Charleston’s School of Strength

Charleston Kettlebell Club is The best place in Charleston to learn proper technique for Hardstyle Russian Kettlebells, Barbell lifts, and Bodyweight techniques for Strength, Performance and Resilience. We believe ‘Strength is a Skill’ and practice movement quality before quantity.

We provide our students with instruction designed to promote real world strength and conditioning utilizing kettlebells, barbells, and bodyweight exercises. We offer personalized one-on-one training and group classes. Our mission is to help you become stronger both physically and mentally!

Instructor Certification

Previously known as Progressive Fitness, Mike Fickling and Brett Bracken have been personal training for the past 10 years. They are excited to bring Charleston their modern take on an old-school approach to strength training.

Each one of Charleston Kettlebell Club’s team of trainers brings a unique background and perspective to their work and therefore have specialized expertise. We strive to match the best trainer to the client based on goals and needs. While all of the team are C.H.E.K Institute Trained Professionals, we encourage each team member to follow their passions with all types of continuing education and personal growth from Olympic and Power Lifting to Yoga training to StrongFirst and RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) Certifications. We practice what we preach.

We are very proud to be StrongFirst Instructors.  Founded by Pavel Tsatsouline, father of the modern Kettlebell Revolution, StrongFirst is a school of strength.   StrongFirst is one of the few certifications out there that require their instructors not only be able to pass a written test, but also demonstrate rigorously tested exercise technique, prove their teaching skills and pass a strength test.  Needless to say, one must prepare for this education!  We must be able to “walk the walk” to be StrongFirst.  In addition to being certified with StrongFirst, we were also chosen to assistant instruct at other StrongFirst SFG 1 Certifications and Kettlebell User Courses, both of which expose us to the best of the best.  Read more here.

Our StrongFirst Certifications

SFG1 held by Mike Fickling & Brett Bracken

SFG stands for StrongFirst Girya. Girya is the Russian word for Kettlebell. This certification is the entry level to other StrongFirst certifications but is by no means easy. Considered the highest standards in the industry, it is a three day test designed and refined by Pavel, to insure that you can successfully teach the “big 6” lifts for Russian Kettlebells safely and effectively. These lifts are the Swing, Get Up, Double Clean, Press, Double Front Squat and Snatch. Read more here.

SFB held by Mike Fickling

SFB stands for StrongFirst Bodyweight. This certification presents Pavel’s bodyweight principals and its instructors learn techniques to instruct students to get a powerlifting-quality practice anywhere, anytime. It is a fundamental distillation of the principals of StrongFirst. Read more here.

SFG2 held by Brett Bracken

StrongFirst Girya 2 is the next level of Kettlebell training. Instructors learn to perform and teach some of the most extreme drills that round out all serious kettlebell practice. An SFG2 has to not only demonstrate all level 1 skills and strength but pass the skills test for the Windmill, Bentpress, Double Push Press and Double Jerk and a Clean and Overhead Press strength test relative to their bodyweight. Learn more here.

SFL held by Mike Fickling & Brett Bracken

SFL stand for StrongFirst Lift and is the essential barbell certification as developed and refined by Pavel and Dr. Michael Hartle. It focuses on the three timeless powerlifts: Deadlift, Squat and Benchpress as well as their accessory movements. This is a principal-based barbell system designed to get you strong! Like all StrongFirst certifications, SFL certified coaches meet the highest standards in strength, movement skills and coaching. Read more here.

Learn More About:

Mike Fickling

Founder and Instructor

My journey to becoming a strength and conditioning coach and gym owner/operator has not been a straight line. I was born and raised in rural Lancaster County, South Carolina where my foundations were set for a healthy and physical life. My mother provided us with awareness of health and good eating by growing our food and teaching my brother Chris and me how to cook wholesome food and take care of ourselves. We also had a lot of space to spend our energy outside and opportunity to express our natural athleticism and competitive spirit with sports and games. Finally, I was lucky to have a father that set a lasting example of fitness. This was in the ‘70s and he regularly weight trained and ran when it was not that common a behavior for a regular Joe. In addition, he often made his own equipment and tracked his progress all while working a lot of overtime supporting us.

Later my brother, who really pushed me athletically, and I both eventually played varsity high school basketball. We were born to be gym rats. Soon after I attended college at Winthrop University and got into intramural athletics and constant pickup games. College for me was great except my real education came when my brother died my freshman year. In hindsight it was a gift as I quickly became aware of our impermanence and removed a level of caution and fear that I think most of us carry inside. At Winthrop I really learned how to learn. In a few years I graduated with a degree in History, not Exercise Science. I told you it wasn’t a straight line.

After a bit of bouncing around and trying out some things I decided to move to Charleston. This was 1996. Growing up, we never had a lot of money but, with hard work, we always had what we needed. We were expected to work, both at home and at a job to support ourselves. This foundation of hard work and hustle I carried with me and it would pay dividends later. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities to learn from a variety of people and jobs and I have picked up very important lessons from all of them. The most important lesson of all was that I liked none of them! Fortunately, a continued gift of my brother’s death was the ability to change if I felt like I was on the wrong path. After all, life is, literally, too short.

I consider myself a lucky person even though my ego dislikes the concept of luck. The reality is, I’ve been good at falling into great opportunities because of a healthy curiosity to learn new things and a lack of fear of failure. I always want to do a little better, learn more, grow into a better athlete, citizen, friend and as it happened husband. That was definitely good fortune on my part!

I had never really applied myself to weight training before and decided that I would give it a try at a local gym. It seemed like a way to better myself and I couldn’t have been more right! In that gym I met great people that helped me on my way. There I met a person that would become my mentor and truly change my life. John Tysinger was a CHEK Practitioner that trained clients at the gym. I got to know him when I picked up a flyer regarding learning Wing Chun Kung Fu. Martial arts seemed like a good addition to my weight training and street basketball. After a single conversation with John I was in and quickly became his top student. I don’t know what he saw in me then but he believed in me and spent a lot of extra time teaching me everything he could about the art. John, to this day, was the best coach I have ever had the pleasure of being around. His plan for instructing me in Wing Chun taught me how to coach by having me train most of the new students. John soon opened his own studio.

At the time I was working a desk job and was miserable so I quit. Fortunately, I didn’t have another job lined up. One of my first calls was to John who immediately offered me a place at his studio. Having a mentor of his caliber in the strength and conditioning world was a real stroke of luck. I began with a NASM certification and went on to become a CHEK Practitioner Level 2 and CHEK Holistic Lifestyle Coach Level 2. Just as he accelerated my Wing Chun instruction, he was able to push me to be a better coach than I could have ever become on my own.

Unfortunately, our relationship was not to last. John had cystic fibrosis and became unable to work or teach very much toward the end. Not long after I opened my own studio with another good friend, John died. Before the end he, like my brother years earlier, taught me many valuable lessons that I live to this day. I was again reminded to value life and not fear death.

At my new studio, based on John’s model, I continued my education and practiced my skills as a coach. I eventually was led to the RKC and then to StrongFirst who’s system compliments my beliefs and coaching style ideally. Eventually, as businesses and people change, my original partnership ended and another grew. Brett and I slowly transformed the studio to what it is today. We’ve added new certifications like the Amazing 12 and we strive to continue improving both ourselves, our brand and our gym. Brett and I are currently StrongFirst Elite Coaches and are proud and excited to share our collective experiences with our students and our community.

No one becomes who they are alone. Although you must be responsible for your choices and you may work hard and be very lucky, you never do it alone. Your past experiences, your mentors, your fortunate breaks and losses and subsequent choices put you on your path. I hope that we can be part of your journey to whatever you are becoming. Let’s continue to get better together and never forget the ones that helped us along the way.

Brett Bracken

Founder and Instructor

Brett has been competing in sports and athletic endeavors since early childhood. Having not always been the best athlete on the field, he made up for it with hard work and determination. He’s achieved some incredible feats in the athletic world over the years and has a few more he’s chasing. Brett takes that same work ethic  and uses it to help you achieve your goals. With proper goal setting; assessing where you want to be, and where you are now, you can achieve your realistic goals. Has always been a staple of Brett’s training philosophy.

  • StrongFirst Elite
    • SFG I & II (kettlebell)
    • SFB (bodyweight)
    • SFL (barbell)
  • Amazing 12
  • ACSM Exercise Physiologist
  • Precision Nutrition Level 1
  • Ground Force Method Level 1
  • Flexible Steel Level 1 (August 2020)
  • IronMind Red Nail Certified
  • World Record Holder in Short Steel Bending, Record Holders Republic
  • Highland Games, North vs South, Team South 2017
  • Big South Conference, All Conference 3x’s, Pole Vault
  • Hanging out with his awesome pup, Rules
  • Competing in highland games
  • Old-time Strongman Feats of Strength
  • Stone Lifting, currently training to lift the Dinnie Stones and Inver Stone, late 2021

Garrison Pollock


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt explicabo. Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem quia voluptas sit aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt. Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur.