Ten years ago I signed-up for my first Ironman triathlon. At that time, I had never swum more than 500 yards, never ridden a road bike, and only run three miles once in my life—and hated every minute of it at that. As I found early and often during my training, successfully preparing for and finishing an Ironman triathlon is far more mental than it is physical.
My experience with triathlons was brief, just three years. I guess you could say I ran it out of my system. But while I left the swim-bike-run business behind, I took with me the mental strength I gained to use later in life.
When I signed up for my SFG Level I Certification, I had no prior training in the snatch. Yet on week one-day two of my preparation plan, I was scheduled to do my first volume snatch session. High on my horse from a successful on-the-minute swing session the day before, I tore the palm of my hand wide open after just ten minutes of snatching with the 16kg.
To say I was humbled would be an understatement. Worry and doubt crept in. With only eight weeks, how was I going to get to the point where I could snatch the 24kg 100 times in five minutes? That was the first of many lessons I would learn over the eight weeks to follow.
Today, I’m going to challenge you to go deep, beyond what you see and feel on the surface, and dive into what matters most—what’s within. Passing the snatch test is far less physical than you think. In my opinion, it’s the easiest part of your weekend.
To prove that, I’ll equip you with the mental tools you need to succeed, share why adversity is a good thing and should be welcomed, and explain why being relaxed is paramount to your success. If you’ve signed up for the SFG Level I Cert, or are considering it, then read this article, put the tools to work, and know you can and will pass your test.
1. The Bell Will Always Win, So Don’t Make It a Competition
You’re at a disadvantage starting your journey in becoming StrongFirst—you haven’t yet learned the tension strategies and world-class drills to fine-tune your technique, but you shouldn’t worry. You’re going to fail in your training many, many times—and that’s a good thing, so long as you view it from the proper perspective. Failures are nothing more than temporary setbacks, and within every temporary setback is a lesson to be learned.
Don’t fight with the bell—it’ll always win. A loss might come in the form of a sore back, a torn callus, a bum shoulder, or a bruised wrist. Tearing my hand week one was a quick lesson in over-gripping the bell. Later once my hand healed, I realized I also wasn’t taming the arc enough, so the bell was getting away from me both on the way up and on the way down. Just the other day I learned I could pack my left shoulder a little more and tame the arc even more. It’s a never-ending journey.
Kettlebell training is an art form. When done properly there’s no fighting, forcing, or muscling through. The bell and the user are essentially one. If you view your training sessions as opportunities to get better—and not something that is to be won—you’re ahead of the game and your road to success will be much easier.
In this sense, the bell is and always will be your best instructor, so long as you agree to become its student. It all starts with the muscle between your ears.
2. Use Obstacles to Your Advantage
If you’re training for your SFG Level I Cert, your obstacle is undoubtedly the snatch test. It’s what everyone fears. Overcoming your obstacle will require persistence and resistance. As Ryan Holiday says (author of The Obstacle Is the Way):
- Persist in your efforts
- Resist giving into distractions
You might think that entering a snatch session with a recovering callus and battered body is a recipe for disaster—and it is if you have the wrong mindset. I’ve come to view these types of sessions as tremendous learning opportunities. I place no expectations on the session at hand and simply sort my way through it. I ask myself, “How can I make this feel easy?” After all, like I mentioned earlier, the bell isn’t changing, it’s up to you to adjust to the bell.
In order to do so, you’ll need to:
- Control your mind
- Control your breath
- Remain focused
These are all abilities that will come in handy in a variety of real-life situations.
If you practice enough persistence in your training, control your mind, control your breath, and stay focused, you will without a doubt realize that there are no exterior obstacles—you are the one getting in the way of your success and, therefore, the power to influence your outcome lies within.
When you’re tired you’re going to want to stop. At some point, you’ll consider changing programs and trying something new in hopes of an answer. Resist distraction and instead, dig your heels in and not only face adversity, but welcome it with open arms. It will provide you with the tools you need to succeed come test day.
3. Get Out of Your Own Way—Relax and Win
If you’re not relaxed, then you’re not really in control, and when you’re not in control, you stand little chance in passing your snatch test. The voice inside your head likes to make quick, rash, and sometimes costly decisions that have profound effects on your training.
Being relaxed in your training allows you to:
- Control the moment
- Be present
- Adjust to the circumstances
- Crush your training session/lift/test
I first heard the phrase “relax and win” from Dan John, but the meaning of it didn’t sink in until I finished reading the book Untethered Soul, a book about spiritual enlightenment. The author says that to relax and release is the way to enhance the “here and now” —to let go of stress, worry, the past and the future, to focus on what’s currently happening, and “win,” as I then later applied.
4. Expect the Unexpected and Roll with It
Over the course of your training, you’ll fall into a routine. The shape of one bell over the other, the temperature you prefer for training, the training surface you stand on—these all play a part in your performance and your environment becomes your domain.
My suggestion? Challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone. When you aren’t able to use the bells you like or aren’t able to train in the comfort of your “natural” training environment, you will learn something new.
The first thing I thought when I walked into venue of my SFG Level I Cert was, “Damn, it’s humid in here.” Then I picked up a 24kg and noticed the handle felt thicker than what I had trained with. On top of that, we were training and testing on turf, whereas I prefer to do swings, cleans, and snatches on a hard surface.
But I had no control over this environment. I either needed to figure out a way to get around my new obstacles or risk failing my test.
I babied and prepped my hands all weekend. During training I wore sock sleeves (highly recommended). Toward the end of day two, I took off the sleeves to play around with chalk, the feel of the bell, etc. The morning of the snatch test I was about to lose a callus—go figure—and there was nothing to do but roll with it. I elected to forgo chalk in hopes of the callus not catching and tearing off midway through the test.
I ended up crushing the test. At the four-minute mark I was at ninety snatches. I took a rest, shook it off, and hammered out my last ten nice and easy.
Are You Ready for the SFG Level I Cert?
If you’re thinking of signing up for any event, my recommendation is this—just do it! Whether it’s the SFG Level I Cert, another StrongFirst Course or Cert, or something entirely different, just get after it. And once you’re committed:
- Hire a coach
- Be humble in your approach
- Know you’re going to fail at times in your training, but don’t think of it as a failure—think of it as a temporary defeat, a lesson to be learned
- Persist in your efforts
- Resist distractions
- Get out of your own way
- Relax and win
You might think that upon successfully passing the snatch test that you’ve reached the pinnacle of kettlebell training. However, I’ve realized it’s really the beginning and more a rite of passage than a mountaintop. My dad constantly reminds me to “enjoy the ride,” referring to life itself. Perception is reality. Challenge yourself and remember that adversity is not a bad thing, but rather the fuel you need to go further—embrace it.
When you’re frustrated, panicking, or worrying about the future, stop yourself. Take a few deep breaths, channel the present moment, and let your training take over—after all, they call it “training” for a reason. If you can win the battle between your ears, the physical battle will already be won.