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Dragon Door Interviews Matt Maher, RKC Team Leader

RKC Team Leader Matt Maher Performs a Get Up with a Kettlebell
Dragon Door:  How did you first discover kettlebells?

Matt Maher:   I was an internet geek that stumbled upon them around 2007 and taught myself how to swing and snatch. I spent months on the Dragon Door forum and read through many posts. I decided I wanted to become RKC certified, and contacted RKC Jordan Vezina, who was just starting an online training program. I was impressed with his Youtube videos and thoughtful responses on the forum, so I ended up training with him for 3 months to prepare for my certification workshop. I also discovered Team Leader Thomas Phillips—now Master RKC—via the Dragon Door site around then, and supplemented my preparation with private training sessions. At that time I only knew that he was the highest ranked RKC in my area, and I wanted to learn from the best.

Dragon Door:  What are some of the changes you noticed after training with kettlebells?

Matt Maher:   In 2006, I was doing the typical "big box gym" body part specific programs. But, I was also training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and got a taste of a different way to train from their conditioning program. It was probably the first time other than wrestling in high school that I had really gotten my heart rate up and challenged myself. Soon after, I discovered kettlebells and began to use them as a stand-alone program. I could do 20 sets of 20 swings and be soaked! It was a very efficient way to develop cardio endurance that I never had before.

Dragon Door:  What are some of your favorite kettlebell drills to teach?

Matt Maher:  I teach kettlebell classes at Fit For Life, and on Tuesday nights we have a class that consists of what I call 'advanced basics'. It’s a very technical approach to the basic RKC drills. Those drills are an important component of our weekly conditioning classes as well as our strength training programs here at the gym. We practice mostly swing variations and cleans, then finish each class with a modified Secret Service snatch test training program. This consists of 5 rounds of 20 swings (10 left, 10 right). We start on week one with about 1 minute work, 1 minute rest, then cut down the rest periods each week. At the end of 6 weeks, students have the option of increasing kettlebell size for the next 6 weeks. With this program I've been able to help those who for example initially struggle with a 12kg kettlebell finish their snatch test with 16kg in under 4 minutes.


Dragon Door:  When we talked before, you mentioned training a number of famous clients. Who do you usually train at your gym?

Matt Maher:  I train and have trained a handful of high level athletes at Fit for Life, as well as touring musicians, and maybe even a pop icon or two. So, I'd like to continue to keep my client list confidential! Most of my clients consist of Average Joes that want to look and feel better. I start each day Monday through Saturday before 6am, and I usually finish around 7pm. It's not unusual for me to fit 100-150 people on my schedule, between private training, groups, and classes.

Dragon Door: At the recent Neuro-Mass photo shoot, we all noticed that you've maintained an incredible physique for quite a while. Have you always had an interest in fitness and nutrition?

Matt Maher:  Since about age 15, I had been intensely reading magazines like Men's Health and Muscle & Fitness, but I was more interested in nutrition than working out. I was small and scrawny even though I wrestled in high school and didn't really like working out with the team. I was actually quite uncomfortable in my wrestling singlet—I had skinny arms and a gut. It wasn't until after high school that I became more interested in working out. The more I learned and applied, the more my physique improved.

In my 20’s, I started working out with a friend and it became an addiction. Soon I got a job working the front desk at a gym, moved to another to do sales and marketing, then a third to begin as a trainer. I've spent over 10 years in various gyms and the proof is in the photos! When I first started working at Fit for Life, Thomas Phillips told me that the next round of the Ultimate Transformation Challenge (UTC) was about to start. The UTC is Thomas’s program which includes education on nutrition, kettlebell concepts, mobility, and a whole lot of philosophy. The program keeps students connected via a blog, classes and regular seminars.

In my before photo, my physique wasn’t bad, but I wanted to use it as a reference because I didn't know how much progress I could actually make. My diet and workouts were already deemed obsessive and had been for a long time. Twelve weeks later I took the after photo and saw an amazing difference. After just this first time through the Ultimate Transformation Challenge Program, I made dramatic changes in appearance and the way I felt on a few different levels.


I was so happy with the direction my physique was going, I let Tom convince me to compete in bodybuilding, and I left my first competition with a few first place trophies. The Neuro-Mass photo shoot was actually shot during a time I was holding onto more body fat than I had in 3-4 years. Since then, I've begun to employ new concepts under the UTC umbrella and look much closer to my 'after' photo again. This is also an identical program which many of my clients have followed to lose a ton of weight—as much as 50 to 100lbs.

Dragon Door:  What’s your next goal?

Matt Maher:  My first goal is to manage my very dense work schedule! I'm also training for a respectable powerlifting total, as I'll probably look to compete over the next 6-12 months. I still intend to Tame the Beast, perhaps as the lightest guy ever to do so. Dragon Door's new Progressive Calisthenics Certification is also very high up on the to-do list, and as soon as I can coordinate some time away, I plan to attend.

Dragon Door:  Are you using some of the RKC principles to help with your training now that you're focused on powerlifting?

Matt Maher:  Effective breathing and a perfected hip hinge are not only the basis for much of the RKC system, but for much of how one trains for powerlifting. The speed and explosive strength developed from kettlebell movements really carries over to the deadlift, and I use many of the lifts as accessory lifts in my training templates.

Dragon Door:  Did you get some training ideas from the Neuro-Mass photo shoot?

Matt Maher:  I think many of the movements in Neuro-Mass will be very effective. When the book rolls out and people start employing the concepts, I’m hoping that I’ll be one step ahead of them—I’ll definitely be able to report my own successes in the near future. There’s definitely some valuable information in that book, and I'm hoping it inspires further 'outside the box' thinking.

Dragon Door:  How are you training now?

Matt Maher:   I'm training big lifts via structured templates, RKC basics for conditioning and correctives, and keeping myself and my clients monitored using the Functional Movement Screen (FMS). I've also been keeping things fun for myself and my clients using bodyweight movements from Primal Move, various Dragon Door titles, and much of what I'm expecting to work on at the PCC.

The way I train myself is similar to my approach with personal training clients. I think I've been successfully able to mesh the RKC system, FMS, and even Westside Barbell concepts to make my clients strong and healthy. At Fit for Life, we teach movement via the lifts, keep track via the FMS, and in turn our clients as a whole move very, very well.

MattMaherGetUpMatt Maher, RKC Team Leader can be contacted via Facebook Twitter @mattmaherr and at Fit For Life Marlboro's website