What I Learned At: The StrongFirst Bodyweight Certification

I had the honour and pleasure of attending the StrongFirst Bodyweight cert this past weekend.  It was a chance to reconnect with old friends, and learn some new skills.


There was a core group of about 16 students, and 3 instructors – Jon Engum, Cole Summers, and Louka Kurcer – all of whom I’ve worked with before, and in whose knowledge I trust.  They didn’t disappoint.  In true StrongFirst fashion, the cert focused in great depth on a few exercises (remember, the SFG Level 1 spends 3 whole days on 6 exercises).  This time around, we looked at the One-Arm Push-up, the Tactical Pull-Up, the Hanging Leg Raise, the Front Lever, the Handstand Push-up and the Pistol.

ALL of these skills were a huge challenge for me, and I loved it.  I came home excited to practice, and hopeful that I’ll be able to complete my one-arm push-up (and earn my certification) in the 6 months that students are given to apply the skills they’ve learned.  I’ve got a ton to work on, but I’m up for it.

While the exercises were few, the lessons were many.  I’ll talk about the ones that I think carry over into derby best.

Test, Correct, Retest

Just like at the SFG, we were reminded to always take a baseline.  If you don’t measure your skill before applying corrections and techniques, how will you know what’s working?  Once we took our baseline, we applied various tension techniques, progressions and regressions to whichever skill we were examining.  We’d use what we’d learned, and test again.  If the skill improved – great.  If it didn’t, we tried another strategy.  That way, we were better able to see what was really going on and how to help.

This makes sense for derby too – test your minimum skills early, then test them often.  See if the practice that you’re engaged in is making a difference.  If your numbers are staying the same, or your challenges are remaining just as challenging, think of what you can do to change your routine.  Can you ask another skater for help?  Can you get the skill broken down in a different way?  Can you take the skill back a step?  When I run a derby practice, I can get caught up in trying to finish my lesson plan, instead of taking the time to see if skaters are getting whatever we’re learning.  This season, I’m aiming to take the time – with progressions and regressions at the ready – to make sure that we’re all beautiful at our basics.

Make Your Practice Fresh, Frequent and Flawless*

*coined by the very smart David Whitley

THIS.  This is the key.  How often to you talk about getting beat up at practice or in your workout?  If you feel like garbage after training or skating, how likely is it that your technique was impeccable?  How long were you developing the skill with perfect form, and how long were you just trying to hang in there?

I know the need to push harder and faster than I should.  Through my injury rehab, I’ve done things I shouldn’t. I’ve worked until I felt pain.  Even at this weekend’s cert, I wanted to do things I knew my body wouldn’t appreciate.  And it killed me not to do them – it actually made me teary to think how much strength I’ve lost over the past 4 months.  But I stopped myself from letting my pride drive the bus.  I did what I could, the best that I could, and made note of the work yet to be done.

In derby, in strength training, in life – if you do the same thing over and over, you’ll get the same results.  If you practice a skill to fatigue with nasty compensations, your body will remember those compensations.  Over the weekend, we talked about ACE-ing a skill.  That stands for Artificially Controlling the Environment while we practice.  So, if you can’t yet complete a one-arm push-up on the ground, you use an incline or you set out the opposite hand to brace, or you have a partner band your hips.  You do whatever it takes to make the skill as close to the ideal as it can be, at a level you can consistently succeed at.  Can’t crossover?  Can you do it on the boards?  Offskates?  Sticky skating?  With a partner bracing you?  What can you do to get yourself as close as possible in your practice without burning out?  And once you’ve figured out what that is – do it as much as you can, as often as you can.

Track Your Progress

I know, I know, I say that you should track stuff all the time.  Well, you should. Cole, one of our lovely instructors, has training logs back for decades.  This means he can essentially go back in time and see what worked and what didn’t.  He can see what was going on in his life and how it related to his practice.  I love the idea of that much information.  Sure, I keep every derby practice I’ve ever written, but are they organized?  Not so much.  I’m working on it.

All in all, the weekend was just as inspiring as I expected it to be.  The biggest take-away for me – both with my bodyweight practice and getting back on my skates – was to accept failure as a necessary part of the process.  If I stick to the things that come easy, I won’t learn.  If I back away from the tough things, how will I become a tough person?

The SFB was very different from the SFG, but the standards, the support, and the community were the same. That’s why I’m honoured to be a part of this organization, and am excited to continue my practice.

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One Comment

  1. Sounds like an amazing program Laura! And I am so glad to hear that you are coming back from your injury, and listening to your body during that complicated process.
    I got this trick from a teammate who transferred from Rose City; one tool my team uses to help us continue to check ourselves is an advanced skills checklist. It’s compiled of advanced skills we want to achieve, and it serves as a reminder of what skills each of us are working to accomplish. Many of us can develop a habit of avoiding the skills we “can’t do”; this list reminds us to put time into them, even if it I just 5 minutes before every practice or between drills. We work with partners or groups to decide what skills we have achieved which helps us check that we are performing a skill accurately.
    Thanks for another great post! XO

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