My Interview with President of International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation (IKFF), Steve Cotter
Eric Astrauskas: When did you start training with kettlebells?
Steve Cotter: I was first exposed to kettlebells in 2002. Self-trained initially, because of my extensive background in martial arts prior to that point, I picked up the basics very quickly. After 1 year of self training I attended Pavel Tsatsouline's course and he asked me to be a Sr. Instructor in his program. That said I would say that I did not receive any legitimate kettlebell instruction until 2006 when I first met Valery Fedorenko.
Eric Astrauskas: What are some kettlebell lifts you cannot perform with standard dumbbells?
Steve Cotter: In general, any high repetition ballistic or fast lifts are not well suited for dumbbells because of the shape, whereas you can do many more reps of the same ballistic lift with a kettlebell of equivalent load, because the hand stays in neutral position with kettlebells and thus the grip can last much longer before fatiguing.
Of course you also cannot do any type of juggling with a dumbbell as can be done with kettlebells.
Eric Astrauskas: What are your favourite kettlebell lifts?
Steve Cotter: My favorite will vary from time to time. It has more to do with what lifts I am focusing on at any given phase. For a period it may be snatch, at other times jerk, other times clean and jerk. I prefer in general the core lifts rather than the exotic lifts or feats of strength. There is a lot of satisfaction in the simplicity of the basic core lifts.
Eric Astrauskas: What exercises in your routine do not include kettlebells?
Steve Cotter: Again it depends upon the phase of training, but things like fat grip pull-ups and dips, either weighted or unweighted, various stretching, running, some basic barbell lifts like DL and squat or every once in a while some of the sand bag lifts.
Eric Astrauskas: Have you ever been injured training with kettlebells? If so, what was your injury?
Steve Cotter: I have not ever been injured from using kettlebells. I think injuries occur only when a person does too much volume or too heavy load too soon, or fails to adequately prepare with an appropriate warm-up, or complicates things by doing lifts that he has no control over. I know my body well and stick to my skill set and level, so injuries do not occur.
Eric Astrauskas: Why do you think kettlebell training and kettlebell sport is starting to become more popular in North America?
Steve Cotter: Because kettlebells has had a presence for 10 years now in North America and it is inevitable that after a few years of consistent KB training, a person will either seek to progress or stop using them altogether. KB sport is the one focused way to progress using kettlebells if KB is the main focal point of training. This is not to say that using KBs for GPP is the same, such as an athlete in a different sport using KB as part of his cross-training. But for KB lifters, KB Sport is the highest level of skill, highest level of conditioning and highest level of performance. So anyone who wants to keep progressing will sooner or later move into the sport and play with the big dogs. Also, because it is a sport, there is a tangible goal-setting process involved, which keeps the lifter on task. Working out is not a sport, and so the goals are more difficult to quantify. KB sport takes the randomness out of it.
Eric Astrauskas: What sport(s) does kettlebell training carry-over to well?
Steve Cotter: If you look at KB training, it is a Strength-Power-Endurance protocol, not one or the other but a combination of all 3, with an additional high degree of flexibility and mobility involved. These qualities are present in many sports. Since KB training combines so many important physical attributes and develops the whole body as a functional unit, it has a lot of carry over to most sports, some more than others of course.
A great fit for KB training is MMA, quite because a MMA fighter, like a good KB lifter, has to have many physical attributes developed. In other words they both have to be well-rounded athletes, strong, powerful and well-conditioned. Both require strong legs, shouders and grips, with a lot of stamina. That is one example. But many sports gain value from the carry-over that KBs offer.
For example, I created a program specifically for tennis players and have a brand new DVD program highlighting this program, called Kettlebells for Tennis. Now from a distance it might beg the question, “what does kettlebells have to do with tennis, they are totally different”. However upon closer look, we can see that tennis, like many sports requires power, From the Ground Up, meaning the power for effective tennis strokes start with the feet, move up the legs, transfer through the hips and waist, and is expressed through the hands. So from a mechanical perspective, a well-developed KB training program has a lot a positive carry-over into the strength and conditioning of a tennis players, who need to be fit and mobile and agile, not to mention mentally tough. Some high level coaches agree, such as the coach of current 3-time consecutive NCAA champions USC Men’s Tennis program, Peter Smith. Coach Smith and other professional coaches actually appear on the Kettlebells for Tennis DVD discussing how and why kettlebells are beneficial for tennis athletes.
These are just a few examples of sports in which KB training can benefit the athlete.
Eric Astrauskas: Do you train with any other ancient tools that are not in the mainstream (for example, Indian clubs)?
Steve Cotter: First and foremost the most ancient of all tools, the body! In addition, I do like training with clubs and also integrate qigong, which is an ancient breathing method from Eastern martial arts traditions.
Eric Astrauskas: What is the starting age you recommend for kettlebell training?
Steve Cotter: In general the younger the better, but of course the child has to be well focused so as not to get injured. I have worked with children as young as 6, nothing very formal, mostly just play and simple movements like the swing and farmer’s carry. I would say 12 years old is a good age for most anybody, because the body is still subtle, yet the mind is more mature and usually by then the child has not learned a lot of bad habits that need to be unlearned.
Eric Astrauskas: What are the best quality brands of kettlebells?
Steve Cotter: The competition or professional kettlebell is better quality than the cast iron types, because they are made of steel instead of iron. Steel will never break or crack, whereas cast iron can sometimes crack due to the molding process in which small bubbles sometimes form in the cast. Also the competion KB is of a specific, universal dimension, so there is no having to deal with different sizes everything time you move up and down in a weight. This build consistency of practice as well, just like in any sport--standardized equipment. As far as brands, there are many now, such as the ones we sell on our IKFF.com site. Of course so companies will profess a superior KB, but the truth is it is just a ball with a handle, all made out of the same materials and all made from the same molds, in the same factories, etc. So there is little difference anymore in quality. The main difference will be in the design, so if the lifter sticks with competition style KBs he knows what he is getting.
Click here for the best quality competition style kettlebells.
Eric Astrauskas: Do you follow or recommend any specific type of diet?
Steve Cotter: I eat according to what is accessible. I prefer to eat whole foods, with a lot of raw foods, low in acid, high in alkaline, combining foods (not eating animal proteins and starches in same meal for instance, eating fruits, alone, etc), and refraining from highly acidic foods like alcohol, coffee, and fried foods. That said, I travel all the time, all over the world, and so I do not have the luxury of choosing my ideal diet most of the time, so I eat the best things I can find. There is the ideal, then there is the real.
Eric Astrauskas: Do you eat any non-traditional "superfoods" (such as spirulina,chorella, maca, hemp,cacao, bee pollen etc.)?
Steve Cotter: Yes, I like to include superfoods, but again since I travel so much, I only typically eat superfoods when I am home in San Diego and have access to my ideal nutrients.
Eric Astrauskas: Who, in the fitness industry, has inspired or influenced you (past and/or present)?
Steve Cotter: My friend David Weck is the smartest and most innovative person I have met in fitness. He invented the BOSU, which is his most well known product, but he has developed a lot of other tools and methods which many people are not aware of. He deals more with the nervous system-balance and coordination type of development.
I have also learned from great kettlebell athletes such as Sergei Rudnev, Arsensy Zhernakov, Oleh Ilika, Anton Anasensko and Valery Fedorenko.
I also have a lot of respect for industy leaders such as Michael Boyle, Todd Durkin and others who are more well known to the mainstream fitness crowd. Each of them for different reasons.
Eric Astrauskas: Besides running your business and training, how do you spend most of your time?
Steve Cotter: You just said it! I travel all the time, teach very often and the rest of the time I spend with my wife recovering, attending to administrative things and spend as much time as I can with my 3 children. My life is very busy at this time.
Eric Astrauskas: What is the next step in your fitness career?
Steve Cotter: For now I will continue to teach. The organization I have founded, IKFF is growing very rapidly and I have taught and now have representative on every continent and I regularly have more people from new countries who want to become involved with IKFF and promote our method of training in their regions. This is a full-time undertaking, but I am very passionate about it. At the moment it takes all of my time.
Eric Astrauskas: What are your next projects?
Steve Cotter: I have some new projects I am working on, just released 2 new DVDs and am finishing up a book which will be the most comprehensive ever produced on the subject of kettlebell training. On top of that I have to keep on top of my own personal training, study and self-development.
Here are some of my favourite kettlebell exercises.
Also visit Man Vs. Weight for an awesome compilation of even more kettlebell exercise videos performed by some of the world's best fitness professionals.
Eric Astrauskas, Spec. Hons. B.A.(Kinesiology), P.T.S.