• Jessica Kilinski

I am a student of strength

I recently attended StrongFirst's Level 1 kettlebell instructor certification (also known as SFG) in Tacoma, Washington and found it life-changing as well as career-making. I came back with a newfound confidence in myself, an increased desire to continue learning, and incredible knowledge to pass onto my clients.

SFG is a three-day event of learning, practicing, and teaching, and finally testing your skills on the third day. The standards for passing are extremely high. The six skills that are taught and tested, all with the kettlebell, are the swing, get-up, clean, press, snatch, and squat. The weight of the kettlebells used is determined by the student's weight and gender; my test weight was 12kg (or about 26.4 lbs). Along with testing the skills, you must also pass the snatch test to earn your certification. The snatch test is 100 snatches in 5 minutes with your test bell. It's recommended to train for 4-6 months leading up to the weekend and the pass rate is about 60%., so you can imagine how demanding the certification is.

I began my training in April, 6 months prior to the certification, using a program that I found on the StrongFirst blog. I quickly realized I needed something more personalized for my body and I needed someone to push me harder than I was pushing myself. I found a couple in Portland, Holly Myers & Arryn Grogan, who are both StrongFirst Elite (they hold both Level 1 and 2 kettlebell, bodyweight, and barbell certifications). They began coaching me in person as well as online, and it helped me tremendously to have their eyes on my form as well as having a plan to follow that was customized for me. Holly & Arryn kept my training fun and interesting while making me stronger and keeping my body safe. Thanks to them I felt confident in my movements heading into the SFG weekend.

The group of participants was split into several teams, each with their own leader and a few assistants. I was on "Team Almond," with Tim Almond as my leader. He was incredible and had such amazing wisdom to pass on to us. Throughout the weekend, we paired up with members of our team to practice with and teach each other the skills we were learning. Our first day was spent learning how to teach the swing, the Turkish Get-Up, and the clean. The second day was the squat, overhead press, and snatch. The third day was spending time with our teams refining our skills before testing them. There were so many "AHA" moments throughout the weekend and it was an incredible (and humbling) learning experience. We also did group training sessions together at the end of each day, which truly challenged us physically and mentally. My body has never been so sore!

Team Almond

As we wrapped up on our second day, Tim brought us aside as a team and gave us a little talk. He told us a story of someone who failed their first snatch test attempt. This man then went on to truly learn the snatch and was then able to pass the test with an even heavier kettlebell. He may not have done that if he hadn't failed the first time. Tim reminded us that there is no failure; there is only opportunity. Opportunity to grow, to learn, to improve. This was a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders, as I had been thinking that failure was this terrible thing to avoid at all costs. I went into our third day feeling ready for testing and excited regardless of what the results may be.

What was really amazing about SFG was the sense of camaraderie around the entire group, but particularly within my team. There was no sense of competition; there was only wanting each other to succeed and improve. When it came time to testing, we were split into our teams and then split up by test bell weight. We started with the skills testing. It was wonderful just standing with the team, watching each other excel and giving each other quiet encouragement. It was incredibly intense, though, having one person judging your every movement and knowing that your form has to be perfect, but receiving absolutely no feedback as to whether or not you passed.

After skills testing, we took a little break and then went into the snatch test. This was done as an entire group, with about 10 people testing at one time, all lined up in a row. We were able to pick one person from our team to be our "coach", standing by our side and giving us encouragement and/or tips. I picked Becca, and she picked me, as we had worked on our snatches together. She went first, and her snatch test was...pure magic. I don't know how else to describe it. It was absolutely beautiful. She looked completely relaxed the entire time and did not set the kettlebell down until she was finished with her 100 snatches.

It came time for my snatch test. I felt such a rush of excitement and anxiety as I got ready, and felt pretty good as I got started. I remembered thinking, "Oh cool, I'm not getting any 'no-counts' yet" (if your form doesn't meet the criteria, it doesn't count; if you hit 3 no-counts, you're disqualified). Then my left arm started getting TIRED. It felt like it weighed 12kg on its own, on top of snatching a 12kg kettlebell. I started getting no-counts and taking more breaks. My brain started to go into panic mode as I heard the timer hit the 4-minute mark and I realized I still had so many snatches to do but my body was feeling done. Becca was encouraging me along, and then I also heard Tim's voice next to me, "HIKE! HIKE! BREATH! BREATHE!" I was ready to quit and probably would have if they hadn't been there to push me along. I hit my 3rd no-count at somewhere between 80-90 snatches. I remember the judge/counter said, with such sincerity, "I'm sorry" There was a slight relief to be finished because of how my body was feeling, but I also felt devastated to have failed. My arms were throbbing and I couldn't stop coughing as I stepped away from the kettlebell. I was trying to hold back tears because I remembered Molly (one of the assistants on the team) telling us about her own failed attempt and how important it was to just keep cheering for our own teammates. Becca and I went on to cheer for the others, and it was so much fun watching everyone push past their limits. The tears came, though, as Molly hugged me, and I remember Zar, one of the leaders of the certification, standing next to me and put his head on my shoulder to comfort me. "I would have cried even if I passed!" I said, which was true, though they would have been different tears.

After testing, we sat down and listened to stories from the leaders as well as learned a bit about programming. Finally, it was time to learn if we had passed our skills testing. We broke out into our teams, and Tim started us with some crocodile breathing. This is where you lay on your belly, taking deep breaths into your belly, back, and sides. I remember breathing and crying, trying to hold back the sobs. Some of these tears were over my failed snatch attempt, but mostly I was crying because my heart was so full from the experience of the weekend and knowing it was coming to an end. Tim then asked if we wanted to receive our pass/fail results as a team or individually, and we all opted to receive them as a team. It was wonderful cheering each other as we got our feedback and hugging each other in congratulations. I was thrilled to learn that I had passed all of my skills tests! If I had passed my snatch test, I would have earned my certification. I think about 50% of my team earned their certification that weekend, but we are given 90 days to submit videos of our reattempts to earn our certifications.

So, now I'm taking my "failure" as feedback and an opportunity to dig into the snatch. There was definitely a part of me that felt like I had let my coaches down (lifelong people-pleaser), but they have been nothing but encouraging. I'm still training with Holly & Arryn and they have been incredible throughout the process, helping me figure out what works for my body and what doesn't. It's been physically challenging but also invigorating. I feel confident that I'll earn that certification.

If you're in Portland, Oregon and interested in learning how to use kettlebells safely, contact me to set up your complimentary Strategy Session.

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