My Interview with Steve Cotter

by Marianne  - March 8, 2011

Hi everyone,

Boy are we in for a treat today. Here is my interview with the highly respected, experienced and cutti ng-edge trainer Steve Cotter.

Steve Cotter draws from an extensive and diverse background as a champion athlete trainer to develop some of the most complete and exciting programs in strength and conditioning today. What I love about Steve’s style is that even now he continues to research and implement the most effective training methods in kettlebells, martial arts, strength and conditioning and many other human performance fields. He never assumes to know it all and is always willing to teach AND, be taught. This humility is his greatest attribute. I think the moment you think you know everything or there is just one path, then you fail as a trainer.

It is a real privilage to have interviewed Steve and his advice is very reassuring and will help a lot of us focus our training to be the best we can be.

Enough said, here is what Steve had to say to my interrogation ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Steve, I have found that some beginners lack direct or focus, or want to run before they can walk. In order to get full benefits from Kettlebell training, what is the best advice would could offer: a) a beginner to training in general? b) A beginner to Kettlebell Training?

“I think a crucially important and unattended to bit of advice is to be patient! Practically this means to be willing to stay with a lighter kettlebell and build up volume with that lighter load before moving into heavier loads. This will develop better endurance and also will allow for technical refinements with less risk of injury. Since kettlebell lifting is primarily a strength-endurance activity, being patient in the beginning phase of training will assure a stronger grasp of the fundamentals.ย  This is good advice for all training in general also. After all, fitness and health is a process and not a one-time event. A little every day will pay more dividends than going gong ho once or twice a week over the long term.

  • Certain Kettlebell exercises seem to be more popular or “respected” than others, like the Clean and Press, the Jerk, the Kettlebell Snatch and the Kettlebell Swing for example. Even though I can do these exercises I rarely use them in my training. You could say I use a more basic approach to the exercises I choose. Would you say, to benefit fully from Kettlebells, you need to used all of these exercises? Can you list what you consider to be the most beneficial Kettlebell exercises in developing overall strength and conditioning?

“The degree of benefit is personal and can vary widely based upon user. It can be for fat loss, or for general fitness, or for bodybuilding or sport conditioning or most specifically, for kettlebell sport training. So what would be deemed beneficial will depend on context. I would say that Clean & Jerk with 2 kettlebells or 1 and 1 arm Snatch are the most comprehensive in that they require the most technical proficiency and also utilize the full range of motion in each. So in that regard they can be considered the most beneficial and of course are the fundamentals of kettlebell sport.

One does not need to use all of the exercise mentioned to get benefit. But the question for me is how to get MAXIMUM benefit. I think for a program to work, it has to be sustainable and it has to be without complication. So to simplify this process, it is worth having at least 1 pressing movement, 1 pulling movement and 1 squatting movement. In this way, a person can work all the major muscles and joint with as little as 3 exercises in a given session. For example, Double Press (or Alternating Press), 1 arm Snatch and Front squats with 1 or 2 KBs would work the body in entirety. Included would be grip work and of course the back and entire posterior chain is being trained and of course the cardio-respiratory system through doing higher reps. So with those 3 exercises, you can work your entire body and many systems simultaneously. Some people like to add in things like Windmills or Turkish Get-ups, which are not traditional KB exercises per se, but do lend themselves well to kettlebells. The main point is to stay active and KB is a great way to do that, no matter what exercises one may prefer.

Having said all this, if one, especially a beginner was going to choose only 1 KB exercise and aim for maximal benefit, I would suggest the swing as it is a whole-body movement, burns a ton of calories and is relatively easy to turn with a lot of positive carryover into daily activities.”

  • Since starting to broad-cast my own Kettlebell workouts, I have encountered what seem to be an arrogance and certain divisions within the Kettlebell “world”. There seems to be intolerance for different styles, variations and creativity beyond the standard approach. You broke away from the Pavel and RKC “styles” and developed your own methods which has enable you progress to offering your Certification, which is a great achievement. Personally, I prefer to “feel” my way through my training, rather than stick to one style or programme, which isn’t for everyone. In your experience is it better to follow a training structure / set programme, or is it better to take aspects from different sources and develop your own training flare? Can you expand on some pros and cons of both?

“I agree with you and it comes mostly from commercial interests. Folks want to believe their guru is the most knowledgeable, even when the results say otherwise, and especially so if they make their living by having some particular letters behind their names.ย  Then of course there is the idea by some that because their guru is a champion that somehow vicariously through him that makes them better than others. My master is better than you master therefore I am better than you. Haha, it is funny and a bit silly, but it does happen.

To answer your question, I would not say that one approach is necessarily better than the other. It depends largely upon the quality of the source or resource. On one hand, it is not helpful to jump around from my method to another, at least not at the beginning. It is more useful to develop a solid foundation in one way of doing things before experimenting or taking on a new way. On the other hand if the source is bad, or limited and another source comes along that offers more quality or more substance or more depth, it makes sense to follow that โ€œbetterโ€ way. There needs to be balance. At some level all schools, teacher and methods will offer something of value, but surely some offer more than others.

I am one who, while a teacher at the same time remain a student. I have learned from Pavel but when I absorbed what I could from him I studied with Valery Fedorenko, who has much greater technical proficiency and experience as a lifter. But Pavel I think is a better communicator even though Fedorenko is a far better craftsman. So I learned different things from each. After Fedorenko I have studied with Oleh Ilica in Italy, who is also a World Champion at the highest level of KB Sport and to me is the best coach I have studied with to date, as well as the best overall athlete. Although Fedorenko may be a more gifted Kettlebell lifter from a pure technique perspective, Oleh is a better all-around athlete and his use of other modalities (barbells, gymnastics, flexibility, martial arts) appeals to me.ย  In a few months I will go to Russia for a week to study directly with Honored Masters Sergey Rachinskey and Sergey Rudnev, who have each trained many many many champions. So I of all people want to learn from anyone and everyone who has something to teach. However, I look for the similarities more so than the differences. Kettlebells is an art from and as such learning and practice is an on-going process over time.

Follow one program for at least some time before changing, but investigate and explore. What I can say for sure though, is that there is no One True Way!

  • In the past year I have become what I like to call passionate, but others may describe as obsessed, about encouraging women (especially) to focus their training more on strength and performance over, for example, fat loss. I believe you gain a far greater self-belief in achieving these, than just focusing on how you look. In your experience as a trainer, what advice/encouragement would you offer women who are oblivious to their potential?

“I agree with you. Aesthetics is an extension of performance. If you focus on performance your body will get stronger, more fit, usually leaner. If you focus on aesthetics, it may get leaner and look nicer, but may not improve in function. Also, outer beauty is a reflection of inner beauty. This is a sum of health, fitness and most of all attitude. To be beautiful we must (men as well as women) feel beautiful.

Women are super strong. They have strong minds. Women can bare children and give birth. No man can do that. So women have a mental toughness and physical endurance that is exceptional. Whatever strength limitations are in place are largely cultural and tradition. I know some very strong women in the kettlebell and weightlifting world who most men would be envious of. So the sky is the limit.ย  Donโ€™t believe that you cannot or should not. The only question should be โ€œdo you want toโ€ or actually โ€œdo I want to? โ€œ and if the answer is yes, than you can over time, progressively. “

  • What is the best kettlebell strength test?

“Probably the most pure test of raw strength would be a Bottoms Up Press. Since KBs are fixed weights, once you can lift the heaviest available KB, the only way to make it harder is to turn it Bottoms up to change the leverage. A Bottoms UP Clean and Press with a 48kg KB, for example is an elite level of strength of grip and upper body. Another good one is the 2 Hands Anyhow with at least 2x32kg for men or 2x16kg for women.

  • If you could choose one body weight and one Kettlebell exercise, what would you say are your favorite and/or the best, and why?

“For BW I like the pistol because it is very athletic, it works strength, flexibility, balance and agility simultaneously and strong legs are a strong body. Also there is a lot of athletic carryover simply because we are almost never double weighted in athletics (or in life), we almost always have our body load predominantly on one leg or the other.

For KBs I alternate between Snatch or Clean and Jerk depending upon what I am working on. But if I have to pick only one, I pick 2 KB Clean and Jerk because you can work all the body with one exercise, plus grip, plus cardio. It is a manโ€™s or womanโ€™s exercise!

The other week I had the privilege to interview Bret Contreras about strength and conditioning related questions. The next two questions are ones I have also asked him, but I am interested to see other views on these subjects, even if the first one may be a little predictable (given your expertise), but I like to know the “why” behind it:

  • Kettlebells, barbell and bodyweight: Personally I train for variety most of the time and I try to use all of these methods, plus mixing paces to get the most from my body. However I am interested to know what you would consider the best type/method of training for women to achieve overall strength and conditioning?

“I donโ€™t believe that there is a best; there are better methods relative to goals. For example, if the primary goal is to achieve maximal limit strength, I consider barbell to be the best tool. If the goal is to maximize cardio-respiratory fitness, I suggest running or cross-country skiing, or rowing. If the goal is maximal power, I would recommend Olympic weightlifting. If the goal is a balanced blend of strength-power-endurance, I think kettlebells are the best for that.ย  So specificity of goals is the most important determination as to what best tool or method to follow. Because your question asks about overall strength and conditioning, I think kettlebells may be the best single tool for general fitness, however for athletes who have the same goal, I think a blend of training protocols—kettlebell, barbell, bodyweight conditioning, calisthenics and flexibility and mobility training is most suitable.

  • For a while now, I have had a bee in my bonnet about how the fitness industry tends to portray being lean and shredded as the main symbol/goal of great โ€œfitnessโ€ and achievement. Personally I believe they have missed the boat. What are your views on this and, in 3 words, how would you sum up โ€œfitnessโ€ or being โ€œfitโ€?

“Fitness has more to do with performance capabilities than aesthetics. Aesthetics is largely related to genetic propensities. What is fitness in 3 words: vitality, performance, pro-creativity

  • I read in an previous interview you said “Mind-body integration is essential to success…”. How would you say one can nurture this integration?

“Through the study practices which require total mental involvement in the physical process. A rule of thumb is that if you can watch tv or read a magazine while exercising, the exercise is not mind-body, it is body/no-mind. Mind-body exercise is meditative in nature.

  • Finally, any plans for you and the IKFF to visit Belfast?

“There are no scheduled plans of of the moment. We have IKFF courses in Dublin every year or 2 and for 2011 we have courses scheduled for London, Birmingham and Wales, and possibly Edinburgh, but so far not Belfast. Would you like to invite me?

Thank you again Steve for answering these questions for us. I would like to extend an official invite to you and the IKFF to Belfast in the future.ย  I have quite a collection of Kettlebells that can be used anytime.

“Thanks very much for asking me to participate in this interview!”

The pleasure is mine.

Courtesy of Steve Cotter, Director, IKFFย


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  1. Thank you Marianne. You made up my mind with this interview. My goal is strength-power-endurance. I will definitely be using Steve’s video. I know he released Extreme Strength 12 week kettlebell program. This will be on my next workout cycle. After I finish the basics of the Skogg system (six weeks to go), I will certainly jump on this 12 week workout of his. Although I’ll have to put in some of your workout routines once a week. My arms almost fell off after your death by swings routine. lol, keep it coming.

  2. Can`t wait to give kettlebells a go, my gym have just implemented some and that area of the gym is always deadly quiet.

    I have been at a plateau for a while now so hope kettlebells will shake my body up to breaking past that barrier and moving forwards again.

    Thanks for the interview, I didn’t know who Steve Cotter is but I just googled a few of his suggestions and his name popped up all over so I guess I will see more of him as I get deeper into it ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. David, you should give KBs a try. These types of high intensity workouts with KBs will shift you out of your plateau for sure.

      Steve is amazing! Great guy and great teacher.

      I hope you will let me know how you progress ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Just thought I would share this quote I found from Steve Cotter:

    “A confident man I think is not so concerned about how he looks to others. The focus is in the wrong place. Instead, this is for men and women who are interested in feeling good…”

    I love that guy, he really is beautiful inside.

  4. I can’t believe I am just now reading this, but I am glad I did – it just had to be at 4 in the morning! I really like Steve Cotter, and have always admired him. I loved everything he said, and I really appreciate the question you asked about mind-body integration, that is something that most people don’t even think about but IMO is so important. I also love watching his videos and advice, what a humble guy. I have been drifting away from Pavel more and more, especially after this SECOND INJURY on my SECOND ATTEMPT doing his program – even though I still appreciate the knowledge of those who have trained under him.

    I have never even attempted the bottom’s up press!

    Great interview!

  5. Awesome interview Marianne! Steve Cotter always sounds like such a humble, smart, and helpful guy. The questions were really great.

  6. Great interview Marianne, really interesting questions ๐Ÿ™‚ I love the fact that he is so knowledgeable but doesn’t stop wanting to learn from others! Perfect 3 word sum of fitness!!

  7. Really well done on getting and publishing this interview Marianne.
    I really enjoyed reading it a lot.
    Very interesting about the BUP’s.
    Also I have tried the double anyhows Steve mentions – managed a 32 and 28kg together but failed the 2 x 32.

    Keep up the great work


    1. Yeah Eric, the BUP is like one of the only exercise I have serious trouble with! I can do a few reps with a 12kg on my right side, but my left is a lost cause LOL, it takes a lot of focus too.

      The double anyhows are brutal !!

      Thanks for commenting.


  8. Fantastic job. Marianne! Some really great and useful info. The questions you asked wre great and I think were the most beneficial to those of us on the site.
    Funny, I was looking at various training videos on youtube just yesterday and after about the 3rd from Steve Cotter, I made the connection that he was to be your next interview. Some great stuff, though.
    Once again, congratulations. I think one day people will throw your name into that circle, as in ” I trained wih Marianne..”

    1. Thanks John (blush), I hope this too, or at least be recognised as someone who knows what they are doing in the fitness world. Something to aim for I think ๐Ÿ˜€

      Glad you enjoed the interview!

  9. Mr. Cotter!!! :)) Lol!

    Hi Marianne, I got excited that you interviewed him. Last year, I saw an interview of him with Sean Croxton of UndergroundWellness. He’s a very cool dude and so flexible. You know, I don’t own any kettlebells. We have TRX, sandbags, and a few dumbells. But, the more I view your videos and now your interview with Steve, it has finally convinced me to invest in some kettlebells. Even my gym doesn’t have kettlebells :/ My hubby and I were discussing recently the beauty of the kettlebells. We think that they are more functional than dumbells. Of course, we could be wrong, but the design gives more flexibility to the hands, wrists, and forearms. Do you agree?
    At any rate, another awesome interview! Have a great week! ๐Ÿ™‚


    1. I totally agree, you’re are spot on! Because the weight is outside of the load, it required much more stability to use the KB over a Dumbbell.

      Happy Kettlebell hunting ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. I loved this interview, I found his answers to be right on and some enlightening too. He doesn’t come off as full of himself either which I really like about him. Now if I could only do a pistol I’d be

  11. Marvellous interview and I totally agree with Steve here: your site is getting better and better.

    Well done Mariannina!


  12. Hey Marianne.

    Great interview!!

    I really found myself agreeing with him on almost everyting. I really liked his answer to your question about how some people focus their training towards towards aesthetics rather than health and fitness. I feel exactly the same way about that. You should train primarily with your health in mind , it’s about what your body and mind can do rather than what it looks like from the outside. So called ‘looking better’ (whatever that means) is just a nice secondary benefit of becoming fitter. It really was a great interview!!!

    As I have mentioned before I am looking to do a course sometime this year. The main difficulty is just picking the right one. One of the main problems with the kettlebell industry is that it is just so fragmented. So many different associations, all offering their own courses, all claiming to be the best. Most of the main guys seem to have trained with eachother at some point and have split off for whatever reason (probably to make more money) and it is just so difficult to know who to train with. You would recommend OLF, the personal trainer I have once-weekly sessions with recommends KTA, I have looked at Pavel, Steve Maxwell (I am seriously considering his 6 day bootcamp in Cyprus later on this year), and Steve Cotter seems great to, but the list goes on. It’s just that you have to pay in advance and if, when you get there you don’t like the teachers, or the course is not what you were hoping for you may well have wasted a lot of money.

    It is so difficult to choose!!!!

    Well this site just seems to get better and better ๐Ÿ™‚


    1. Steve, maybe you need to write down what you want to do with your course? Are you wanting to compete one day in KB Sport, train people, or just improve your own technique?

      The Certificate I got is enough for what I need KBs for. Because my training involves a lot of other things, I actually have no need for RKC, or HKC. I thought about why I wanted to do these and it was more about being “respected” in what I am doing now, than actually using the Cert. I don’t mean to say my form is perfect or I don’t need more tuition, what I mean is RKC seems to have become a “status” thing?? I know the basics, so I can improve on what I am doing now, using my skills to get the best out of KB Home Workouts ๐Ÿ˜€

      If I was to go to any KB Workshops, it would be from Steve Cotter, because he has shown the most “growth” from his Kettlebell and other types of training.


      1. I am not really wanting to compete. But I would definitely like to teach, whether just to people at my martial arts club or maybe separate kettlebell classes. So I would like to have a certificate that would be recognised. But mainly I would be doing the course for myself, to improve my technique and knowledge. But also it would be great just to meet up with a bunch of people with a common interest. For me muscular size isn’t the most important thing, more strength and conditioning without losing any speed.

        Yeah I don’t like doing something just so I can say I’ve done this or trained with that person. Just want to come away having really enjoyed myself and having had really good quality instruction.

        Well I’m sure most courses will have benefit so I’ll probably just go with my gut instinct lol.

  13. Great interview. Steve Cotter is very wise. I really enjoyed this interview. It is something that I can go back to and read to keep me going. and to keep me positive.’

    Thanks for the post

    1. He sure is. Liked his answer about women ๐Ÿ˜€ Makes me feel proud to be female! Not that we’re better than men, just that we can do something men cannot. It’s hard to explain ๐Ÿ˜›

      1. I too thought it was a very diplomatic answer. Dont mess with a kettlebell swinging woman LOL

        At least I know that as a male only we can biologically father a child.
        I loved your choice of questions Marianne. Well thought out and very astute. Generally a really fairdinkum interview.

        I also am passionate about function over aesthetics so kudos to you both!!

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