15 Years and 15 Observations

I purchased Power to the People! by Pavel around 2000 or early 2001. It changed the way I thought about training in many ways. That was followed by the original Russian Kettlebell Challenge book published in 2001. After I read through it the first time, I threw it in a drawer and ignored it for a couple of months.

That’s right—I put it in a drawer and ignored it.

But it was there spinning in the back of my head, and eventually I pulled it out and read through it again. A few minutes after completing that second reading, I grabbed a fifty-pound dumbbell and tried one of the snatch workouts in the back of the book.

After the EMS finished reviving me (joking), I figured it was a good idea to get some training in how to perform these lifts—and to purchase a kettlebell.

15 Years and 15 Observations

I signed up for Pavel’s second-ever workshop in February of 2002 and my first kettlebell arrived in time for Christmas 2001. The rest, as they say, is history. In April of 2003, I was invited to be one of Pavel’s Senior Instructors and now have the honor and responsibility of being StrongFirst’s Chief SFG and Director of Education.

But what have I observed in those fifteen years since my first training with Pavel?

1. Community

The first groups attracted to kettlebell training were military, law enforcement, martial artists, and, as Pavel referred to us, “hard living comrades.” There was an immediate sense of community. At the time, kettlebell training was truly brand new and a bit on the fringe.

Even though the kettlebell has since grown in popularity and become a recognized training tool for all types of fitness professionals, the community is still there. I have friends all over the globe and it is the kettlebell that connected us originally. It used to feel weird to say “the kettlebell community,” but now it is part of my life.

15 Years and 15 Observations

2. Don’t Rush to Heavy

There was something unique in being involved so early in kettlebell training and figuring some things out for myself. But I brought with me a base of knowledge from being an athlete and an athletic trainer. As an athletic trainer, I was focused on the health and safety of those under my care and I brought that focus with me into the fitness profession. Rushing on to heavier weights can be a mistake, and I’ll admit it is one I have made for myself. But you know what they say, “Lessons learned hardest are learned best.”

As a result, I approached kettlebells with patience. My first kettlebell was a 24kg and I added a “traditional set” of the 1 pood, 1.5 pood, and 2 pood kettlebells after the workshop in February of 2002. (That’s 16, 24 and 32kg for those of you not familiar with the traditional weights.) I got a lot of mileage out of training snatches and the 32kg was the heaviest kettlebell I owned for quite a while.

3. Breathing

Since my first workshop with Pavel, the importance of breathing for performance and strength has been a focus. Diaphragmatic breathing, power breathing, straw breathing, relaxed breathing for stretching, and breathing ladders (a la Rob Lawrence) are all techniques we have incorporated since the start. Whether in the SFG, SFL, or SFB, the breathing and high tension techniques have been a game changer. Allowing us to create instant changes in strength, performance or flexibility.

15 Years and 15 Observations

4. Squatting

At the first workshops where I was a Senior Instructor, we spent a lot of time working on getting attendees into the deep squat. Back then, the vast majority of people coming into the workshops were unable to squat deeply. So we had—and still have—a large number of techniques at hand to quickly improve someone’s ability to squat well.

These days, the vast majority of attendees arrive with the ability to achieve full squat depth. The dogma of “don’t squat below parallel,” “don’t let the knees go over the toes” and other fitness “traditions” no longer has such a hold. I do think that FMS, Pavel, and our work has been an influence and a positive one. (But I could be giving us too much credit.)

5. Don’t Set Minimums

I always get worried when I see people on the StrongFirst forum or social media posting that they are selling their smaller kettlebells because they are now too light. This means the person has typically set a new “minimum” and his or her training will occur at a certain weight or above. This is the danger zone. Life cycles up and down, and so should your training weights, volumes, and intensities. Your light kettlebells are “money in the bank” and will always be of use. I have a 20kg kettlebell I use frequently.

6. Principles Over Tools

The principles of the branches of the SF School of Strength apply no matter the tool.

15 Years and 15 Observations

7. Pain

First, pain is not normal and should not be expected from training. Second, seek advice from a healthcare provider not the internet. Find trusted practitioners who can appropriately evaluate and treat any injuries you run into. Work with them to get the right advice on how to train while dealing with rehab. I see way too many posts online regarding injury and pain.

8. Social Media

I’ve been posting on forums since early 2002. Having witnessed the growth of social media platforms, I can’t say it has always been positive. There are amazing opportunities for access to information, coaching, and community. But there are also negatives. The anonymity of being safe behind a keyboard and a “forum name” seems to embolden the worst in us. Attacks, assumptions, and endless arguments abound around various forums and social media. We can do better.

9. Loaded Eccentric

The kettlebell is a unique tool with specific benefits related to its design. The ability to get into the loaded eccentric hip hinge is one of these. You can’t swing a barbell between your legs—well, more than once. This loaded eccentric hip hinge trains a rapid deceleration followed by a “turn around” into a powerful concentric hip extension. This is a powerful tool for the power training of many populations.

15 Years and 15 Observations

10. Thick Handle and Grip

The thick handle and offset center of mass during the ballistic movements like swings and snatches are fantastic for grip strength. Grip strength can be an indicator of your ability to live independently as you age and can be a predictor of mortality risk (even better than blood pressure according to some studies). This is just one of the many benefits of kettlebell training. And on a lighter note than mortality, kettlebell training allowed me to enter into grip training at a high level and accomplish several grip feats.

11. Mistakes

They are many. I have made mistakes that impacted myself and I have made mistakes that have impacted my clients. Learn from these incidents, and do not shy away from action due to fear of making a mistake. My mistakes drive me to do better.

12. Volume

There was a time when accumulating 100 or 200 reps in a training session was considered huge volume. Now we are used to 500+ rep sessions and thousands of reps. Perhaps we should dial it back a bit?

13. Ignorance

Ignorance can be bliss. I miss the days of “not knowing what we were doing.” It is out of those days that the foundations of our system developed. We did a good job of mining that window of opportunity and I am very proud of our system and structure. But part of me misses the organic beginnings.

15 Years and 15 Observations

14. Teaching

The opportunity to teach, present, and coach all over the world is something for which I am truly thankful. That opportunity comes with a great responsibility, though. Those I influence will go and use that information to work with and influence others. I take that responsibility seriously.

15. Health Before Fitness

“The only time fitness comes before health is in the dictionary.”—Me (I think)

Fitness should be something that drives our health in a better direction. We may pursue goals that come with a cost, but we should make ourselves aware of what that cost is and how it may impact our lives in the long term. I see too many people chasing “things” that can have lasting impact. To be strong for my family and community and live the ideal that strength has a greater purpose—that is my fitness.

My Ultimate Observation

I moved into the fitness world twenty years ago and have been every kind of “trainer” you can think of—functional, machine based, HIT Jedi, cardio, bodyweight, etc. But kettlebell training—including its tools, my mentors, and the community—has been a force in my life.

I don’t know where my life would be if I had not made the decision to visit Minneapolis in February of 2002.

Photos 2, 5, and 6 courtesy of Pamela Maliniak.
Brett Jones
Brett Jones is StrongFirst’s Director of Education. He is also a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist based in Pittsburgh, PA. Mr. Jones holds a Bachelor of Science in Sports Medicine from High Point University, a Master of Science in Rehabilitative Sciences from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

With over twenty years of experience, Brett has been sought out to consult with professional teams and athletes, as well as present throughout the United States and internationally.

As an athletic trainer who has transitioned into the fitness industry, Brett has taught kettlebell techniques and principles since 2003. He has taught for Functional Movement Systems (FMS) since 2006, and has created multiple DVDs and manuals with world-renowned physical therapist Gray Cook, including the widely-praised “Secrets of…” series.

Brett continues to evolve his approach to training and teaching, and is passionate about improving the quality of education for the fitness industry. He is available for consultations and distance coaching—e-mail him for more info.

Brett is the author of Iron Cardio.

Follow him on Twitter at @BrettEJones.
Brett Jones on EmailBrett Jones on Twitter

35 thoughts on “15 Years and 15 Observations

  • Thank you for sharing! These are all great things to think about and take away.

  • Thank you. That is inspiring and meaningful. Thank you for taking the time to think these points out and write about them. I really enjoyed all of it!

  • Excellent article Brett. Especially like your thoughts on mistakes, setting minimums, and social media.

    Thanks for posting it.

  • This article is a gem. I took it all in, but don’t set minimums, that is an outstanding frame of reference. Life cycles are up and down and so is the intensity of what you swing for a kettlebell. I have a 70 pound bubba and a 35 pound stud! Both have there place, GREAT to know. I shall no longer feel bad for working with lighter weight. I’m 32 now, my wisdom is coming soon, I hope?! Thank you sir, great article.

  • brett, you always have a good way of putting things. I really like your point of health before fitness. too many of us put our fitness goals ahead of our health, and our health ends up suffering in the long run. I totally agree in educating people as to what the physical “cost” will be of attaining certain goal.

    • Thank you Josh
      Lessons learned hardest are learned best and I have learned not to put my health second!

  • Thank you Brett! Always love and appreciate reading your briefs. Thank you for your time.

  • Excellent article. I wish I had found kettlebell training years ago. It is an a great honor to be able to train with you on a routine basis. Your expertise and teaching ability is world class .

  • Terrific! Thoughtful and insightful. And loved the line about swinging a barbell between your legs. Funny!

  • Brett, it’s been great to have spent time with you over most of the years you talk about. I attended Cert #4 in 2003 where you were one of my Senior instructors.

    Remember the AAU powerlifting meet in Nevada where Pavel, you and me were a deadlift team?

    Onward and Upward, and I look forward to the continued honor and privilege of working with you, sir!


  • As one who has been trained by Brett since 2003 in various incarnations and forms, I will say simply this – I am teacher in most areas of my life and I look to his method of instruction to inform all the teaching I do – in my family life, my community and my profession. When one looks up quiet professional in the dictionary – you will find a picture of Mr. Brett Jones. I’ve known Brett to never stop learning, to always guide gently but earnestly, to take the material but never himself too seriously. A mentor both in the gym and outside. The kettlebell is just a tool, but in the hands of a great teacher like Brett – the principles are communicated and demonstrated and ultimately assimilated. Here’s to another 15 years of growth and success, Mr. Jones.

  • Hey Brett, one of the best and most important lessons I learned from you and Pavel is not “Killing” myself at every workout. What a revelation at age 57! feel better and stronger with reasonable workouts, and enjoy them. Keep up the good work.

  • Awesome article. I have learned a lot from you already, whether Strongfirst or FMS – and it has changed my life. Very grateful to have the opportunity to learn from you directly in Denver this December as I redo the SFG 1. Wise words from a wise man!

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