QLD Kettlebells 9-11th November 2018.
The StrongFirst kettlebell certification is a qualification you don’t just pay for, you must really earn it. It’s tough but definitely worth it! Strength training at it’s finest.
Wow, what a weekend! A rollercoaster both physically and mentally. A physical challenge and a feast of learning. A chance to meet like minded people and feel part of an awesome strong community. An opportunity for personal and professional growth like no other.
I chose StrongFirst for several reasons. It is an organisation which aligns with my values, my mindset and my approach to training. The StrongFirst code has three facets;
- I am a student of strength
- I am a quiet professional and
- Strength has a greater purpose.
All these statements will mean different things to different people, but they all resonate highly with me and are a part of why I chose StrongFirst.
I am a student of strength:
I love that StrongFirst is about learning and growing. There is always more to learn, and you have never finished improving yourself, mastering your skills or building your strength. There is always more to discover and know. There are always improvements to be made. I have spent many years of my life as a student in the classical sense (at school or university or enrolled on some sort of educational course). My first BSc degree, twenty years ago, was in Nursing. This was followed by numerous post graduate specialist courses and years of continuing professional development. Ten years later and I spent a further 5 years at university part time (whilst working full time) to study at MSc level and become an advanced practitioner within my field. There were many times during that course where I wanted to throw the computer out of the window or hide the books away and give up, but then I remembered why I was doing it. I wanted to be the best at what I had chosen to do. I wanted to offer the best possible care to the children and families in the unit where I worked.
Since moving half way across the world and taking a step away from nursing full time, to pursue my passion for health and fitness, I again went back to school to gain my cert IV Master trainer, so that I could work legitimately as a personal trainer. When I completed that study, I knew I wasn’t done. I never want to stop learning and I truly believe it is important to seek out knowledge and information in order to be the best professional you can be. I want to be the best at what I do, and I want to offer my clients the best service possible.
StrongFirst offer courses that enable me to learn from the best in the business and they encourage me to never stop learning and growing. The material they teach is all tried and tested, evidence based and respected and they put safety first. You don’t just pay your money and take your certificate, you have to earn it. That was the challenge presented to me when I committed to undertake the SFG I certification. I needed to prepare and train for it. I needed to show up and put in the work. I needed to prove I was good enough. I needed to meet a set of gruelling standards. I needed to be strong. I needed to be fit. I needed to give it my all and most of all I needed to be a good coach.
I am a quiet professional:
This to me, is about focusing on always doing the best work that you can, rather than focusing on the reward for a job well done. Dedicating yourself to the craft of the work rather than the success, money, accolades or appreciation generated by the job’s completion. There is a need to chase perfection despite an awareness that it is unachievable. I believe it is easier to be a quiet professional when you love what you do. An artist paints a beautiful piece because it brings him joy whilst he does it. As a coach, I strongly believe it is about dedicating yourself to the service aspect of your craft; working hard and doing a good job because you want your clients to get the best service possible and because you care about them achieving their goals as much as they do. There will be times when this is difficult and things go wrong, but the quiet professional pushes on because of a love for what they do. Imagine a wood turner, working hard for many hours on a beautiful piece. He comes across a knot in the wood which renders his original design impossible. Rather than viewing the time he has spent as wasted, he salvages what he can and creates a new, different piece because he is a craftsman who is passionate about his workmanship. I love the quote that the Sun doesn’t care if anyone is watching, it rises just the same. Being a quiet professional is much like this, the only difference being that the sun is important and we, by comparison pale into insignificance. Taking the attention away from oneself and back to the work, with humility, is a big part of being a quiet professional; working hard even when the impact may be small, and being grateful for the chances that come along. It is about putting max effort into the fundamentals and always wanting to do the best work possible. It’s about never being satisfied and always striving to be better. It’s about maintaining integrity even if this comes at a cost.
Strength has a greater purpose:
Getting strong isn’t something to be done just for the sake of being strong. Firstly, as with anything you embark on in life, you need to have a “why”. That might be training for a bodybuilding or powerlifting competition or it might be being strong enough to undertake daily tasks with ease and to have enough strength to lift the kids into bed, carry the shopping or change the car tyre. Find your why and your motivation is right there in front of you. Secondly, strength is the foundation of development of all other physical qualities. If you want to be a more powerful athlete, you get stronger. If you want to have more energy in daily life, get stronger and everything is easier, so you can have more energy left over. If you want to lose a few kilo’s, get stronger and you will be able to do this quicker and easier. If you want to look good naked, get stronger and I assure you, you will. Physical strength is empowering!
The code and the principles by which StrongFirst operate are what attracted me to the SFG certification. The fact that StrongFirst is also a community of like-minded people was a huge bonus. And then there’s the fact that I’m the girl who simply loves kettlebells! Every single one of my clients will use a kettlebell during their training because it is an awesome and versatile tool which I can utilise to help them achieve their goals (watch this space for a further blog post about kettlebell training!).
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail!
I committed to this certification just a little under 6 months prior to attending and I utilised that time to train and prepare for it. I was aware it would be difficult, and I needed to learn from the best, so I contacted Tim Almond as he is the StrongFirst Elite Instructor in WA. He set me up with some expert personal training sessions and a program to prepare for the certification at his facility, Box 33 Adaptive Strength. This is truly where my learning journey began.
I already had a love for kettlebells and I was already fairly strong because I happen to enjoy lifting heavy things up off the ground and putting them back down again! However, I had some bad habits that needed to be unlearned, I had a niggling shoulder injury which had to be worked around and I had to learn to focus my training on just this one thing, rather than trying to do all the things!! If you know me, you will know how hard I found that last one! The skills tested to standard are swing, Turkish get up, clean, press, snatch and squat. “Ok, I know how to do all of these things” I thought. I love get ups and I do a lot of swings. My press will need work and I know cleans are a weak point. My squat, well that’s another story, my squat is just awesome! Snatches are fun and I did plenty to prepare for the tactical strength challenge earlier this year! Well, this was about to be a big wake up call. My squat was not as awesome as I thought, cleans were truly terrible and my get up had room for improvement to say the least. My press certainly did need work and if I thought I was doing a lot of swings already I hadn’t seen anything yet! Tim and the team at Box 33 were nothing but supportive and they assured me all was not lost, I would get there with their help. And so, it began, twice weekly PT at the facility and a lot of homework! I did between 1000 to 3000 swings a week for 6 months. I pressed 2-3 x per week following a StrongFirst protocol. I practiced get ups every day and I worked the little niggles out of my squats. I snatched when my hands would allow it and I became that person who sands their hands twice a week and sleeps with cotton gloves on to soak in the moisturiser. I lived and breathed my preparation and built myself up to the weekend of certification. I was the weirdo with the kettlebells (they’re in my car and my house and they even came on holiday with me) but I ignored the ridicule and went in headfirst.
The weekend of training and testing.
So, to the weekend in question. I flew from Perth to Brisbane on a red eye flight because I needed to get there in plenty of time. I arrived in Brisbane at 5am on Thursday morning and after a coffee and banana bread I jumped in a cab to the gym where the certification was taking place. I was 24 hours early, yes, I did know that, I’m not completely crazy! I needed to see and move in the space in order to mentally prepare myself for the weekend ahead. I had contacted Piers, the owner of Queensland Kettlebells, to ask if I could come early and he was super accommodating. He even supplied me with coffee and at the end of the weekend he gave me a lift to the airport. That’s the StrongFirst community for you! I knew I needed to take it easy as there was a full weekend of kettlebell fun to come, but I also needed to move and shake off the stiffness from sitting in a plane for 4 hours. I did a little primal movement and stretching, and I foam rolled. I familiarised myself with the space and I was lucky enough to meet some of Piers’ lovely members. I then took myself off to my Airbnb for a well-deserved nap before the real work of the course.
First day nerves were definitely a thing when I rocked up at 0730am on Friday morning for day one of the certification. Everyone was very quiet and there were worried faces aplenty. Never fear, Piers and his team were on hand to dole out coffee and jokes and soon everyone was feeling a little less tense. There were twenty people undertaking the course on the weekend I attended and every single one of those people was a superhuman! They were all friendly, willing to learn and to share, supportive and non-judgemental and just great fun to be around. Not everyone there was a fitness professional, some were just regular folk wanting to get stronger and learn more. I found this simply awe inspiring.
Including Shaun (the guru and Master instructor) and Piers (the host and team leader) there were 8 instructors giving us their undivided attention for the whole weekend. All the instructors are SFG certified themselves and so they fully understood the stress of the weekend and were very patient. They imparted their knowledge and shared a lot of themselves throughout the weekend. It was a very engaging way to learn and for me, it worked perfectly. You weren’t tied to one instructor for the whole weekend and whilst they all taught the StrongFirst material, they each had their own little personal hints and tips which really helped if you were stuck on anything. We paired up with another student for the weekend to be coaching buddies. I was lucky enough to be with Aleana, a fabulous female powerhouse who had certified three years prior and was re certifying. She is crazy strong and her technique near faultless. She had so much knowledge to offer me and was super supportive when I had a meltdown on day 3! She was also the class clown (her words not mine) which was just perfect because I’m not one to take life too seriously! My only concern was how I was going to pass the teaching component of the course and how I could possibly have anything to offer in return. The first day was a tough 10 hours of learning and physical exertion. I left the gym tired and ready for bed! My muscles were sore, and my brain was racing but I was smiling, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A magnesium bath, a read of the course manual and straight to bed was the plan of action for the evening.
Day 2. Ouch! My hamstrings were a reminder of the previous day’s kettlebell fun! I went into the gym at 0730am to foam roll and get a coffee before the 8am start. I wasn’t actually as sore as I had feared but I definitely knew I’d worked hard the day before. My hands were intact, but I knew they were on the verge of becoming sore, so I taped up and wore gloves for most of day 2 to protect them for testing on day 3. By day 2 everyone was a little less stressed out and the buzz as I walked into the space was electric. It’s so uplifting to enter a space where every single person is excited to be there. Day 2 was more of the same fabulous instruction, breaking down movements and fixing problems. Finding solutions to people’s difficulties was a key part of the first two days. There was a definite sense that everyone was being prepared for the testing on day 3 and that Shaun and all the instructors wanted everyone to pass and they made it a priority to iron out all the problems in advance. One of the students had a birthday on day 2 so there were birthday swings, comradery and fun! A big group of students and instructors went out for dinner and a beer (endorsed by Shaun and Piers) at the end of day 2 which really embraced the sense of community that StrongFirst is all about. After dinner it was again time for that magnesium soak and early night to be ready for day 3; test day!
Day 3: Test day. I woke up positive and rested because I had experienced such a great weekend thus far and I felt ready for the testing because my cleans had improved and my hands remained intact. What I hadn’t bargained on was the anxiety that was about to rear its ugly head! I had bottled up all my anxiety throughout the weekend and bang, it hit me with a vengeance on day 3! I had a sudden sense of panic that I wasn’t good enough and I shouldn’t be there. My head told me I couldn’t do it and I was going to fail. I got stuck on one little thing in the morning practice and that was it, in came the tears. I held them back and I pushed on, but it was no good, there was a dam that needed to burst, and I had to go hide outside and let it flow. I felt like an idiot because I didn’t even know what I was upset about. I could do all the skills and I had done the snatch test several times previously. I just let the self-imposed pressure get the better of me. I had put a lot into this weekend and I had told myself it was essential that I pass on the day (even though you have 90 days after the certification to submit a portion of the skills testing). Now the tests were looming, and I felt that pressure closing in. In my head I knew that I didn’t have to get everything right on the day. This is a learning process and if you go away with something you need to improve and re submit that is fine, in fact it is expected, and it happens to many students. However, I’d set my sights on that certification and now it all felt too real and too impossible. Ah the downfall of being a quiet professional and always striving for perfection! A full on meltdown ensued and I got myself into a proper state prior to testing.
Test time came, and I plastered a smile of sorts onto my face, but my confidence had left the building and it wasn’t coming back to join the party. I was first up in our group and I made my way through the swings on autopilot but they sure as hell weren’t the best swings I’ve ever done. Then came the get up. I walked back to my group and was ready to go home, I had messed up for sure. Next the cleans; disaster; my worst skill coming into the weekend and whilst they had cleaned up (see what I did there?!) when miss confidence was present, there was no hope now! Squat felt fine but what if I hadn’t gone deep enough, or done the breathing right, or kept my rack in tight enough? Press was ok, thank goodness it was only 16kg. Last came the snatches and low and behold they seemed to just work. A break came where the instructors went to discuss what needed review and I was so certain I’d have to repeat everything that I couldn’t eat a thing. My name was called, and I had to repeat my cleans. I knew it, they were terrible. However, they were terrible second time around too and so that was that, I was a failure. I had not met my goal of getting it right on the day and I just wanted the ground to swallow me up.
Then came the devilish snatch test. 100 snatches in 5 minutes. I’ve done this several times, it’s not a problem, I know I can do this. I kept telling myself this, but I didn’t really believe it. I got in my own head and I took too much time composing myself each time I set the bell down. I got to the last 30 seconds with 12 snatches to go and I thought “ah that’s ok, I’ve got this in the bag” but no, I lost concentration and hit a no rep and that was that, thrown off course and destined not to finish. I raised rep 97 as time was called and I was about ready to throw that kettlebell through the floor. I didn’t. I calmly put it down and walked away. I went to the toilet and screamed out loud. I banged the wall with my fist and I wanted to just leave. I’d failed myself. There were more tears and I pulled my hair so hard it hurt, before taking myself off for a walk and a talking to.
I composed myself and reminded myself that there were other people in that room doing the snatch test who needed me to go and cheer them on, so that’s what I did. Everyone finished up and there were some gargantuan efforts of strength and willpower. The atmosphere was awesome, and everyone was cheering support. We broke for lunch and were told there was a lecture, another practice workout and individual feedback to come. I was ready to run away. Why would I bother to stay and do another workout when I’d failed? I didn’t want to hear the feedback that I wasn’t good enough. I shouldn’t be here for the privilege of hearing a StrongFirst lecture when I wasn’t able to pass the certification. The rest of the afternoon was tough going but I fought back the tears (mostly) and felt the support of my peers who all reassured me that all was not lost. Then I pulled up my big girl pants, plastered on my brave face and went for a pint with some of the students and instructors.
The StrongFirst community being what it is, Piers was taking Shaun to the airport, so he also gave me a lift. I even got a drawing of a unicorn and a show of trampoline skills from his lovely little daughter. That lifted my mood for a bit, but I arrived at the airport tired and dejected. Unfortunately, my flight home was cancelled and that was just the last straw! I knew there was a possibility I might not get a seat on the flight as I was flying standby (my husband works for Virgin) and had planned to just squat in the airport if that happened. However, I was so tired and emotional I needed a bed to sleep in, so I wandered over to the nearest hotel and paid out for a room. I slept like a baby and woke up refreshed. Don’t get me wrong I’m still disappointed in myself but I know what I need to do and as soon as my hands have recovered, I’ll video my resubmission and get my SFG I certification. It’s my birthday in 9 days so I reckon that’s a good time to have it done by!
A positive experience.
I feel like this review has turned a little sour and I want to leave you with positive vibes because the weekend and the certification were fabulous; one of the best things I’ve ever done. The negativity came only from my own unnecessary self-imposed stress. What did I learn? I learned an absolutely huge amount about kettlebell skills, but I also learnt a valuable lesson about myself. I need to work on anxiety management and not beating myself up unnecessarily. I need to embrace the suck and harness its power for improvement rather than allowing it to consume me, break me and bring me down. The instructors were great, the course was fantastic and I’m proud to be a member of the StrongFirst community. 10 out of 10 is my review of the certification! I’ll likely be at the SFL certification in March next year and SFB the year after. I have iron maiden status in my sights and I will work hard to join the ranks of strong women who have achieved it. I look forward to Strong first changing my life for the better. I have returned from the weekend a better kettlebell athlete, a better coach and a part of a community. If you’re looking for strength courses (particularly kettlebells but they also offer barbells and bodyweight) you can’t go past StrongFirst in my opinion.
If you are considering undertaking the SFG and want to chat about it, feel free to contact me.
If you are in Perth and would like to learn more about getting fitter and stronger with kettlebells then drop me a line and come and try out some personal training with me.
Fabulous photography by Melinda Koltai.