4 Reasons to Do the StrongFirst Certification

I have never had a doubt about getting the certificate, but I began to wonder why. So to find out, I wrote an article.

This coming weekend I am going to be part of a large group of people attempting to get a StrongFirst Level II certificate (My fellow BreakingMuscle writer Brandon Hofer will also be there, but with a great deal more flexibility than me).

There has never been a doubt in my mind about getting the certificate, but after reading this article on the validity of certifications, I began to wonder about the why? So to find out, I wrote an article.

1. Knowledge

Pavel Tsatsouline has been one of my favorite coaches for years. I used to pick up Muscle Media magazines to read his articles in the late 1990s and early 2000s (most were not on the use of kettlebells). I purchased every one of his books and even though I don’t use all of his techniques, he has my respect enough to listen and learn.

Thus, a little over a year ago I thought I would learn from his new organization, StrongFirst. As my primary career is not coaching, the knowledge is more about making myself stronger and having more mobility. For coaches, I would say that this certificate is much more than kettlebells. It is about making yourself or your clients strong in all of their lifts. 

2. Effort Justification

I have CrossFit certifications, from which I gained excellent knowledge (mobility and gymnastics are great). However, they were not as physically taxing. In contrast, I needed to prepare and train for months to accomplish the exercise standards of the SFG Level I certificate. I could not just show up. I had to learn techniques perfectly with heavy weights, as I would be tested on them. I stopped all other programming to focus on this one event.

Social psychologists call my nostalgic thinking effort justification. That is, if we put a lot of effort into something, we need to justify it as being better (as the reason we put all the effort put into it). A classic study put people through hazing like rituals to join a group. The tougher the ritual, the more they were proud of their group membership. I have some tough tasks to accomplish this weekend and if I do I will be proud to say that I am a SFG Level II. Sure it might be effort justification and I know that my mind is justifying the hard work. Be it what it may, I still feel more pride.

3. Goals

Part of the reason I liked Pavel’s writing is that he would often drop a bit of information on what other strongmen have done. I took it as a personal challenge each time I read it. When he said that Marines who do 25 strict pull-ups get a top grade, I set a goal of doing 25 strict pull-ups. When he said that a strongman could clean-and-press a kettlebell closest to half bodyweight, I knew I would have to do it. By the end of 2014, I hope to “tame the beast” (strict press, do a pistol, and a weighted pull-up with a 48kg kettlebell.

Other students at this certification are like-minded in wanting to do unusual strongman type of tasks (e.g., Dave Whitley, The Iron Tamer). The certification is more about hitting my goals than having a piece of paper with my name on it. By signing up, I am now accountable to hit these important goals.

4. Community

The CrossFit community at my gym is amazing. We have an amazing group of athletes that inspire me everyday (e.g., Gerard Bross). At an SFG event, the community spirit is amplified due to the pressure of the standards. I really feel like I will not forget anyone from my team. To compare it to other certifications, I doubt anyone remembers me from any of them. But this Sunday, when everyone is completing their hundred kettlebell snatches in five minutes or half-bodyweight kettlebell strict presses, we will all cheer each other on and share this amazing memory. In one weekend, I build friendships that endure.


1. Aronson, E., and Mills, J., “The Effect of Severity of Initiation on Liking for a Group.” The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology (1959) 59 (2): 177.

2. Tsatsouline, Pavel. 2006. Enter The Kettlebell! Strength Secret of The Soviet Supermen. 1st edition. St. Paul, MN: Dragon Door Publications.

Photos courtesy of Mandy Whitley.

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