Aaron Vyvial might be the most knowledgeable person about everything kettle in the United States, or maybe even the world. If you want to know anything at all about kettlebells ranging from history to technique to what the latest kettlebell Facebook thread is about, he’s your man. If there was a library containing books about Girevoy Sport, Aaron would be the librarian to field your questions to. Not only is he in the know and he knows it, but he’s got the experience to back it up. Aaron is one of the only people in the world to have spent as much time learning from the Kettlebell Sport greats as he has – Rachinskiy, Mishin, Denisov, Dedyukhina, Vasilev, the list goes on. He is also the owner of one of the only Kettlebell Sport only gyms in the world (Texas Kettlebell Academy), which hosts a team of impressive athletes. Let’s learn a little more about the “librarian of GS”, who also happens to be America’s only Ketacademy Master Coach*.
1. How did you find Kettlebell Sport?
I started Kettlebell and Clubbell training in 2004, working with RKC instructors, Renegade Training, and Circular Strength Training (CST/TACFIT). I opened up one of the first kettlebell gyms in the country in 2005. In 2007, Scott Sonnon, one of my movement coaches and head of RMAX International, was hired by WKC to develop a fitness and mobility method for Kettlebell Sport. The Valery sport style training developed with RMAX made a lot of sense to me, and I gravitated toward it immediately. In 2013, I had a clearer vision of what I wanted to do, and the quality of training and technique had improved significantly. The moment seemed right, so I brought in Jessica Gorman and we renamed the gym Texas Kettlebell Academy. As one of the first Kettlebell Sport only gyms, the idea was that we didn’t want Kettlebell Sport to be an accessory program; we wanted a boutique style gym that ONLY focused on high-level Kettlebell Sport technique. We have since added TACFIT, Persian Yoga, and Gada Sport (traditional indian sport) to our offerings, but the TXKB competition team is my main focus.
2. What are your personal goals for lifting kettlebells?
I’m no athlete; I do really well in training but never get the same results on the platform. I’m usually so focused on my athletes that I neglect warming up before my set. I would like to get a Master of Sport at some point, but I’m happy to just compete at my own level and keep myself honest.
3. What’s your favorite lift?
Jerk is my favorite but Snatch is pretty amazing. The Snatch takes so much to master and it is such a liar. You think you are doing great and you are totally going to hit your goal, “Yes! Only 30 reps left….” and then 5 reps later, your hand decides to quit—it’s like “WTF hand???”
4. What attracted you to Kettlebell Sport? What keeps you interested years later?
I have been a highly sought after kung fu teacher for more than a decade, and have spent time with the Grand Masters. In the highly detailed form of Ving Tsun kung fu I teach, every little detail matters. I approached Kettlebell Sport the same way, which makes me different from other coaches. I run TXKB like a martial art school: I use the old methods but with modern details. Kettlebell Sport always has more to offer. There are so many ways to do well in Sport and often, people just need to be given the chance to succeed.
5. You are the only American Ketacademy Master Coach, and one of the only coaches in the world who has such an extensive amount of experience learning from all of the top Russian lifters and coaches. What does that mean to you?
Being the first Master Coach is really cool, but I prefer to be judged by the quality of my athletes and my team. Of course I put in the work and earned the title, but like any credential, it is just a piece of paper. The accomplishments of your students live outside the frame on the wall. I had to go to Russia and do a week of training with the masters to get the Level 3, but the ‘Master Coach’ designation comes by having the Level 3 and an MSIC —either your own or one of your athletes. I now have two MSIC athletes under me. That’s what being a Keta Master Coach requires, but much of the real work was put in before that trip.
6. Where does your coaching draw influence from?
My main programming method, competition strategy, and mindset comes from Sergey Rachinisky, but I have also worked extensively with Denis Vasilev, Ivan Denisov, Aleksander Khostov, Sergey Hetmanenko, Igor Morozov, Arseny Zhernakov, Ken Blackburn, Paul White, and the Chu Tang. I am currently being coached by Sergey Merkulin.
I’m one of the only people to have worked closely with the legendary Sergey Mishin, as a student of his programming method and to be prepped by him for competition. I have daily contact with many of the top coaches and athletes in the world; any time I have questions, they are willing to answer. I try to not take their help for granted.
While my style has been influenced by many, I never copy anyone. My rule is to never stop learning and always be a student. No matter what my rank or level, I always have more work to do to perfect my form and teaching method. I always pay for and work with a coach. I attend every certification I can because I can and want to learn from everyone. I’m very greedy for knowledge but I don’t withhold what I have learned, and I always credit those that have taught me.
7. You have a lot of great athletes at Texas Kettlebell Academy. What is the most important aspect of developing athletes and getting results (in other words, being a good coach)?
A coach has to have a highly developed filter to see the movement in a pure, undiluted way. When you first start, you may see a video of yourself and think “wow, I did pretty good”. Then a year later you see the video again, are embarrassed, and can’t understand why you even posted it. I have kettlebell videos online dating back to 2005 and they are really embarrassing now. Being able to see those details, where you once couldn’t, means you have developed a better filter. It was easy for me to develop this skill because of my background in the highly refined movements of Ving Tsun and the precise, controlled nature of CST. Technically, for me, the special sauce is that filter combined with knowing how to properly teach, without forcing your own ideas or prejudices on an athlete. Everyone needs to develop their own technique. I can only guide people based on experience and what I see in the individual. Passion is a third essential element, and you almost have to be a monster about it. As a coach, I am usually very relaxed, and I will sit quietly and watch. However, if I see that you aren’t trying, if you give up the training for no reason, then I will go off. I would rather close the gym and disband the team than to ever, ever accept mediocrity. My students are known to say that they do well because they don’t want to disappoint me. I’m ok with that, and I will give everything I have to help them do well and earn that respect. I’m not their buddy, I’m their coach.
8. What is the most common mistake you see Kettlebell Sport lifters make?
Obsessing over the minutia of other people’s technique. If you want to do better, there is no “magic” technique. Eat better, run more, get more sleep and do a 1000 more reps. Simple as that. Trying to exactly copy someone else’s style is a waste of time and energy. It’s ok to parrot someone’s style in the beginning to learn, but you need to develop any detail you like into something that is all your own and then stick to it for a training cycle. You have to give the technique time to work for you, or be willing to give it up and try again if that technique doesn’t work for you.
9. Do you use any apps when coaching your students? Which ones do you recommend to lifters and/or coaches?
We use a heart rate monitor, mostly Wahoo, and a notebook to write down every training you do. Like pen and paper; old school.
10. Your son Kingsley is a great youth athlete. How did he start? Did you suggest he try lifting, or was it completely his own decision? Any recommendations for other parents to get their children started?
Kingsley wanted to do what I was doing since he was 9-10 years old, and was always around the gym. At 11, he competed at the 2015 Cali Open and that was the first time most people saw him lift. He played around but didn’t really have a training schedule at that point. At 11, we made the choice to take it more serious. He trains every day after school now. He doesn’t always want to but he likes the results, the freedom to play video games, and other rewards he gets from maintaining a good schedule. Many parents are too soft; they give in to complaining and don’t enforce their kid’s activities. Training is hard and most kids choose to avoid hard things. Doing something hard makes your kid a better person and gives them something special they can be proud of. Don’t give in to their complaining and reward them for accomplishments, but also be honest when they are not putting in the effort. Yes, I have made my son cry while training and yes, it makes me feel horrible. It is worth it though, especially when he sees his trophies, his medals, and how many people are proud of him.
11. Do you have any tips for lifters out there who are writing their own programming?
For new lifters: keep it simple, stick to month long training cycles, and test at the end of each month. Either change the lift every cycle or incorporate all the lifts in a training plan. Do your GPP. A weekly training schedule for people lifting all three could be Mon: Snatch; Tues: Jerk; Fri: LC. You may not break any records but it will give well-rounded training on all the lifts. If you are working toward a comp, give yourself 4-6 weeks of focused preparation. Also, don’t worry so much about weight of the bell. Pace is king; work light and fast as often as possible. Give yourself plenty of 10 minute sets with lighter bells; you shouldn’t be scared of the 10 minutes.
12. What does the future of Kettlebell Sport look like?
We are the future of Kettlebell Sport. Our generation is moving away from the big controlling organizations. People in the U.S., and especially people in Texas, are not willing to let some organization tell us what we can and cannot do. We are hosting independent competitions and developing solid lifters that can compete anywhere. Your reps should count no matter where you lift. The U.S. lifters have really changed the world, thanks in part to what started with VF and the WKC. High fixation will not go away, which is good and bad. People who don’t understand fixation take it too far, but consistent and skilled lifting is what makes us better and the standards at most local comps in the U.S. are as high as Worlds or Nationals. Obviously there is now high level lifting all over the world, but the U.S. is really big, has a lot of skilled lifters, and brings a lot of money into the sport. What we do is important—look at two arm lifting for women. I actually lost friends because of my support for women’s doubles, but now it’s become almost weird to see OALC and Jerk. We didn’t make anyone change; we didn’t try to force an organization to change; we did our own thing and created an environment that naturally brought change. Anyone can do that.
13. Will Texas Kettlebell Academy ever offer a Kettlebell Sport certification?
We will be doing a Kettlebell Kings Level 1 Certification backed by Ketacademy and Kettlebell Kings. We have always put off doing a cert because the market was wasn’t really there yet. Our cert is a Keta Level 1 Certification but with TXKB method, technique and mobility, using our understanding of all the methods we use and have been taught by the masters. It is very unique. You will still have your Keta Level 1 instructor certificate and you will have access to WAKSC but the information will be different enough from Denis Vasilev’s or Sergey Rachinisky’s certs to have distinct value. There will also be a basic kettlebell fitness workshop focusing on single bell movements, similar to what I learned through RMAX but adapted with modern technique.
14. I’ve heard you say that when you started your gym, people told you there was no way you’d be successful with kettlebells as the main focus. Clearly you proved them wrong. What are some of the factors that contributed to that success?
Yes well, I was told by a friend of mine that “there is no money in Kettlebell Sport” and that a sport specific gym couldn’t survive. I didn’t believe him. So I put my obsessive effort into it, and things evolved from there. I learned an important lesson when the WKC/AKC Fixometer implosion happened. There was a gym named American Kettlebell Club, or something similar. The guy stood up and publicly said he disagreed with some of the decisions made by WKC/AKC and was basically kicked to the curb; his gym is gone because its identity was based on being WKC/AKC. I made the decision to never have anyone else’s logo or name on my door. I only have myself to blame if it all goes wrong. That said, Jessica is the person that really keeps us going, and she is the heart of the gym. She does her best to keep me out of trouble. Our success is a balance of grit, ego, skill and agility, with a solid team of people. We have the ability to work with or say fuck off to whomever we like. It’s kinda a Texas thing.
15. What does an average day in the life of coach Aaron Vyvial look like?
I try to do my kettlebell training from 9-11am. I work with my online students on the phone throughout the day. I have daily check-ins and people on many different schedules—I don’t give plans and just expect them to complete. I want to know how they are doing and be able to adjust their training as needed. I open the gym around 4 and train my GPP, then put Kingsley and the others through their training. Around 7pm, I head over to Kung Fu class and teach until 10pm. I am generally up until midnight or whenever my coach wakes up, so I can talk to him. Saturdays are six hour marathon training days for the team and myself, and Sundays I spend with my family.
Aaron Vyvial first opened his gym in 2004, specializing in Kettlebells, Clubbells and Renegade Training. He focused his training on martial artists, athletes and military personnel. His work now has shifted to only work with high level Kettlebell Sport athletes in person and through online training and traveling around the country teaching Ving Tsun Kung Fu. Aaron is also an amateur paleontologist.
*Being a Master Coach requires having a Ketacademy Level 3 instructor certification, along with either holding a Master of Sport International Class (MSIC) title yourself, or having a MSIC student.