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“RKC, a huge game changer,” interview with Michael Mueller, RKC

Mike Mueller One-Arm Kettlebell Swing

Dragon Door: How did you get started in fitness and athletics?

Michael Mueller: I wasn't an athlete in high school, and I only started training late in high school because I wanted to join the military. I had a dream of becoming a paratrooper. So, I knew I needed to start training for the Army PT standards—I knew what the minimums were, but I also knew that I wanted to excel.

To be perfectly honest, I used to hate training! I only began to enjoy it later in my military career when I started with bodybuilding style training.

Dragon Door: What do you think changed your feelings about training?

Michael Mueller: It was a mixture of circumstances. When I was in the Army, I had an awesome opportunity to take a two month break when my unit sent me to a civilian EMT course. As a paratrooper, I was in a heavy weapons unit. Essentially, my job was combat, so medical skills were valued along with weapons skills and physical capabilities. And while I was at EMT school, I didn't have to do PT with my unit anymore—but I had to find something else to maintain my physical readiness.

Dragon Door: When did you decide that you wanted to work in the fitness industry?

Michael Mueller: I kind of fell into it. After the military, I went back to school with the intention of going into law enforcement. About a year out from the military, my training regimen had gotten stale. I was doing a back and bis, chest and tris, leg day, shoulders, bodybuilding type of thing. But after a year I was bored with it.

When I was in the military, I was exposed to CrossFit. Our platoon leader incorporated a little bit of it into our PT plan. I had also trained my own soldiers back then—by the time I got out of the military I was a section leader, and responsible for eight personnel. I had been leading and teaching physical readiness, how to fire weapons, and medical skills since I was promoted at age 22 or 23.
Mike Mueller Pistol Squat

After the military, I found a CrossFit affiliate, went through the onramp program, started training, and fell in love with it. About a year later, I decided to get my CrossFit level 1 to help me become a better athlete. At the time, I had graduated and was working for the Veteran's Administration as a claims assistant.

After I got my CrossFit level 1, the owners of the gym (who were also former military—Marines) asked me to help them out! As small business owners they worked a lot, but wanted to go to the 2012 Olympics in London. So, I dog sat for them and helped run the gym. Soon, I started coaching and taking on more responsibilities. After about a year I realized I didn’t want to work at the VA anymore and worked at the gym while I went to school full time. Since I had some GI money left, I went back to school and got my kinesiology degree. I wanted to have a scientific understanding of the human body and fitness. I felt like formal education would help me become a more marketable coach. I ended up working at the CrossFit gym for nearly 5 years.

Dragon Door: Before our call, Andrea Du Cane mentioned that you are also the 2015 Minnesota State Weightlifting champion, too!

Michael Mueller: I captured lightning in a bottle that day. Basically, I showed up and did what I had to do and ended up tying for first. I had had difficulty cutting weight because of a death in the family, so I switched weight classes. Since I was a very light 94kg, I ended up breaking the tie because I weighed less.

I started Olympic weightlifting through CrossFit and competing in local throw-downs. My boss and mentor was a really good coach. We had a USAW barbell club at the gym, and I started competing twice a year starting in 2013. In 2015, I won State and competed again in 2016. I planned to compete in 2017, but I ended up getting injured. I decided to hang up my weightlifting shoes with the intention of going back, but never did.

Dragon Door: What brought you to the RKC?

Michael Mueller: After training with CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting, I found a book by Pavel that opened up kettlebells for me—then I started reading every book by Pavel. I started falling in love with the idea of a kettlebell as both a strength and conditioning tool. Kettlebells are so versatile.

I also realized that kettlebells are a lie detector for movement—if you can’t do it or don’t have the right kind of stability, the kettlebell will let you know. Even though I’ve continued to try other types of training, ever since I started training with kettlebells, I’ve kept coming back to them.

I wanted to get a kettlebell certification, and Lifetime recognizes the RKC. As soon as I found an RKC certification in the area, I signed up. I'd actually made the decision to go to an RKC certification long before I saw one scheduled in Minnesota!
RKC Minneapolis Arden Hills 2018

Dragon Door: How did you prepare for the RKC workshop?

Michael Mueller: I actually started by searching for RKC-I prep and training programs on Google. I found an article written by Andrea Du Cane that included a four day a week training cycle. I started with her program about four months out.

Before I even signed up for the RKC, I could meet the work capacity and strength standards. I still wanted to prep and train for it so I would be as well prepared for it as I could.

Dragon Door: What’s your advice for people preparing for their RKC certification?

Michael Mueller: Start early. A couple people at the workshop hadn’t tried the snatch test, and I knew they would be in a world of hurt. The first time I did the 5 minute snatch test was a humbling experience.

About two weeks prior to the RKC I practiced the 5 minute test, but didn’t stop at 100 reps. I kept going until 5 minutes had passed and got 129 reps. So, I was really confident going into the snatch test at the RKC. The 5 minute snatch test is one of my favorites, because it’s a great mental test. I’ve included it in my training for a while. I've even done the 10 minute snatch test, but that’s a whole different ball of wax, and requires a completely different pacing.

Dragon Door: How do you feel that the RKC certification will help you in your career as a trainer?

Michael Mueller: I think the RKC is probably the best level one certification I’ve been to. The focus on technique is just one of the things I really enjoy about the methodology and philosophy of the RKC. It’s very minimalist—and I tend to be very minimalist in other areas of my life.

Pursuing the mastery of the basic kettlebell movements is so valuable in everything, even for elite athletes. The one thing all elite athletes have in common is that they do the basics very well. I think that the RKC curriculum is very good at diving into the nuances of each basic movement.

It’s been a huge game changer when it comes to working with my clients.

Dragon Door: Do you train a particular demographic?

Mike Mueller BridgeMichael Mueller: No, I like to think of myself as a jack of all trades. I teach a lot of group fitness classes. At Lifetime, we have an Alpha Program which is a strength and conditioning program. I work with many of those athletes, and since they’re usually self-driven, we work on a lot of refinement. Those athletes are the majority of my clients, but I do work with many post-rehab clients, older clients, and people who have movement issues who would have difficulty in a group class.

Dragon Door: Are you using kettlebells in your group classes?

Michael Mueller: Yes, to the point that some of my feedback was that my programming uses kettlebells too much!

Dragon Door: I'm not sure there’s such a thing, but that's my opinion...

Michael Mueller: That's also my opinion, but sometimes I have to throw in other things for them. People ask me why we don't do any bicep work, and I tell them that we do with our rows and pullups.

Because they’re worried about aesthetics, people are more familiar with bodybuilding splits and exercises like bicep curls. As a culture, we are inundated with images that of what we think we should look like—and it effects how people think they should train. There’s usually a huge disconnect between the people who look the "ideal way" and what they're actually doing in the gym.

Mike Mueller, RKC, One Arm HangI've experimented with so many different training styles: CrossFit, Olympic weightlifting, gymnastic strength training, and others. I’ll play around with different programs for about six months. But even after I've tried these different paths, I keep coming back to kettlebells and basic calisthenics. While it’s not the most exciting way to train, you're working with the mastery of the basics, and there’s going to be some repetition.

When pursuing mastery, it’s important to put in the work. I think that many people vary their training just for variety’s sake but they forget that to master something, they need to work on it.

I think that we can never achieve mastery. But, I tell my clients that the pursuit of mastery is what’s most valuable.
Dragon Door: That reminds me, what goals are you working towards now that you've earned your RKC certification?

Michael Mueller: I'm looking to tame the Beast. After the RKC I had a conversation with Andrea about it, since it’s one of my goals. She said that I will do it, but to make sure I train for it safely.

Dragon Door: How close are you to achieving it?

Michael Mueller: I've done a chin over bar pull-up with the Beast, and I've pressed the 44kg on both sides in the past. Right now I’m working on clean and press ladders to build volume and will be sticking with that for a while. I have also already done a pistol on both sides with the 44kg. I'm not happy with how they look yet—I don’t just want to be able to do it safely, I want it to look good too.

Dragon Door: Agreed. When I eventually achieve the Iron Maiden, I don’t want to just barely pass the standard, I want there to be no question.

Michael Mueller: Exactly. If someone has to say, "I think that counted," then it doesn't count. That was definitely instilled in me in the military, you either met the standard or you didn't—there should be no question.

MikeMuellerOneArmKettlebellSwingThumbnailMichael Mueller, RKC is a Metabolic Specialist, Alpha Coach and Personal Trainer at Lifetime Fitness in New Hope, MN. Contact him at Follow him on social media: @mikeyfourone on Instagram and Mikey Mueller on Facebook