Firefighter / Kettlebell Case Study, Dylan

The AKC / WKC Fitness Program is big news around the East Coast Kettlebell Club. To varying degrees and for different reasons, many of my students have opted to go the road of fitness (versus sport). Once such kettlebell lifter is Dylan.

Dylan was always a relatively strong, athletic guy, at least as strength and and athleticism are defined by the standard set at a typical gym or health club. Dylan is a mere six months into kettlebells, less than half of which have been on the fitness program.

Originally a firefighter candidate, Dylan is now both a candidate and kettlebell lifter. Dylan stands six feet, one inches tall, and weighs about 220 pounds. His sport background is mostly in baseball. Prior to training with me, he was working with a another trainer, doing traditional strength work. You know, bench presses, squats, dead lifts, etc. --not a bad approach, just not kettlebells. He worked in a rather straight forward fashion, doing multiple sets of 5 to 15 reps, adding weight, resting between sets, covering major muscle groups. I did the same thing with many people for years, and with good, but not always the best, results.

Dylan's initial focus, passing the FDNY entrance physical, warranted working with many firefighter specific training methods, incorporated into kettlebell training. Before we met, Dylan had never seen or heard a word about kettlebells. He wanted to be a firefighter. As with many candidates, I had to slowly introduce kettlebells, while addressing the client's main goal. But after a few months, kettlebell training seems to take over.

While Dylan was doing workouts that started with kettlebells and finished with sleds and sledge hammers, he was learning and growing stronger. He purchased a couple of bells, and while he couldn't put himself through elaborate firefighter obstacle courses, he could do sets of kettlebells, right in the comfort of his own home.

We'd meet once or twice weekly over the course of the last six months, with Dylan doing additional homework. As of early May, the entire focus of our training became the new fitness program, and making through the 20 levels. While the fitness program calls for 12kg for males, I allowed Dylan to start out with 16kg for three reasons. He's a big, strong man naturally. He's already developed good technique and demonstrated proficiency with all the movements. He's training not purely for fitness, but for firefighting ability.

We sailed through the initial levels of the new Fitness Program. At level 9, there was some evidence of work. By the time we were in the upper teens of this 20-level system Dylan was working hard. We opted for training at the advanced level (repeating the routine twice), thus providing tremendous volume that would benefit Dylan's overall work capacity.

Level 19 was tough. For those of you unfamiliar with the program, here's what one round of level 19 looks like:

One Arm Jerk
3 Minutes Per Hand, 16 RPM
rest 1 minute
3 Minutes Per Hand, 16 RPM
rest 1 minute
One Arm Long cycle
3 Minutes Per Hand, 10 RPM

For the advanced version (what Dylan did for over 500 reps), this is repeated two times.

Level 20 shaves 30 seconds off rest/reset time. Things get intense as this translates into 36 minutes of fast paced kettlebells with only a few minutes of rest. So out of 42 minutes, Dylan was under the bell for 36.

Dylan occasionally goes back to the gym and works out with his old buddies, and can't figure out how that could have seemed so hard. The FDNY requires new recruits to do a mile and a half run in 12 minutes or less, and this was a problem for Dylan a few months ago. He now does the run in under 11 minutes, with barely any additional running training (he's been running 2 or 3 days per week for the last 3 weeks), and in only a few months with kettlebells. He also dropped about 10 pounds during this process.

It was obvious Dylan's endurance was going through the roof, but what about pure strength? To test his strength, upon reaching level 20, and after a rather intense workout, Dylan jerked the 40kg kettlebell for ten reps both right and left with less than a maximum effort. He hardly touched a kettlebell over 16kg in months, and only occasionally did swings with the 24kg. One one occasion, and as a test, Dylan jerked the 32kg for a minute left and minute right as a prior test, but that was it!

This case study was presented to shed light on what kettlebell training, and in particular, the new AKC/WKC fitness program, and what it can do for the average lifter. For more information, please contact me at: or go to: