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7-Time World Amateur Light Heavyweight Kickboxing Champion, Kurt Pitman, Discusses Kettlebell Training for Fighters and Professional Hockey Players

January 18, 2011 09:34 AM

Kurt Pitman, World Amateur Light Heavyweight Kickboxing Champion  Discusses Kettlebell Training for Fighters and Professional Hockey Players

Dragon Door: Kurt, can you fill us in on your athletic background, and talk about how you got into kettlebells?

Kurt Pitman: I was a kickboxer/mixed martial artist for seven or eight years. I was a member of the Lion’s Den and I got to train with a lot of world-class fighters, like Guy Mezger, Ken Shamrock, and Tra Telligman. The Machado is a group of major Jiu-Jitsu guys down in Dallas, Texas, where I am. I train with a lot of the students there and help them get ready for fights.

I won the World Amateur Light Heavyweight title for the ISK in 1996 and I had six successful title defenses. Then I saw a downslope in kickboxing as far as the busyness of it, so I started going over to mixed martial arts to get some groundwork done. We were already involved with Guy Metzger for the Big Barrage race and then fighting in New York City a few times. That’s really my only background. I never played sports. Then after that I got out of fighting because I was getting older.

D.D.: How old are you now?

K.P.: I’m only 30 now, but I was sent to the top pretty fast. I didn’t have a lot of fights—only 25. But the guys that I worked with were such good coaches that they prepared me pretty quick. When I fought for the World Amateur title, I had eight days’ notice.

The number-one contender hurt his heel or something and I got a phone call from the ISK representative. He said, “Do you want to fight Mike Mancini?” I said, “Sure.” I didn’t have time to get nervous. So, I had to get myself in shape two weeks out. I was in shape most of the time. I am in a different kind of shape now, because I’ve been doing a lot more Olympic lifting. I was doing a lot of power cleans with the clean-and-jerk, as well as the snatch.

Actually, it’s kind of funny how I got into kettlebells. I tweaked my back, or what I thought was my back, but was really some soft tissue. That was going on back in October and I met Frankie Faires, because he’s also based out of Dallas. He was showing me some KB maneuvers. I’d already gone to the Olympic training center and got to watch those guys because the 2004 Summer Olympics were right around the corner.

I even got to train at the Olympic facility, because I was certified as an Olympic coach. When I tweaked my back, I knew it wasn’t spinal by any means, but I got into the kettlebells because I thought, “Wow, I’m not having 300- or 400-pound loads on me, I’m bearing a 70-pound load.” Frankie started me off with a 32-kilo kettlebell and I said, “Man, I like this. It doesn’t hurt my back.” So that’s how I got into the kettlebells.

Then, about seven weeks down the road, I had some soft tissue work done on my scoliosis. I had taken seven weeks off of Olympic lifting when I went back to the platform and lo and behold, I was able to snatch a 40-kilo KB, and my clean-and-jerk went up 5 kilos!

So I thought, “There’s something to this”. A little reactive recovery was still stressing my system, but not to the point of having a 300- or 400-pound load on my front or back. So that’s what sparked my interest with the kettlebells. I do it at least once a week, when I take time off the platform work. I usually do kettlebells three days a week for probably one to two weeks at a time, but then I go back to the platform.

D.D.: What are your athletic goals now?

K.P.: Well, I’m retired from fighting, and am just into personal training now.

D.D.: What are your thoughts about kettlebells, both for yourself and for your clients?

K.P.: Right now I train two of the Dallas Stars. I train Mike Modano and Brenden Morrow. I’ve had the privilege of training Mike for about eight years. He and Brandon are going to Austria right now for the World Championships.

D.D.: So you’re finding that kettlebells are good for hockey players?

K.P.: Definitely, simply because it is a contact sport. But I design a different program for Brandon Morrow than I design for Mike Modano. Mike Modano is going to be like your skater, blow-by-blow, boom-boom-boom. He does work to absorb hits.

D.D.: You see kettlebell training helping to absorb hits and stay resilient.

K.P.: Absolutely, absolutely! They are stimulating their central nervous systems to know what it feels like to get charged up and then go do another lift. Do something that’s going to bang them, get them spiked, and move them straight into another load. I definitely see the benefits from that.

D.D.: Do you train any fighters?

K.P.: I have trained some fighters. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Ken Shamrock a bit. I was helping Guy Mezger get ready to fight Tito Ortiz back in November or December of last year.

D.D.: Do you use kettlebells with them?

K.P.: Yes. Actually, I have another guy working with kettlebells now who is probably going to step back into the ring. He’s had a little time off. He’ll probably start back in about six months, so he is getting in touch with the kettlebells.

D.D.: How do you convince a fighter like Shamrock that kettlebells are worth his while? What can KBs do for fighters?

K.P.: One, it’s more personal. Two, the unilateral load. When we begin to learn kettlebells, it’s with one KB and the loads are multi-directional all of the time. It’s not a leg press. I don’t put any of my athletes or fighters on the leg presser or anything that is on a single plane.

I like the dynamics of the kettlebells, the flipping and rotating in your hand, the mental and physical awareness that you have to have when you are doing it, even a snatch. Now, a snatch is simple for guys who have done it before, but you see people who have not done it before and it’s a pretty dynamic move for them!

What I also like is that [mixed martial artists' can get a fantastic workout in only 25 minutes. A big mistake that a lot of guys make is to over-train mixed martial arts. Don’t forget, they wrestle and they box. They work out twice a day for the most part, and sometimes more.

D.D.: From your experience, do KBs increase striking power?

K.P.: Yes. If anything, if they don’t help with the striking power, there is at least shoulder stabilization and the ability to lock the shoulder and turn, like boxers do. They have that snap and punch. Even if it doesn’t increase the power, it will protect them. They will have the ability to protect themselves when their limbs are out, arms bared.

One thing that I like about kettlebells is that they not only test your righting reflexes but your tilting reflexes as well, because a kettlebell can be an unstable object. Like I said, the dynamics of the kettlebells make people more mentally aware and sharp. This young fighter that I have, he likes anything new. He likes anything that he can’t do at first, and he’ll stick with it until he gets it down. So we’ll see how it goes.

D.D.: How have you been adjusting to the intensive KB training here at the certification?

K.P.: Well, the clean with the kettlebell and the clean with the barbell are two totally different moves. That’s what Frankie and some of the other instructors have had to get on me about—how I break my wrist. It’s a habit from the Olympic moves. The two moves are named the same, but they are totally different.

D.D.: How’s the certification been for you in general? What do you think of the training?

K.P.: Very intense. They break it down. The swing…yesterday we spent most of the day on the swing. It’s a very basic movement. I like the cues that they gave us—some trouble-shooting guides for the restricted Box Squat. It’s one thing to know how to do the movement, but to teach it and to give your students verbal cues is another ballgame. And that’s what we are here for, to be able to give them verbal cues. Those have been fantastic! The detail of how they break it down has been good, because no one’s lost. The instructors are very well-versed. They have all different kinds of backgrounds, and everyone is special at something. I just enjoy the course. It’s been fun from day one. The people are great.

Contact Kurt Pitman at