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How to Stay Physically Relevant—With Kettlebells, Interview with Chris Mackey, RKC

Chris Mackey Kettlebell Swing

Dragon Door: I saw that you're a science teacher, is that correct?

Chris Mackey: That's correct, I was a high school science teacher for 12 years, before switching to teaching middle school. Since then, I’ve been teaching middle school life science and earth science for the past 13 years.

Dragon Door: How did you get interested in kettlebells?

Chris Mackey: I got into kettlebells with a buddy of mine. His chiropractor in Minneapolis trained under Pavel. This chiropractor had also been a college or maybe even Olympic wrestler. After learning about kettlebells from his chiropractor, my buddy said I should try kettlebells. I started researching them—and how to use them—and have been working out with them now for about ten years. Unfortunately this was ten years without proper training, but I didn’t have any injuries because I have very good body awareness. I’d been a wrestler, gymnast, and runner in high school. I was on the crew team in college and have been physically active all my life.

Dragon Door: And you recently did both the HKC and then the RKC?

Chris Mackey: Yes, within a year. I love this stuff. While I wish I hadn't gotten into kettlebells so late in life, a lot of this information wasn’t out there when I was younger.

Dragon Door: How did you decide to go for your HKC certification?

Chris Mackey: At the middle school, I run a weight room three times a week in the morning. I usually have between 8 and 20 kids working out. We have two full sets of double kettlebells all the way up to 32kg. I don’t know how I did it, but I convinced the athletic director to get them for me. We're a very small school district so it was quite an investment. Because I’ve been training kids with kettlebells, I knew I needed "hands-on, eyes-on" training to learn the proper technique to make sure I didn’t mess these kids up. That's the big thing, do no harm first. So, I went to the HKC to learn.

Dragon Door: Are you training them in a group class or classes? Do they all work out together?

Chris Mackey: It's a structured group class and I set out a workout for them. Early in the year, I teach them skills—but we’re still working out hard because I want them to come back! They feel achievement.

Dragon Door: When did you start training groups in the weight room?

Chris Mackey: I've been at it for about 10 years.

Dragon Door: How was your experience at the HKC? What was one of the biggest things you learned?

Chris Mackey: I learned so much. After about 15 minutes into the HKC workshop, I realized how much I didn’t know! That was the biggest thing, there was so much to learn and I was able to bring all of that back to the kids which was really cool.

Dragon Door: Which HKC movement(s) do you think have been most helpful for them?

Chris Mackey: The swing, the goblet squat, and the get-up.

Dragon Door: All three—that makes sense. Are your classes for student athletes or are they open to all students?

Chris Mackey: It’s for the students, but anyone who wants to show up and train is welcome. In fact, I've had parents come and stay. The guy I did the RKC with, Ivan Sackett, got interested in kettlebells by coming with his kids. Every year we have an invitation for parents to see what the kids are doing, and then the parents get a chance to try a workout. He came to one of the special sessions, then kept with it.
Chris Mackey And Ivan Bottom up Kettlebell Press

When we learned that the RKC was coming to our area, we knew what we needed to do! I wanted deeper knowledge, just for the kids. There’s so much beyond the HKC three, and there was also a personal challenge.

Dragon Door: How long did you and Ivan prepare for the RKC?

Chris Mackey: Six months. I called up William Sturgeon who had been at the HKC. I knew that I didn’t know enough to train both of us to prepare for the RKC, since I didn’t really know what would be coming down the pike at the workshop! William helped us through email and videos, and did a great job helping us get ready.

Dragon Door: What do you think was the most challenging part of preparing for the RKC?

Chris Mackey: Mental toughness. Ivan and I had a program and we were able to work out together most of the time—but then we'd need to do other workouts by ourselves three times a week. There wasn’t as much joy in it when I was trying to get through a workout by myself. I found out that having a connection with other people—we like to call it the tribe—while we’re working out can make it easier. You’re held accountable. If we can make those connections and build a fellowship, we can get better results.

Dragon Door: Now that you've done the RKC, what's your next goal?

Chris Mackey: There’s an RKC-II coming up, but we're going to do that another time. There's so much information from the RKC and we want to hone our skills before we move ahead.

Dragon Door: There's a lot to digest. What advice do you have for someone who is considering doing the HKC or RKC, and who might not be a fitness professional?

Chris Mackey: Just do it, but find someone to do it with!

Dragon Door: Andrea Du Cane mentioned that you'd gotten a friend to do the RKC with you and I thought that was very cool.

Chris Mackey: Actually Ivan got me to do it! I trained him after I passed the HKC, and then he offered to pay my way for the RKC! I said I’d pay my own way, but that I would do it. Now, after completing the RKC, he comes to the school in the mornings and helps me train the kids. I also train my daughter who has three jobs, and one of those jobs is modelling. Her goal was to get a workout in with at least 100 swings and we're going to ramp that up now.

Dragon Door: What inspires you to keep training, and train others with kettlebells?

Chris Mackey: I had a broken body. After college, I’d worked in construction which messed up my lower back, knees, and shoulders. Kettlebell training really allows me to stay relevant in my life. I’m able to function at the same level as I did 15-20 years ago—and I'm smarter now, I don't do the same things I did back then. That's one of the reasons I like the get-up so much—my shoulders were messed up, and I had tight hips, and a tight lower back. But when I started doing get-ups, it allowed me to work them out and I’ve regained mobility.

Chris Mackey Dragon Flag
Dragon Door: Do you see yourself staying with your career as an educator?

Chris Mackey: Yes, I will keep teaching science until I get tired of it! I’ve been teaching for 25 years and don’t know when I’ll retire—I haven’t thought about it. When Ivan and I were at the RKC, it was so cool because we were able to train with a room full of professionals. The atmosphere was wonderful, and everyone was so supportive. It was great. All the people I've met in RKC, HKC, and Dragon Door have been top notch.

Dragon Door has been such a great source of information, I have all of Al and Danny's books, Zach Even-Esh's Encyclopedia of Underground Strength Training, and Phil Ross’s Ferocious Fitness. Dan John simplified putting workouts together with the four basic movements and a carry. When I walk into the room and train those kids, I stand on the shoulders of giants. A big reason I want to train and keep learning—along with wanting to stay physically relevant until I’m in the grave—is that I’ve got a bunch of kids who don't move well. They need more than a bench press (which is what they think they need) when they can’t even do a proper push-up yet. So, we train and we’ll talk about a bench press when they can do 30 great push-ups in a row.

Dragon Door: It’s so great for them to have a role model like yourself who is able to move well and train them.

Chris Mackey: It would be cool to see more high school athletic coaches getting their HKC or RKC to train the kids. The RKC taught me—and really broke it down—how I could train up to 15-20 kids at the same time effectively.

ChrisMackeyKettlebellSwing thumbnailChris Mackey, RKC leads a morning workout group at the Fall Creek School District. He can be contacted at