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Why Choose To Be A Coach? Interview with Paige Sousa, RKC

Paige Sousa, RKC

Dragon Door: How did you first become interested in kettlebells?

Paige Sousa: My first real exposure to kettlebells was in CrossFit. I was fortunate to train at a gym where the head coach was taught by Chris Holder. The first swing I learned was the CrossFit style American swing, and I also learned the get-up pretty well. While I knew I had to swing heavier kettlebells hard and "Russian style" in a workout, I didn’t truly understand what that meant until the RKC.

Paige Sousa BEFORE Crossfit Comp Snatch
I first learned about kettlebell snatches during an actual CrossFit competition, so it was good that I was just using a 12kg kettlebell—I figured out a little bit, but my wrists were in trouble because I was just swinging and punching.
After my ankle surgery last year, I started using kettlebells a lot more. I played basketball my whole life so my ankles are pretty shot. My physical therapist is an RKC and we used them in my rehab. That’s when I really started seeing them as a training tool for building stability. My physical therapist never let me carry them incorrectly. I learned how to carry them in the rack position and do exercises like kneeling kettlebell presses that require correct alignment. I also learned how to swing hard and get in a good workout without hurting my ankle.

Before the surgery, I had been practicing only Olympic weightlifting for a year. The only cardio my coach (who had trained under Chris Holder) programmed for me was two days of kettlebell work each week. Those workouts crushed me at the time, even though I thought they looked boring on paper. But, I got my world rocked. I couldn't breathe, I was losing my grip! If I’d known then what I know now after the RKC, those workouts would have been even more effective.

Now that I’m a personal trainer and went to the RKC certification, some of my clients are asking for more kettlebell training.

Dragon Door: How long have you been a personal trainer?

Paige Sousa: I've been a CrossFit coach for almost two years and a personal trainer for about a year and a half. At first, I just didn't actively pursue one-on-one clients, but now it’s a big part of what I do. One of my favorite clients is a 57 year old crazy CrossFitter. He's probably my most rewarding client because he still wants to go as hard as the young kids. I love coaching older clients because I can see how I’m enhancing their longevity—they can put their hands over their heads, they can deadlift, they can pick things up without throwing out their backs. When they start handstand work and gymnastic training, their body awareness gets even better. I like coaching competitors too, but if I had to choose one niche to train, it would be masters athletes.

Dragon Door: How did you get started in a fitness career? Was that your plan from the beginning?

Paige Sousa: No, though I’ve always been active. I played basketball for 13 years, and a little bit in junior college. In high school I cared more about basketball than anything else. I had grades so that I could play. I also coached for a year of high school before playing in junior college.

When I stopped playing in junior college, I immediately started coaching. I was coaching people who had been on my team the year before—and while that could have been terrible, instead it was really cool. When I was coaching college basketball, I played every practice because I was the player coach.
Paige Sousa Coaching Basketball

But, before coaching at junior college, I’d started gaining weight. At first I joined a "globogym" and got a personal trainer because I didn't know what I was doing! Soon I switched to gym where they taught me how to power clean, and I started working out with 30 junior college football players every day. It was fun, and I learned that I was naturally strong but I didn't really know it until I started to learn to move correctly.

I became a better coach in junior college because I was fitter—but I was also mad because I wasted my playing years completely because I hadn’t trained before now. When I had played on the team, I didn’t care about training, because our coach hadn’t cared about it. He used to put us in the weight room and tell us to sit on the machines! But now I was better than the girls who were generally more athletic than I was when we were teammates.
Paig eSousa Split Jerk WL

My original focus in college was English because I always wanted to be a teacher in some capacity. But, when I moved to San Jose I switched to professional technical writing because we're in Silicon Valley and you can make an obscene amount of money in technical writing. My degree is in professional technical writing and copywriting.

I interviewed at Yahoo and during a fairly long interview process, I noticed that I was answering every question with a coaching experience. After the interview I realized that I didn’t really want the job, I wanted to coach. I’d been fighting my natural calling because of money—and when you live in Silicon Valley that’s kind of how it goes.

I decided that I wanted to be happy—I have one life and if I am that rewarded by coaching, then I should make it work. So, to my Dad’s slight dismay, I got CrossFit Level 1 certified and started coaching. Even though I work a lot more and harder than I probably should—I work at two gyms and I’m a bartender—it’s been the best decision I’ve made for my life as a whole. I fought coaching before I realized it could be a career. It’s a hard career, but it's worth it.
Paige Sousa Coaching Barbell

Dragon Door: How did you decide to go for your RKC?

Paige Sousa: I wanted an RKC certification since I first heard about it. Everyone said that the RKC is the best, the most respected, and the most versatile certification. The people at our gym trained under Chris Holder at San Jose State and spoke very highly of swinging kettlebells—and how they were taught to do it. It wasn't just that kettlebells are cool, it is that swinging kettlebells the right way is cool. As a coach, I want to have the widest knowledge base—I want to know everything.

I had also heard a lot about Chris Holder. He was the strength coach and mentor for a coach who played a huge role in my life when I moved to San Jose. So, when I saw that Chris Holder was teaching the certification—and it was at our other gym location—I knew I had to make it work, even though the price was high. But I figured there was a reason that it was more expensive than any of the other certifications I’d taken. And that was 100% true!

Chris Holder was an incredible teacher all weekend. I learned a lot from his teaching style—he was comfortable in the room and owned it in such a good way. Along with learning how to do (and coach) kettlebell exercises, we also learned the processes of body tension. That's what I learned the most—the power you can produce if you know what to do. I realized I hadn’t been using all of my power. Chris also had so many little phrases for coaching clients through power production, like swinging at a ten, and cleaning at a three. It makes the ideas easy to translate to anyone.
Paige Sousa With Chris Holder At RKC Workshop

Dragon Door: Now that you’ve earned your RKC certification, what’s your next goal?

Paige Sousa: My coaching mentor is on the CrossFit seminar staff, and does CrossFit weightlifting and flexibility seminars. He and the owner of our gym both asked if I wanted to be on the CrossFit seminar staff, which travels and gives certifications. Of course I want to do that and I’m working towards it now. There’s one more level of CrossFit certification that I need; it is a difficult written exam that’s inclusive of everything from nutrition, health risks, Olympic lifting, running, running an affiliate and legal matters. Basically, I’ll need to know everything! After passing that test, I’ll need to intern for the seminar staff—which is my goal for this year.

Last month, an opportunity to coach strength and conditioning at high schools presented itself. I’d also like to teach kids the value of moving well and keeping their bodies strong. When I see high school kids who are obese, it makes me mad because there's no reason for them to be that young and have no idea that they’re already shortening their lives. There's so much opportunity to teach, and it’s difficult to figure out who I want to work with first—coaching older people, young kids, or student athletes.

Dragon Door: What is your favorite RKC kettlebell move?

Paige Sousa: After what I learned at the RKC, I have a whole new appreciation for the kettlebell clean. I used to just knock myself with the kettlebell after swinging hard and just turning it over. Chris Holder’s teaching cues to clean at a three and swing at a ten along with the catchphrase "the clean is smooth and sexy" helped me learn to control the kettlebell. Learning to clean kettlebells correctly was a game changer for me. The clean is subtle and needs a lot of control. Being in control is important for all lifting, not just kettlebell training—you need to control a barbell, and you need to control what your body is doing. You need to own the weight, the weight should not own you.

I also really appreciate the patience of the get-up. You have to be patient with it, relax, be willing to feel your body—all while staying focused. Your mind has to work hard to keep you in control. It’s a good tool for teaching people to work under tension. They learn how to relax with the weight—and learn to feel when it's right.

PaigeSousaHeadshot150Paige Sousa, RKC trains groups and individuals at Diablo CrossFit Moxie in San Jose, CA and The Club at Los Gatos in Los Gatos, CA. She can be contacted at Follow her on Instagram at @paigeuhh and @diablo_crossfit_moxie.