A Kettlebell Metamorphosis, Part 2

Yesterday we started an interview with Kettlebell Secrets member, Sara Shafer, who has used strength training and kettlebells to transform her life. And when I say “transform” I really, truly mean TRANSFORM. In Part 1, Sara gave us a brief glimpse into some of her battles and what she’s overcome. It’s truly inspiring. So if you missed that, make sure you read it here before going any further.

Here’s Part 2:

GN: So kettlebell training has been therapeutic in more ways then one. Very cool. You recently trained for and competed in a GS meet, correct? How’d you do? (For readers: GS is a “Kettlebell Sport” meet where the contestants train in one or more exercises to complete as many reps as possible in a specific time period – usually 10 minutes.)

SS: I competed in the Long Cycle Clean and Jerk with a 20kilo and managed a Level 1 ranking. I was a bit frustrated because I missed ranking as a CMS (Candidate for Master of Sport, the second highest rank in that category) by 2 points (got 48 on my right and 46 on my left – needed 96 total for CMS), mostly because I lost count of my reps and was lazy (yes, lazy) in the first half of the event. I’ll compete at the IKFF nationals in November in the Long Cycle, and I plan to use a 24kilo there.  The other event I did was the 5-minute snatch. That one I did just for fun because I hadn’t trained the snatch at all for this comp.  I used a 24 just to see what would happen and I managed just short of 4 minutes (callus started to tear!!). That kind of made up for missing the CMS ranking.

This meet didn’t offer place rankings – these things are called “meets” and not “competitions” for a reason – but I have earned first place finishes at the powerlifting meets I’ve done: Best Female Deadlift at my first, and Best Female Lifter at the second. I mention my PL meets because I obviously did well even though I was the only person, male or female, who used no equipment (besides chalk).  I credit KBs for helping me forge the “bulletproof body” (a la Pavel) that helped me from a sound structural standpoint in both PL and KB meets.

GN: Those are phenomenal results. Many women can’t imagine using weights that heavy without the fear of bulking up, yet you’re a trim 155lbs and 6’1”. You’re incredibly strong and well conditioned. What do you attribute your outrageous success to?

SS: Really and truly, if I enjoy any kind of success it’s because I get a kick out of working hard.  We all know this but it bears repeating: you can have the best plan in the world but if you don’t put in the work you won’t get anywhere. There’s a kind of alchemy when a great plan meets a great work ethic, but I think that the limiting factor is often the work side of the equation.  That goes for lifting and for school. The best compliment I ever got was from a professor who said that I am “unflinching” in the face of whatever task set before me.  I have definitely flinched! But the follow through is what he was getting at, and I’m very happy to have earned such a reputation. Same with weights: if you want to get scary strong, you have to go through all the grueling steps to get there. I think that pushing myself in the gym helps me push myself with school. I’ve said it so many times, but the more focused I am with my training, the more focused I am with my dissertation.

GN: I LOVE that – “alchemy”! What a great way to describe that process! You’ve got a funny story about how this alchemy worked for you. You recently told me about a discussion on training philosophy with others at the gym where you train. They were training a little different than you, right? Can you tell us about that?

SS: After this past meet I mentioned that I’d prepared for using a 20kilo for this meet mostly by using the 24kilo with part of the Kettlebell Burn program. I thought since I plan on using a 24 at nationals, I should use the same program idea but use a 28 instead of a 24.  It was recommended that I use a program more focused on the competition such as the ones that people in the gym had used to prepare, and not the EDT style workouts I’d been doing. There’s no doubt that everyone on the team did really well and worked so hard – I’m proud of every one of us. But I can’t help thinking that there’s something behind the fact that I was one of only two women using the 20 for the long cycle (the other girl was on the visiting team) and that she dropped out and I didn’t. I’m not a big girl either, so it’s not like I have pure heft to make my lifts.  I absolutely attribute my ability to lift the way I do to my habit of lifting near-max for low reps. I did use one of the training programs that my fellow lifters used (by Ken Blackburn) for two weeks leading up o the meet – and, if you look at it, it shares a lot of similarities with what I was doing although it ventures above 3-5 reps. I do believe Ken’s program helped, but I also believe that how I trained initially not only didn’t hurt me at all but also helped me maximize my results on this program.

GN: Sweet! So you did the opposite of “conventional wisdom” and got better than conventional results. Way to go against the flow. Kinda fits with your life, huh?

Last question, for you, If you could narrow down just 3 pieces of advice about kettlebell training that you could give Kettlebell Secrets members, what would they be and why?

SS: Lift heavy. Work hard.  Be honest.

Lift heavy because it’s so much more fun than lifting light. “Fun” is obviously subjective here, but there’s a certain pleasure that comes with picking up a big weight. Lift heavy also because, in my experience, it builds a more aesthetically pleasing and functional body…if that’s what you want. Light weight and high reps have their place, but they only go so far (plus they get boring).

Work hard because 1) you want to lift heavy and 2) because it’s the most gratifying thing in the world to be able to see something that you’ve produced or achieved solely through your own efforts.  These first two points can be summed up with one of my favorite quotes of all time, from former Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman: “Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder but ain’t no one wanna lift no heavy-assed weights.” Obviously we’re not talking about bodybuilding, but how many of us want to do something without putting in the appropriate effort? You have to be honest with yourself about what you want and what you’re actually willing to do to get it.

Be honest with yourself about how hard you’re willing to work.  One thing I noticed as a trainer and as a professor is people want to achieve something, but aren’t willing to put in the effort to get there. They say they want to work hard but when you work them hard, they run. Don’t be the person who runs. The discipline it takes to do that is uncomfortable and unpleasant sometimes and you must be willing to enter that discomfort. Look at advanced degrees: two out of three people don’t complete their PhD. It’s punishing. I’ve cried because of the stress numerous times. Every day I have to reaffirm my efforts at my dissertation, at lifting, at personal relationships. But it’s so, so worth it in the end.

GN: Wow – I think that’s some of the best training advice I’ve heard in a long, long, time. Forget training advice – how about “life advice.” That’s solid stuff, Sara. And it definitely should get everyone thinking about more than just kettlebell lifting and training.

I appreciate you doing this interview and your excellent insights, Sara. Thanks and good luck – as if you’ll need it – finishing your dissertation. Don’t forget to keep us updated on your results from the Nationals in November.

Wrap Up

Without taking anything away from Sara, because she IS AWESOME, I think there are some key points she made that I’d just like to highlight.

  1. We all have “issues” to overcome, so you’re not alone. Whether or not we choose to overcome them is entirely up to us and no one else. Personal responsibility is the key to any success.
  2. Overcoming those issues with something positive, like strength training, can go a long way into forging us into better people, making contributions into the lives of others.
  3. Good plans + Hard work = Success. Many of us skip the “hard work” part and wonder why we don’t see the results. “Work” – “hard work” – is where the “magic” happens.
  4. Lifting heavy, especially for women and contrary to “conventional wisdom” is “where it’s at.” As Sara said, it builds an “aesthetically pleasing and functional body.”

My challenge to you is be awesome just like Sara. Get out of bed, look in the mirror, and do the best you can to be as awesome as you can be, for yourself and for others.

I heard a preacher say it best the other day, “This isn’t a dress rehearsal.”

If you want to experience similar successes as Sara, the simplest path is “modeling” – doing what she’s done. So I recommend that you grab a copy of Kettlebell Burn right here for single kettlebell training.

If you want something more aggressive, get Kettlebell Burn EXTREME! which uses double kettlebells.

Both will make you much, much stronger than you are now and both will pull off large amounts of body fat, depending of course on how much you have to lose.

And both will help you feel awesome while you’re doing them and upon completion.

I hope you enjoyed that interview as much as I did. Sara’s truly an inspiring individual making her mark in her part of the world. Thanks again, Sara!

3 comments… add one
  • Beverly Jun 14, 2012 @ 11:42

    What a great interview! Truly enjoyable and inspiring.
    (nice use of semicolon, too)


  • Pat Jun 14, 2012 @ 13:45

    Thanks for sharing that, Geoff. I always appreciate your stuff because it’s often applicable to so much more than just physical training (or one type of physical training).

  • Karen Rossler Jun 14, 2012 @ 19:45

    Excellent interview! I accept your challenge to be awesome like Sara. She’s a fantastic role model.

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