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StrongFirst Level 1 Certificate

StrongFirst Level 1 Kettlebell Certificate – A Weekend to Remember

2009 seems like an age ago now. Back then I was just starting my new Personal Training business and looking for ways to be ahead of the game while offering something different, effective and fun.

I found kettlebells – and I have never looked back since.

Now in 2013 and as part of my continued professional development I was looking for a worthwhile course to brush up my techniques and take my level of instruction and understanding to a totally new level.

After spending some time with the awesome group of bods from The Go Commando tribe ( ) it emerged that the first UK StrongFirst Kettlebell Level 1 certificate was due to hit our shores in July organised by James Breese who owns

I checked the course out and looked at the content.

StrongFirst Certification 2013

The certificate focusses on the teachings of Pavel Tsatsouline and the Hardstyle form of Kettlebell Training.

To pass the certificate you must demonstrate (with good technique) each of the fundamental movements using paired 24kg bells for males and 16kg bells for females. In addition candidates must be able to perform 5 strict chin ups (males) or a 15 second top range of motion hang (females) and snatch a snatch sized kettlebell 100 times in less than 5 minutes (24kg males, 16kg females.)

I had done all of the listed movements before, many times. How much really could I learn on top of what I already knew? A brief chat with Mayyah from – and I was convinced that the level of coaching I would receive would only add to my existing knowledge and ultimately make me a better trainer.

16 weeks before the certificate was due to start I parted with my hard earned cash (yes the course does cost a fair chunk!) and began to receive all of the supporting documentation including a fantastic training resource.

Word on the street was that this course was one of the hardest to pass both physically and mentally with a fail rate in the region of 30%.
On reading through the course information it became apparent that a serious level of strength and conditioning would be required to survive the course and stand any chance of passing the performance tests.

Up until this point I had mainly been focussing on running with various races on the calendar and so my kettlebell training had been geared towards maintenance rather than strength development.

Plans were made and implemented and week on week my performance improved. 5 days training per week suited me and delivered the best results using a combination of loading styles taken from my own experience and from the supplied resource pack. I do like a bit of volume in my training and it seemed to serve me well!

StrongFirst Russian Kettlebell

On 4th July the time had arrived at last. I made my way to Harlow Town enjoying the train ride, reading some of Pavels literature and generally getting myself mentally prepared for what I Imagined would lie ahead.

Arriving at the hotel it was good to see some familiar faces; some of the guys and girls from Go Commando were attending so it was good to catch up and of course talk about the weekend ahead. After registering it was time to mingle and meet some new people from far and wide before heading off for an early night ready for 3 days of education and graft.

Day 1
Introductions, chin up testing, team briefings, swings, swings and more swings, cleans and presses was the order of the day. Seasoned with lectures, trouble shooting, team practice and workouts. One thing was sure – minds and bodies would be tired by the end of the day!

Once the opening test was dealt with we were allocated into teams with a StrongFirst Team leader. The leaders for the weekend were Mark Toomey, David “Iron Tamer” Whitley and Tommy Blom.

I was in the Tamers group and looked forward to benefiting from the knowledge and experience of a legend who can not only lift some seriously heavy stuff but also make bending objects designed not to bend in half appear to be easy!

During the day I picked up some fantastic little tips and correctives that I hadn’t seen before from the Iron Tamer with regards to the swing in its various forms.

The afternoon was led by Tommy covering the principles of tension generation in the clean, rack and press. Fascinating and effective – implementation of the new teachings revealed instantaneous performance in many with over 48% of the class hitting personal bests by merely tweaking their technique.

The day drew to a close with a buzz in the air – everyone felt it, excitement wrapped up in tired bodies.

StrongFirst Group Certificate

Day 2
Wakey Wakey rise and shine – another 6am alarm clock.

My trail of thought was:-

“Damn, time to get up already…….Coffee…….Oh Hello Hamstrings and Glutes”

Yep, I had some serious DOMS starting to materialise!

Program for the day was Hip Mobility, Squatting, Turkish Get Ups and Snatching with lectures on troubleshooting, programming and time for team practice.

Mark Toomey led a brilliant section on mastering the Turkish Get Up – a highly technical movement which carries an enormous amount of benefits. A true master makes the more difficult tasks seem easy – and in his humorous yet informative style he did that beautifully. Memorable was the word and I know many on the cert would agree with me.

After lunch is was time for kettlebell snatching lead by the Iron Tamer. We flew through the section as it seemed everyone had been good students and done their homework.

By this point my hands were becoming a little sore so some diligent use of climbers tape served to prevent damage and ensure they remained in good condition for the latter part of the cert.

A killer 10 minute snatch workout comprising of a mere 20 snatches demonstrated the importance of strength and stability when “resting” over head while illustrating that the best workouts are ones that are simple – and highly effective!

The day finished with programming, more practice and a truly inspiring talk about StrongFirst by the Iron Tamer. Everyone listened intently and I am sure came away as inspired as I did after hearing the passion and humanity behind the spoken word. Outstanding.

Before we went back to the hotel James Breese ensured we earned our dinner with a tough little swing and squat workout which everyone seemed to “enjoy”.

Back at the hotel the buzz remained. New friendships were being forged, stories told and a great time was being had by all. Nando’s again followed by some manual study then off to bed to dream about the forthcoming snatch test – or was it nightmares?

Day 3
Assessment time and first up was the dreaded snatch test.

The snatch test is simple – 100 reps of snatches in less than 5 minutes with correct form using either a 24kg bell for men or 16kg bell for ladies.

My preparation left me feeling confident that all would be well. I had achieved the standard several times in training with room to spare.

My turn soon came. My strategy from the start was 20 reps each hand, then 15/15, 10/10, 5/5 done. The clock started and off I went. A little pre-performance anxiety can work wonders and the snatching felt comfortable and I soon got into a steady pace. Breathing rate climbed and before I knew it 70 reps was done. A quick shake off and back on it ripping through the remaining 30 reps with around a minute to spare and not a single rep missed. Relief and happiness replaced the heavy breathing – albeit gradually.

The spirit in the sports hall was high, everyone cheering each other on, supporting, shouting and engaging in the moment. Most succeeded, some failed but not through lack of trying – more often than not skin or lack of being the limiting factor.

The remains of the day was spent being assessed on the fundamental movements, a short written multi choice exam and some final group troubleshooting. All went without hitch and I was feeling good!

Before long it was time for the Grad Workout.

The atmosphere was electric as we were told what we’d be doing. Paired work, double bells, cleans, presses and squats repeated for a LOT of times. Thankfully in my own preparation I had stumbled across a Grad Workout by Dan John and had performed a few lengthy sessions of that very workout with a friend of mine. We all grafted, I felt strong and loved every set. The music was blasting, the life-force was strong. The bond felt complete – total immersion in the moment – a celebration of effort, dedication, iron, brotherhood and sisterhood and an amalgamation of like-minded individuals.

Moments like these are hard to find and so I savoured every second.

Before too long the workout was done. Evaluation time.

In our groups we were called forth to receive our certificates and to be welcomed into the StrongFirst School of Strength. It was a proud moment indeed. Personal Trainer Matt Shore, StrongFirst certified coach

Eventually it was time to make tracks, head back to the hotel and for those looking to prolong the experience just that little bit longer – a few cold ones chased down with a well-earned steak.

What a weekend. I came away inspired by some great teachers and people I had the good fortune to spend some time with. I got everything I wanted out of the certificate and more and acquired skills that will not only benefit my own teaching and training but also those who I come into contact with through the medium of strength training.

As a final note some key take away tips for those considering enrolling on this great cert.

1 – Prepare and prepare well. Take it seriously, work hard and you will find as I did that all will be well.

2 – Train with kettlebells the same as those used on the course. Their handles are fat and take a little getting used to. I also found their design helped lessen the damage to my hands compared to bells with thinner handles.

3 – Look after your hands on the run into and during the course. Trim calluses, keep hands moisturised at night with a good climbers cream (I used Climb On) and if you fear tearing may happen, tape up with Rocktape and climbing tape for fingers. Prevent rather than cure!

Be Strong.


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