This past weekend I took a trip to New York City for my StrongFirst Level 1 Kettlebell certification. Many people consider StrongFirst to be the top kettlebell certification in the world. It was founded by Pavel Tsatsouline who also founded the Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) certification. Pavel left the "RKC" in 2012 to start StrongFirst, which is dedicated to the pursuit and development of strength.The StrongFirst certification is three days long and is quite the challenging, strenuous certification. I would know because I just finished the certification on Sunday and I am still very sore. StrongFirst is no joke and one that you must train for.
This is where my story begins, I am going to tell you about my preparation for the certification, the mistakes I made and my experiences that led up to a weekend I will never forget.
Five months ago in March I came across a podcast from Tim Ferris that had on guest Pavel Tsatsouline. During the podcast they covered topics ranging from how to develop strength through "grease the groove" to what StrongFirst stood for. I listened to the podcast multiple times and began doing more research on what StrongFirst was. After a couple days of research I was convinced that StrongFirst was the certification I needed due to it notoriety in the fitness world and it's physical component. To become an instructor you must demonstrate proficiency in the single arm swing, single arm press, single arm snatch, double front squat, double KB clean, and the turkish get up plus complete 100 snatches in five minutes.
In addition, you would be training for about 6 hours each day leading up to testing day. Oh, and all of this had to be done with a 24kg (53lb) kettlebell. You could say I had my work cut out for me , but I do love a challenge so there was even more incentive to get this certification.
There was just one problem, it was 1400 dollars and I was a student on a college budget who to this day is still terrible at saving money so I called up my parents and they offered to help me out.
*Before going any further I just want to take the time to thank my parents for everything they have done for me in my life, without them I would be nothing and I owe them everything. They are the main reason why I am so driven to succeed in life . To my Mom and Dad, thank you.*
Back to the story at hand, the certification was paid for and it was time for training to begin. A problem arose quite quickly when later that week I would end up injuring my shoulder while doing pull ups. I knew I couldn't do any pressing or kettlebell movements so I turned to gymnasticbodies.com and sprint training for the next couple months. My shoulder was slowly getting better but was still not 100%, and the certification was three months away so I knew I had to start training with kettlebells.
I searched the StrongFirst website, and came across a guide that laid out all the workouts you needed to pass the certification. I decided to forego that guide due to my huge ego and my annoying shoulder pain. I figured I would be able to figure it out myself so I wrote my own plan. It included loaded carries (farmers, suitcase, waiters, front rack), swings, barbell glute bridges and of course I was still doing my gymnastic and sprint training. The days flew by and as the certification got closer I began incorporating cleans, front squats, and turkish get-ups. I continued to struggle with shoulder pain so snatches and presses were out of the question. I began to become very nervous that I was not going to be able to pass the test since I was not practicing any pressing or snatch movements, especially when you have to do 100 snatches in five minutes to become certified. I felt like I had let my parents down. They had spent all this money on this certification and I was going to fail, shame took over my body and I didn't know what to do. I decided to reach out to the head instructor asking what happens if you fail, I received uplifting news that you will have 3 months to send in a video of yourself performing proficiency in each movement. This allowed me to relax and gain some confidence back in myself. With my regained confidence I sought out help for my shoulder and went to a chiropractor where I began using a TENS unit for 15 minutes at each session. In just two weeks my shoulder began feeling way better.
My shoulder continued to heal and I was gaining confidence in all of my movements, I even began snatching and pressing a 60 lb kettlebell! The cert. was about a month away and I still had not practiced for the snatch test, I decided that I would attempt it in a week which would still give me three weeks to fine tune the movements, however another injury arose. I can still remember the day like it was yesterday. I had been training clients all morning and was short on time to workout so i skipped my usual warm up due to some amazing pump up music; thanks Spotify. I felt amazing and felt like I could do anything so I decided to grab a 60lb and a 55lb kettlebell to do some front squats. Unfortunately, I never did any front squats because I threw my back out when trying to clean the kettlebells into a front rack position. I did the movement with terrible form and deserved the injury. I was a fool for thinking I could just muscle it up. That day I could barely walk and had to go to my chiropractor where I was given a back brace to wear for two weeks. Once again, shame took over my body and I was left to do nothing as the certification approached closer each day. The only glimpse of hope that kept me motivated was that my shoulder was continuing to get better and better.
Fast forward to Friday July, 24, the first day of StrongFirst. The first thought that came to me was " wow there are a lot of females here" followed by " I cannot get injured and miss a workout" My ego was in full force and I was judging every single person that walked through the door or anyone that crossed my gaze. This would be the last time that my ego dictated my actions. We were soon put into groups and assigned a group leader. I was assigned Ron Farrington, the first thing that he said changed my perspective that weekend and to this day it has still been changed. Our leader looked at all of us and said two things; we are all students here to learn and that you need to leave your ego at the door. Anyone who knows me knows I have continually struggled with my ego and the ability to admit that I was wrong. Those two statements have stuck with me allowing me to let go of my ego, and to become a student.
The weekend was one that I will never forget even though I ended up failing the snatch test and the single arm kettlebell swing. The snatch test was a blur, I was apart of the first 9 people to go. Remember, how I said I have never tested for this test? Well ya, I was clueless and had no idea what to expect. The timer started and I started snatching, all I remember hearing is " you have 3 minutes left with 60 reps left". I was on a perfect pace until I hit a wall and before I knew it I only had one minute left with 35 reps remaining. I knew defeat had occurred, but quitting was not an option, when the timer hit zero I ended up at 87 snatches. At first, I was disappointed in myself until everyone there pats you on the back saying great job. The camaraderie, coaching, and lessons taught was worth every penny. I encourage everyone to try it out, especially if you are a coach or athlete.
Strongfirst is not just a school for physical strength, Strongfirst is a family, a way of life that embodies you. The StrongFirst Code says it best ..
I AM A STUDENT OF STRENGTH.
I AM A TEACHER OF STRENGTH.
I AM A QUIET PROFESSIONAL.
THE WAY I CARRY MY STRENGTH MATTERS.
STRENGTH HAS A GREATER PURPOSE
A special thanks to my group leader Ron Farrington, for being a great coach and a role model for someone who is trying to find their way in the fitness industry and their place in the world.
If anyone is wondering, yes I will be training and passing the two tests I failed on and I too will be a StrongFirst Level 1 instructor.