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Dragon Door Interviews Ken Stewart, RKC2, CK-FMS

July 12, 2013 10:30 AM

Dragon Door: What inspired you to get started in the fitness industry?

Ken Stewart: Ten years ago in college, I was working as a personal trainer and knew I was going to be in the fitness industry.  But during my senior year, my mother was diagnosed with rectal cancer.  They said she wouldn't have six months to live.  After I graduated from college, I planned to live with her and help her.  Unfortunately, she passed away before I could.    My family's history of eating habits and being sedentary has led me to doing what I'm doing.  I went the exact opposite way—I'm a fitness freak and eat healthy all the time.  My younger brother and I are the health nuts in our family. 

At my mother's funeral, my grandmother had a heart attack and passed away right at the gravesite—it was crazy.  Again, my family has always had health issues, my grandmother was overweight, and my entire family's eating habits were terrible.  That was my turning point.  Soon after, my business partner and I started a healthy meal delivery service which we still have to this day.  Next we started personal training.  We finally opened our own gym, Tyson's Playground, about three years ago. 

Dragon Door:  And you're also a competitive bodybuilder, how did you get started?

Ken Stewart: I had wrestled since I was a kid, but had experienced wrestling-related injuries one after another.  I wrestled for the military and in college.  After college, I was done with it, but needed something competitive to keep the juices flowing.  I thought bodybuilding was cool, and after watching a competition, I realized I already lived the lifestyle and training.  The dieting aspect was the only thing I had to lock down, and that was pretty easy for me too.  I competed professionally in Musclemania and turned pro in WNBF too.  I only compete in all natural organizations.  I don't take any kind of performance enhancing drugs.  I've been natural my whole entire life, but am accused quite often, but that's okay.

My most recent contest was Musclemania Universe, where I won for  my weight class in June 2011.  I haven't competed since then, but will be competing in the World Championships this year in November.  Our business has taken off which makes it very difficult to do everything at once.  When there's a contest coming up, I really have to focus 100 percent, and our business is doing well so it pulls me in many different directions which can be a challenge.

Dragon Door:  How did you discover kettlebells?

Ken Stewart: Injuries usually lead me to something.  While preparing for a bodybuilding contest about four years ago, I was deadlifting about 495lbs.  On my fifth rep, I felt a sharp pain like someone had hit me in the back of the leg.  I thought my training partner had kicked me, and after I fell I said, "Why'd you do that?"  But of course, he hadn't actually kicked me.  I herniated my L4 and L5, and was in a lot of pain.  I had to choose between surgery, which I didn't want because back surgery is such an iffy thing, or I could go for therapy.  At therapy, I saw one of these "little kettlebell things" and asked about it.  The physical therapist started showing me tons of core exercises, along with the basics like deadlifts and swings.   I thought it was really cool. 

A friend of mine who's a powerlifter and bodybuilder uses kettlebells for swings helped me get started.  Kettlebell swings really helped me quickly recover after the injury.  Of course I needed to find out more about kettlebells.  The internet led me to Dragon Door and of course the RKC.

Dragon Door: When did you first attend an RKC workshop?

Ken Stewart: My first RKC was in 2011, I did level two in 2012, and CK-FMS last year.

Dragon Door:  Even though you and your brother are healthy lifestyle experts, has it been difficult to share this message with the other members of your family?

Ken Stewart: Very difficult.  We're like the food police.  It's definitely been a change for them, but it's been a welcome thing.  My younger brother is also an RKC, certified last year.  He lives in Canada and plays in the CFL.  When we visit our family who are mainly in New York and New Jersey, we tag-team them!

It's unfortunate, but the African-American community generally doesn't know what to eat, or what not to eat, and has a tendency to eat very infrequently.  We do the traditional huge Thanksgiving style dinners, but we always seem to skip breakfast.  Lunches are usually small and dinners are huge—it's a cultural thing for the most part.  Even with the abundance of information on the internet, the message isn't always getting across.  I think the lesson we give is super valuable, especially around our holiday visits.  They don't always want to hear it, but we share it with them anyway.

Dragon Door: You and your brother sound like powerful examples.

Ken Stewart: Definitely. Our family looks to us as an example for their own actions in terms of what to eat and how to work out.   We always give them positive examples of what to do. 

Dragon Door: How are you using kettlebells in your gym?

Ken Stewart: In our facility, the only traditional cardio equipment we have are airdynes and a few jump ropes, so our conditioning is primarily based on heavy swings, snatches, and jumping rope. 

Dragon Door: Along with helping you regain your strength after an injury, what other results have you noticed from kettlebell training?

Ken Stewart: My deadlift is back to where it was before before my injury, but the biggest change has been the length of my workouts.   Before, I was working out for up to two hours at a time.  Now my workouts are under an hour.  Being able to save that much time is huge.  Not only have I maintained strength in so many different areas, but the fat loss is incredible.  Now I do much less cardio which is great because I hate, hate, hate, hate, one more time, hate cardio.

Dragon Door: What results have have your clients experienced with kettlebells?

Ken Stewart: What kind of results have we not seen with them?  Along with personal training and small group training, we also do large boot camps and corporate boot camps.  I have one client who's lost over 200 pounds since I started working with him.  People of all sizes, experience levels, and from all walks of like have had phenomenal results while training with us using kettlebells. 

We've had to ease people into kettlebell training because it can be intimidating. In our facility, there's nothing but kettlebells, rowers, and TRX.  New people often don't know what to do with these things, so we help them learn to understand their own body with different kettlebell and bodyweight exercises. 

Their strength jumps through the roof, their fat loss is tremendous, and they really can't believe they've only worked out for 30-45 minutes.  We never work out for longer than hour.  Our philosophy has always been you can work out hard, or you can work out long, but you can't do both—the body just won't let you.  So our new fat loss clients first come in for short, metabolic workouts.  The kettlebell is by far the best tool for any type of fat loss training because the transitions between exercises are so easy. 

Of course there's a learning curve, but our clients love it.  At the RKC we just hosted, 95 of the people who attended the free lesson as "victims" were people from our gym's classes.   They were excited to participate because any time they can get a chance to work with kettlebells, they're all over it.

Dragon Door:  How did you help your client who lost over 200 pounds get started?

Ken Stewart: He began with our transformation challenge.  Sometimes I think people need to see results rather quickly when they're working with something new.  Frequently, our clients start at our gym through one of our quarterly transformation challenges.  That particular client lost 40 pounds in six weeks, and after the challenge he just kept going and going.  It's been a phenomenal life-changing experience for him. 

We have so many of these stories at our gym.  We've had people who have been very, very heavy and come in and lost a lot of weight.  Though right now we have at least six clients who lost over 50 pounds—and these were people who started at around 190 and are down to 140.  Overall they weren't very heavy, but were carrying a lot of body fat, so they made a super transformation.  We've also helped regular guys who might start at 19 percent body fat cut down 4-5 percent in a matter of 8-10 weeks. 

We've had tremendous success with kettlebells.  As a matter of fact, no other tools in our facility get as much use as our kettlebells.  Our general population clients and sports performance group all start with kettlebell training because it teaches them how to use their bodies.  Some clients will work to earn the use of the barbell through kettlebell training, but 80 percent of our student athletes stick with kettlebells because they get so much more stronger.

Dragon Door:  What sports are included in your athletic programs?

Ken Stewart: We have a complete athlete development program for football with a speed training component and football skills training.  We also have a complete baseball development program with both skills and speed training components.  Along with these two complete athlete development programs, lacrosse and soccer leagues train with us at different times of the year.

Dragon Door: How was the experience of hosting and assisting an RKC Workshop at your facility?

Ken Stewart:  It was challenging, but a great experience.  I wanted to make sure that the candidates had a great learning experience at the RKC.  My company catered the event, and I wanted to make sure the food was just right.  We also had to make sure everything went well at the facility and that all the candidates were comfortable.  At an RKC, many people get stressed, and I wanted to make sure the stress level was as low as possible.  So it was a great experience, but I was running around like a chicken with it's head cut off a few times!

Dragon Door: What's next for you and your fitness business?

Ken Stewart: We're always working to grow all of our programs.  As far as the future goes, I really want to continue training people with kettlebells.  When I was talking to John Du Cane the other day, I wanted to make sure that Dragon Door was still going to be going strong with kettlebells.  John assured me that the RKC was still here to stay so I definitely want to get more involved with RKC kettlebell training and even some more bodyweight training too.  But, kettlebells brought me to RKC and Dragon Door, and they are what I'm super enthusiastic about, so I want to go where that takes me.

Ken Stewart, RKC2, CK-FMS is an instructor at
Tyson's Playground, and can be reached at or 703.646-1911.