StrongFirst Certification

StrongFirst Kettlebell Certification Preparation and Experience

As someone who believes in all the varied goodness that comes from kettlebell training and continuing education across all aspects, I’ve recently taken the StrongFirst SFG1 certification with Fabio Zonin. This is a record of my experience and I also cover information about the preparation for the StrongFirst certification and strategy for the StrongFirst snatch test.

Quick On-Page Links:

The Experience

StrongFirst Fabio Zonin

Everyone present at the certification was awesome and so was the whole experience. Fabio Zonin is a great instructor and teacher and I got several awesome drills that I will continue using.

For those who followed me for a while will know that I’ve fought many battles in the past with RKC/StrongFirst people about exercise variations, definitions, etc. So, I was shocked to the core to find that after many years of battling with Hardstyle people about the squat swing, everything has now changed to a hybrid between squat and hinge. It’s always been “Shins vertical and everything else is blasphemy”. So, for the first few days, I was struggling to understand the balance of how much ankle work, i.e. shins going toward vertical, is now required for the standard.

All my training was based on my understanding of the Hardstyle swing and the following video which was the only instructional video I could find in relation to the certification that I signed up for.

The certification did provide printed study material midway through the certification.

The Athletic Hip Hinge

There is a new term coined “The Athletic Hip Hinge” which is a hip hinge with the ankles involved. I have a different opinion on this subject and I will explain why. Of course, you should do your own research and make up your own mind.

A true hip hinge is a stiff-legged hip hinge where only the hip joints hinge, a conventional hip hinge, is a movement where the hips and knees move and 2 joints work to power the exercise. A movement with more joints involved makes the movement easier as it involves more muscles. In other words, a stiff-legged hip hinge swing is the hardest and targets the muscles acting upon the hip joint. A conventional hip hinge adds the knee joints and adds more muscles to the movement.

A squat is a movement that involves 3 joints, the hips, knees, and ankles. The depth of the squat defines how much those joints are working, for example, a quarter squat, half squat, all the way to a full-depth squat.

We could argue that the Athletic Hip Hinge is a hybrid between a hip hinge and a squat, but to me, the boundaries of the exercise are set in stone, when 3 joints are involved, the hips, knees, and ankles, it’s a squat.

Hardstyle Swing 2024

I am very familiar with the swing, clean, and snatch, as I’ve studied them for 2 decades and written books and courses that cover these exercises and their variations in depth. Hip Hinge Swing, Hardstyle Swing, Squat Swing, Pendulum Swing, Freestyle Swing, American Swing, etc. But still, I was struggling to get it, as I felt like I had to find a certain range for the movement but seeing different ranges and getting different feedbacks confused my body and brain. Until I decided to do a squat swing, a hang clean, a dead clean, and a hang snatch, that’s when the feedback I got was “Yes, that’s it, but a little less depth”.

I’ve been a proponent of the squat swing since I started training with and exploring the kettlebell, but I’ve also been a proponent of the hip hinge swing, as both deliver a different response, and depending on what you want you pick one or the other. The same applies to the kettlebell clean, swing, or snatch variations, you pick the one that applies to the goals you’re working for.

I failed my snatch test, of course, I could blame it on many things like not seeing a timer, not hearing the rep count, being annoyed, being overconfident, etc. But I just screwed up. I completed the test several times prior to the certification date with ample time to spare and using the hip hinge/shins vertically. I passed the exercise testing perfectly, and had I not missed 4 reps on the snatch test, I would not had to film and send in my snatch test which I did the day I got back home and passed.

StrongFirst Snatch Test Strategy

My StrongFirst snatch test strategy was to complete 10 reps per side and rest overhead without putting the weight down at all. For me sets of 10 were good, but you have to find a set that won’t fatigue you. For example, you might start with 12, but that might mean you will have to go to 10, 8, and 6 or even lower as you continue. If you fatigue your muscular endurance, then your sets will become even shorter and shorter, which means more switches and switches take time.

If you stay under that point where you fatigue then you can always do more toward the end, for example, as you know you’re entering the last 90 seconds, you can do 15 or more per side if you have that in you. The point is, that you don’t want to avoid the point of muscular fatigue, especially at the start.

If I trained longer, I could have increased my endurance and done more reps in a set which would have meant less switches. A switch takes about as long as one rep of the snatch, thus, every time you switch, you lose out on a rep.

You also want to make sure that you find the right pace, this has nothing to do with the speed of the exercise itself, but the number of reps per minute, i.e. RPM. This is something that you need to work on prior to taking the test. An RPM of 22 is good. 4 minutes equals 88 reps, which leaves 12 reps at the last minute. At an RPM of 22 you would finish this in 33 seconds, leaving 27 seconds.

Of course, you might need some rest, and if you do that overhead, then you could take 3 breaks of 5 to 6 seconds, still leaving 10 to 9 seconds.

Make sure that you don’t come out like a bull at a gate and stick to your RPM. If you do go too fast, you might risk NOCOUNTS and also becoming out of breath to the point you need more time to recover.

If you do the snatch test at home to send in as a video submission, I recommend to keep going for the full 5 minutes. I performed 100 reps with about 30 seconds left, in which I pumped out another 7 reps to make sure that if I had any NOCOUNT reps that they would be used toward that.

Exercise Testing

The certification was structured as a demo, practice, working out, testing, snatch test, and workout. Whether every SFG certification is structured like that I do not know, you should probably assume that it can change.

Day 1: demo, practice, and working out.
Day 2: demo, practice, and working out.
Day 3: demo, practice, test run, exercise testing, snatch test, and working out.

There are standards to meet for the exercise testing and the exercises tested are the swing, clean, press, squat, TGU, and snatch. You get a list of what requirements to meet and you can then do a test run to make sure you tick those off.

The StrongFirst assistants that are there, which are plenty (which is great), as I understand it are there to help out but also as part of their recertification. If you get an assistant during the test run and they try and correct you on many things that are not part of the requirements/standards I suggest to kindly ask them to focus on just meeting the standards, because otherwise you will get confused. Of course, you want to get everything right, but for passing purposes, you want to keep the mental work to a minimum and just focus on what’s actually required.

If you fail to meet the requirements on an exercise then you will get a chance to redo those, for example, there was someone who was not able to get 5 reps of the shoulder press, they got to retry it several times, or not being able to get the 24kg TGU, they got several attempts to try again. If you fail more than 3 exercises from the test you will have to retake the certification at a lower cost.


I’m a hard man to please and expected more for the very high price, more in regards to clarity, user-friendliness, and study material.

As someone who designs and delivers kettlebell certifications, I expect to have my study material prior to arriving, and I don’t need to go looking for it or pay extra for coaching. But with that said, perhaps there was a reason for this approach that I’m unaware of.

The website and registration lack some user-friendliness but that’s not a big issue.

Do I believe it’s worth the money? Yes, the coaching was brilliant and well worth it for anyone. You get 22 hours of in-person attention. The after-service was prompt as well.

If you would like to debate my feedback, you can do so here in our 54,000 large kettlebell community.

I’ll leave you with a few of our instructional videos for beginners who want to explore kettlebell training.

Learn to Kettlebell Clean

Beginner Kettlebell Workout

Leave a Comment

Shopping Basket