Monday, 31 January 2011

Interview with Steve Cotter from IKFF

In our bid to provide our readers with the best quality information available, Sandbag Fitness are privileged to have interviewed Steve Cotter. Steve is renowned as a Strength and Conditioning and Martial Arts expert.

Here is the interview:

Hi Steve – thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for the Sandbag Fitness Blog. For those readers who don’t know much about you, can you give us a brief run down of your experience and current roles?

Thank you Matthew for inviting me to be interviewed.

I have been involved with martial arts and physical training since I was 12 years old, I am now 41 so for the majority of my life.

I was physical as a young kid and began my studies of traditional Chinese martial arts and qigong when I was 12. I became fully immersed in those trainings for many years and it is where I grew to appreciate hard work and physical development. My mind was always on how to become more skillful and more athletic, flexible and conditioned. Never into bodybuilding, just performance.

Martial arts was my first job, starting teaching at the age of 15 and full time by the time I was 19. In those years I was training and teaching at least 8-9 hours per day, 6 days a week. Also got into full contact fighting and fought competitively from the age of 22 to 26. During that time I won 2 USA National titles in the sport of Kuoshu, which is Lei Tai (platform fighting). The sport is also knows under such names as SanShou and Sanda, same sport, slightly different organizations.

So I trained really very hard and developed my physical and mental foundation in the martial arts.

From there I became interested in learning some of the science behind physical training and decided to major in Kinesiology. I graduated from San Diego State University with my B.S. degree in Kinesiology.

I from there moved into personal training as a profession and did that for about 4-5 years after graduating college in 2001. But I always looked for something more, I was not satisfied with an hourly job and continued to look for ways to improve my skill sets and education and training knowledge.

I learned about kettlebell training in 2002, which is shortly after Kettlebells had a presence in the US and Western World. I trained on my own with a few kettlebells and a basic DVD. Because of my extensive martial arts training and body awareness I was able to learn very quickly. Then I went to Pavel’s KB certification in 2003. At the time I considered it a very good course, because I didn’t know better, and when I went to that course I was able to excel and Pavel asked me to come back to the following course and assist in the instruction. I did so then got involved with Pavel’s organization as senior instructor for 3 years.

Finally I went to Russia with a group of American’s in late 2005 and that is when my eyes were opened as to what kettlebell training really could be. The level was well beyond anything I had seen or experienced before. So I was very curious how these Russian athletes could develop such amazing work capacity.

There was still nothing available to us in USA about the high level kettlebell athletes.

I had the chance to take a workshop with Valery Fedorenko and learned some more. Then Fedorenko started his KB course and I took a few of those with him and learned more still, once traveling to Greece to train with him and his coach. That training brought me to a point, but I felt my progress stalled, as I do not think one way fits everybody. I am appreciative of what I did learn from Fedorenko, but it was not a perfect fit for my needs and my body.

Since then I have had a chance to learn from other great Kettlebell coaches and learn even more about programming and periodisation and how to compliment kettlebell and KB sport conditioning with other complimentary tools. So the journey as a student continues.

You can tell by this brief overview that I am an eternal student, always interested in growing and learning more.

Professionally, I was not satisfied with what was going on with Pavel’s group, and although Fedorenko offered a much higher quality of Kettlebell technique, I was not satisfied with the structure of that either.

So starting in 2008, I started to offer my own Kettlebell instructional courses through the organization I founded and am the Director of, the IKFF , International Kettlebell & Fitness Federation.

We have several different levels of instruction and proficiency through the IKFF and the CKT programs, Certified Kettlebell Trainer, and since 2008 I and my team of trainer have run courses on 6 continents and over 30 countries.

IKFF blends the best qualities of my years of experience and excellent teachers I have learned from. Many Kettlebell athletes and trainers consider us the voice of reason, the balance between “hard-style” kettlebell training and “sport style” kettlebell training, as we blend qualities of each and we integrate the best information we can find, not only for kettlebells, but including mobility, flexibility, qigong (breathing training), meditation and general strength & conditioning training.

So I keep very busy, as a teacher, a student and an athlete.

At Sandbag Fitness we believe in making health and fitness as accessible as possible. For us, this means trying to de-mystify the industry a little bit and give people straight forward advice that they can use. How would you describe your own coaching ethos?

I also believe in simplicity and finding common denominators among the various training protocols available.

More important than the tool or tools one choose to train with, is the underlying principles. What qualities are being worked and how does that method or tool enable the user to achieve his or her particular physical goals?

I pay close attention to quality of movement. It is not just what you choose to do, it is how you do it. There are qualities and principles of movement that are pretty universal, whether you are using a kettlebell, a barbell, a dumbbell, a sandbag, a Bulgarian bag, gymnastics, yoga, martial arts or just Bodyweight conditioning.

Some of the things I look for, irrespective of the tools are:

-Comprehensive—does it work the entire body or just one area of the body? Does it train just one quality, such as strength, or speed, or endurance, or does it train many qualities simultaneously. Can we simultaneously, within a program or method or protocol, train strength, endurance, power, speed, mobility, flexibility, balance and coordination. This is why I say I look for common denominators. How can we work as many useful physical qualities as possible, in the least amount of time, with minimal space and minimal equipment?

-Holistic—this means not only is the training comprehensive in working many areas and physical qualities, but does it also integrate the mental and emotional with the physical. I believe very strongly in comprehensive, holistic training and am not a fan of one-dimensional training goals.

You’re famous for your own levels of strength and athleticism. Can you tell us a little about your training regime?

It has changed over the years and it depends on my availability of time since I travel and teach so much and also what my goals are.

In this period, most of my own training revolves around the Kettlebell Sport lifts, which are Clean and Jerk with 2 kettlebells and 1 arm Snatch. I integrate these with some basic Barbell lifts, such as DL and Squat and some Bodyweight exercises such as pull-ups and dips, sometimes weighted and sometimes just bodyweight. I will also integrate some thick grip work with the pull-ups. I add in some Bulgarian Bag training a few times a week and also like to spend some time at the end of training with some deep stretching or yoga. Also will add in some running as well, usually on non-lifting days. In an ideal training day, I will also incorporate some qigong or meditation to help with relaxation, focus, circulation and aid recovery. 

And we find that fitness can be over-complicated sometimes – do you have any key exercises that you always default to?

Yes, can’t go wrong with full body complex movements, such as Squats (can be with KB, BB, BW only, 1 leg or 2), 1 arm Clean& Jerk, Snatch, Pull-ups. These type of simple movements deliver a lot of bang for the buck and have a history of delivering results. 

What does the future hold for you? And do you have any upcoming events that our readers may be interested in?

Well I continue to grow and do my best to be a great motivator and educator. Our IKFF programs are expanding a lot in 2011. We have also been receiving a lot of inquiries from gyms and trainers across the world who want to be IKFF Affliliates, so we will begin offering that option to certain gyms and trainers this year as well.

As far as events, we have courses all the time, either workshop or certification courses on Kettlebell training, Mobility and Bodyweight Conditioning. We offer these extensively throughout North America and Europe and also in Asia, Africa, South America and Australia (sorry Antarctica!). So best bet for those interested would be to email me to inquire about upcoming courses in their areas at:

and also check out our events page at:

We are constantly adding new events, so interested folks should check back regularly. They also can check out our Facebook pages:


Steve Cotter/IKFF

Would you like to say anything else?

I love to teach and I am fortunate to be able to offer a positive influence to many who are looking to strengthen their minds and body in healthful ways. So please feel free to reach out and contact me if I can help you toward your goals. 

Many thanks for taking the time to speak to us at the Sandbag Fitness Blog and we hope you have a great year ahead.

Thanks very much Matthew and I wish you all the best !!

To learn more, check out some of the great products at IKFF

Todays Workout

10 Chin Ups, 20 Sit Ups, 30 Sandbag Push Jerks, 40 Squats. 5 rounds.

Complete as quickly as possible.

Record your time.

Train hard!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Todays Workout - Sandbag Strength

With the heaviest sandbag you can handle:

5 Sandbag Power Cleans
5 Sandbag Push Press
5 Sandbag Back Squat

Rest for 2 minutes and repeat for a total of 5 rounds.

Record your weight.

Train hard!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Todays Workout - '99'

In honour of our 99th blog post...

99 Sandbag Clean and Jerks, 99 Sandbag Back Squats, 99 Press Ups. Break up as needed.

Record your time.

Train hard!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Todays Workout - Sandbag Strength

Heavy Sandbag Push Jerk, Heavy Sandbag Back Squat, Chin Ups. Max repetitions on each exercise, rest for 2-4 minutes and repeat for 5 rounds.

Record your weight and score.

Train hard!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Todays Workout - Push, Squat, Pull

5 Heavy Sandbag Push Jerks, 10 Back Squats, 5 Chin Ups. 5 rounds.

Record your time.

Train hard!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Todays Workout - 60 Seconds

Sandbag Push Press, Sandbag High Pulls, Sandbag Back Squats, Sit Ups. Max repetitions in 60 seconds for each exercise with a running clock. Take 1 minute rest between rounds and repeat for 3 rounds total.

Record your score.

Train hard!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Todays Workout - Sandbag Tabata

20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest repeated for 8 intervals. Sandbag Back Squats (leave sandbag on shoulders during rest interval), Sandbag Push Press, Sandbag Power Cleans, Sandbag Walking Lunges (Overhead).

Record your total score for each exercise.

Train hard!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Todays Workout - Death by Sandbag Clean and Press

With a moderately heavy sandbag (recommend 45kg for men, 20 kg for women), perform 1 clean and press/jerk in the first minute, 2 in the second minute etc. Keep going until you can no longer complete the target repetitions within any given minute. Power cleans are acceptable.

Record your score.

Train hard!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Todays Workout - MMA Fight Specific Circuit

10 Sandbag Floor Press, 1 Sandbag TGU, 10 Shoulder-to-Shoulder Sandbag Push Press, 10 Bear Hug Sandbag Squats. As many rounds as possible in 5 minutes, rest for 1 minute and repeat for 3 rounds total. Alternate shoulders for the TGU between each round.

Record your score for each round.

Train hard!

Friday, 14 January 2011

Todays Workout - Sandbag Thrusters and Skipping

50 Double Unders or 150 Skips, 20 Sandbag Thrusters. 5 rounds.

Record your time.

Train hard!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Todays Workout - Sandbag Strength

Max Heavy Sandbag Back Squats and Max Chin Ups. Repeat for 5 rounds, rest as needed between rounds.

Record weight and score.

Train hard!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Todays Workout

20 Squats, 20 Shoulder-to-Shoulder Sandbag Presses, 20 Sit Ups, 20 Sandbag Power Cleans. 4 rounds.

Record your time.

Train hard!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Todays Workout

5 Chin Ups, 10 Sandbag Push Press, 15 Squats. 10 rounds.

Record your time.

Train hard!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Todays Workout

Heavy Sandbag Overheads - work your way up to the heaviest sandbag you can manage and perform a series of single lifts (anyhow) from ground to overhead.


Record your weight.

Train hard!

Store Now Available

Sandbag Fitness now has its own Amazon Store! We'll be featuring everything you need to get started and there will be regular special offers. You'll also find some useful reading material to support the Sandbag Fitness workouts. If you have any questions regarding any of the products featured here, please get in touch.

We will soon be adding some exciting new products from our friends at Brute Force Sandbags - watch this space!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Todays Workout

10 Chin Ups, 20 Sit Ups, 30 Sandbag Push Jerks, 40 Squats. 5 rounds.

Complete as quickly as possible.

Record your time.

Train hard!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Sandbag Training for MMA

If you walk through the doors of any commercial gym in the country you’ll be met by row upon row of cardio equipment and resistance machinery. But, is this the best training environment for Mixed Martial Artists who want to build elite strength and conditioning?

The sandbag remains one of the greatest strength and conditioning tools for MMA athletes for one major reason – it closely resembles the demands of the sport.

Ultimate Functional Training

The term functional training has been bastardized heavily in health and fitness. If you ask most trainers and coaches about functional training they’ll have you balancing on a stability ball in no time at all. This always baffles me – if I don’t spend time balancing on a big ball during my daily life then how can training for it be functional? These coaches have typically neglected to examine the variables of function in relation to the individual. Functional training simply refers to matching, in some way, the training to the results required.

MMA athletes need strength, power, speed, agility and endurance. They work with awkward external loads (called opponents) so the training needs to replicate this.

Isn’t MMA the best way to train for MMA?

Strength and conditioning for MMA is designed to support skill development – greater physical development allows the athlete to train harder, manage injury and increase the quality of skill learning. Furthermore, when two opponents of fairly equal skill level are matched – the better conditioned athlete will usually come out on top.

Strength and conditioning is your way of attaining greater physical development in a controlled environment. You can work on specific movement patterns that would not be possible during the demands of high level competition.

Grip Training

Traditional weight training places demands on the grip that aren’t necessarily directly applicable to martial arts and MMA. Barbell and dumbbell lifting, for the most part, allow a ‘closed grip’ – one where you are able to completely close the hand around the bar. While this allows the athlete to lift more weight safely it is a luxury that MMA doesn’t typically provide. Apart from wrist control, this is not a common grip position in MMA.

Gripping something with an ‘open grip’ – where the hand is not able to fully close around the object, has a much greater application. The sandbag is perfect for this as it allows an athlete to grip in a variety of different ways, including gripping the canvas with an open grip. The benefits to competitors who fight with a Gi are also very clear.

The inclusion of handles on your sandbag, also allows the versatility to perform other highly valuable exercise like the Snatch.

The idea of an ‘open grip’ can be further developed. Zercher and Bear Hug grips add another degree of function to MMA strength and conditioning.

It is important to realise that ‘grip’ does not start and finish with the hand. Grip should be classed as the ability to hold onto an external load or to the ability to hold onto a fixed surface. The need to effectively match the demands of the sport with the strength and conditioning is paramount.

Practical Applications for MMA

Besides multi-planar compound movements there are plenty of specific drills for the MMA athlete. The following exercises will help to produce fight-specific strength and conditioning.

1. Bear Hug Load Carry

Holding the sandbag with a bear hug grip, carry it across a set distance. You can practice this with both light and heavy bags, and over short to long distances. Although, a bag the weight of your opponent carried between the cage/ring walls would be highly specific. You can also experiment with different grips on the bag (see picture)

2. Sandbag Hip Bridge
Lie on the mat with the sandbag across your hips. Then, in one powerful movement, drive the sandbag upwards by using a hip bridge. This exercise will help develop the power needed to escape from the bottom position. Experiment with different sandbag positions and escaping from under the bag in different ways.

3. Platform Load Shift

Using two platforms, stand in between them and move the sandbag through 180 degrees. Experiment with different height platforms to simulate a change in the centre of gravity of your opponent. This drill can effectively be used to encourage an escape from being pressed up against the fence and general opponent control in the clinch. Again you can experiment with different weights and grip positions.

“Be formless, water”

One of the greatest advantages of the sandbag is its versatility. MMA competition is free flowing so why not match your training to this concept? Have fun and get used to swinging, throwing, pressing and pulling your sandbag in a variety of different ways for some great results.

This article was originally published for Brute Force Sandbags - check out their store here:

Monday, 3 January 2011

Todays Workout

Box Jumps, Sandbag Power Cleans, Heavy Sandbag Front Squats, Sit Ups, Sandbag Push Jerks.

Perform each exercise for 1 minute, giving a total round of 5 minutes. Record the number of repetitions performed within each minute for each exercise. There is a 1 minute rest period between each set of 5 exercises but a running clock during each round. Repeat for 3 rounds in total.

Record your total repetitions for the whole sequence.

Train hard!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Todays Workout

Heavy Sandbag Complex: Power Clean, Push Jerk, Back Squat, Push Jerk and return to the ground and repeat.

Complete 5 repetitions of the sequence (5x4 movements) and repeat this for 5 sets. Rest as needed between sets and work your way up to the heaviest bag you can handle.

Record your weight.

Train hard!