feel better, they’re moving better, and they’re excited about practicing afterward, too.  Many players told me after this year’s first pre-season game that they feel different.

Dragon Door:   How else are you using kettlebells?  Is there specific sequence you’re using with swings?

Jeff Fish:    We teach the double-arm, single kettlebell swing, next the single-arm swings, and then two-arm, two kettlebell swings where we can load them up pretty good.  Once they get the mechanics of the swing, I transition them to cleans as long as they understand the hip hinge movement, how to finish their hips, tilt their hips, and get their quads tight so they can protect their back.  I try to teach them to clean as quickly as I can, because cleans can link circuits and combine lower-body and upper-body movements.   For example, a sequence of cleaning, pressing, cleaning, squatting, etc.

Dragon Door:   Are your guys training kettlebell cleans alone, or mainly using them as a link between other exercises?

Jeff Fish: 
We do both—training cleans by themselves, and in many different complexes—I like that about them.   Also, they’re a quick movement where guys really have to think about being quick with their hips, they have to absorb the weight quickly as compared to a swing.  The clean is really crisp and it’s impressive to see a group of athletes lined up, and almost synchronized doing cleans.  It’s pretty awesome to see.

Dragon Door:  Since implementing the FMS with your players, how has it affected game play and injury prevention/recovery?

Jeff Fish:
   The FMS is a starting point.  It’s a guide and an evaluator to our overall system.  We use it to evaluate every player before prescribing any exercise.  We will never just write up programs or give someone a program that was successful with another athlete.  The FMS gives us a look into an athlete’s current state of movement potential and limitation.  It also shows me where I can start an athlete in terms of strength training exercises. It allows me to give them the appropriate challenge without elevating the injury risk of an over-demanding plan.  We truly build the plans around each athlete.  We always use this “baseline” score to evaluate our system of prescription.  Basically, if we do a follow up FMS on an athlete in 6-8 weeks and they have improved their score by three points, then we know our corrective strategy prescription was accurate.  We also have a baseline to hold us accountable in our rehabilitation efforts.

In terms of game play, a more efficient athlete can perform at a high level for a longer time than a heavily restricted/asymmetrical athlete.  Also, by reducing the risk factors, we have a greater chance of our players not missing games due to injury.  In most high level sports, to lose your “stars” for extended periods of time usually spells disaster in terms of wins and losses.

Dragon Door:   Has it also helped to prevent injuries during training as well as during a game?

Jeff Fish:   Yes, I have used the data to prescribe movement-based drills at the appropriate levels and times during the off-season.  At that time of the year, athletes are…read complete interview

Never Say Die

You hear it all of the time “Never Say Die”. You see the athlete in competition, whether its MMA, a Grappling Match, a Track Meet or a Football game – the sport does not matter, only the actions that lead to the end result. The participant is behind and it seems as if all is lost and then the tide shifts and the athlete that appeared to be done for surges and emerges victorious.

Everyone wants to win. Wanting to win is not the hard part. Sacrificing everyday in your training, your eating habits and ignoring distractions; that is the difficult task. You need to make your training your priority – no room for excuses – make it to your workouts and push yourself to get better, stronger and faster. Excuses for failure are common, find a way to succeed.

How does this happen? How does one develop this “Never Say Die” attitude? Can it be developed? Or is it only in certain people?

There are certain people born with an innate inner toughness, but if it’s not cultivated, they burn out and lose it over time. Others seem to develop, grow tougher and more resilient over time. How is this done?

There is one sure fire way to develop this Never Say Die attitude, Train Hard. Yes, the more that you sacrifice and persevere, the more you become committed to succeed and less you are able to tolerate failure. There are many times when a combatant is in a scramble, they could easily give in and let their opponent win, yet they do not allow this to happen. The time, effort and pain endured in training comes through and they “dig deep” into their soul and put forth another effort. Training with purpose will not only harden your body, but your mind as well.

When you are training, think to yourself “What is my opponent doing? Is he training like I am? Is he sparring those extra rounds, running that additional mile and performing those few more reps? Is he pushing through the pain?” You will never be able to answer those questions, until after the contest. The best chance of success that you have is to train to your best ability and don’t make excuses for not training.

The more that you put in, the more that you will be prepared to win. Take the Samurai for example. They were in Life and Death Battles. If they lost, they were dead. In order to win, they needed to have supreme confidence. They developed this confidence through their daily training regiment and discipline. The tenants espoused by the Samurai are ones that we can base our training on to develop our Never Say Die attitude.

As Always – Train Hard & Train Often.

Muscle Confusion: Hype or Reality? 

Since the advent of the P90X video series, the notion of “Muscle Confusion” seems to be on everyone’s lips and has replaced conversations of Core Based Workouts as the main concern for fitness enthusiasts. We’ll tackle the notion of the elusive “Core” in another blog.

Muscle confusion has been a very popular training method for many, many years. Yes – the P90X does a good job at leading you through your daily routine, but the program does not take into consideration the varying degrees of fitness, athletic ability, age and other stressors that the potential customer base may possess. I am not here to bash the P90X series. On one hand it has inspired many people to lose weight, get in shape and improve their lives, on the other hand many people have become injured while using it. I have personally worked with several clients, of various ages, that came to me after doing the PX90 series and incurring injuries. People have injured their backs, knees, hips and shoulders.

If you read the book by Arnold Schwartzeneggar: The Education of A Bodybuilder. I read this book in 1978 and it had an incredible impact on me. While attending the University of Maryland I participated in a workout session with the Barbarian Brothers, Peter & David Paul. They were filming of the movie DC Cab with Mr. T & Gary Bussey. My friend’s dad owned the Gold’s Gym in Wheaton, Maryland and he invited a few of us guys down for the workout session. The book by Arnold, the workout session with the Barbarian Brothers and countless other strength and fitness athletes have always stressed “Varying the Workout”, “Shock the Muscles”, “Change your Routine”. That is the only true way to stimulate growth and achieve higher levels of fitness.

Why is it so important? Why can’t I just stick with my set of exercises? Why can’t I simply run the same amount and the same route every time? Why – because the body gets stale with the same routine. You need to “force” the body to respond to varied loads and/or movements. Soreness from your workout should be the norm. If you do not experience soreness on a regular basis, you are not developing. If you have hit platues with your strength or your times running or find that you are dreading training; you need to varying your routine. Not to mention the fact of repetitive stress injuries that the same routine breed.

When you do your roadwork, you need to vary the terrain, the distance and the level of intensity that you run. Example: If you run three times a week, session one, do a 3 mile mile run at 80 percent your capability. Next session, do interval training or what runners call the “Float”. Go to the track and run a 200 hard, then at 50%. Do this for several laps, in accordance to your fitness level and ability. The third session of the week, go for a long run at an easy pace, 65 to 70%. This is just an example for one week. I’ll address running programs in more detail in future blogs.

Kettlebell Training: Lends itself to Muscle Confusion better than any other method available. Personally, I know several hundred movement variations with the Kettlebell. There are also a plethora of workout delivery methods with a Kettlebell. Complexes, Chains, Powerdure, 4×8’s, Combined Kettlebell and Body weight routines, Scrambled eggs, Strength, Endurance, Flexibility, Explosive Power Focus. One of the differentiators  with Kettlebells, is that you have the ability to either focus on one of the phases of training or mix and match the methods in any combination that make sense or that keeps your workout interesting. You also need to employ the various levels of intensity to your workouts. You can’t go 100% every workout. This is another subject that I will cover in greater detail in a future blog. Hey – I have to keep you coming back for more!

Yes – Muscle Confusion is a reality and has great merit, but it’s not new or revolutionary – It’s just simply good.

Train Hard & Train Often!

What’s your motivation? (and how to keep it)

A seemingly simple question to answer, but whatever your motivation to train is, it must be more compelling than distractions that will dissuade you from your fitness commitment. Maybe you want to be the best fighter in the world, or your grandfather died of a young age due to his weight, you were mugged or picked on as a child. There could also be positive motivations: the quest to be the best that you can be, to stay in or get in great shape, for the enjoyment of training, stress relief, competition with others and yourself. Unless your motivation is harmful to others, there is no right or wrong reason to train, as long as it keeps you working out and improving yourself – it’s good.

Many of the the reasons that are our original motivation to train do not last forever. Example – let’s say you want to make the Varsity Football Team. You have to get bigger, faster, stronger and learn the skill set for your desired position. OK – you’ve made the team, now the season ends and your are graduating high school. There’s no way that you are going to play in college, yet you really enjoyed the way that you felt and how your body looked and performed when you were working out. Now you have a different motivation.

Just like rotating your workout schedule, you need to alter your motivational factors from time to time. If you start a new martial art with the goal of becoming a Black Belt and then a few months later decide to enter a triathlon.  They are quite different goals, but the training for one will help the other. Keep fresh motivation, shot range goals and try different motivations.

I have plenty of clients that come in want to lose weight. They have now lost their 80 lbs (yes, this did happen), what do they do now? Just keeping the weight off as a goal may not be motivating enough. The person knows that they must keep working out – but what is the motivating factor? This person wants to be able to do a pull-up and start the martial arts. They can achieve the new goal because of their former motivation.

I’ve had other clients that wanted to get off of all of their blood pressure and cholesterol medications. Avoiding death is a reasonably strong motivator. Now that the client is off of the pills, what’s his new motivation? He now wants to be able to snatch a 24kg (53 lb) kettlebell 100 times. That’s a very respectable goal and new motivation. He had to change his motivation since his former goal to train had been met.

The point of all of this is to get you to think of new goals, new motivations and new methods to keep you inspired to continue your training. There are many excuses for failure – find the reason to succeed!

As Always: Train Hard and Train Often!

Can you Train with both Kettlebells & Weights? 

I get asked that question quite a bit. Generally, it’s asked by those who have been avid weight lifters, but are curious about the benefits of kettlebells. A large majority of these inquisitive people are not knowledgeable in the science of Kettlebell Training; I use this opportunity to educate them.
The answer is a resounding “Yes”, but if you are new to kettlebell training, you should first take some time and train solely with the Kettlebells for a while in order to allow your body to acclimate to the new type of movement. There are inherent differences between the manner that Kettlebells develop strength and standard resistance training with weights. Allow your body to develop a familiarity with the Kettlebells prior to incorporating your weight training. As a general rule, I suggest 6 weeks. No worries – you won’t lose any strength – as a matter of fact, when you start back to your weight training – you will see that you are able to lift heavier weights than you could beforehand. Your per pound power will increase significantly and you will have to spend less time in the gym and more time working on the skill set for your sport.

The Eastern Block countries have been using kettlebells since the 1800’s. All of their weight lifters, throwers, track & field, combat athletes and military personnel have reaped in the benefits of Kettlebell training for years. This is one of the reasons that they have been so successful.  The Russians are known for their great strength – the one major training factor that has eluded us Westerns until recently is their use of Kettlebells. Modern day power lifters routinely use Kettlebells to improve their hip-hinge for dead lifting.

The major issue that is faced with doing both both Kettlebells and standard weight training is the potential for over-training. If you are partaking in both, define y your goals and be sure to consult a professional. For example: Zack Fox, former All-American HS Lacrosse player for Don Bosco Prep at 20 years old, decided to dedicate his efforts and energies to becoming a mixed martial artist. He showed up at my studio weighing in at 225 lbs at 5’8″. He’s a bull, but far too short at that weigh to be a competitive fighter. He was bench pressing 510 lbs, squat of 650 lbs and dead lift of 650. He began training in Boxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Kettlebells.

After 8 weeks of rigorous training, Zack took Second Place in the NJ State BJJ Championships and now weighs 196. His Bench Press is now 520 lbs., Squat is 680 lbs and has a Dead Lift of 680 lbs.! How is this so? He’s almost 30 lbs lighter and lift weight only twice week – yet his numbers have gone up while his  body weight has decreased. The flexibility, muscular endurance and core strength development of Kettlebell Training is unmatched. Zack has some very high numbers, but in 8 short weeks, he’s increased his power lifting numbers by 4% and decreased his body weight by over 13%. Not only has his pound for pound strength increased, but his overall increased as well.

If you need to put on some extra mass for your sport or if you are a competitive weightlifter, training with Kettlebells combined with standard weight training are extremely beneficial. Unless you you are a body builder, stick with the major mass exercises. Bench – flat, incline and decline, if desired. Dead Lifts. Power Cleans and Clean & Press. Be cautious with the power cleans and clean and press, however. Your wrists may actually get weaker. I would recommend Kettlebell Cleans and Snatches.


Master Trainer Phil Ross: Master RKC , CK-FMS Certified, Martial Arts Master, AFPA Certified Personal Trainer. Phil Ross brings over 35 years of experience in the fitness world to his clients. A Certified Movement Specialist enables Phil to decifer a client’s assymetries and provide corrective movement strategies. He has a great deal of experience with Athletes of many sports disciplines, Martial Arts, Wrestling, Golf, Track & Field, Football, etc… as well as people simply desiring to improve their well being. His clients range in age from 10 to 72.

Jennifer Chaparian: HKC Kettlebell Certified, WITS Certified Personal Trainer, Yamina Certified and Massage Therapist. Jennifer brings her in-depth understanding of the human body to her a personal training clients. Her approach has a more subtle tone and is based on stretching and elongating the client. Don’t be mistaken – she can also turn it up and get the heart rate pumping and muscles aching – just watch her teach a (KB)2 Boot Camp!

Dave Ferrazzano: NASM Certified Personal Trainer, Associates Degree and Exercise Physiology. Dave has been involved in sports and fitness for most of his life. He holds a certification from the most prestigious Personal Training Certification Organization in the World: NASM. Additionally, he is working toward his Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Physiology from William Paterson University. Dave has experience with many sports as well as the Martial Arts.

Zachary Fox: HKC Kettlebell Certified,  Studying Exercise Science. Zack Fox began his Martial Arts training here at American Eagle MMA in June of 2012. However, Zack arrived at the AEMMA Academy with quite a solid list of athletic accomplishments. Zack was a High School All American Lacrosse player for Don Bosco Prep and an NCAA Division 1 Recruit for St. John’s University. Zack was also a Jr. National Power Lifting Champion and now at a weight of 195lbs, has a bench press of 520, a squat of 680 and pulls another 680 in the dead lift. Zack is in the process of attaining his Bachelor’s Degree from Montclair State University in Exercise Science.