The Grad Workout, or the Road to the Inn

I get dozens of requests by email, phone call, and even house visits about how to prepare for the three-day Kettlebell Certification. I am more than happy to help prepare them for the experience of moving all day long, challenging workouts, and cutting edge education.

Sadly, most people ask me to perfect their form in all the movements. Now, in my experience as a coach of many sports, achieving perfection is a lot like grabbing a handful of steam, if you ask me. You didn’t. Having me walk you through a variety of movements in a few hours is nothing like technical mastery.

On the other extreme, others want to know about the standard that says the off-arm pinkie must remain at zenith during the third arabesque and whether or not we are really that specific about things. I made that up. As you may know, it is only during the second arabesque that the pinkie is at zenith. Read the manual!

I emphasize that you don’t worry about technical perfection or the standards in your preparation. I suggest you prepare yourself mentally and physically for the road. The road? Cervantes says it best in Don Quixote: “It’s the road, not the inn.” In my humble opinion (right?), I suggest you prepare yourself as best you can physically to handle the three days of wear and tear on your body.

Oh, and the “inn”? That’s the Grad Workout.

The Best Way to Prepare for Your Kettlebell Certification

It is a hard thing to explain, but during the three days, you are going to learn the techniques of basic kettlebell movements. Trust me. During my Certification, during my 10,000th double swing, I “sorta got it.” When I repeat to the group, for what I always hope is the last time but never is the last time, “The swing is a swing, the snatch is a swing, the clean is a swing,” you might finally have the insight that the ballistic kettlebell movements begin with a swing.

The get-up is a masterful move, so learn the move under the direction of the masters. Stop watching those awful YouTube videos that also next recommend that the best method of catching alligators is with your bare hands. You need your hands for snatches.

There are no mysteries to preparing for the Certification. I followed the simple directions that Pavel outlined with lots and lots of clean and presses, pull-ups, swings, and snatches. Well, what I “thought” were swings and snatches. I recommend a solid base of strength first—wait, this reminds me of something.

When Pavel announced the name of the organization as “StrongFirst,” I turned to my wife and said, “Someone is going to say “StrongLast” in exactly three, two…” I was right.

So, get strong. I hope you were smart enough to do something as simple as Easy Strength and get your basic press, squat, and pull up to standard. Don’t start getting specific on the kettlebell moves if, as a male, you can’t do a pull-up. After that, leap into the Rite of Passage with all you have. I smiled on rep eighteen of my snatch test as I knew I was going to kill this test; Rite of Passage had me that prepared.

The Grad Workout

The road starts when you circle the calendar, count backwards the weeks, and start to get strong. Then, I hope you have time for specific prep. Like my assistant tells me, “Now get on the plane and go.” The road continues when you check into the hotel, unpack your stuff (bring extra shirts, trust me), and try to figure out what to do and where to go. The road is Day One, Day Two, and Day Three.

Then, you reach the inn. That’s where I come in again. The Grad Workout, in this particular variation, was designed by a lunatic psychopath. That would be me.

Everything can be done; some things should be done. The Grad Workout has built in problems:

  1. You have an exhausted cadre.
  2. Putting bells up overhead with exhausted people breaks all the safety rules.
  3. Some people have little skin on their hands by Day Three.
  4. Any idiot can get people tired. Getting people to test themselves under stress and exhaustion takes some thinking to keep things safe.
  5. WIN: What’s Important Now. We debate the reasons for this workout at every gathering. Trust me, there are many. As a religious studies instructor, I can only add that we are putting a line in the sand and asking you simply to cross it. That is what is important now.

With these problems/opportunities, I reached into my grab bag of training and came up with this simple workout based on the concept of “we can do anything, we should do this.”

  1. Double kettlebell clean for two reps
  2. Double kettlebell press for one rep
  3. Double kettlebell front squat for three reps.
  4. Put the bell down like a professional. Step away.

Now, your partner takes the bells while you do fast and loose drills and support the community as you can.

Repeat. A lot.

The press is always the issue in these workouts. This 2:1:3 ratio protects the hands (two cleans, but doubles are easier on the hands anyway), challenges the press without worrying about endurance, and, well, you can always get another double front squat. By simply moving to one rep in the press, you still move from safest ballistic I know (the double clean), to the ultimate in full-body tension and grinding, the press. The front squats? Good question: I’m a jerk. You can always do front squats!

Ratios are more important in kettlebell complexes than barbell complexes. With a barbell, asymmetry issues can be mitigated by having both hands on the bar. That’s why I keep my barbell complexes with standards of three, five, or eight reps with each movement. With kettlebells, any asymmetry, whether physical or technical limitations, will manifest itself under load and exhaustion. So, I play with ratios in all my kettlebell complex work.

The SFG Level I Grad Workout

The Road to the Grad Workout

The Grad Workout is climbing the summit. It is the last few grueling feet. Inside your head, you know you can do one more round, but maybe not two more. Two rounds later, you know you can do one more round, but maybe not two more. But, you continue to climb.

This is why we wear our shirts proudly and include initials behind our name. You made it to the inn.

Daniel John
Dan John, former StrongFirst Certified Master Instructor has spent his life with one foot in the world of lifting and throwing, and the other foot in academia.

An All-American discus thrower, Dan has also competed at the highest levels of Olympic lifting, Highland Games, and the Weight Pentathlon, an event in which he holds the American record.

Dan spends his work life blending weekly workshops and lectures with full-time writing, and is also an online religious studies instructor for Columbia College of Missouri. As a Fulbright Scholar, he toured the Middle East exploring the foundations of religious education systems.

His books, on weightlifting, include “Intervention,” “Never Let Go,” “Mass Made Simple,” and “Easy Strength,” written with Pavel Tsatsouline, as well as “From Dad, To Grad.”

12 thoughts on “The Grad Workout, or the Road to the Inn

  • Dan,
    I am training your 10,000 swings workout, unrelated to this blog post, but I’ve hit a ‘little’ snag in my workouts. My left ring finger has swole up like a large grape @ the first knuckle and lifting the bell is very painful on the finger. Doing some research, it looks like I’ve got a sprained finger (which means slightly torn ligament(s). I’m going to have to stop for now untill this finger heals. Have you heard of this type of injury and what should I expect as far as recovery time?



  • “4. Any idiot can get people tired. Getting people to test themselves under stress and exhaustion takes some thinking to keep things safe.”

    Thank you for thinking about safety.

    That complex will put the “H” in “Put the Hurt on you.”

  • Hi everyone, I have read RKC and attended HKC to make a certification and good experience for me. I am glad I did because the best thing for my benefit will be attending a workshop than studied DVDs or books because I have been studied and workout but back always caused me painful and discomfortable for the last two years until I met Donald Berry, he is a RKC instructor and chiropractor. he taught and workout with me. I see it really helped me a lot and nothing impact on my lower back and encouraged me attended HKC workshop. I learned a lot. I thank you him for encouraged me and also stoppec by his backyard house for workout. I am glad to have him. I always have respect him for wonderful man to help people. I am very grateful for taking the opporunity to participate in kettlebell workshop. I am hoping to participate in StrongFirst Level 1 in area soon. but I really need to workout on pull up and snatch so much. anyone who can help me please let me know. I would like to participate for preparing. I do not want to fail since I am deaf myself. I may go over there without interpeters I know I will miss a lot of important information from lectures. Thanks Ronnie

    • Ronnie, in working with Don, you’re working with a great guy – turn to him for any help you need in preparing for your SFG-I.

      As to an ASL interpreter, use the contact link on this web site and ask about that.

      Dan, as always, thanks for taking a lifetime of experience and breaking things down in terms we can understand.


  • At the Houston cert, by day 3 I was a wrecked mess. I wanted to step away and not do the grad workout ( I had already failed the snatch test).

    But day 3 felt different.

    I told my Team Leader Jason Marshall that I was going to do the grad workout. No one goes through 3 days of that much greatness and unity and then decides “I don’t want to partake in this community, so I’ll quit here”.

    You continue to climb.

    And while I havent got a shirt or initials behind my name yet, that weekend sent me climbing.

    Thanks Dan for the excellent post

  • Great article and insight Dan, as always.
    Very interesting about the ratios with the complexes. You always have simple, high impact programming. The “simple not easy” philosophy is outstanding.
    The grad workout as the summit? Yes, absolutely.
    Great stuff!

  • Seeing Dan John’s name, and seeing the SLC upcoming cert, I offer the following, in hopes that it’s mostly on-topic.

    I practice with kettlebells; I’m no way near SFG-cert level. But I was in Salt Lake City for a wholly unrelated conference the week before last. I drove. Took my bells with me, did my workouts in between presenting at the conference. Home is at 500-foot elevation. SLC is over 4200 feet. And I felt the elevation during my workouts at the SLC hotel gym. Thought of the people signed up for the SLC-cert. Whoo boy, people. There’s a bit of altitude there. Those of you heading to the SLC cert, know your base and destination elevation and prepare accordingly. Or arrive early and acclimate. Or both.

    • I KNEW there was something I wasn’t factoring in!!! Whoo boy … Home is sea-level. D’oh! Thanks for the heads up!

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