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Dragon Door Interviews Rob Exline, RKC-II

Rob Exline RKC2 Performs a Kettlebell Waiter Press
Dragon Door: How did you first get involved with fitness?

Rob Exline: It's been an off and on journey for me. I played a lot of sports when I was a kid. And every time I’d watch a Rocky movie, I’d be inspired to work out! In high school I worked out in the weight room, but in college I got away from it. After working in the corporate world, I decided I needed to make a change in 1997 and started going back to the gym. A few years later I decided that I wanted to make fitness my new career. So, back in 1999 I started personal training.

In 2003, I started managing a martial arts gym in Dallas for a guy who fought in the UFC. This was the real beginning of what led me to my current career of owning a CrossFit gym and teaching kettlebell training. At the martial arts gym I was also teaching Muay Thai, kickboxing, and boxing. The gym owner wanted all the instructors to get at least a brown belt in his system which also required wrestling and other skills. At the time I was in my mid 30s and the other instructors I was training with were in their 20s. A couple times I kind of walked out of there feeling like an old man! But it helped me find a new style of training. Before, I’d been training with typical "body part" workouts at the gym with chest day, back day, leg day—that kind of craziness. Rob Exline RKC2 Coach West Houston CrossFit

Back in 2003, I also purchased my first Dragon Door kettlebell. I taught myself kettlebells for a while and always wanted to go to an RKC Workshop but couldn’t yet find the time since we started having kids and moved to Houston.

Because I was turning 40 in 2007, I wanted to do something completely different and trained for a Navy Seal adventure event—a 24 hour version of the Navy Seal "Hell Week". I wasn’t the oldest guy there, but they did mention I was 40 several times! It was a cool experience, and like many people I sometimes like to do crazy stuff for t-shirts! Leading up to the event, I trained one-on-one with a CrossFit coach for a few sessions to help me prepare. After the event, I got certified for CrossFit Level 1 and opened my own gym in 2009.

Since I’d always been interested in kettlebells as a really good tool, I finally followed my 8 year goal and became an RKC in 2011. Last May I hosted Max Shank for an RKC Workshop here in Houston—which inspired me to go for my RKC-II this year.

Dragon Door: What have kettlebells and the RKC brought to your training and your clients’ training?

Rob Exline:
I take the Bruce Lee approach to training "Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own." I think the RKC has helped me with that idea the most. I tell our coaches that there is a ton of great movement information out there from the RKC, CrossFit, USAW, etc. and we should pay attention to all of it. It does help that I’m nerdy and like to learn everything I can. At my gym, we try to always be students.
Rob Exline RKC Workshop Kettlebell Goblet Squat
I believe in the RKC so much that my wife is also an RKC and 4 of our coaches are HKCs. I think the RKC information transcends kettlebells and is useful for all implements.

Dragon Door: Can you share an example of how you’re using both the RKC and CrossFit materials?

Rob Exline: As I said before, I think the RKC transcends the kettlebell, so we are able to apply the tools, corrections, cues to all the movements in CrossFit. We strive to provide the best information available to help our members move better, stay safe, and succeed.

The CrossFit school of thought uses the American swing, at our gym, we use the RKC swing much more often—the spinal bracing it teaches is especially useful. I think of the American swing as more of a two handed snatch—which isn’t always appropriate for everyone. We are strict about form, and quick to lower the swing as necessary.

On any given day, we will use many of the drills and cues learned at the RKC—face-the-wall squats, the hike pass drill, RKC hip flexor stretch, and the RKC plank to name a few.

Dragon Door: What's your favorite kettlebell move to coach?

Rob Exline: My favorite one to coach is probably the clean—because it’s one of the exercises I had the most trouble with. Since I had to work really hard to get pretty decent at the clean, now I like to coach it.

Dragon Door: Which kettlebell drill would you say is your best now?

Rob Exline: In CrossFit, we are "jacks of all trades", but I find that my kettlebell skills are probably my best. So the clean along with my snatch technique—during the test at the RKC-II, I felt a lot more solid than I was back in 2011. I am definitely much more efficient at snatching now.

I really like learning, and one of my full time coaches is really into Olympic lifting. While it’s more his thing, I think it’s important to have a little diversity in my skills. It has given me a better eye when coaching, but Olympic lifting is not my strong suit. Even though I like the Olympic lifts because they are fun, I find that for me the barbell snatch is a lot more unforgiving than the kettlebell snatch.

Dragon Door:
Do you have a favorite kettlebell combination or complex?

Rob Exline: One of my favorite complexes is a sequence of double swings, double front squats, and double presses. I do three of each with snatch-test weight bells, and program it as on the minute every minute. That format provides built in rest periods and allows for keeping the movement quality really high while still getting a little metabolic effect too. We may practice a sequence like that for 10-12 minutes, and sometimes mix up the order of the drills and exercises.
Rob Exline Double Kettlebell
Dragon Door: What kind of results are your clients getting?

Rob Exline: All the time our people tell us they are in the best shape of their life. They’ve made huge lifestyle changes. We take a holistic approach and have found that coaching nutrition also really helps. We coach Paleo and have hosted Rob Wolf, Whole9, and Diane Sanfilippo. Every time we do a nutrition challenge, people get great results and positive body changes. We are always trying to overcome clients’ impulses—when they think they need to do more cardio, we let them know they just really need to stop eating bad food!

We also teach a lot of mobility. As someone in my mid-40s, I know I’m not bulletproof anymore, so I’m trying to teach people in their 20s and 30s that they aren’t bulletproof either. By doing a little bit of mobility work everyday, they will be much better off than me. I had to kind of catch up when I was in my 30s and 40s.

My biggest stand-out former client is a guy who’s now gone to the CrossFit games three years in a row. He started here, eventually coached here—and I was his first CrossFit coach. But over all, I really enjoy training regular people—I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing someone who starts off as unable to chew gum and walk at the same time, then after training with us they have amazingly high-level skills just from practicing what we’ve coached and taught here.

Dragon Door: What did you bring back from the RKC-II for your clients?

Rob Exline: Like any coach I see many beginning clients with really stiff thoracic spines and hips. I think windmills are a really great tool for thoracic rotation, and especially helpful for people who sit at a desk all day. So the windmill and the progressions leading to it have been immediately useful. Since I’ve struggled with pistols, it was one of the reasons I wanted to go to the RKC-II. At the workshop I learned some really good tools to help people progress and eventually get a pistol.

My first RKC Workshop in San Diego (2011) was large, with over 100 people attending. Since then I had the opportunity to help and assist Max Shank at a smaller RKC Workshop before going to a smaller RKC-II. I really liked the new atmosphere. I got to know the participants better, and there were a lot of good things to learn from them. We also had direct access to three Master RKCs—each with tons of experience.

At my RKC in 2011, I got to say hi to Pavel and briefly talked to Brett Jones but didn't have the same kind of one-on-one access to them. I think the new smaller format is really great. There was so much camaraderie.
Rob Exline At RKCII Workshop Working With Partner Drills
Dragon Door: Max Shank, Andrea Du Cane and Phil Ross instructed at your RKC-II—that must have been great!

Rob Exline: It was great. Each instructor brought an enormous amount of information and experience. I was able to take bits and pieces from each Master RKC.

Dragon Door: What's your next goal?

Rob Exline: I want to get this gym a little more systemized and at full capacity, so that I can open a second facility. I’ve also been eyeing the PCC as the next Dragon Door workshop to attend. There's been some really cool looking stuff coming out of those workshops, and bodyweight/gymnastic movements are kind of a weakness of mine. I would like to learn some of those cool looking moves.

RobExlineRKC2WaiterPress thumbnailRob Exline is the owner and head trainer at CrossFit West Houston located at 8716 Long Point Rd #213 Houston, TX, 77055. He can be reached at 713-467-1450 or by email: Visit his website at