Life lessons taught by a kettlebell

Lifting weights and life intersect in funny ways sometimes. Lessons learned in the weight room carry over into life and vice versa.

What’s unquestionably true is that life’s high points are more often than not punctuated with low.

It’s up to us to decide how we deal with our peaks; some step back from the edge, others fall off the cliff.

Either way, the needle will drop because linear improvement never lasts forever.

The following article explores my journey to becoming a Strongfirst Level 2 Kettlebell Instructor, and how, as a result, I’ve grown as a person, by navigating the peaks, while trying not to fall off the cliffs.

"After the peak is the cliff."

Mark Reifkind

I’ve been at home sick the past 5-days with the flu. It hit me hard and quite suddenly late last week.

While stressful, the forced downtime has given me time to reflect on my current situation, and today is the first day I have been able to put together a coherent thought (well I hope it is).

The past six months have been quite stressful for me. My business is not going as well as I’d like for various reasons. Lack of direction, lack of self-belief and the resultant lack of funds that come with such thinking all add up.

On a personal and social level, I’ve become somewhat of a recluse. I realise neglecting the personal and social sides of life is increasing the pressure. It’s a vicious cycle and one that I’ve been sweeping under the rug, rather than dealing with it.

Instead, I chose to channel my energy into other pursuits.

life lessons
Photo by @light_planning

After the peak is the cliff:
Episode one

May 2016, I experienced my first fall from the cliff.

I had just passed my Strongfirst Level 1 Kettlebell Certification.

7-months of focused preparation was successful.

I was now a Strongfirst Instructor.

Something I’d wanted to be ever since hearing about the organisation.

I was about halfway home, on the M1 (I think it was still the F3 then) driving from Sydney to Newcastle, I became overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness, and a question.

Now What?

I didn’t touch a kettlebell for nearly four weeks after the certification.

It took a few more months to regain a sense of purpose in my training.

In May of 2017, I committed to attempting the Strongfirst Level 2 kettlebell certification due to be held in Perth that November. I trained hard, but not intelligently and abandoned my quest in October 2017.

Fast forward to May of 2018, after assisting at a Level 1 certification I recommitted to completing my Level 2 that November in Brisbane.  I’d learned much from my previous attempt and was determined to succeed this time.

November and the certification came around quickly, but I did not obtain my Level 2 Instructors certificate. I passed all of the technical tests but didn’t attempt my press during the certification as I knew that I could not fulfil the strength requirement (a 1/2 bodyweight overhead press).

Before everyone’s attempts, I said to the Master Instructor Shaun Cairns I planned to gift myself the Level 2 as a Xmas present.

At that moment, I truly believed it would be enough time.

I will never pass with my current pressing technique.

The grim realisation I had at the certification as I watched every single male participant attempt their press and fail.

Not fail to press, but fail to meet the standard. I realised that my technique needed a lot of work, so much that I would have to learn to press from scratch again.

A 6-month grace period is given to complete the certification. My D-day was my daughters birthday (May 4th, or Star Wars Day, as she prefers to call it).

I was forced to drop my pressing weight down to 24kg from 36kg as I addressed energy leaks in my technique.

life lesson's
Photo by @light_planning

Maybe Xmas is unrealistic?

With Xmas looming, I decided pressing it on my birthday (February 12th) was more realistic.

February rolled around, and I was still struggling to press the 32kg well.

I needed to press 44kg, so I decided on Easter.

I’ll finish it off before the Easter Holidays. That way I can go off and enjoy myself with the family and forget about it.

Is that golfer's elbow? But I don't play golf.

It was around this time I got a niggle in my left elbow. All this pressing was taking its toll.  I’m left-handed, and it has always been my dominant pressing arm. Despite my attempts to rehabilitate it, the pain became worse.

I'm going to have to press this with my weaker arm.

I have to finish this with my right arm.

Doing the math I was going to need to drop body fat at the same time to enable me to press the 40kg bell (my goal with the left arm was 44kg).

So with nine weeks left until Star Wars day I recommitted to getting this done. Dieting down, while trying to build strength; not ideal but I saw no other choice.

Weeks went by, and my left arm and shoulder got worse. Golfer’s elbow evolved into a nasty case of scapular winging as I nursed it along.

My right arm kept on improving, and about four weeks out, I pressed the 40kg bell for the first time. I was so excited I walked through my garage into the house with the bell overhead to show my wife, Alisa. We celebrated like I’d passed but the unfortunate truth was I was overweight,* and the rep didn’t count.

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*The weight I need to press is dictated by my bodyweight. As kettlebells jump up in 4kg increments, this is a range.
40kg bell: 76.6kg to 83.9kg
44kg bell: 84kg to 92.2kg

I was encouraged, I just needed to make weight, which meant dropping another 3.5kgs (I had already dropped down from 92.8 to 87.5). Those last few kilos were stubborn. It felt like every time I dropped 0.5kg, and I also lost strength. I started to question whether pressing the 40kg was just a fluke.

Good Friday arrived (April 19th – 2 weeks for Star Wars Day), and it was time to press the bell. I had just made weight, but I felt weak and stressed.

I failed.

Disappointed I packed my bags and went away for the Easter Long Weekend with the family. I drank, ate, surfed and had a good time. But instead of heading up the coast surfing the following week, I came home and resumed pressing while dieting the weekend weight off. 

I made another attempt that weekend and the bell went up, but it was ugly, not a pass.

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One week to go

We were having a big family gathering for my daughters birthday. I didn’t want to be stressed about pressing that bloody bell and ruin my mood and her day.

It has to go up during the week.

The flu and other sicknesses

This week as I trudged from my sick bed to the lounge and back again, I’ve reflected on my bad habit of brushing things under the rug. In business, it’s ignoring essential things I need to do in favour of items that don’t matter that cause pain. In my personal life, it’s the same. Avoiding what’s important can take as significant a toll on your body as getting sick with the flu.

"How you do anything is how you do everything."

T. Harv Eker

As I reflected, I realised that in many ways, this all-encompassing battle to achieve a half bodyweight press personified how I was treating everything in my life.

I ignore my shortcomings, I don’t act on good advice, I shy away from tough conversations, and I let my ego get in the way all of the time.

"Teachers open the doors, but you must enter by yourself."

Chinese Proverb
life lesson's
Photo by @light_planning

Approximately 18-months before attending the certification, Shaun Cairns suggested a protocol to improve my press.

I acknowledged the advice and said, “thanks Shaun, that’s great advice,” but I never took it. 

18-months on as I stood watching people attempt their press, I finally accepted the advice from 18-months earlier, and I finally walked through the door.

On Wednesday, May 1st, with just three days left on my grace period, I finally pressed the bell overhead. 

What a relief! 

An almost surreal moment that closed out one of the greatest journeys of my training life.

Best of all, I would get to let my hair down on Star Wars Day (or my daughters birthday).

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life lessons
life lessons

After the peak is the cliff:
Episode two

I began this article by talking about channelling my energy into other pursuits, which permitted me to not focus on important business and personal matters. My press was the other pursuit and, as you can see, even it was flawed.

Now What?

Just like that drive back from Sydney three years earlier, I was left asking the question:

“What the fuck do I do now?”

Being relieved from pressing duty made me painfully aware of all that I’d been ignoring and this threw me into a spin.

Fuck, I should be doing this, and this and this. It left me feeling very insecure about my abilities as a businessman, husband, provider and father. But with nothing else to focus on that became a genuine point of stress that I didn’t know how to tackle.

Upon reflection...

Writing this has been a cathartic experience. As I reflect on my journey thus far, I remember a conversation that I had with Shaun Cairns in November while at the certification.

I had just admitted to him that I had ignored his advice many months earlier and he said to me: 

“My role as a teacher is to present you with the information that you need, to get from A to B, but I can’t make you take it.”

He followed to say:

“You just weren’t ready for the information at that time, but it didn’t make it less valuable.”

He was correct, and as I sit here typing this now, I realise that the press and my journey toward it, was, in fact, a necessary step in my evolution to becoming a better human.

I achieved the press by becoming more coachable, by listening to advice and taking it, by addressing my shortcomings, by doing the tough stuff that I usually shy away from doing.

I am slowly but surely redefining how I do things because how you do anything is how you do everything.

I can’t change everything at once, but I can change, one bit at a time.

My journey to becoming a Strongfirst Level 2 Instructor has genuinely been a life-altering experience.

Enlighted AF

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I must keep applying the lessons I’ve learned and let them flow over into all other areas of my life.

Recently I was lucky enough to spend a weekend with Dan John. One thing that he talks passionately about is whether your fitness goal will spiral out and enlarge other areas of your life. 

In this case, I believe that yes, the goal of achieving my level 2 has certainly done that.

Over to you.

Do your fitness goals enlarge other areas of your life? Or are they damaging your potential for health and happiness? It’s an important question, one worth considering in great detail.

If you need some help working on this drop us a line. I’m far from perfect, but I think that makes me a far better coach.

Have a great weekend!

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