I recently returned from my second taste of education with StrongFirst, having taken their StrongFirst Bodyweight Instructor Course in February of 2018 (a delayed review of that course should be coming soon!)
The SFG course was only recently removed as a pre-requisite to the SFL Instructor course in the past six months. Although I had been planning on attending the closest SFG, having the opportunity to do the relatively short 7.5 hour drive to Minneapolis for the now available SFL was not an opportunity I could pass up. So, I signed up!
The course was delivered by Master SFL Dr. Michael Hartle. Having someone so experienced with the barbell in his 20 year powerlifting career, Doc was able to extract better technique, form and strength out of all of the participants. His three person team of assistants – Jordan, Erica and Linda – were all extremely generous with their help.
As a strength coach, I’ve always felt pretty confident in my teaching, but the barbell is a tool in my coaching repertoire that needed to be improved. Some of the lifts we learned in the course, such as the Good Morning, were ones I had never taught simply because I lacked the knowledge and personal skill to effectively demonstrate and teach the movement. This was another reason I knew I had to take the opportunity and book my spot in this certification. Although the kettlebell course was on the top of my list to attend, that is where my strength in coaching is. You’re only as strong as you’re weakest link, and I had to make the weakest link in my coaching chain stronger. Train your weaknesses!
First off, the weekend is definitely physically exhausting. Max testing on Friday (2x bodyweight Deadlift, 1.25x bodyweight Bench Press for men) and technique testing on Sunday (for men 100% bodyweight Back Squat, 66% bodyweight Military Press and 150% bodyweight Deadlift all for five reps) barely scratches the surface of the amount of work to be done.
We spent anywhere from 1-2 hours of the weekend on each of the following lifts:
Sumo and Conventional Deadlift
Back, Front and Zercher Squat
All lifts began with teaching proper tension and setup. We learned to handle weights as if they were heavy all the time, because “how you do anything is how you do everything”. Learn to handle weights properly while they are light was consistently stressed all weekend. What I love about StrongFirst was their commitment to optimizing everybody’s technique; for some of the lifts we went through almost an hour of instruction before even loading up the bar!
What really hit home with me was Doc’s insistence on understanding how weight affects technique. After going through all technique points, we were given 20 minutes to work up to a “heavy single or double” in each lift. Let’s remember something – that’s eight different lifts in three days, AFTER max testing and BEFORE you’ll be tested on technique on Sunday – where we worked up to a heavy lift. Like I said, this weekend is exhausting!
I can’t stress enough the importance that twenty minutes of practice for each lift was accelerate the learning process. At low weight, it was hard to enough to wrap my head around the tiny little minutiae of the lifts that were meant to improve safety and performance. But as Doc Hartle kept saying, lifting heavy weight is a different animal. It reminded me of the famous Mike Tyson quote of “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face”. It’s important to put weight on the bar because form will begin to degrade once things get challenging. It’s much harder to maintain tension in all the right areas as the weight creeps up. Doc and his team were relentless in not only pushing us to put weight on, but having eyes on at all times and barking out cues to prevent tension leakage. I set PR’s in lifts throughout the weekend, which I would have never expected to do considering the total volume we were doing. Even though your body is tired, by locking technique down strength can be vastly improved. This same phenomenon happened when I took my SFB, where somehow I got stronger all weekend. This point alone is enough to convince me of StrongFirst’s superiority in the world of strength.
Interspersed through the weekend was an in depth view of numerous ways to program all these lifts. The course manual has everything from beginner to advanced programs, ways to structure programming to incorporate different lifts depending on goals, and so much more. I will admit that much of the programming seems geared to powerlifting, but as someone who works with athletes there were still a mountain’s worth of takeaways that I can see applying to my athletes. Although my biggest takeaway from the weekend will be better teaching strategies for the lifts themselves, as I dig further into the programming section with my vast amount of handwritten notes in the margins I’m sure it will prove to be a valuable resource.
In the end, I gained valuable experience learning to use and coach with a tool that I felt my coaching needed to be improved on. Learning from a man who has competed in powerlifting for 20 years is a pretty good place to learn it! I came away feeling confident in my coaching, physically stronger, and invigorated to bring this wealth of information back to my students to aid their own goals of improvement.
The reason StrongFirst plays such an important role in my professional development is because of their absolute commitment to consistent refinement. On a personal level, I’ve made a commitment to myself to never be complacent; if you’re not getting better, you’re only getting worse. An organization devoted to quality, effective, safe lifting that is always striving to improve themselves is something I want to emulate with my own brand. I’m proud to be a small part of the StrongFirst team. Although it’s ironic that I discovered Pavel and StrongFirst through the kettlebell, which remains my go to choice of tool for training, I’ve completed the other two courses first! I cannot wait to attend an SFG next time it comes close to me to solidify the principles of strength and how I apply them to teaching the kettlebell as I have now learned for bodyweight and the barbell. Although teaching the kettlebell is where I feel my coaching is the strongest, I know I will improve by attending the kettlebell certification in the near future. Until then, keep researching and learning!
StrongFirst Bodyweight Instructor – February 2018
StrongFirst Lifter Barbell Instructor – July 2018
StrongFirst Girya Kettlebell Instructor – coming soon!