A man with his arms out in front of him.

Burn with Kearns: Awesome as Atlas – Kevin Kearns

by Kevin Kearns, contributing writer on fitness and exercise

We have heard the term functional training thrown around for years. I myself have used the term more than once daily. The question is are we truly functionally strong?

Looking at the fitness apparatus of today we have an array to choose from. Kettlebells, Dumbbells, Olympic bars, suspension trainers and alike line many gym floors. However, most of the latter were very different than they are today. Dumbbells and bars had thick handles that did not rotate. Kettlebells were literally balls of shot with thick handles. Suspension trainers were probably only available for circus performers.

Real old school strength was something different. Lifting, pulling, carrying, stacking, and throwing were all necessary “fitness evils”, 100’s if not 1000’s of years ago. To live in the 1400 or 1500’s people were in a different kind of shape. They were “functionally strong”. An average bale of hay weighed 75 to 100 lbs. Chopping trees down, building a home and stacking wood was all in a day’s life years ago.

It did not really hit me what “functionally strong” meant until I recently purchased an “Atlas Ball”. This is a huge ball modeled after the Atlas stones of long ago that they still use in Strong Man competitions today. I credit my good friend and fellow coach, Steve Carver, for intro-ing me to this evil device. He showed a video of him hurling this monstrosity of a ball at a “Plyofit” Jump Sport fitness trampoline. The minute I saw it, I told him he had to order one. Now I have 30 and 40 lb med balls at home I regularly use. However, they are more compact than this freight train of a ball. Literally in my group sessions we call it the ” Freight Train”.

When I first unpacked this I was quite impressed with its design and quality. This puppy or better yet “Killer” is made to last and is all killer and no filler. I decided to toy around with it right away and added some moments into my own training and group training sessions. Little did I realize just the act of carrying in out of my vehicle, thru doors, up stairs and demo-ing it was a workout in itself. I was fired from day one.

The interesting concept that kicked off in my head and the feedback from my groups was one simple word, “awkward”. Yes, of course, “beastly”, “menacing”, and downright “f-ing evil ” was all there. But the word “awkward” kept coming up. Then it hit me like a light switch. That is the missing key to “functional strength”. The exercises or apparatus needs to have some “awkward” to it for it to be truly functional. Why but for the simple fact that life is awkward. Life is 25lbs of groceries in one hand and carrying your 1-year old in your other hand up four flights of stairs. Life is dragging a 40lb suitcase on a plane and running to make your connection. Life is clearing trees in your backyard, and your chainsaw breaks, and you switch to an axe.

The first thing I noticed, just carrying the “Atlas ball” around was although I felt the load and work the next day, it felt natural. It felt normal, like my body was meant to do it on a genetic level. I felt muscles that I only usually feel using my axe to cut trees or using a wheel barrel to move logs. So here’s a workout I came up with that not only challenge every muscle in my body but male genetic potency. Warning you will hate me after, and that’s ok.

Lumber jacks – stand with the Atlas ball between your legs. Now wrapped your arms around it.. Squat down and press it up and over one shoulder. repeat on the other side for 5 to 10 reps.

Stair carries – find a flight of stairs with enough head room. Shoulder the ball or carry it by bear hugging it in front of you. now climb the stairs for one minute.

Knees in clinch – although this is an old stability ball drill we have been doing for years a 50 lb ball changes things quickly. Place your hands on the ball and feet behind you in a push up position. Now pull the ball in and out while kneeing the ball. 10 reps.

Big Time issues – similar to lumber jacks, squat down and shoulder the ball. Now in one explosive motion throw the ball straight down. As you do yell “I have issues”. 5 to 10 reps.

Push pull push ups – get in a push up with the ball in front of you. Now push the ball forward with one hand and then scrabble forward and push it again. When you run out of room here’s the fun part. Now in the push up position pull the ball back to you from where you started. 1 minute on this one.

Stairway to hell – this is a particularly evil one. find a staircase and place the Atlas Ball in front of it. Now push the ball up one stair at a time from the push up position. With a spot you can try coming down the stairs slowly. 1 minute 3 sets.

Power Punch – In a push up position with the ball 1 to 2 feet away from the wall. Explosively push the ball away so it bounces off the wall. Alternate between using your left and right hand. Try this one for 30 seconds to 1 minute .

Overhead smashes – this is not for the faint of heart. The reason being there ball does not bounce that much. Sorry guys. From 6 inches to a foot away from the wall pick the ball up over head. Next, simple start throwing it against the wall. 30 seconds to 1 minute.

After this workout you will feel muscles you definitely forgot about unless you have been here since the 1400’s.


Coach Kearns – Direct: 508 404 8503

Both of Coach Kearns’ books may be purchased on For more information about Coach Kevin Kearns, including scheduling speaking engagements and classes (both online and in person), please contact him at 508-404-8503 or [email protected].

Author of “There’s Light In The Tunnel” How to Survive and Thrive with Depression  – “Always Picked Last“ A guide to navigating bullies on Amazon and Audible

Coach Kevin Kearns has been coaching in the world of fitness, nutrition, and tactical self defense for over 3 decades. As the former conditioning coach to 15 UFC Pro Fighters, and ranked in the Top 5 in the UFC , he is no stranger to the the importance of proper nutrition and proper mindset programming. He has long advocated to all his clients – athletes or the general population – about the importance of programming mind, body and spirit. 

Coach Kevin Kearns BS FMS CPT – Former conditioning coach to 15 UFC Pros Ranked in Top 5 by the UFC Personal Fitness Coach, Author, Columnist, Motivational Speaker, Corporate Wellness Consultant, Youth Wellness Program Provider, Certification Specialist, Personal Self Defense, and Law Enforcement Defensive Tactics Specialist


  1. Craig on March 25, 2023 at 8:29 pm

    This guy Kevin is the real deal. I have worked out with him before and I always felt the sore muscles the next day after our workout. He know’s how to push you and to grind it out. Thanks for all the great tips coach Kevin.