by Craig Cusic, SFG
The Night Before
It’s Thursday December 5th 2019 2:00pm. I’m laying on top of my freshly made bed staring at the ceiling waiting for Jackson to get home from school. My bag is packed (triple checked), Southwest.com has been visited at least five times, hotel reservation confirmed (again), Uber app downloaded, every bit of info I need written on paper and stuffed in my wallet. Not just in my wallet, but in the secret spot behind the credit cards so there’s no chance of it falling out.
Obviously, I’m nervous. Really nervous. There’s a 5:45 flight to Dallas with my name on it and a certification on the other end that I have been trying to get for a year and a half. At 2:45pm my son breaks free of my never ending hug, recites his full page itinerary for the weekend without looking at it, and tells me “ Your going to be late, go do your thing.” Off to BWI, and I’m now on my way to Texas.
8:45pm and I’m taking my first ever Uber ride from Dallas Love airport to the Double Tree Hilton hotel. There had been a tornado the week before. No casualties, all the rubble was positioned in neat piles waiting to be removed, and the Christmas lights were back in place. I noticed there were no lighted reindeer anywhere. “This is Texas and Santa runs Longhorns.” I can dig it. The driver was really sweet and we had a great conversation for the entirety of the ride. Being as though this was my first time in an Uber, I had a few questions. She was previously a financial professional that had given up the corporate life to do what she enjoyed, cruising and talking to people. Interesting. 9:15pm check in, dinner, all the water I can stand, and off to bed.
Friday morning 6:00am. Out of bed, shower, shave, grab a bagel and coffee, and off to Extreme Studio Performance. I had decided that I would walk back and forth from the venue as a warm up/cool down and to see a little bit of the city along the way. There’s three people mirroring my path on the other side of the street. Joggers, flat soles, coffee and bagels. No awkward anything this weekend I reminded myself, so I crossed the street, struck up a conversation, and finished the chilly hike with a few new friends.
We step inside the venue and it’s impressive. The StrongFirst registration table is straight ahead. Offices and a yoga room directly to the left. At the 10:00 position, there’s three huge turf areas. To my right is the front desk and a PT’s room beyond that. I scan back toward center and spot the changing rooms blocking another quarter of the building. I wonder what’s back there, but I smell coffee and I need to get checked in.
On my way to registration table I spot what looks like the BKC kettlebell rack was laid out on one of the turf areas. David, who becomes my training partner for the weekend, introduces himself. We click immediately and all that nervousness from the day before is gone. This is my zone, these are my people, LET’S GO!
All checked in and on the turf with my fellow students. Rolling, stretching, and small talk. A chorus of “Hi, I’m __ ,where are you from?” was echoing over the field.
First Practice Session
8:00am and things are underway. A brief warm-up and the instruction begins. Back and forth between short presentations from the instructors and the students doing the movements until about 1:00pm.
The criticism seems rapid fire and unrelenting. A bit disheartening, but it is THE exact reason I chose to be a StrongFirst student. Not to mention, there was always a fix or tweak or mental hack to go along with any critique.
Next was a class photo. At the beginning of the weekend? Interesting. Lunch and then back on the turf around 2:00pm. A quick group introduction, including an explanation of why we were attending this certification. Most were expanding their personal training repertoire and a few looking to take their first step into personal training. There was one “because my dad is a StrongFirst instructor” and one “I’ve never done kettlebells before, but I was told I could have a job at a gym if I got this certification.” I absolutely respected her ambition, but would like to have a few words with her future employer.
Back to the bells and still feeling like our technique was getting shredded apart. During a brief instruction period while trying to catch my breath, I scan the room, and catch a familiar profile. “Military for sure.” and then it clicked. Their rebuilding us. Ok, LET’S GO!
6:00pm and we disband for the day with one thing on our minds, FOOD. Back at the hotel for a quick change of my clothes and down to the lobby to grab some dinner. The waitress extends the drink menu my way and I stop her short “All the water and the biggest plate of food you serve.” “Please.”
I check in with everybody I need to, clear my plate and hear a familiar voice. Instructor Felicia has invited me over to hang out with her and most of the other instructors. They were right on the other side of the bar, but I had never looked up from my meal long enough to notice. We talked kettlebells, StrongFirst, RKC, family, work, and shared a few embarrassing photos. Very cool. Shower, scan the handbook, and after two Muscle Milk’s and a bag of trail mix I grabbed from the lobby on the way back from dinner, it’s off to bed.
6:00am Saturday. Same routine as the day before, but no walking partners this morning. I hoped that they hadn’t dropped off. 7:45am in the gym and I bump into them at the coffee pot. Glad they’re still here, but wondering why I’m the only dumbass that felt like any extra movement today was a good idea.
8:00am sharp and the bells are swinging again. A quick 50 minute workout and then into a day of instruction. Today is more like one on one training. The students are in groups of two or three and the entire class population is split in half on either side of the field.
My half of the class is being led by Instructors Gabby, Jeremy, Brian, Michael, and Thomas. Lead Instructor Karen is working the whole room with diligence and performing the movements with a level of precision that can only be achieved with perfect mobility and practice. Impressive to say the least.
After the lunch break and we are back on the field with a few minutes to spare and everyone is sharing recovery techniques, exchanging contact information, and giving each other positive affirmations. It’s getting tough now. We’re way more dialed in and the reality of how much more taxing a well executed kettlebell movement is has set in. 2:00pm and four more hours of instruction lay ahead.
We call it a day at 6:00pm, but the field doesn’t clear out like yesterday. The relationships have evolved. No one leaves without someone making sure they’re sorted out for the evening. I’m talking about food, ride sharing, muscle rubs, stretching, Advils, hot/cold packs, snack bars, the PT’s and chiropractors are working on people, and once everybody was good, FOOD!
About 25 of us met up for dinner and the menu was aammaaaazing. The conversation was more future based than before. We are invested in this discipline and each other at this point and want to see everyone succeed. It was just like the talks at home around the dinner table. Interesting.
10:00pm back at the hotel. Two Muscle Milk’s, a bag of trail mix, and bed.
My alarm goes off at on 6:00am Sunday. Hit snooze, hit snooze, hit snooze. I’m sore, really sore. But I get up and get out anyways because I’m starving and want to get a substantial breakfast.
I walk into the dining area that was empty the last two days and its buzzing. Buzzing like a honey bee in late fall. “Sup fam! They put the IV’s on the carafe yet?” It’s testing day and everyone is trying to prepare as best as they can. Big breakfast, some fist bumps and “you got this”, then off to the venue.
Wow, that cold air feels good today! 8:00am and we start the day with a mobility complex followed by two hours of team practice. Aside from a quick run through of all the movements, the instructors have taken a step back today. It’s our turn to prepare each other for the task ahead and we are taking it very seriously.
It’s quieter than before, not like there is a heaviness in the room, but a certain attention to detail. This person is relying on you to make sure they have these movements dialed in. There is conversation between partners, but that’s about it.
10:30 and the testing is about to begin.
We are informed that the instructors will not be coaching during the tests, only recording what they see. I walk over to one of them and ask if the students are allowed to coach each other through the testing. He gives me a roundabout answer, but I never heard the word no.
We are in a group of four for this part which means we have spent significantly less time with 50% of the group. So, I huddle everybody together and we quickly discuss each other’s “less strong” points and the cues we want.
12:30pm and the testing is done. Swings, get-ups, cleans, presses, front squats, and snatches all done to best of our ability. Today we eat lunch on the field and receive a lecture from the instructors. The good kind of lecture!
We discuss programing, professionalism, and the importance of practice. This is a skill not a workout and it should be treated as such. 2:30pm the evaluations are shown to the students. There is laughter, tears, celebration, and exhaustion. I demand hugs from all the instructors in addition to handshakes, and get yet another nickname, Smooth Craig Zen.
But wait! There’s more! It would only be right to finish the weekend off with a 2,1,3-20 minute EMOM. You have got to be freakin’ kidding me. Nope. It was actually a great way to end things. The instructors screamed at us, we screamed back, and not a soul had any bit of quit in them. I can’t front, it kinda hit me in feels.
5:30pm and I’m taking my second Uber ride ever. I’m reflecting over the weekend and half listening to the driver complain about being an Uber driver. The pay scale changed, wear and tear on the vehicle, you miss out on money if you cant pick up someone up where you dropped the last person off, and on and on.
6:00pm and we pull up to Dallas Love airport. I thank him for the ride, lean in between the front seats. “Hey man, there’s plenty of Uber drivers, they don’t need you. Whatever you want to do with your time, go do it, and you want to hear something really crazy, there’s people out there that don’t even know you that are willing to help you make it happen.”
That’s what this weekend was like for me. People I didn’t know came along side me to help me make something happen. That was to become a kettlebell instructor. Ever since being introduced to kettlebell training I have felt like I had found the grail of exercise. I want to share that with other people, just as others have shared with me.
If you want to learn kettlebells, and I mean really LEARN, find yourself a qualified instructor or attend a certification / workshop. You’ll be glad you did!
Craig Cusic is a long time exercise enthusiast with a varied background in skateboarding, BMX biking and DJ’ing. He recently founded Naturatech supplements Beet Pre; an organic, all natural, caffeine free, pre-workout. Craig, and his pre-workout, can be found at Baltimore Kettlebell Club.