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Top Kettlebell Instructor Ken Blackburn Discusses Unique Equipment!

Top instructor & strength teacher Ken Blackburn has taught kettlebell training to many... Find out more about this unique equipment and sport.

Article Summary:
  • Ken has been involved in martial arts since he was a child.
  • Ken's training goal is to attain Master of Sport in the Long Cycle.
  • Ken will be doing a section on agility training at the Age of Quarrel.

  • Interview With Ken Blackburn:
    Top Kettlebell Instructor And American Record Holder In The Jerk And Chair Press

    An all around fitness and martial arts training expert, Ken is the owner and head instructor of Extreme Athletic Training. He has taught kettlebell training to hundreds of students, and is one of the premiere functional strength teachers in the United States.

    Ken Is One Of The Premiere Functional Strength Teachers In The United States.
    + Click To Enlarge.
    Ken Is One Of The Premiere Functional
    Strength Teachers In The United States.

    His background in the martial arts has created a unique approach to training where the emphasis is on balanced conditioning while developing high levels of mobility and athleticism.

    Ken is also one of the top American kettlebell competitors and currently holds the American record in the jerk and is the 2007 World Champion in the Chair Press.

    Ken is the Director Of Operations for the International Kettlebell And Fitness Federation (IKFF). He teaches kettlebell certification courses all over the world with Steve Cotter. For more information on their certification program go to

    Ken will be one of the instructors at the Kettlebell Training In the Age Of Quarrel Workshops this Fall in NYC, Los Angeles and Panama.

    Can I Sign Up For The Age Of Quarrel Workshops?
    Unfortunately, the Age Of Quarrel Workshops are now over. Watch for future workshops with Ken on his website.

    [ Mike Mahler ] Tell us about your athletic background. How did you get into strength and conditioning?

      [ Ken Blackburn ] I've been involved in athletics and martial arts since I was a kid. In high school, I was into track (shot-put and discus), Tae Kwon Do ("king of the demo" I might add), Filipino martial arts and kickboxing. Of course, like any guy at that age, I wanted to look good as well and adhered to a conventional weight training protocol - plenty of bench presses, concentration curls and impromptu posing.

      During/after college, I was fortunate enough to train at Byrd's Boxing gym for a couple years alongside former heavyweight champion Chris Byrd. I learned a lot about functional conditioning at that time. Aesthetics were more or less irrelevant.

    Who is Chris Byrd?
    Chris Cornelius Byrd (born August 15, 1970) is a professional boxer. He is the former WBO and IBF heavyweight champion. His nickname is "Rapid Fire".

      In addition, there is something very cool and educational when you can watch a world class athlete like Chris in action. With the exception of Steve Cotter, I have never seen anyone move so effortlessly and athletically - gives you a powerful example to work from.

    [ MM ] How did you get into training others?

      [ KB ] In regards to training/coaching, I have been doing that since I was 15 years old. It sounds cliché, but it is fulfilling to help others reach their goals. There is a point when someone reaches a break through in their progress where they re-define what is possible for themselves - being part of that process is rewarding.

    [ MM ] When and why did you get into kettlebell training?

      [ KB ] My first exposure to k-bells was via a Steve Cotter workshop at my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu club in Walled Lake, MI. I've always been obsessed with athletics and conditioning and was hearing a lot of positive things about k-bells via books, articles and online forums.

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      After the workshop I was hooked. The exercises involved were multi-joint movements, worked the whole body simultaneously, required a certain degree of athleticism and mimicked the contraction rhythms associated with martial arts training. Plus, they are just plain fun to lift.

    [ MM ] Do you think kettlebell training is a fit for everyone or is there a particular type of trainee that will get the most benefit?

      [ KB ] I do think k-bell training is for everyone. It is not just for hard-core types or elite athletes. A great example is the diversity of competitors that attended the kettlebell competition at the Arnold Sports Festival. We had young kids, teenagers and people over 50 etc.

      It's a flexible enough tool to where it can be in alignment with almost any body type and fitness goal - weight loss, enhanced mobility, muscle hypertrophy, work capacity, joint health etc. The key is to ensure the program is congruent with the goal. That is one of the things we are going to clarify at The Age of Quarrel Workshops.

    Do You Incorporate Kettlebells In Your Training?

    What's A Kettlebell?

    [ MM ] There is a debate on the merits of various applications of kettlebell training. Some argue that the sole purpose of the kettlebell is for work capacity and that kettlebells are made for jerks and snatches. Others argue that kettlebells work great as a weight training implement. What is your take?

      [ KB ] I think it's in our nature to create walls around concepts. To narrowly define and categorize things - there is a comfort in that. However, k-bells are objects with variable resistance that can be used in a variety of ways. It's a flexible tool.

      The nature of its design makes some exercises more difficult and others more stable. It can be used for general fitness, competitive sport, juggling or a multitude of fitness goals. K-bells can also be used to develop maximal strength to a point. Eventually, it will make more sense to transition to a barbell in that regard.

      To continue purchasing bigger and bigger k-bells is both expensive and inefficient. That said, most people are going to find exercises like the double snatches with standard weight bells challenging regardless of fitness level.

    [ MM ] Do kettlebells work well when combined with other training implements or should the trainee focus solely on kettlebell training?

      [ KB ] I feel they are compatible with other training implements. As an example, I utilize k-bells, barbell jump squats, battling ropes, running and bodyweight exercises in my current training program.

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      I have also seen solid results with the canned oxygen, especially immediately after hard sets.

      Of course, this is just what I use. Supplementation should be customized to the individual. Get some blood work done and find out what you truly need and do not need. Otherwise, you could be wasting your money and potentially harming yourself.

    [ MM ] You are going to be doing a section on agility training at the Age of Quarrel courses in the fall. What are the benefits of agility training? Is it only for athletes or should everyone be doing some agility training? What can people expect to get out of your agility training material?

      [ KB ] At the end of the day, it's all about movement. Agility training can be thought of as a progression from joint mobility training. The joints are still working through a large range of motion but the coordination, flexibility, strength, explosion and kinesthetic awareness components are taken up a notch.

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      Developing the aforementioned attributes makes someone a better athlete, more resistant to injury and adds a fun/challenging element to workouts. Plus, this type of training has a way of advancing you neurologically where other movements seem easier and less taxing by comparison.

      A common question/complaint of agility training is that you can't easily integrate it into a training program. I disagree. I used this type of training consistently with my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu students. I would combine movements into all sorts of combinations (beginning and advanced) which would be done for 1-3 minute rounds - like shadowboxing, but more challenging and diverse.

      Depending on how it's configured, it's a great warm-up or finisher. The regressions and progressions are endless. The movements can be configured to fit a beginning or advanced trainee.

    RELATED VIDEO: Ken Blackburn
    Agility Drills #1!

    Ken Blackburn demonstrates some basic to intermediate agility drills.

    [ MM ] Great stuff Ken! Looking forward to working with you in October!

    Ken is the Associate Head Instructor and Director of Operations for the IKFF (International Kettlebell & Fitness Federation). To contact Ken or learn more about the IKFF and their certification program, you can reach him at

      Check Out Ken's Website Here.

    About The Author:

    Mike Mahler is a strength trainer and fitness information provider. He is currently work on a new book "Live Life Aggressively! What Self help gurus don't want you to know". Sign up for his free online magazine at