Rewinding back to 2011 when I packed my bags to kickstart The Quad with Raj, it wasn't the unfamiliar terrain that gave me jitters. Instead, it was the gnawing fear of missing out on knowledge from top-notch Strength & Conditioning coaches. Yet, hurdles are there for us to leap over, right?
StrongFirst - a world-acclaimed strength and conditioning establishment helmed by Pavel Tsatsouline who lit the fire of kettlebell revival – turned into my guiding star as I relocated back home to Madras in 2011. I was armed with my copy of Enter the Kettlebell, which informed my kettlebell coaching for the first few years.
The Quad community and my coaching experience continued to blossom over the next few years. But I missed being a student. I wondered how I could solve that problem of mine.
SFG-1, March 2016
So when Shaun Cairns, Master Instructor at StrongFirst, visited Kolkata to run the SFG-1 in March 2016, I saw my golden opportunity. Beyond the allure of joining an elite fitness community, the certification was a beacon, pushing me to set a target, to 'peak' and break my own records!
The SFG-1 tests basic kettlebell skills and is topped off by the 5-minute snatch test. One is required to do 100 reps in 5 minutes of the kettlebell snatch - a challenging feat. Even though I had been training with kettlebells for a few years by then, it still warranted an exceptional amount of training. And of course, as I mentioned, it was a great opportunity to push me beyond my comfort zone.
That was the first step. A special thanks to Dr Ramana, who championed the cert and brought it to India.
What's StrongFirst Elite?
Who qualifies to be StrongFirst Elite? Someone who can put in the hard work to clear their top 4 instructor certification programmes. These cover kettlebell, barbell and bodyweight skill certifications at the instructor level, and they are meant to be challenging.
SFG-2, October 2018
The two colleagues that I did the SFG-1 with recommended we do the SFG-2 in South Africa. We were to do this in Johannesburg in Feb of 2018. But I didn't get my visa (although my companions did.) I blamed my weird luck but then, it turned into a great opportunity.
This event spurred me to attend the SFG-2 in Vicenza, Italy in October of 2018. My wife and I used the opportunity to combine it with a holiday but with my very obvious agenda to crack this cert.
To ensure that I was on top of my training, I got a kettlebell shipped to my first place of stay in Italy (yup, some of you know this!). And it was a constant companion for the entirety of my trip. I trained every morning before heading out to sample the sights and food :)
I also had the chance to meet and learn from Pavel himself, the weekend before the certification, by attending the StrongEndurance seminar.
The SFG-2 required me to press half my body weight - again, an immense step up from my skills. Under Fabio Zonin's coaching, I had a tremendous learning experience and yes, I cleared it to become SFG-2 certified!
Assisting in certifications
2019 though, was all about learning and coaching, not just clearing certifications.
- In February 2019, along with a number of my fellow coaches at The Quad, we assisted Shaun Cairns in India's largest SFG-1 certification event.
It allowed me an opportunity to view and absorb the coaching from the unique perspective of being an assistant. So much learning here!
- Then in October 2019, I had the opportunity to assist Brett Jones, as part of the SFG-1 happening in Boston, USA. The second such time I assisted and again, the learnings were immense that I could apply to coaching at The Quad and my own training.
October 2021, the Barbell Cert
Post that, towards the end of the pandemic in October 2021, Shaun organised the SFL - the barbell certification. I had not lifted barbells regularly for the better part of a decade and I thought this was a great chance to pick up what was my first tool in my strength journey.
The Deadlift and Military Press were pretty straightforward. But the bench press (always a weak lift of mine) was significantly more than anything I had ever done. I had never bench pressed even my body weight. Now, a decade older, I was required to bench 1.25x. Not a significant load for a lifter but certainly for me.
But guess what? As we always say, showing up works! I got a great coaching experience and over the next 3 months following the certification, applied what I learned and achieved my bench press, and with it, the SFL.
March 2023, the Bodyweight cert
And finally, earlier this year, the Bodyweight version of the certification took place in my hometown of Madras. The one-arm one-leg pushup stumped me. Even though I could do a bunch of pushups, the OAOLPU is a skill that poked holes in how well I knit my body together.
Again, post the certification, a few weeks of applying what I learned led to me passing the certification.
You can see in my first attempt, I did not have a one-arm pushup. And while my one-arm, one-leg is shaky and all that, it is a huge improvement.
And honestly, 90% of the improvement and application in what I've learned from these certifications comes in the subsequent years. The 10% that comes immediately after is the part that enabled me to go from zero to one.
To be an Elite Instructor, one needs to show they can do all the testing standards of all 4 certifications. Hard but definitely doable. At every step, after every certification, I felt I had come a long way while having my mind blown away by the coaching I had just received.
Over the past 7 years, what I loved the most about this journey is how it has taken me from a student to a teacher. Assisting and learning from multiple coaches, each interaction has been a stepping stone towards my goal. I continue to re-learn the lesson that there's a lot to learn and that's the fun part of it. And crucially, learning without doing is useless.
Today, I stand here, as India's first StrongFirst Elite Instructor, a testament to the fact that no obstacle is too big when your determination is stronger. I think I may even go as far as to say, I'm proud of myself - for staying the course, and for seeing it through.
I've glossed over a lot - injuries and setbacks, for one. Or the amount of time spent training. Or the amount of coaching and help I received from folks.
Remember, the journey is never easy, but with focus and determination, the destination is always within reach, whatever you choose your destination to be.
Keep showing up!