Back in May, my friend Melody Schoenfeld was in town to assist at a StrongFirst kettlebell certification in Salt Lake City. We met for lunch and as she explained the details of the course, I gazed off into space and realized it was time to put my fears aside and go for it myself. I was afraid of the expense, the intense nature of the program, the pre-training involved and the fact that I was going to have to make major sacrifices. Does any of this sound familiar?
It occurred to me at this point that instead of being led by my dreams and goals, I was being led by fear. In actuality, I was being a HUGE hypocrite, because I’m the motivational sonofagun that people always turn to for advice when they’re scraping their way through life and are afraid of something. Out on the streets where I come from, the transformation from being a sissy to manning up is called “taking off the skirt.” From that point on, not lack of money, lack of time, lack of resources or lack of anything was going to stop me. It was on like Donkey Kong!
After signing up for the August certification the very next day, I later found out there was a Primal Move workshop going on down near Ron Jones’ neck of the woods on June 2nd. Becoming a Primal Move instructor was also high on my list of priorities, so I threw fear out the bedroom window and immediately signed up. Finally things were starting to take shape in my mind. Then I decided to add one more goal to the mix–finish my long-awaited eBook. I now had three major goals to achieve and to light a fire under my glute max, I set a deadline of mid-August. The easy part was over. I now had to “flip the switch” and just get it done.
I attended the Primal Move workshop under the instruction of Paul Daniels and became certified shortly thereafter. One down and two to go. Then it came time for StrongFirst, which is NOT to be taken lightly. In some cases, people train an entire year just to take the course, let alone pass! I had eight weeks to get locked and loaded, and be at the top of my game; both physically and mentally.
My StrongFirst Kettlebell Certification Training Begins
The day before my PM workshop, I stepped into Ron’s mancave and spent some time with SFG II instructor Candas Jones who evaluated my skills. You talk about a reality check. Up to this point, I had never even picked up two kettlebells at the same time in a workout. When she informed me of all the double drills I had to do, I almost had an anxiety attack. My form was beyond bad. It was downright ugly. I tried swinging two 24 kg bells and my knees were going forward, my shoulders were rounded and I was rocking back and forth like I was at a Twisted Sister concert. She then started pushing my body in different directions, poking me in the back, pulling my hips back and down, and firing all these orders at my like a drill sergeant. This is what you call tough love.
After about 30 minutes of her testing my strength and ability level, and giving me pointers, Ron came marching out and they decided to run me through the snatch test to see where I was at. In case you are unfamiliar with the StrongFirst kettlebell certification testing protocol, the snatch test is a gold standard that shows your physical and mental toughness like no other challenge. A man of my age and weight is required to snatch a 24 kg bell 100 times inside of 5 minutes. A 24-kg bell weighs approximately 53 lbs by the way.
Ron then stood in front of me with a timer in hand, Candas sat to my left on a bench and said “Go!” I ripped the bell off the floor and started snatching. I did 20 with my right arm, did a swing exchange, did 20 with my left, did another swing exchange, then did about 10 and felt something really, awfully bad on my right hand. I then stopped for two reasons. First of all, I was so exhausted I was about to go into convulsions. Secondly, I tore a blister open on the palm of my right hand the size of a silver dollar. Ron looked at my hand, then at me and said, “You just lost five days of training” with a stern look on his face as if I did him an injustice. More tough love for K/Rail.
My first emotion was anger. Not at him, not at Candy, but at me, because I allowed my ego to get in the way. On about my 48th snatch, I felt a slight bit of pain on the inside of my hand, on 49 it was intense, on 50 it was unbearable and my hand was open. It literally took three snatches to go from healthy skin to a junk show. Safety ALWAYS comes first! Believe me when I tell you, that was a lesson well learned.
Immediately after Ron’s comments, Candas said, “You were casting.” I had no idea what that meant, but now I do. Casting occurs when you project the bell out forward too far as you rip it up and pull it down. This is an invitation to injury as I quickly found out. I later learned at the StrongFirst kettlebell certification course about this technique called “taming the arc.” It applies to cleans and snatches, and it’s pretty self explanatory. Keep the arc of the bell closer to your body.
Luckily for me, I ran into Joe Chalakee, owner of Kettlebells South Bay where the Primal Move workshop was taking place. After looking at my hand, I told him I was casting and he then taught me how to keep the kettlebell in closer to your body while snatching. It turned out that those two minutes I spent with Joe were arguably the best two minutes of my kettlebell career. I dialed in what he said, committed it to memory and haven’t looked back since. Thank you Joe!
Once I got back to Park City, I was feeling a bit intimidated and definitely concerned with how off course I actually was. I knew I had to get serious fast and stay in that groove or else I was done. I had less than eight weeks to prepare and my hand was mashed up, which was not good.
I then took a drive down to CrossFit NRG where the event was going to be held and ran into the owner, James Sjostrom. It turns out, he’s a SFG instructor and Primal Move guy, so I knew I was in good hands taking advice from him. He gave me some tips about how to prepare and even offered me a program design. Finally I had direction.
Advice From My Mentors
During the certification, Dan John, another amazing teacher and man all around, mentioned goal setting as “A to B.” The “A” is your assessment of where you currently are and the “B” is your destination. I found my A and B, and it was time to stop on the gas, and put it all into motion.
I quickly went back to work the next day with my hand wrapped up like a mummy and dedicated every minute of my life to my training. Yes, every minute! When I wasn’t slinging bells, I was watching my diet, getting enough sleep, avoiding alcohol, visualizing my form and technique, watching videos from SFG instructors, reading articles and compiling as much information as I possibly could.
Since so many people had so many different ideas, I took bits and fragments of all the data and pulled out what I felt was the best. The sacrifices didn’t end there either. When I first unveiled to Ron that I signed up for the cert, he was excited and happy, but he also threw down on me hardcore. I was resistant to his words at first, but they quickly sank in and made a lot of sense. He told me, “Safe or dangerous? From now until the certification, you need to get kettlebells in your hands six days a week and put all your other training on hold.” This meant no long cardio sessions, no long bike rides, no dumbbell workouts and the list goes on and on.
To paraphrase Ron and SFG Master Trainer Dave Whitely, “You need to make that kettlebell your biatch!” That pretty much summed up how seriously I needed to take this, and I DID. I now stand here before you, a proud member of the StrongFirst community.
Reflection and Gratitude
When I sit back and reflect upon the past 10 years of trials, tribulations and near-death experiences I’ve gone through, I’m almost brought to tears when I think about my position now. This all really hit home while doing the grad workout. Just like I never gave up back when conditions were unfavorable, I never gave up from the time I signed up for the program through the very last set of double front squats I did when my legs were aching, heart was pounding and sweat was pouring down my brow. When Paul Daniels finally said, “Put the bells down and bring it in,” I knew I had not reached the end, but the beginning.
The feeling of accomplishment when I was handed that certification was unreal. We all go through certain occurrences in our lives that can be considered game changers or monumental events. Passing the StrongFirst Level I kettlebell instructor course was THE biggest one of my life! Aside from the sore muscles, blistered hands, scraped fingers and brush-burned knees I endured, I’m feeling great right now, knowing I am in an elite class of individuals who put their blood, sweat and tears into something they feel passionate about. StrongFirst is the real deal.
I’d also like to say I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to train with, learn from and just get to know on a personal level. First of all, it was a dream come true to not only get taught by Pavel Tsatsouline, but actually talk to him one on one after the event. He truly is a class act in every way possible. As I did my snatch test, I kept hearing Dan John’s voice in my head, yelling “Flip the switch! Flip the switch! Flip the Switch!” Those three words enabled me to get through every test on the last day and more importantly, allowed me to hit my 100th snatch at 4:30, which was 15 seconds faster than my previous personal record! Thank you Dan.
As usual, Paul Daniels was a top-notch instructor, and I once again learned so much that I’m forever grateful. All the other lecturers, including Doug Nepodal, Robert Budd and Mark Toomey were awesome, and helped me clean up a lot of junk that was lingering around. I’d also like to give a shout out to assistants Marisol Hernandez, Susan Skeele and Josh Halbert who gave me clutch tips and advice, and were at my beckon call when I needed to be taped up. You all rocked!
Lastly, I can’t say enough about my Lean Beret colleagues Ron and Candas Jones. You have both been there from day one and supported and motivated me to take this step in my career, and have been instrumental in my learning curve. I honestly would be not have been able to accomplish this without your help. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. It’s now time to “role!”