StrongFirst SFG Certification – Chicago 2018

This past weekend I was in Chicago for the StrongFirst SFG Kettlebell certification at the “Dome of Strength”.

It’s an indoor baseball stadium, a pressurized Dome, that for the past 5 years has hosted SFG level 1 & 2 certifications. This year we had over 120 people certifying including about 30 instructors from all over the world.

As an assistant instructor, I was there assist at the Level 1 and sharpen my own skills by recertifying both my level 1 & 2 certifications. I was assigned Karen Smith as my team leader, a Master Kettlebell Instructor, the Chief Instructor for the StrongFirst Bodyweight certification and the 4th woman to claim the title of “Iron Maiden” (by doing a 24kg press, pistol and pull up).

Our host was Jon Engum, another Master SFG Instructor and a 7th degree blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do. Jon is the one responsible for organizing the certification and coordinating the logistics of what is the largest kettlebell certification in the world.

As an organization, StrongFirst attracts some of the strongest people, brightest minds and highest levels of success I’ve ever seen in a group. The people that attend these certifications are not “just” personal trainers (although many, like myself, are exactly that) but professionals; elite athletes, martial artists, special forces military, doctors, lawyers, business men and women and many others who seek high levels of excellence in whatever they do.

It is an impressive community and one that I feel proud to be a part of.

The StrongFirst code is:

  1. I am a student of strength
  2. I am a quiet professional
  3. Strength has a greater purpose

That is a pretty cool list regardless who you are.

Anyway, although I was there to assist, I was very much a student the entire weekend.

Every 2 years you must recertify as an instructor. For me, as a man over 100kg, that means I must demonstrate proficiency in the following skills with a 28kg kettlebell (or two):

Level 1 Skills

  1. Swing
  2. Clean
  3. Press
  4. Squat
  5. Get Up
  6. Snatch

Strength test – snatch 28kg x 100 reps in 5 min

Level 2 Skills

  1. Double snatch
  2. Double jerk
  3. Double push press
  4. Windmill
  5. Bent press

Strength test – 1 arm press 48kg

Those are fairly high standards by anyone’s measure and not something that can be done without serious training behind it.

And although I have been a kettlebell instructor now for 12 years, I did not complete all of the above without some corrections. That’s why it’s necessary to recertify.

It’s too easy to get complacent in your training. Bad habits creep in and without a coach, little technical flaws grow into something more.

Before you know it you haven’t been locking your elbow out in your press (one of my corrections) for so long you’ve lost the mobility to do it.

Don’t let that happen!



The mobility exercises I learned this weekend were worth “the price of admission”. I’ve been doing the same dynamic mobility warm up now for about 10 years. It’s a good 5 minute warm up, but as they say, good is the enemy of great.

I picked up a few drills to add to it, and I promise you I’m not just messing with you when I ask you to do opposite arm circles and draw a figure 8 with your foot. It’s brain training and part of the recharge series, I swear!

There were some other things that was given to me specifically because of the corrections I received in my overhead lockout. Below is a video of the Thoracic 3:

I also picked up a copy of Jon Engum’s book Flexible Steel which I’m looking forward to digging into. There were some FS instructors present at the SFG and the mobility they displayed was unreal. Rarely do you see people that strong AND flexible.

Mobility is not something taken lightly in StrongFirst because if you’re immobile, you’re not going to do the techniques right. As for someone who is turning 40 in a couple months, mobility is not something I take lightly either.

I’ve worked with too many older people whose lack of flexibility inhibits their life. Although I might have a long way to go before I reach “old age”, optimum range of motion is not something I’m willing to give up an inch on without a fight.

Mobility is as important for health and pain free living as it is for proper movement.


Tension lives on the other side of mobility. You tense (aka contract) your muscles to make them stronger. The more tension you can generate, the more strength you can muster.

This weekend we covered a handful of tension techniques that improved peoples 1RM max on the spot! Not only at the certification but during my first day back teaching class as well.

There were about a dozen people at BKC who set personal records on Monday, but none more impressive IMO than Wanda.

Wanda is a 68 year old retired nurse who has been training with me since the beginning. She’s got over 11 years of twice weekly classes under her belt and at 112lbs she pressed the 16kg over head for the first time ever.

That would be above and beyond her level 2 strength requirement if she wanted to get certified!

The fact that she’s been doing this consistently, for more than a decade, is well past the age of “prime strength”, and is still able to get stronger by employing new tension techniques, well that’s just super cool!

Greater Purpose

Back to the StrongFirst code and how Strength Has a Greater Purpose. People like Wanda, retired folks or everyday people, they could live their lives without pressing a kettlebell that weighs 1/3 of their bodyweight overhead.

Like, what do they need to do that for?

I’ll let you in on a little secret… it’s not about the kettlebell.

It’s not about the weight.

It’s about the body and what it can do.

Wanda can still enjoy an active life because she trains. She has the strength to pick up her grand kids, to mow her own lawn and to kayak with her husband.

Whatever she wants to do, she can pretty much do it.

Unfortunately a lot of people her age (and a lot younger than her) cannot do such things.

Strength training is a means to an end but it’s more about the journey than it is the destination; and there is more to do with strength than just what happens inside the gym.

We should all strive to be stronger. To paraphrase Mark Rippetoe, stronger people are harder to kill and more useful in general.

How you use your strength is up to you.


The StrongFirst SFG certification is an incredible 3 day weekend that will test your physical and mental abilities. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested at being the best they can be in any of the disciplines offered – kettlebell, barbell or bodyweight.

Just because these are instructor certifications, don’t think that you need to be an instructor to take the course. As I said, this is an international community of professionals from all walks of life.

The StrongFirst system is principle based and transfers over to any activity that requires you to be in good physical shape. The methods are simple (but not easy) and the results are extraordinary.

The certification weekend is a unique experience and one that you will never forget.

As the tagline goes, You can be anything you want. A warrior. An athlete. A hard man or woman ready to handle whatever life throws at you. But you must be strong first.