Rising to the Challenge.
This is a title that I am proud of. This is a title that I have earned.
In 2014, I received my credentials from StrongFirst as level one instructor (SFG I). Having proved my skills in the fundamental movements (swing, clean, press, snatch, front squat, and get up), I instilled a lifelong passion for all things kettlebell training.
When attending a StrongFirst certification, there is a designated time for attendees and assistants to attempt the Beast Tamer and Iron Maiden Challenge: a strict one armed military press, pull up, and pistol squat with a 48kg (106lbs) kettlebell for men, and a 24kg (53lbs) kettlebell for women.
This is no easy feat: no push pressing, no kipping, and the candidate must demonstrate full control over the kettlebell. At age 27 and with unbridled enthusiasm, I set a goal to one day tame the 48kg “beast” kettlebell.
Always having been a strong individual, the 48kg military press was a movement that eluded me. The size of the 48kg kettlebell seemed an insurmountable impediment for a small framed man like myself.
Averaging 170lbs throughout the year, the 48kg military press is a staggering 62% of my bodyweight. I knew it would take maturing physically, putting on mass, and diligent training to strictly press the beast.
As for the weighted pull up, I am lucky to have been training pull ups since the 6th grade. I have always been strong in pull ups and could pull the beast with ease. The pistol squat, although technical and balance-oriented, was also a rather easy lift for me.
I knew a majority of my training would need to focus on the press while maintaining my pulling and pistol squat abilities. So during the summer of 2021 after assisting Coach Karen Smith at SFG II in Dallas, I hired her to write a program for my Beast Tamer attempt.
She implored me to not to go for any PRs unless I was feeling particularly froggy. In week 3 of my program, I figured it was as good a time as any to try and press the beast. After a brief warmup, I racked the 48kg kettlebell and pressed it quickly to an overhead lockout.
I had done it. Seven years of effort flew by in less than a quarter of a second.
For the first time in my training career, I gained the confidence that I could actually press the beast. This was a milestone. I owe Coach Karen my gratitude now and forever for giving me the strength to do this.
Now if you know me, you know I never want to fail due to logistics. It may seem like a simple thing to say, but this is actually a very difficult practice. As for my attempt at the Beast Tamer, I would need to pick an official StrongFirst even to assist at, and peak on that date.
I decided in July of 2021 that I would wait until January of 2022 at the dual StrongFirst level I and level II certifications to attempt the challenge. This would be on my home turf, give me valuable training months, and enough time to pack on some muscle mass.
After a few barbell and double kettlebell focused cycles, I began following a similar program to the one that Karen had written for me in the summer. I eliminated a few of the original ladders and instead focused on heavy singles with adequate rest in between sets.
I gave myself six weeks to prepare: training the press and pull up together, then the pistol squat separately. I did not do any other strength training during this time. I simply focused on sleep, nutrition, supplementation, and recovery as a whole.
Two weeks out from my peaking date of January 22, 2022, I attempted all three lifts and nailed them. I thought to myself, “Ok this is great, but how will I maintain this?”
As a minimalist, I decided that to simplify the approach as much as possible. I would maintain at least 80% intensity in my subsequent sessions (40kg kettlebell), and retest seven days out.
On January 15th, I performed the same lifts and had them all go with ease. Bingo. I was in. But now I needed to taper.
I wondered how much rest I would really need? Would I go crazy with a week of no exercise? It didn’t matter. I’m an athlete and it was time to act like one.
I decided to give myself 5 days off. I stopped training the Sunday before my Saturday attempt, but maintained light movement through frequent walks and demonstrating exercises for my clients.
Come Friday before the SFG II certification, I felt primed.
The Beast Tamer Challenge
Showing up to assist Coach Karen at SFG II brought joy in camaraderie. I saw familiar faces, met new students, and felt the shared energy of strength that the StrongFirst community brings.
A day teaching StrongFirst principles would stoke the flame of my readiness. I literally felt a buzz of energy and excitement for my moment of truth.
But leading up to the post-lunch challenge also produced nervousness. I wanted to do my best, and I knew in doing so, I needed to be ready physically and mentally.
I was careful to plan for the day ahead: my meals were prepped, I got 9 hours of sleep the night before, I ate enough, and wore a sun shirt to avoid being zapped by unseasonable January heat.
I must have looked at my watch 100 times before 1:00pm. But when the lunch hour hit, I knew it was time. I would begin my warm up at 1:30pm with my favorite music and an intentional warmup.
I brought my 48kg StrongFirst kettlebell from home. This was the tool I practiced with and would succeed with. I kept everything the same as in my practice sessions: the warm up, the music, the feel of my hands on the bell, and my deep and concentrated breathing.
With 20 minutes to go before the 2:00pm start time, I performed my warmups in each lift with the 24kg. After a 3:00 minute rest I did the same thing with the 32kg. I would give myself 5:00minutes before a warmup set with the 40kg.
But after easy repetitions with the 40kg, I walked over to Coach Karen and asked her if I should do another warmup before the challenge. I had 10 minutes remaining. She said, “Do another warmup set if it feels easy, but don’t overtax the CNS: you know your body.”
I performed another easy press with the 40kg on my right side and a pistol squat for good measure. I would not perform another pull up as I wanted to get as high as possible on my rep.
The Moment of Truth
Although I was racked with nerves, I would rise to the level of my preparation. Beyond my ardent training, my mindset was the last measure of how I would perform under stress.
After the candidates before me attempted their pull ups, the StrongFirst Master Instructors asked me if I was ready. I announced that the press would be my first lift.
If I could nail this lift, I would have the Beast Tamer in the bag.
With the coaches repositioning themselves around me and the camera rolling, I felt the excitement of my peers, coaches, and the rest of the crowd. With intensity in my heart and adrenaline stimulating my nervous system, I was ready to go.
I cheat cleaned the bell to a perfect rack position.
With a brief pause in the rack, Coach Karen announced “Press!”
Within a quarter second, I powerfully pressed the 48kg to lockout. I heard the crowd go wild.
I held the bell overhead for 2 full seconds for good measure. I lowered it back to the floor and knew that I was a third of the way there.
I needed to keep the intensity up. I would be attempting the pull up next.
The Pull Up
When it was my turn to go, I announced I would be pulling from a higher bar than the other candidates. Frankly, I was shocked that no one else us stepped from a box and pulled from the higher bar.
When performing a max repetition pull up, the candidate must start from a dead hang and wait for the command from the Master Instructor. But here’s what I did that no one else did:
With my hands firmly wrapped on the bar in a wide grip position, I stepped off a tall box so that my body absorbed the energy of the eccentric to hang.
As long as I could start from a motionless position and wait for the go command, I could use the “sprint tension” effect from the eccentric to rocket my chest to the bar.
As long as I was hanging for less than one second, I would maintain the elasticity of the eccentric lowering.
After stepping off the box, Coach Karen instructed me to “Pull!” and in a quarter second again, I touched my bar to the bottom of my throat with such intensity that I felt as if I had been choked.
I held the top position for 2 full seconds and heard the crowd go wild! I nailed it.
The pull up went just like it did in all of my practice sessions: with speed, with ferocity, and with no grinding motion.
The Pistol Squat
After about 8 minutes and continual pacing as the other candidates attempted their pull ups and pistol squats, it was again my turn to go.
The only lift left was the pistol squat – my easiest lift.
I had just witnessed SFG II student Morgan Raynor easily finish her three lifts of the Iron Maiden Challenge. She finished with the pistol squat and earned the title in front of the room of 80+ people. We cheered her on with excitement.
But I was next. The pistol would go and I knew it would.
With the cameras rolling and my coaches again positioned in front of me, I racked the 48kg bell. I made sure to have a straight and clear view of the wall 30′ in front of me. I picked the number 8 on the gym clock to anchor my eyes.
With a quick inhale I held my breath and descended into the hole of the pistol squat – ass to grass. Then with a powerful scream, I ascended quickly and powerfully to the top position.
I heard Coach Karen yell “Down!” and I repositioned both feet on the floor.
I had done it!
The crowd erupted as I looked over at my girlfriend. We hugged and I held back tears of joy for a moment I had waited so long for. I had proven to myself that hard work pays off and that we rise to the level of our preparation.
To accomplish this in front of my peers was overwhelming. To feel the congratulations from my community in strength would be one of the greatest moments of my life.
I am a BEAST TAMER.
One week later, I am still on cloud nine for my accomplishment. I thank all of those who supported me along the way.
Currently, I am just having fun with my training. My road to StrongFirst Elite and then the BEAST TAMER has been a product of very structured training. For someone as Type A as myself, I need a break and to just have fun for a little bit.
I am currently performing Olympic Lifts, Power Lifts, sprinting, bodybuilding, and focusing on stone lifting.
I’m sure I’ll pick another goal soon, but for now, I am satisfied with what I have done.
January 29, 2022