Jessica and I attended the StrongFirst Bodyweight certification last weekend as part of our continuing education as trainers. If I had to sum up the cert, and why anyone would need to be “certified” to teach bodyweight exercises, I would say this:
The SFB is a 16 hour training course on how to teach high level bodyweight exercises to the general population. The curriculum focuses on 5 main exercises with dozens of accessory exercises and variations that range from beginner to elite. Instructor candidates must pass an extremely difficult physical test which includes a one arm push up and a one leg squat (pistol).
Why pursue a certification?
There are only two ways to be credible as a personal trainer or fitness professional. Education or experience. That’s it.
Some people might prefer one over the other, but its definitely better to have both.
Having an SFB certification checks both boxes.
After all, StrongFirst is a “school of strength” (e.g. education and experience)
Weekend in Philadelphia
StrongFirst Master Instructor, Jon Engum, held his Flexible Steel certification on Friday, and the 2 day SFB certification on Sat/Sun.
Jessica and I did not attend the Flexible Steel certification. I only mention it because Chris Steele, our newest SFG instructor, did attend and said it was great! (I’ve read the book, and the stretching techniques taught increase flexibility faster than anything else I’ve seen.) Chris will be teaching a 2 part Flexible Steel workshop at BKC very soon.
As for the SFB, the 5 main exercises that would be taught over the weekend were: push up, pull up, hanging leg raise, pistol squat and handstand push up, as well as the many variations of those exercises.
Jess and I took 3 months to prepare for the strength tests (which for me included losing about 15lbs).
The StrongFirst Bodyweight certification requirements are:
Women – one arm push up, one leg squat (pistol) and 1 pull up.
Men – one arm one leg push up, one leg squat and 5 pull ups.
We were both on the cusp of being able to meet the requirements. Jess seemed a little better prepared because she could definitely do the pull up and pistol, but I was only confident in my pistol. Neither of us had done the OAPU as strict as the standards.
First on the agenda Saturday was push ups. We spent about 4 hours learning how to do a push up. Crazy, right? It shouldn’t take that long, you would think…
But it’s not just about doing a mindless push up. It’s about building it from the ground up. Starting with a plank – most people fail to do a push up correctly because they pike or sag their hips. They can’t stay tight. If you can’t keep a solid plank, you can’t do a solid push up, never mind a 1-arm push up.
The reason it took 4 hours to teach the push up is because there were 23 things addressed on the way to teaching the most advanced push up there is. Think of it as levels on a video game with the “feet elevated one arm one leg push up” as the boss level!
Push Up Test
So after 4 hours of training (remember, this is a “hands on” cert) we were asked to test our push up. Fat chance! Most everybody was smoked! Of the 9 people in attendance I think 3 completed it the first attempt, and we were not in that group.
We had another chance later that day, but after 5 more hours of pull up and hanging leg raise training, that was not to be either.
There was a bonus attempt on Sunday morning and I got it then! Jess did not. She should have stayed home and read the manual (inside joke at SF). Technically she did a 1 arm push up, but not to standards. It looked more like Rocky’s push ups when he was in Siberia training to fight Drago. Too much twisting.
That’s OK because unlike the SFG Kettlebell certification, SFB instructor candidates are not necessarily expected to pass right away. You have 6 months after the event date to meet the standards. It takes time to train for this level of performance.
Of the 6 people who tested the OAPU on Sunday only half of us completed the task.
The pistol squat requires not only great leg strength but superior balance, mobility and coordination. It demonstrates a kind of health, strength and athleticism that is worthy of pursuit.
You need to be strong and flexible to do a pistol squat. Just lifting weights won’t get you there; you have to stretch, too!
Jon’s Flexible Steel was introduced to our group to help open up our hips, legs and lower back. Along with the other drills we learned, we spent another 2-3 hours working pistols.
Handstand Push Up
I didn’t realize this exercise was part of the training so I did nothing to prepare. I’m actually still dealing with a shoulder injury and I was pretty nervous about even attempting a handstand.
But just like everything else we did over the weekend, we started really slowly. Just putting our head on the mat with hands forming a tripod and gradually walking our feet up. Then we’d touch a knee to the elbow one at a time. We worked our way into a headstand / crow pose in yoga; still in the domain of “general population”.
At that point we were taught how to spot people getting into a headstand, how to do a headstand leg raise and how to “fall” out of one. It wasn’t until after all of that did we move to handstands against the wall.
By that time my anxiety was gone. These drills weren’t hurting my shoulder, so I was good to go!
I’ll skip the half a dozen or so progressions we did while in a handstand and get right to my best effort… a handstand push up with my head lowering down to one yoga block.
Not bad for a 250 pound 45 year old! I think I’ll be able to get a full rep by the end of the year!
Certified Instructor or Certificate of Attendance
In the end I left the SFB as a certified instructor and Jess with a certificate of attendance. We both came away with the same knowledge but different goals. She needs to clean up her one arm push up (and send in a video) and I need to do a deeper handstand push up (and post it on Instagram, lol).
You’ll be hearing from us both real soon!