Power talk with top strength coach and American record holder in the one-arm kettlebell snatch Andrew Durniat

Andrew is a C.S.C.S and the owner of Optimal Performance Training. Andrew is an international kettlebell competitor and current American record holder for the single arm snatch (147 reps, 32kg). He is known for his combining Kettlebell lifting with the Olympic and Power lifts to create the ultimate in athletic potential.

His training has led him to be able to perform many famous strength feats and compete in ultra-endurance events. Andrew has served as an assistant lacrosse coach at the College of Wooster and was an All-American Defenseman in lacrosse at Ohio Wesleyan University.

Andrew is a regular instructor for world champion Valery Federenko's AKC certification course. He is another in the trenches instructor that has a great deal of experience as an athlete, as a trainer, and is very well researched.

When you meet Andrew in person and see his abilities in action as well as his outstanding instruction, you know that he is destined for great things as a trainer and as a strength athlete. Not only does Andrew compete in kettlebell sport competitions, he competes in strongman competitions and does very well at both. While he is well versed in kettlebell training for sport, Andrew also uses a variety of kettlebell exercises with his clients such as Renegade Rows, Turkish-get-ups, and kettlebell squat thrusts. He is an opened minded trainer that is always looking for methods to improve his own training and that of his clients.

Tell us about your athletic background. How did you get into strength and conditioning?

I grew up playing ice hockey and added then lacrosse when I reached high school. I continued to play lacrosse in college at Ohio Wesleyan University where I was an All-American defenseman. In my youth, my closest friends were always a year or two older than me and when they started to lift weights in high school I join them as a junior high kid. I was always trying to be as strong as my best friends older brother, he was four years older and a lineman on the football team. I didn’t understand why there should be a difference in our strengths; we did everything else together why can’t we be the same strength? And so began my obsession with getting stronger.

How did you get into training others?


I began helping other teammates train in high school during the off-season. That carried over into college when I organized off-season sprint workouts for the lacrosse team. I didn’t realize trainings potential as a profession until I was at the College of Wooster working as assistant lacrosse coach.

When and why did you get into kettlebell training?

I came to kettlebells in 2005 because I was looking for a better way to train myself. I had always done the Muscle & Fitness bodybuilding workouts, thinking that was the way to get strong. It had served me well enough but I knew there had to be a better way. Kettlebells lead me to a better way of strength training.

Do you think kettlebell training is a fit for everyone or is there a particular type of trainee that will get the most benefit?

Kettlebells have a place in everybody’s training regimen. However, they need to be integrated wisely. You need to have well-established goals first and then program the kettlebells to achieve your goals. I see a lot of people that use the kettlebell and think that it will solve everything.

There is a debate on the merits of various applications of kettlebell training. Some argue that the sole purpose of the kettlebell is for work capacity and that kettlebells are made for jerks and snatches. Others argue that kettlebells work great as a weight training implement. What is your take?

It can be used for both of those applications. A lot will depend on your overall strength level and what is your individual goal. The 1000 lbs. squatter is not going to use a 24kg kettlebell for general weight training. Nor is a four-minute mile runner going to use a 24kg for work capacity. Two opposite ends of the spectrum but both can use the same 24kg bell for different performance applications.

Do kettlebells work well when combined with other training implements or should the trainee focus solely on kettlebell training?

Kettlebells can definitely be combined with other training implements (barbells, DBs, clubbells, strongman, etc.) Again, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, you must evaluate what your goals are and then build your training routine from there.

What are you using kettlebells for with your own training and what are your current training goals?

I am using kettlebells to train for Kettlebell Sport. My current goals are to perform 80+ jerks and 150+ snatches in competition. I am combining this training with a powerlifting program (5/3/1) for my top end strength.

The Kettlebell Sport is becoming very popular and many trainees want to dive in and compete. How would you recommend they get started with training for kettlebell sport competitions?


First, consult a qualified kettlebell sport coach, someone who has been to meets and either competed or worked with other kettlebell sport athletes. They will instruct you on the technical aspects of the lifts and will make sure you do them correctly. A big part of competition is the lockout and being efficient. An effective coach can help you obtain the proficiency needed for competition.

You are a big fan of the competition style kettlebells. Please explain why they are your preference?

The competition bells make it possible for your lifting technique to stay the same regardless of weight, much like a barbell. When doing barbell deadlifts, the height or diameter of the bar do not change just because you add weight. The same is true with the competition bells. They are just more professional for someone looking to train with kettlebells.



What are some common mistakes that people make with kettlebell training?

A common mistake is not training for your individual objective. I see a lot of people training with the bells that is not conducive to their training goals. The kettlebell is a great tool that can be used in a lot of ways. I believe our workshop is going to filter through a lot of the confusion on how and when to use the bells for each individuals intended need.

Should beginner focus on unilateral kettlebell work or can they start with double kettlebell training?

I believe a beginner should focus on unilateral work at first. It limits the amount of information the brain needs to handle while new motor engrams are developed for the new technique. Once proficiency is demonstrated with unilateral work then a second kettlebell can be introduced.

Louie Simmons is famous for his conjugate method for powerlifting. For those, not familar instead of working on the primary lifts as the focal point (bench press, squat, deadlift) they instead do similar lifts and rotate them often. As a result they can push each exercise hard and then switch to another one before they burn out. Do you think there is any benefit in applying this principle to kettlebell sport training? In other words, instead of just working on the actual comp lifts exclusively (Jerk, clean and jerk, snatch) rotate in other kettlebell exercises and similar exercises with other implements all-together.

Absolutely, doing the competition lifts are needed, but I find myself and others obtaining tremendous gains by doing the assistance exercises; swings, 1-arm heavy jerks, rack holds, overhead holds, pressing, front squats. I have also seen a great carryover from performing the Olympic lifts. I find the assistance exercises allow the lifter to focus in on a small portion on the main lift that maybe a weakness for the individual. Be bringing that weakness up in strength, the main lift also benefits, and often it benefits a great deal.



You compete in strongman events. How has kettlebell training carried over to strongman training?

Kettlebell training has taught me pacing. Most strongman events are for 60-90 seconds, most reps wins. Working with the bells has taught me to be the most efficient with my time. Likewise, the bells put a tremendous workload on the posterior chain and strongman is all about being able to pick up objects and place them on a high table or overhead. Now don’t think that just lifting kettlebells will make you a great strongman, but it definitely helps your strength endurance. I don’t always start competitions as the strongest individual, but I always finish the day as the strongest individual and that is because of my kettlebell training.

You are going to be doing a section on kettlebell juggling and kettlebell stunt lifts at the Age of quarrel courses in the fall. What are the benefits of such training? Is it only for hardcore trainees or can the average trainee benefit as well?

Juggling is for everyone because it is fun and relaxing. It removes the stress from lifting because we do not juggle for reps or time. Juggling is very much playtime and a great way to cool down or have an easier day. Juggling also allows us to explore different body movement patterns and teaches us to move fluidly with the kettlebell. Very much how the martial arts teach you to use your opponent’s body movements against him/her to your advantage.

Kettlebell stunt lifts are more for the hardcore trainer looking to impress the crowd. I am a performing strongman for various events and the stunts lifts I perform will leave you scratching your head. Some can be dangerous; I recently tore a vein out of my hand performing at a show. It required 9 stitches and 2 months to heal. These lifts are for advanced trainees and not to be taken lightly.

Thanks Andrew and looking forward to working with you in the fall

For more information on Andrew's training system, visit his blog at: http://optraining.blogspot.com

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