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"People's Captain" Tames The BEAST—Lives Life Hard, Full and Furious…

January 17, 2011 05:24 PM

Say hello to Thomas Phillips, a man who pummeled the word "quit" out of the dictionary. He has been the EAS Grand Master Champion, a Master class Raw Power Lifter, and a competitive Natural Bodybuilder. A highly respected personal trainer, he has been featured in countless books and magazines for his physical prowess and physique, but nothing had prepared Phillips for his first attempt at what is dubbed "The BEAST Challenge."

Fail, fail, fail…succeed, succeed, succeed, succeed, succeed, succeed…

Back in 2006, he was one of the first to try and tame it… and one of the first to fail (for the time being). This colossal challenge included being able to strict military press, full pistol squat, and perform, precisely, a tactical pull-up with The BEAST, Dragon Door's 106-pound kettlebell. At the time, Phillips managed the pull-up, but the Beast bested him on the rest.

"In 2006, it was harder than I expected. It was a little frustrating. I am very competitive so I tried the press and pistol more than once. It was hairy to say the least" he said.

But, he wasn't about to stop there. His competitive spirit drove him forward to try again and he succeed two years later. Using his RKC training and powerlifting knowledge, he was able to get in shape, prepare, and take it on a second time.

The impressive results of taming Dragon Door's heaviest kettlebell

Wrangling the BEAST to victory over a year ago, Phillips comments that he is "now stronger overall, I have more lean mass on my body and have improved my techniques tremendously. I do a lot of weighted pull-ups in my training and some heavy over head presses … the pistol comes easy for me now that my max barbell squat is up near 500 lbs."

Thomas Phillips on his way to joining a rarefied group—The Beast Tamer Hall of Fame

The Training is the Key: Phillips' advice for those trying to tackle the BEAST

"Definitely practice the techniques of kettlebells taught by Pavel and the RKC system: how you should move, your grip, your eyes, your feet … what you are thinking about. It all makes a difference. I wrote an article called "So…You Wanna Press the Beast.' ( Since I wrote it, I have learned a lot more about eye positioning, different mobility and corrective drills, not to mention my nutrition has been pretty much perfect," he said, insisting, "these things probably made the biggest difference. If you don't know what is wrong you can't fix it. So many things can stop progress and you need to know how to overcome those obstacles that are holding you back."

He understands the importance of the RKC training. In fact, he has done every major certification including the RKC I, RKC II and CK-FMS. Because of these, and his various other accomplishments, Phillips was selected to be a Team Leader by Pavel Tsatsouline more than two years ago.

Transforming the bodies of America

"When you combine diet with kettlebells, people can completely transform their bodies, get stronger and lose weight," he said. Phillips and his wife, Jody, not only utilize these practices on themselves, but they teach others too.

Together they own Fit for Life (a personal training facility in Marlboro, NJ). He and his staff have been there for more than six years, but Phillips, himself, has been training people for 14 years. He began implementing kettlebells into his facility nearly six years ago.

Fit for (Every) Life

"At Fit for Life, we very much believe in leading by example, we love to compete and enjoy training immensely. When people work out together or with a trainer they can keep each other motivated and get important feedback on form and technique; that is the real advantage of personal training," he added.

Phillips's clients are generally 30-65 years old and come to him from all walks of life. He stays extremely busy with as many as 57 appointments per week. But he is not alone. He has two other full-time trainers (including his wife Jody, who is also an RKC, and his level 4 Z-health trainer Steve Pucciarelli), and one part-timer on hand. Phillips' facility does close to 200 private appointments per week as well as the various group classes they offer including boot camp classes, kettlebell classes, and Z-health classes.

Bringing it to the kids: sharing incredible knowledge

When not training clients at Fit for Life, he teaches high school special education math and philosophy full time. His work week is over 80 hours! When appropriate, Phillips devotes time to teaching his students and colleagues about nutrition and physical fitness at no charge.

In addition, he extends a helping hand at various RKC certification workshops. As an RKC Team Leader, he motivates and inspires his fellow RKCs-in-the-making, pitching in whenever needed.

A powerful captain to lead the (undefeated) People

To go along with his other responsibilities, Thomas is also captain of the Power to the People deadlift team and one of the founders and present organizers of the National Tactical Strength Challenge.

The Power to the People team involves competing in a sanctioned powerlifting event once a year. The deadlift is the choice event of this group. Working as a team, the competitors total a max weight and post a total for other teams to try and beat; so far, they are undefeated.

The next event is January 2010 in Florida at the Raw Unity meet. "It is a single event deadlift, or full power meet, if a lifter chooses. Up to ten people compete together; we always have a blast!" For information on competing on the Power to the People deadlift team, e-mail Thomas at

Thomas Phillips aces the deadlift

How the Elite train for a Challenge

When it comes to training with kettlebells, Phillips likes to do a lot of heavy swings, cleans, double cleans, certain types of presses, a lot of weighted lunges and pull-ups. "For me, it is important to pick the right things at the right time because I compete in strength sports as well as bodybuilding," he said.

The National Tactical Strength Challenge is run two times a year in April and again in September. The competition involves a max-effort deadlift, tactical pull-ups for repetition and the 5-minute kettlebell snatch test.

Phillips has finished first in both the Elite and Open divisions on multiple occasions and has recently produced a DVD on training for the Tactical Strength Challenge, as well as insights into the various techniques of the required lifts from the event. The competition draws close to 200 competitors from around the world. For more information, visit Email Phillips for information on his newly released DVD.

From the pros to the average Joes, you gotta fix 'em first

Phillips implements his customized approach to his own clients too, knowing that one size, most definitely, does not fit all. Phillips states:

"Many people require corrective work first. When someone comes in off the street, they may not be able to do Kettlebells at first. We follow the Z-Health suggestions for assessment as well as the CK-FMS to get clients prepared to take on more loaded work later.

Basically, we put them through specific exercises based on their FMS score. We are not going to load someone if they can't even do a body weight squat or push-up. We have to teach them how to mobilize the body and create tension where and when appropriate. We may have them do corrective exercises and mobility work anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on their history before we move them toward kettlebells and various other loaded work."

Big results (and smaller waists)

Make no mistake, his clients see BIG results. He has several clients who have lost over 30-40 pounds doing his nutritional program. He currently has almost 50 clients following his nutritional protocol (a 16-week program broken into four phases). Right now, those clients have lost almost 1000 pounds collectively as they move into phase four!

For this Beast tamer, physical training and competition are his life. His wife, Jody, is also a competitive figure athlete. "She is 41 and goes up against the 22-year-olds and beats them," he beamed. "She finished third in the open division in the biggest competition that the OCB holds; she is an inspiration to me and our clients." Phillips also stays busy with his 9-year-old daughter, Julia, and 12-year-old son, Jordan.

A marriage of champions—Thomas and Jody

With "quit" eradicated from his vocabulary, somehow this RKC Team Leader, Power to the People Team Captain, and Beast Tamer still has time to train himself, train his clients, and be dad.

For more information about his facility, visit

Could you be the next Beast Tamer?

Do you think you have what it takes to be inducted into Dragon Door's "The Beast Tamer Hall of Fame?" Do you want to become one of the very few, and elite, RKCs to grace that list?

For those that dare, "The Beast Tamer Challenge" is held at each of Pavel's RKC Certification Workshops. We'll see you there, comrade.

Go to to find a workshop near you.