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Interview with Chawkeen Graham, Coach at The Gymnastics Factory, Individual Winner, KETTLE PRT 1 and 2

Chawkeen Graham Deadlift MAX

Dragon Door: I remember watching you compete—and win—last year, what inspired you to compete in the KETTLE PRT again?

Chawkeen Graham: I used to train at Rob Miller’s gym. Last fall he called to tell me about a kettlebell competition, and to see if I would be interested in joining. He said it was coming up soon, but he could add me to a team. I wanted to try something different, so I said yes. I train with kettlebells every once in a while, so before the competition, I had to brush up on my technique. When the second one came along in the spring, Rob contacted me again to see if I would be interested in defending my title and competing again. I thought that sounded like fun!

Dragon Door: What's your athletic background?

Chawkeen Graham: While growing up, I played a variety of sports. When I was younger, I played the main three—football, basketball, baseball—along with a little bit of martial arts when I was a lot younger. In college I played a little soccer and then gymnastics. Now I've been coaching gymnastics ever since (about 5-6 years). A few years ago I was introduced to CrossFit and have been doing that for about 4 years. Just now, I’ve started rock climbing a little bit, too.

Dragon Door: You mentioned training with kettlebells, but not all the time. How do you usually train?

Chawkeen Graham: I compete and train in CrossFit, and train about five days a week. Each time I train, I spend a few hours in the gym working on a variety of things along with following my weekly programming. It keeps me in shape and prepared for whatever may come along.

Dragon Door: That’s one of the most interesting things about KETTLE PRT, there's so much variety in the events. If a competitor focuses too much on one event, it will probably be detrimental to the other ones. What was the most difficult event for you?

Chawkeen Graham: The one that was the toughest at the time—because it also followed everything—was the complex. I thought it was especially difficult because it was right after the deadlifts. So, we were already fatigued, sore, and tight. I had to just fight though the complex which is also tiring and technical. When it's all put together and for time, it gets your heart rate up and you have to keep going! That’s a tough one!

The most technically difficult event, and the one I was the most nervous about was the Turkish get-up. It’s also something I don’t do very often, which made it more difficult as a max strength movement. I finished with the 40kg kettlebell which was the same one I used last time, too. I was kind of playing it safe this year, because I didn’t have that much time to work on the movement. Hopefully next time I will be able to go a little heavier.
Chawkeen and Kettlebell

Dragon Door: The variety of events encourages people to be strategic. Do you have any tips for preparing a strategy?

Chawkeen Graham: Stay well rounded with all the movements. Don't focus on one too much unless it’s one of your main weaknesses. If one of the events is a weakness, then work on it until you’re confident and comfortable with it—because it’ll be on your mind until you're done with it at the competition. The get-up was in my mind until I did it, and it was a relief to get it done!

Dragon Door: The get-up is somewhat near the beginning of the competition—at least I remember it that way from last year…

Chawkeen Graham: Yes, it's the second event, after the pull-ups. The first event is pull-ups, and it warms up your arms so that you're ready to dive right into the get-up.

Dragon Door: Which event was the strongest for you?

Chawkeen Graham: I'd say the deadlift was probably my strongest one. I did 575 this time.

Dragon Door: Wow, and then you had to do the complex next!

Chawkeen Graham: Yes. You can see how that would really be a struggle. This year the complex was a double kettlebell clean, a squat, a press or jerk to get the kettlebells overhead, then swing though down to renegade rows on each arm. We repeated the complex for a total of five minutes.

Dragon Door: You mentioned that you were added to a team the first time, did you form a team of your own this time?

Chawkeen Graham: They added me to a team again! I basically met all my teammates for the first time when I got to the competition. I did remember a couple of them from the first competition. But, this time, one of our teammates got sick the week of the KETTLE PRT, so he had to cancel at the last minute. We had to scrounge for a replacement. Luckily, someone I train with was able to join the team. He was skeptical about it at first, but by the end of the competition he was happy that he did it.
Chawkeen With KETTLE PRT Team

Dragon Door: It is a lot of work, could you describe the amount of volume and the challenge of the whole day for us?

Chawkeen Graham: It was broken into different heats this time, so it was a little more structured and didn’t take as long. There were also more judges which worked out well. It is a lot of volume with all the different events—there's the pull-up, the get-up, snatch test, Beast Tamer, deadlift, complex, and relay. I did all seven events which made for a pretty long and taxing day.

Dragon Door: So you did the relay at the end as well! That was a killer last year! If you could build a team, what approach would you take?

Chawkeen Graham: If I was building my own team I would try to find well-rounded athletes who are at least somewhat familiar with the exercises and workouts. If they're kind of new to the events, it would help to have a background in general training—kind of like the teammate who we added as a last minute replacement. He is a well-rounded athlete. We train together and do a lot of volume on a regular basis, so it wasn’t as big of a deal for him to do this amount of work. The team also needs people who are willing to train for a diverse challenge, work hard for a long day, and who will have a fun time.

Dragon Door: What advice would you have for someone considering competing in the KETTLE PRT next time?

Chawkeen Graham: Look forward to a fun, challenging day. It is a great community. Everyone was nice and worked together. Even though I didn’t know many of the people going in, everyone was willing to help, push, and cheer each other on. In general, be prepared for the workouts because it will be a long, tough day. You're going to be feeling sore the next day!

Ease into training for the competition, and don’t try to take it all on at once because you'll find yourself hurting and feeling tired. It’s important to learn how to manage your time with the volume of the event. And you will be spending a lot of time at the gym training for it—sometimes even learning new techniques for the events. It takes even more time to learn and practice some of the more technical, skillful movements. Take the time to learn and practice each movement, that’s the approach I would recommend. I’m still working to get better at the events, and have a lot of room for improvement.

Dragon Door: Did you do anything differently for your second KETTLE PRT?

Chawkeen Graham: The first time, the competition was totally new to me, but at the second one I had more experience. This time I knew what to expect, which was a mental confidence boost. I was prepared and ready. They changed some of the rep schemes for the relay at the end, but otherwise the events were very similar. This time was definitely better because I knew what I was getting myself into! Still, my nerves were still going and it’s a good adrenaline rush.

Dragon Door: It sounds like there will be more KETTLE PRT competitions in the future, do you plan on competing again?

Chawkeen Graham: Yes I certainly do! I feel like everybody should at least try it once. It’s a good time and you meet a bunch of new people who are also into fitness. At first I didn’t even realize there would be an award for an individual winner. I thought it was mainly a team thing, so the individual win the first time around was a surprise.
The second time I knew about the prize, but was mainly focused on the team. With the teams in competition it’s great because there are more people to share the responsibility, and it’s more fun. Try it, and don’t be nervous to the point that it holds you back!

Chawkeen Graham Deadlift thumbnailChawkeen Graham coaches at The Gymnastics Factory. He can be contacted by email or on Facebook: