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How kettlebells provide the ultimate strength and conditioning program for firefighters

January 18, 2011 10:19 AM

Tom Corrigan interviewed on why Russian Kettlebell Strength Training Provides the Ultimate Strength and Conditioning Program for Firefighters

Dragon Door: Can you talk a little about your career?

Tom Corrigan: I'm a professional firefighter and emergency medical technician with the Everett Fire Department. Everett's about 25 miles north of Seattle. It's where the big 747s are built. It's a working class town, very busy. We get a lot of calls for a city our size, about 100,000 people. Lot of fires, emergency medical problems, assaults, stabbings, shootings—and we go on all of them.

D.D.: Do you do some sort of physical training for that?

T.C.: See, that's what attracted me to the kettlebell. I was finding that the kind of gym workouts that you do-presses and squats, and all the different little arm machines and leg machines-they didn't really have a good carry over to the job.

In my job, we do a lot of whole-body lifting. We have to lift people who are unconscious, people that are very, very heavy and really can't help themselves. We don't lift a lot of things that have handles on them, like a dumbbell does. What good does a 20-pound dumbbell do you when you gotta lift up a 180-pound guy who's kind of saggy and conked out?

So you gotta have functional strength. You have to throw up a ladder. You have to grab huge pike poles that are two inches thick. You have to grab the Jaws of Life, and that has huge handles on it. It's very heavy, it's very awkward. Dumbbells don't train you for this, so how do you train for it?

I go to a massage therapist who's an advanced Rolfer, and he turned me on to He's a former powerlifter, martial artist, with a lot of knowledge in kinesiology and fitness. He said, "Boy, you gotta check this stuff out. It's really cool!" So I bought the Russian Kettlebell Challenge video and the 1 pood kettlebell, and started throwing it around about a year and a half ago. And I thought, "Wow! This is cool. This is really different. This is really hitting my hands and forearms, coordination, and the whole-body stuff."

So then Pavel came to Seattle in June of 2002; he came for a one-day kettlebell seminar. I thought, "I gotta take that." So I took the seminar, and the next day he taught two hours of Power to the People, two hours stretching, two hours abs, and I was just hooked.

I was a former high school history and English teacher, football coach, wrestling coach. I've been to numerous seminars with collegiate-level and NFL-level coaches, and all sorts of instructors from the top universities. In my mind, these all take a back seat to this Russian Kettlebell Challenge seminar in terms of instruction, and the way Pavel's able to get points across simply and clearly.

His eagle eye can find every little flaw, and he has a good way of correcting people: just focusing on the problem and how to fix it. It's never personal or petty. He jokes with people. He has an amazing touch as an instructor. I'm very impressed by him.

D.D.: Is there anything else you like about kettlebells, besides the boost they give you professionally?

T.C.: Well obviously, kettlebells are very compact. You can throw them in the back of a pickup truck, go somewhere, do a whole-body workout in 15-20 minutes or 30-40 minutes. That's the flexibility of it. You can work out 15-20 minutes every day, or you can work out 30-40 every second or third day.

You know, some of the guys at my job that I train with, they only do it twice a week. They just do two 45-minute sessions a week. Other guys, because of their schedules, it's just easier to do 10-15 minutes every day. And you work your whole body, which is very productive, efficient. Just like grabbing that hose, hauling it up-you're using your whole body.

D.D.: What made you want to come to this Russian Kettlebell Challenge certification weekend?

T.C.: One, I really wanted to work on my technique. Get it to where it was much more solid, and hopefully, learn how to instruct better. Because I'm starting my own personal training business. I've already talked to John Du Cane and Pavel about producing a tape for training firefighters. My opinion is that a lot of the firefighter training tapes is just rehashed bodybuilding stuff. They just do the same old exercises the same old way, just in new packaging.

I've looked at those programs by firefighters, and it's just gym stuff. In my mind, that's not the way to train to be a firefighter. You need to do whole-body stuff, but you don't want to go the powerlifting route, I think. That's too limiting. You need the explosiveness, the ballistics, you need the grinding exercises, you need the grip strength, you need the strong back.

And you need to be worked sometimes in kind of funny, awkward positions. You need to be holding stuff over the head, which a lot of training doesn't do. And work the stabilizers. When you're holding onto a hose pumping 250 gallons a minute, and you're fighting that energy, that takes a lot of stabilizers. There's nothing in the gym that can really train your stabilizers for that, because those little hamster machines, they only make you move one direction, for safety. You get in the real world, and you've got to have all those stabilizers going.

So that's what the kettlebells teach, because it's so live-it's swinging around in your hand and it's so off-balance. You have to fight it, so you use those stabilizers. And since you use those stabilizers, you'll be good to go in real life. When you've got a live load (and there's nothing more live than a fire hose) and it would fling all over, you gotta tense yourself and hold it, and hold it hard. You have to completely be in control of it, or you'd be injured and you're not going to put the fire out.

Same thing with putting up a ladder. That's a big 30, 40-foot thing, and you're slamming it up against a wall. The wind's kicking up a bit, it's awkward, it's a funny shape in your hand. And you gotta have those stabilizers working.

So I'm coming up with a video of how to grab kettlebells, how to lift them different ways, to simulate racking ladders, using a pike pole, using a chain saw, using a rescue saw, dragging hose along the ground-all the different tasks a firefighter does, I believe I can simulate very closely with kettlebell exercises, and that will have much more carry-over to real life.

D.D.: You have a gym, right?

T.C.: I'm with Dave Werner and Nick Nibbler, RKC, and we rented a space that's equipped like a gym. We're setting it up as a place where we can train and we can bring our own clients in to train. So it's not like a commercial gym open to the public. We invite people to come and be trained at a top-notch facility with top-notch instructors.

D.D.: And you said before that you sometimes did kettlebell workouts with firefighters you work with?

T.C.: Yeah. I've converted a few people to kettlebells. Some of the guys have really taken off, really enjoyed it, because they see the applicability of it. They see how it builds up your hands, builds up your wrists, builds up your grip, because you have to be able to drag hose and pull people.

If you wear an air mask, and a guy goes down, you gotta be able to grab onto his air strap and crawl along the ground and drag him out. I mean, there's so much smoke and heat, you can't stand up and grab somebody and walk out. The heat will get you. So you have to have the grip strength to grab somebody and drag them out on your hands and knees.

So I'm not sitting here knocking everybody else's training programs, but it's the same old thing. I just want to do something different.

Pay a virtual visit to the training center where Tom practices and teaches kettlebell drills at .

Tom Corrigan interviewed on why Russian Kettlebell Strength Training Provides the Ultimate Strength and Conditioning Program for Firefighters Tom Corrigan interviewed on why Russian Kettlebell Strength Training Provides the Ultimate Strength and Conditioning Program for Firefighters Tom Corrigan interviewed on why Russian Kettlebell Strength Training Provides the Ultimate Strength and Conditioning Program for Firefighters