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Optimal Function, Optimal Metabolics, Interview with Daryl Jelle, RKC

Daryl Jelle, RKC kettlebell get-ups
Dragon Door: Since you have an exercise science degree, at what point did you decide to pursue a sports and fitness career?

Daryl Jelle: Like most people, I played sports in high school. My best friend and I also worked out together to get stronger so that we could continue to play in college. After a spinal injury prevented me from continuing to play football, I decided the next best thing to playing football would be coaching football. So I could learn more about coaching, I decided I needed to be in the weight room with the team. This was when I decided to dedicate my college years to studying strength and conditioning instead of football.

Dragon Door: What did you do next after graduation?

Daryl Jelle: My mom went high school with Iowa State’s strength and conditioning coach—and he had just won the NSCA Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year Award. If I decided to go to Iowa State, he would be able to offer me a volunteer position in the weight room. After I spent one year at a local division three college taking care of my general education classes, I transferred to Iowa State and volunteered in the weight room under his supervision. I helped with the football team there for the next three years. It was an awesome learning experience.

Dragon Door: What were some of the biggest lessons you learned during that time?

Daryl Jelle: During my time at Iowa State, I learned the importance of single leg strength for balance and stability. I also saw that it’s important for athletes to have the ability to be explosive through the hips and strong through the core. Then, I learned the formalities of the weight room. We were expected to be on time, and the players were supposed to work together as a team to build each other up. A lot of team bonding happens in the weight room, it’s where the team works together to get stronger and win as a team.

Dragon Door: How would you describe your job as a metabolic specialist at Lifetime?

Daryl Jelle: Essentially, I do a VO2Max test on an individual. With that information we find out the heart rates which burn the most fat for that person. From there we program their conditioning workouts. If they are training on a treadmill for example, we can program the speeds and target heart rates they’ll use so that they’re burning the most fat possible. We create appropriate programs for each client so that they’re not doing the same workouts all the time—and so that they train different energy systems.

Dragon Door: How did you become interested in kettlebells?

Daryl Jelle: Because I went through a few different phases in my training, it took me a while before I was interested to learn about kettlebells. When I was at Iowa State, I only wanted to be a bodybuilder. During my graduate work at Winona State, I realized the importance of being strong, so my training had a powerlifting emphasis. After my time at Winona State, I wanted to be strong and athletic, so I started strongman training.

When I started working at Lifetime Fitness, I realized I wanted to be strong, athletic, and in shape. Since I was going to be running conditioning programs, I figured I should probably be able to do them! I found Dan John’s 10,000 kettlebell swing article, and thought it sounded like a good challenge—so I did it. Then for the next two years I pretty much only did kettlebell swings mixed in with my conditioning training.

After I had my second kid, I decided to change my training altogether. I had been doing strongman training when our first kid was a baby, but changed to a more functional almost CrossFit style training because I could tell I was getting weaker with less sleep. I did that for two years, then when we had our second kid, I decided to focus my training entirely on kettlebells. That’s when I knew I needed to figure out more than just the swing!

I found Levi Markwardt, an RKC instructor in Iowa. He helped me with get-ups, kettlebell snatches, and clean and jerk programming. I trained with these programs for 5-6 months religiously up to the RKC weekend. Now, I always use these movements in my workouts!

Dragon Door: What inspired you to pursue your RKC Certification?

Daryl Jelle: One of my clients runs a foundation called Folds of Honor. After he heard about the 10,000 swing challenge, he wanted me to do a "swings for charity" event. I decided that since people would be following me on social media—I posted all of my workouts online—that I should have some kind of accreditation to prove that I knew what I was doing! So, I did 15,000 kettlebell swings in thirty days with a 70lb kettlebell and raised $15,000! Since the Dragon Door RKC is all things kettlebell, I knew that was the certification I wanted.
Daryl Jelle and Folds Of Honor

After Levi helped me with my training, he said, "Go get certified!" So, I did! He does get-ups with his bodyweight, then snatches for 30 minutes straight! Since he lives about two and a half hours from me, I found him online and we emailed back and forth to work on my training. I knew I wanted to train differently, and doing 20 minutes of snatches without setting the kettlebell down was definitely something I had never done before!

Dragon Door: How did you prepare for the RKC?

Daryl Jelle: Under Levi’s tutelage, I did a linear progression of continuous snatches every 30 seconds as part of a four-days-a-week program. I would snatch on Monday and Thursday, switching hands every thirty seconds. For the first week I did five snatches on each side, then held the kettlebell in the rack until the thirty seconds was up before switching hands. This really built up the muscular endurance in my upper back. Then I progressed to doing 6 snatches each 30 seconds, then 7. We would go for 10 minutes, and kept progressing to 14 minutes and beyond.

After the snatch workouts, we did a continuous clean and press get-up combination. At the standing position in the get-up, I would switch hands with a swing, then clean and press the kettlebell on the other side—and then get back down again. We did this for a continuous 10 minutes—without setting the kettlebell down! Since I knew I could already do the RKC Snatch Test at my test weight (24kg), Levi said to do all of these workouts with the 28kg. At first I thought that wouldn’t be a big deal but I got wrecked the first time I tried it! On other days we practiced cleans, presses, and front squats, and mixed in some burpee pullups for extra conditioning. After a rest day we got back to it with a fourth day of super heavy single arm swings on the minute and more presses.

Dragon Door: It sounds like you came to the certification with very good conditioning!

Daryl Jelle: I did! I knew I could do the snatch test, but in some ways I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I've always been strong enough that I could muscle my way through anything, but the RKC Workshop was more focused on attention to detail and the lines of every movement. When I saw how these details and techniques tied everything together, I began to realize that there was a lot more to the get-up than just keeping the kettlebell overhead while standing up. I learned about hand and knee placement, and all the alignments. At one point on the first day I started to worry that I didn't know what I was doing!

But on day two, I started to settle in. Of course I always am nervous about testing, but was confident about the snatch test—especially when I found out that we were allowed to set the kettlebell down if necessary. I passed the test with a methodical pace instead of trying to break any world records!

Dragon Door: What were some of the biggest things you learned at the RKC Workshop?

Daryl Jelle: Definitely a lot on the technical side of things. Before the RKC, I never really understood the hand and knee placement with the get-up. I had just been finding a way to get the weight up to the top. The other really big thing was with the breath—I had been exhaling at the top of the swing instead of breathing through the hip drive.

I really liked the focus and attention to detail—and how everybody was there to help and build each other up, even though we all came from different backgrounds. Everyone had something to offer. During the workshop, we each partnered up with many different people, guys and girls, old and young. It was super cool to get other honest opinions and perspectives. The master instructor, Andrea Du Cane was so technically sound. With her guidance along with the two assistants, William and Eric, we covered a lot of technique in an efficient way—but with an attention to detail that was super intensive. It wasn't like any certification that I had done before.

I have several certifications, and the RKC was hands down the most through, detailed, knowledge-based, science-based certification that I’ve been to. At many other certifications, they hand you a test, grade it, then hand back your paper. At the RKC, Andrea took the time to meet with us afterwards which was awesome. I loved the community and camaraderie.

DarylJelle, RKC and Metabolic SpecialistDragon Door: How are you using what you learned with your clients?

Daryl Jelle: Many of my clients had already been doing kettlebell swings, but now I also have all of them doing some variation of a get-up. Since no one else teaches get-ups at my gym, at first they thought I was making it up! But, my clients are now starting to see the benefits of the get-up. Since we sometimes have limited space at my facility, we also do a lot of kettlebell front rack work for squats. Some of the clients I work with tend to be a little older and they don’t have the flexibility or mobility to do front or back squats with a barbell. So, we use kettlebells instead of barbells or machines for them—and we do a lot of goblet squats and movements with the kettlebell in the front rack. Kettlebells and bodyweight training are now 90% of my training—before it had only been about 10%!

Dragon Door: What benefits have your clients experienced with this change?

Daryl Jelle: By just implementing the get-up in their training, their body awareness and mobility have improved—especially after applying the technique improvements I learned at the RKC. People like being strong overhead, so they also liked being strong with the get-up. It’s all-encompassing with core strength, single leg strength, single arm strength, coordination, balance and mobility. I’ve also noticed how much my clients enjoy kettlebell training.

My own passion for training has changed, since I feel like I’m still very new to kettlebells. While I focused on them for only six months before going to the RKC, my single leg strength has definitely improved. I used to spend a lot of time doing toes-to-bar, GDH sit-ups and all that stuff, but by just doing tons of get-ups and front rack movements, my core has gotten a lot stronger. I know that my mobility has improved because I can get in a much better barbell front rack position now than with a back squat. Kettlebells have resolved some of the mobility issues I had had. And kettlebells are always available—you can always do something. I learned from Levi that even if you only have 10 minutes, you can get a pretty good snatch workout in if you just stand in the corner and snatch!

Dragon Door: Now that you have earned your RKC, what’s your next goal?

Daryl Jelle: I will definitely be pursuing the RKC-II. I’d like to climb the ranks and see where the RKC journey will take me. So, next on the list is the RKC-II. The Beast Tamer Challenge is also in the back of my mind. At the RKC, I was able to clean and half press the beast, so it’s a long term goal. But, I definitely want to get my RKC-II before I have to recertify, that's for sure!

DarylJelleTGU thumbnailDaryl Jelle, RKC is a Metabolic Specialist at Lifetime Fitness in Minnetonka, MN. He can be contacted at or Follow him on Instagram: @daryljelle