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How a self-defense combat specialist uses kettlebell training for strength and explosive power

January 18, 2011 10:24 AM

Tim Larkin talks about the Benefits and Applications of Russian Kettlebell Strength Training

Tim Larkin is the creator of Target-Focus™ , a personal protection system with roots in martial arts, self-defense and combat-fighting. With the help of a team of instructors, he gives seminars in the technique nationwide, and offers classes at his Las Vegas center, Target-Focus™ Training. He has brought his unique brand of hand-to-hand and hand-to-weapon instruction to the most elite members of various military, law enforcement, and corporate special operations/security units, as well as a long list of celebrities and VIPs. He received Russian Kettlebell Challenge certification in April of 2003.

Dragon Door: Tell us about your athletic background, and your experience with kettlebells.

Tim Larkin: I've been involved in combat sports since I was about four years old, and various martial arts and combat sports throughout my grade school and high school. Sports background is basically football, basketball, water polo. I went to University with the goal of getting out into a Special Operations unit. So I went through Navy Seal training and did real well with that.

I was involved in a diving accident and went into the intelligence community. And it was there that I was able to take all my years of experience in martial arts and combat sports and become an instructor and a trainer in hand-to-hand combat. And that's what I've been doing since I got out of the military.

Everything that I have tried to do in the past has always been centered around, for the time spent training, what's the most efficient and effective way of getting the best results? That's how I approach my training, and how I try to approach everything else that I do; any sort of conditioning or any sort of fitness background. That's why I like the kettlebells so much: you get a big bang for your buck. I can do things in a very short amount of time with a client.

A lot of my clients today are high-profile executives, VIPs, entrepreneurs-people who don't have a lot of time. They have odd hours. And one of the greatest things this has been able to provide me is a really effective way-you know, by purchasing a couple of kettlebells, they can keep them in their office or wherever their area is. Using Pavel's different programs, depending on what their goals are, you can have an efficient workout with just one or two kettlebells. With all the variations you can do, you can provide such an effective workout for a client.

Even if you have access to all the best equipment in the world, kettlebells are probably one of the most high-concept approaches I've ever seen to fitness. You don't need a lot of equipment… the knowledge you get and the physiological benefits you get from doing kettlebell training alone, it's amazing.

I'm one of these people who has access to anything. Some of my friends are some of the most elite trainers in the world right now, as far as Olympic weightlifting or anything like that goes. I constantly find myself going back to the simple principles that I've learned from Pavel and the kettlebells themselves. It provides tremendous results.

The versatility is something that I really like about it. I have Wall Street traders that have started to use kettlebells. They do it in between the trading floor. Sometimes they only have five minutes: they'll come out and do some real quick training. They'll use Pavel's "grease the groove" principle; every time they have a chance they'll work on one or two things, and throughout the day their volume grows.

Now I've got my brother, who's involved in professional sailing, convinced that kettlebell training is probably one of the best methods…people don't realize that there's a lot of athletic explosiveness behind sailing. Getting sails up and down has to have some really great athletes involved. He's using the application in that.

So it goes from a typical person who's in a corporate work environment, all the way up to something as esoteric as sailing. That's what I like about it-the versatility of the kettlebell. In my world it's great because I also deal with a lot of Special Operations personnel, and military and law enforcement personnel. They also have odd hours. And it's a really practical means for functional strength and functional ability.

That's a great thing that kettlebells provide: it's not just that you get in shape, you also get real functional use out of the shape you get in. It provides a conditioning to the body that is directly applicable to any sort of athletic event. In the military, it's directly applicable to a lot of operational needs. So a soldier doesn't have to say, supplement a weight training situation with some sort of realistic training, meaning they have to run or do things that provide a little impact to the body. They get everything they need within the kettlebell workout.

I really didn't see the application until I actually did it, and I realized that the training not only provided me the conditioning that I'd get with more traditional methods, but it also provided me the tendon strength and the joint mobility that you just can't get unless you do something that can be somewhat dangerous. A lot of times how people train, through running or some of the ballistic movements that they do in other types of training, you can safely do with a kettlebell.

The more I learned about kettlebell training, the more I was amazed at all the different applications and benefits you get. It's deceptively simple, and I've found that some of the best things, the most high-concept ideas and applications, are deceptively simple. When you look at the benefits you get as a whole, it's absolutely amazing. I have always believed that if something truly is revolutionary and truly is effective, it should be able to be explained at the sixth grade level. And you can do that with kettlebells. Then when you want to explain the additional benefits to it, you can probably have a laureate explain all the things that are happening in the body, and biomechanically, by using them. But you don't need that knowledge to benefit from them, you just see the results.

So it's great. If you have a very educated client who wants to know a lot about what's happening in the body, why this is happening, you've got that ability to explain that. If you've got a client who just wants results, you're gonna get 'em, real quick. That's the thing I like about kettlebell training: It doesn't require you as a trainer or you as a practitioner to do anything other than basic workouts. You can already see the benefits from that. And you can apply them to any sort of situation. If you want speed, strength and endurance, you can do that. If you want high-tension workouts, you have that. If you have an interest in doing hypertrophy (building muscle), you have a program for that. And I never thought that a set weight could provide that, but I realized that with just the application of the different ways you use a kettlebells -you get a bunch of different tensions and different results.

I remember when I first saw the kettlebell I was like, 'Oh, it's just one single weight, and yeah, there's a couple variations, but how much can you do with one piece of equipment?' I mean, I've been exposed to some of the most elaborate training apparatuses there are. I quickly learned that the greatest thing about dealing with Pavel and all the products that he's put out with Dragon Door is that he really understands all about concept. If you understand the high concept, you really don't need elaborate equipment.

A lot of times, the more elaborate the equipment, the less useful it is. It actually dumbs down the experience. I think probably the greatest education I've received is that this simple piece of iron-basically a basketball with a handle on it-has so many different applications and so many different results you can get, it's just absolutely amazing. I'm just disappointed that more people haven't really grasped the situation, and what they can get.

People can purchase just a couple of pieces of equipment that they can put in a corner of their house, and they really don't need that much space. They can do it in their backyard, in the park…that's another thing I really like: I take my kettlebells to different areas. If want a different environment, I can go to a park. If I want to go camping or something, I bring it with me. I mean, it really is easy to just throw them in the car and take them wherever you want to go. I also work out in my house. It's a very versatile piece of equipment that way.

I couldn't in all good faith have a client now and merely teach them hand-to-hand combat. My challenge before was, a kid would ask me "How can I get in condition that has effective methods?" I had certain answers but a lot of times it required a dedication of time and travel that these people just couldn't have. They just weren't able to either get to the gym or facility that had all these types of equipment I would've recommended prior to kettlebells, or I knew that their schedules just wouldn't permit them to put at least the minimum amount of time to learn all the different techniques-how to correctly lift, what lift to get functional benefit out of what they were doing.

Ever since associating with Pavel and really getting to know the concepts and principles behind what the kettlebells can provide, now I don't see myself as giving clients complete information unless I inform them about kettlebell training, and how effective it is. So without any formal association or anything like that, I've just adopted this aspect and I point everyone I can to Dragon Door and Pavel and the concepts. And I would highly recommend it.

One of the best investments you can put in fitness equipment is to purchase a kettlebell.

I had been invited to the [Russian Kettlebell Challenge certification' before, but my schedule conflicts have just not provided…I was really excited to come to this one. I'll definitely be back, and not only that, my staff is all going to go through kettlebell training because I want my instructors to have first-hand knowledge.

Just talking about the seminar itself : I bought the videos, the books, and other outstanding products, but coming to a live training-there's just no substitution.

You're going to have Pavel himself, and he's going to take you through everything, and the instructor staff he provides-you've got a bunch of highly qualified individuals from a variety of different disciplines. That's what's really interesting: Some of these guys are professional trainers, some of them are professionals in other arenas and have taken a real interest in kettlebells, some of them are from the martial arts world. It's just a real breadth of knowledge. Their ability to make adjustments to your form and just give you training tips that are sometimes specific to your needs, it's just outstanding.

Probably the first 20 minutes of doing what I thought was a very basic movement, the swing, I quickly realized how off I was on some of my form. It's made a tremendous difference just in the last day and a half of what I've been able to accomplish. So I've got new knowledge that I'm going to share with my people as soon as I get back. It really reinforced to me that even though I was getting great results before with what I'd learned, the investment of coming to the seminar and actually taking time out to work with the instructors and Pavel…it's just been a quantum leap.

I'm really happy with the other people who have come. It's just a great group of people that you get to meet from a variety of different backgrounds and disciplines, but all with the same purpose. One thing I can say about everybody that is interested in this: If you're a person who wants to make sure that if you're going to invest the time in any sort of training or conditioning, that you are getting the maximum results in the minimum about of time-which I think is everyone's concern-then you're going to want kettlebell training.

I haven't found anything to date that can yield these results, and I'm probably one of the harshest critics of any sort of training.

There's a lot of great kinds of training out there, but either the time to learn it or the time required to train to actually get the results is just unrealistic. The great thing about most of the products I've got from Dragon Door is that everything is very time-efficient. The results you get far exceed the time you have to put in. You really change your perception of what you can achieve in a certain amount of time, and also, you don't have to spend years and years to learn this stuff. You can learn it very quickly.

Most people get really motivated to learn more background on why it's working or what it's doing, and things like that. There are those that will take an interest and really want to learn that, and you can if you want to. But if you just want a great, simple workout where you can learn some key movements you can use the rest of your life and immediately get benefits…we had a gentleman today, he was probably in about his mid-sixties, and in about 20 minutes, he was able to do a front squat with a racked kettlebell right up in his chest area, and he was able to do a rock bottom squat. And his comment to the class was "I haven't been that low in that position in 40 years." To me, that's absolutely amazing. I saw in the beginning his range of motion, but again, the principles that were put out worked right away.

And it's not some esoteric thing that you're going to say, "Well, maybe after years and years of breathing correctly, I'm gonna get this." No. Before, he didn't even break parallel, and then he was rock bottom. His hamstrings were touching his calves in perfect form, and he was really strong. So it's just amazing.

That's another thing: You think that just because you're getting older, you can't get the benefits. What's really great about kettlebells is that you quickly see that they provide a mobility in joints and tendons that you probably haven't felt in years. I'm 38, and I feel, since I've been doing this in the last year, year-and-a-half, that I probably have more mobility and more range of motion as a result of this training than I've had in the last ten years. I thought I had pretty good range of motion, pretty good joint mobility, but it wasn't until really the last six months of training with Pavel that I've been able to increase it substantially.

You just don't realize what you've lost. And that's what so great about a lot of the principles: very simple to understand, very easy to execute, but the results are just amazing.

D.D. : How do you think it affects striking?

T.L. : The integration of kettlebells forces you to really incorporate your core. There's so much isolation training out there, meaning you isolate a muscle and try to do, say, an arm curl, or a leg extension. It doesn't coordinate the body to work in unison. And the kettlebell forces you to basically have everything work in unison, especially the core. And anybody that really understands where your power comes from-it comes from your core. The explosiveness of being able to manipulate and move your hips and create true power in the body. One of the by-products of training with kettlebells is that you become more explosive; you're able to transfer more force into your strikes, and more power. Ultimately, that's what anybody in combat sports or anybody in a martial art is after. And yet a lot of the ways they train are absolutely counterproductive. They use a bodybuilding-type of workout that really doesn't do anything to help integrate the body.

What's so nice about kettlebells is that you're going to get the same body composition results, probably much faster, but you're going to have an integrated core by using the kettlebells that you wouldn't achieve using traditional methods. It absolutely integrates into your fighting, your explosiveness, and your strikes. Kicks also, believe it or not. If you're doing kettlebells, you're forcing yourself to set yourself in the correct motions. You can get more power because you really feel how your legs move through a full range of motion. How you explode out of a squat. It's all directly transferable.

Pavel was kind enough to come and give a presentation at my seminars, and it's been great. It's been instructive every time he's been able to do that. His principles-if something's right, it's right across the board. I have a very specific area that I deal with, which is imminent violence, particularly imminent criminal violence, meaning, if you don't take action, you're going to get hurt, maimed, or killed. So I have to be able to tell a client, "Here's a predictable set of responses that you can expect in a situation like this, and here's what you can do, regardless of size, speed, or athletic skill. Here's something you can depend on, how to quickly shut down the central nervous system."

What's great about the correlation between what I do in my arena and what Pavel does with his product line at Dragon Door, is the same direct results, meaning his principles are seen right away and the results are immediate. I think that's the number one comment I get today, and I get it a lot in my training, is that the takeaway is immediate. I take the approach when I'm training a client in hand-to-hand combat that this is the last time I'm going to see this person, so it does them no good to say, "Hey, in ten years you're going to get this," or "Keep practicing, and one day you'll achieve this." If I can't give them direct, verifiable results right off the bat, I feel like I've failed that client. Especially in my world, it's a life-or-death application, so I've gotta make sure that these guys have a takeaway right away.

If you utilize any of the information via Pavel's videos or books , the results are immediate. As long as you can read and understand something, you directly apply it. You see right away. And he gives you such great, small increments of information that you can easily test, that it's really idiot-proof. And that, to me, is the testament that it is high concept. Just the fact that it's so simple to understand.

You can get people who normally take a long time to understand something-they can get kettlebells immediately, as can a very intelligent person. That's what I really like about the correlation: The exact methods that I use to put out my information is really how I judge any other system. You know, "Can I get something out of this right away?" and, "Can you ask me a question and get an intelligent answer?" There's no ifs, ands or buts. That's the great thing about the Russian Kettlebell Challenge certification seminar. A question is given, directly. Usually the person who's asked the question comes right up and not only gets his question answered, but physically has to do what the challenge was. And it's usually something that prior to the demonstration, he could not do. That's what's so impressive: It's not that the instructor who's been doing it for years says, "This is how you do it." It's the same thing in my world-it doesn't matter what myself or my instructors can do in a hand-to-hand combat situation, because we're not going to be facing it for you when it comes to you. You're going to have to execute it. Same thing here. They understand that as soon as we go away [from' this weekend, we're going to have to be able to execute these drills and these exercises.

So they don't waste your time. They pull you up and they say, "Fine, you have a problem with this, this is how you do it." They give you the appropriate drills, and right then and there you do it. You see for yourself that a lot of the preconceived notions that you had about your limitations, be it range of motion, strength, ability, or whatever-a lot of times it's because you don't have the right information. They provide you with the right information, and right away you realize that your preconceived notions were really limiting you.

Some people go through life saying, "I have a bad back," or "I have a bad shoulder," or "I can only do this, that, or the other thing." You see very quickly that a lot of the "safe" information that's out that allows you to kind of slack off is actually incorrect. And that your body's capable of doing a lot of different things. This program can challenge you in a very safe manner and probably restore a range of motion that you haven't had in years.

That was the other thing that I thought was amazing: the number of guys that, prior to training with kettlebells had injuries and limits in their range of motion, and what they've been able to recover. I think that's why, once there's more exposure, people are really going to understand the versatility.

We had one instructor who had multiple shoulder injuries. He has a range of motion in his shoulders now that he hadn't experienced in years. A lot of people in my world, especially the special operations community just beat the hell out of ourselves over the years. We've done a lot of things that now, in our later years we're thinking, "Okay, I injured myself and I'm just going to have to live with that injury and this limited range of motion." You find, if you understand how the body works biomechanically, how you can use certain tension principles and a lot of other principles that Pavel introduces you to, that you can regain an awful lot of range of motion, and live a more pain-free life.

And again, we're talking about a basketball-shaped piece of iron with a handle on it! That's the amazing thing. We're not talking about some elaborate piece of equipment that measures 50 different things. It is a very basic piece of equipment with a very high concept behind it, and that's the greatest benefit.

To learn more about Tim and Target-Focus™ Training, visit .