Category Archives: Kettlebells, strength training

StrongFirst Girya: one final look

Many thanks to the tech geeks at StrongFirst who made the live streams available at their historic first SFG certification this past weekend in Houston, Texas!  One of the coolest things about the live broadcasts was that it was coming through Google Glass technology:  read about it here.

Beyond that little bit of geekdom, the weekend underscored why I love the kettlebell community so much, and am so proud to inhabit my small corner of it:  all ages, genders, shades, body types, and levels of experience are welcome.  It came through as clear as (Google) glass:  if you are ready to do work, and have prepared yourself for the challenge, come on in. Compete:  not against me, not against some other group, not against anyone but yourself and what you once believed were your limitations.

A beautiful example of this spirit is demonstrated by one of my personal heroes, Tracy Reifkind.  She too changed her life and her body with kettlebell training, which she has made her mission and life’s work!  She was a candidate for SFG certification this weekend as well.

One of the final tests for candidates is the dreaded 5-minute snatch test, which comes in the morning of the third day.  After two days of grueling work, with muscles already aching and callouses burning, candidates must snatch a kettlebell overhead 100 times, and do so within 5 minutes.

The minimum required kettlebell size is determined by three factors:  gender, age, and weight.  For her kettlebell snatch test, Tracy’s required kettlebell size according to those factors was to be 16 kilograms, or about 35 pounds.

That wasn’t good enough for Tracy.  As she put it, “I’ve snatched 16k a million times. I set a new goal.”  So even though the testing requirements told her otherwise, she determined she would pass the snatch test with a 20-kilogram bell.

44 pounds.  100 times.  5 minutes.

Watch and marvel.  You’ll especially want to stick around for the last 15 reps!

Pure, unadulterated, beautiful strength.  I want to be like her when I grow up!  Congratulations to Tracy and all of the candidates in SFG Class 1.

Go strong, friends.



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KISSS (Keeping It Simple, StrongFirst Style)

End of day #2, final work session for StrongFirst Girya candidates, Houston, Texas.  Every move they’re being trained to teach has been broken down its into component parts–regressions, progressions, correctives.  And they have drilled each move endlessly and expertly, under the watchful eye of their trainers, and of The Chief. But their work is not yet complete.

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This last session of the day–another earn-your-supper workout–is surprising for its simplicity:  a descending ladder of hardstyle kettlebell swings and goblet squats.

That’s it.

The experts know:  complexity for its own sake, and the famous “random acts of variety” is a distraction from the core principles of hardstyle.  Teach a body to move first–then to move well–then to move strong.  Keeping it simple allows for mindful movement.  Put a heavy enough weight on simplicity, and you’ve got yourself a workout.

Go strong, friends.

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Becoming StrongFirst

StrongFirst Girya Certification, Houston TX, 3.8.13

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This is the session at the end of Day 1 of the 3-day StrongFirst Girya certification in Houston, Texas–the first for the new organization since Pavel (“The Chief”) parted ways with Dragon Door, the RKC/HKC certifying organization.

The candidates are earning their supper, and giving the rest of us examples of excellent form under load! More than that, knowing how exhausted and probably ravenous they already are, I see perseverance and grit and sheer gut-it-out determination in action.

Respect to them.

So many faces here are familiar and already dear to me–teachers who have been by my side throughout my own journey, though they didn’t know it: Tracy and Mark Reifkind (The Queen of Swing and The Rif), Andrea U-Shi Chang, Dave Whitley (The Iron Tamer), The Chief.

2016 will be my year to go through this rite of passage. I’ll turn 50, and what better way to celebrate? Go big or go home!

I’ll be watching and posting these broadcasts throughout the weekend, and hope that you’ll watch, too.

HardStyle–StrongFirst style!


March 9, 2013 · 9:33 am

Aaaaaand . . . here it is! My guest post for The Strong Nation’s blog, Rise and Transform! Thanks, @StrongByChoice!

Rise And Transform

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Kettlebell Extraordinare: Tracy Seffers of A Plate Full of Crazy.


I want to say a huge thank-you to Strong By Choice for asking me to write a guest post for his fabulous blog. It is an honor to be asked, and to write for The Strong Nation!! My own (occasionally neglected) blog, A Plate Full of Crazy, tells a bit of my journey—physical, mental, spiritual—over the last couple of years. I invite you to check it out, especially those posts in the “Kettlebells and Strength Training” category.

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What’s Your Motivation?

Originally from Mimi’s Getting Fit!

Love this one–it’s good to have a strategy. 🙂

Click to visit the original post

Find your motivation today . . . it’s there somewhere . . .

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Watch This Blog!

Hi, friends. It’s a measure of how full the CrazyPlate is these days that the poor blog is so neglected in recent weeks.  But good news!  I’ve been approached by a friend and fellow blogger in my Twitter and Facebook circles to write a guest post for HIS blog!

The post should be going up in the next few days, but in the meantime, you’ll maybe want to check out his site.  He’s a funny, spiritual, technogeek family man who also deadlifts a mean barbell and has been known to swing a kettlebell or two!

It’s always a great honor to be asked to write for someone else.  I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know my friend, otherwise known as @StrongByChoice.  He’s got a great story, too.

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March 2, 2013 · 10:08 pm

The Gospel of Food (according to me)

I am in my first week of teaching kettlebells–at the local parks and rec center, and in my home–and already the question of nutrition has come up.

Caveat #1:  I’m not a doctor.
Caveat #2:  I’m not a nutritionist.
Caveat #3:  It’s only been in the past two years that any of this has mattered to me, so in every important way, I’m still learning myself.

But. The question came up anyway.  So here, in a nutshell, is my Gospel of Food, which is so basic and common-sense that I’m almost embarrassed to post it!  But here it is:

  • Don’t focus on dieting.  One thing I can promise my students is that I will never suggest that they go on a diet, of any kind.  Ever.  There is lots of research out there showing that time and again, the people who “go on a diet”–with the focus on a short-term quick fix, usually involving an unnatural and unhealthy restriction of calories–almost always end up heavier than before.  Heck, forget the research.  I’m twenty-plus years of proof.  Don’t make me show you the Jabba D. Butt picture again!!  Instead, let this be your focus: improve the quality of the food you put in your body.  That’s it.  See? Who could argue?  How does one do that?  Read on . . .
  • Learn to recognize and prefer real food.  Signs you can look for:  it is itself.  No processing, minimal packaging.  One-ingredient foods.  Butternut squash.  Kale.  ImageSteak. Clarified butter (yes, real butter!). Fish.  Almonds.  Combine them yourself as you like, in wonderful concoctions as often as possible, and in as great a variety as possible.  But the KISS principle applies to food, too:  Keep It Simple, Silly.
  • Learn to recognize and minimize non-foods masquerading as food. Listen up.  If it comes in lots of packaging, with a long list of ingredients that you can’t pronounce and don’t know what they are?  It ain’t food.  It’s a chemistry experiment in your pants.  I believe we are learning more and more–and will understand better before long–the connection between the standard American diet, consisting of lots of highly-processed, chemicalized food products, and the soaring rates of cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other ills.  Again: keep it simple.
  • Once you’ve gotten the nutrition side sorted out and simplified, you need to move, and move in a way that makes you strong. Long hours of steady-state cardio have their place, but nothing gives you the bang for the health buck like lifting heavy stuff.  Do it safely–find a qualified instructor–but don’t be afraid to grow some Imagemuscles.  They are more active metabolically, meaning that they continue to burn energy even when you’re done exercising.  They take up less space in the body than fat, so (women, ahem!) everything gets tighter and smaller and firmer.  (Ahem, I say.)  The persistent and long-mistaken fear women have of “getting bulky” has less to do with too much muscle (which is hard to develop even if you’re a guy) than it does with continued poor nutrition choices, which keep a layer of (bulky) fat over the (sleek) muscles.  Combine good nutrition with heavy lifting–oh my.  Your body will thank you.  Your pants will thank you.  Whoever’s walking behind you will thank you.
  • You’ve likely heard this before, and if you have, you know it’s true. You can’t out-exercise a poor diet.  Purveyors of popular fitness methods, tools, and get-slim-quick fixes love to tell you that if you invest the time in their product, you can eat whatever you like and still meet your goals.  Let me put this bluntly, because we’re all adults here: Hogwash. Malarkey. Baloney.  Garbage in, garbage out–that simple.  Your body needs good nutrition, real food, especially if your body is at work with strength or bodyweight training.  You will not enjoy the full benefit of the work you’re doing if you are not being just as careful and mindful about nutrition at the same time.


Clean eating–sometimes a jargon-ey phrase, tossed about by fitness and nutrition folks who mean well. But for me, it’s really boiled down to the items I’ve listed above.

Here are some links that might serve as great reference points for you, if you’re ready to improve in any of the areas above:

Lifting heavy for women will NOT make you big and bulky. (Nia Shanks)

Focus on eating real, whole, simple foods: It All Starts With Food and the Whole30 challenge. (D and M Hartwig)

A great way to move:  kettlebells, baby. (Pat Flynn)

Go strong, friends.

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An HKC Reunion, Part One

First of all.  It’s important for you to know that–despite a widening circle of online friends via Facebook, Twitter, and a site where I log my kettlebell practice–I have a relatively small circle of close friends.  My sweet babboo and I are quiet folk, homebodies, and can happily spend a weekend cocooned in our house, never seeing or talking to anyone else until Monday morning.

Within that small circle, though, there is an amazing variety and diversity that nourishes me and provides a beautiful backdrop to my crazyplate life.  My friends range from deeply spiritual to deeply skeptical (and sometimes both); from credentialed and highly-educated to practical and well-schooled in life (and sometimes both); from creative, artistic types to left-brained keyboard monkeys like me; from liberal to conservative and every flavor in between.  I love and appreciate all of them–so enjoying friendship with someone different from me is not really a surprise.

However. Even I was surprised by the friendship that has developed with 20-something social media maven and kettlebell strongwoman Janelle Pica over the past year!

We met online as mutual Twitter buddies of Adrienne Harvey, aka GiryaGirl.  Her funny, encouraging, high-energy updates online never failed to make me laugh and send me back to my work better than I was before.  We became friends, and then to my surprise (again!) our training goals began to align with the announcement of a DragonDoor Hardstyle Kettlebell Certification course to be offered in September 2012 at her gym in Pittsburgh.

ImageMutual encouragement and general hilarity ensued, culminating in the historic meet-up in Pittsburgh for the cert weekend, which I have chronicled elsewhere.

Fast-forward to 2013:  we are both DragonDoor-certified HKC instructors, and have continued to correspond and support each other.  Recently I invited her to our home in West Virginia–mainly so that she could take her brand new car out for a ROAD TRIP–but also for the chance to do some fun iron play, feed her some venison, and hang out with a great training partner and friend.

(I invite you to read her account of the weekend on her excellent blog, The Primal Burgher.)Image

We decided that sometime during the weekend–in between the massive feasts of venison and other deliciousness, the training and testing sessions with kettlebells, and the hilarious evening out at a local limoncello distillery— we would interview each other.  We were hoping that my fabulous RKC trainer, Jamie, would be able to join us in the interview, but unfortunately she had other obligations that kept her away.  Another time!

Coming tomorrow on the CrazyPlate blog:  my interview with RKC-in-training Janelle Pica!Image

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Challenges and Motivation

Did I mention that I was never the athletic type?  Somewhere in the shoe boxes full of photos of my childhood, there is one of me as an infant, a cloth diaper and a smile my only clothes.  I hope that photo stays lost, because the last time I saw it, my eyes slammed shut to protect themselves:  I was a BIG baby.  I grew up chubby and stayed chubby, even when I used that word as a euphemism for what I really was in my head, and, increasingly, on the outside as well:  obese.

But I did have some moments:

I remember a footrace that all the kids in my second or third grade were taking part in, setting off across a broad Texas field behind our school.  I had that feeling you get in dreams sometimes–I love this feeling!–when your feet have wings, and you can just run forever and never get winded.  I should clarify:  I had this feeling for the first half of the race when I was running ahead of everyone! But then I got to the turn, saw everyone coming up behind me, and lost some of my steam.  I didn’t win the race, but I sure never forgot that feeling of running so freely in first place!

That sweetness had to spread over a lot of years.

I also have a lovely memory of hauling hay one summer with my dad, a small farmer in Arkansas where I was a teenager.  Usually my older brothers were his workers, but they had both headed out to start their own lives, and there was just me left behind.  Despite his disappointment in having “just a girl” to help him, he loaded us up and headed out to the field.  Imagine the surprise both of us felt when I managed to keep up with him, bale for bale, throughout that long hot day and night.  I wrote this memory into a poem that has been well received and published in a couple of places.  If you’re into poetry, please read and see if you can feel the pride I felt at being strong that day.

One last:  I spent a senior semester abroad at the University of Salford, England, and I walked.  And walked and walked and walked.  That was one of my  healthiest semesters in college, and I loved the fact that I didn’t need to worry about bus schedules, cab fares, train tickets or waiting on someone else–shoes on and out the door I went, and England was my map!  Very fond memories of walking the Lake District, walking the ancient wall of the city of York, walking past Morris dancers and children, walking into my favorite tea and book and chip shops, walking to class, walking home–walking just to breathe in, drink in this whole new life.

So I’ve been reconnecting to these long-buried memories of health and exercise and strength in recent months, and I’ve come to realize that I am highly motivated by challenges.  The challenge of beating all the other kids.  Being as strong as my brothers, and sufficient to a very big task.  Being independent and curious and sufficient on my own in a new country.  It just seems to make something go “click” in my head, and my body seems to follow.

So I’ve begun to take on some training challenges in my kettlebell work as well.  In November, for example, I had two challenges going on simultaneously:

  • Josh Hillis’s 21-Day Kettlebell Swing Challenge–21 consecutive days of nothing but kettlebell swings in various combinations and progressions.  Oh, there’s some bodyweight work as warm-up/cool-down–lunges, push-ups, planks.  But mainly I swung.  A lot.  I needed a chance to focus on some corrections in my swing, and this challenge was perfect to let me do that.
  • Kettlebell Inc.’s 3000-Burpee Challenge–100 burpees a day for the 30 days of November, 3000 in all.  This took some planning and dedication, lemme tell you.  I ended up loving burpees.  Who knew?

So, all done, now it’s going on mid-December.  What am I doing?

Yes, I know.  I’m nuts.  I’m not sure I’m going to survive this one, but we’ll see.  It’s fun, it’s healthy competition with others, and again, it allows me to focus on one or two really foundational movements.  As a relative newcomer to health, strength, and kettlebells, I need and appreciate that intense focus.

It also saves me from succumbing to the temptation–all the rage in some corners–to engage daily in “acts of random variety”, as one strength coach has famously warned.  Focus on core moves that engage large groups of muscles–get the technique right to stay safe–get stronger.

Sounds like a pretty good prescription for getting and staying healthy, now that I think about it.

Go strong, friends.

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Soul into Iron Ball

Wow, it’s a measure of how full my crazyplate has been that I haven’t posted out here for the better part of two stinkin’ months! But I’m here, and whew! stuff has been HAPPENING!!

  • First two sessions of the HERS Institute-Wellesley year-round leadership program for women in higher education.
  • Work has been exploding, including an implementation (which I am co-leading) of a next-generation platform for degree audit (a student/advisor planning tool).
  • Meetings, meetings, and more meetings to “get to the YES” for a start-up chapter of Team River Runner at Shepherd (whole separate post about that coming up soon!).
  • Drumming my fool head off all over the mid-Atlantic region!
  • Kettlebells.  Kettlebells been happening.

When I earned my HKC in Pittsburgh this September, I had a sense already that I really wanted to start teaching, reaching out in particular to women “of a certain age”–who, like me, were feeling stuck at an unhealthy point in their bodies, feeling that as bad as things are, this is as good as it would get.  That was the place I had found myself at the end of 2010 (just two years ago?!) when the universe kicked me in the pants a couple of times and set me on a new path.  If I could be part of helping someone find a new way, that would bring me full circle in a soul-satisfying way.

So almost as soon as I returned home, I started conversations with some of the local gyms and recreation facilities, who mostly responded very positively.  Two places really opened their doors to me:  the county Parks and Recreation Center, which is so successful in its brand new home that it has already outgrown itself and will be expanding soon–and a local Gold’s Gym.  The PR Center does not yet have kettlebells; GG does, but has no certified instructor on staff.  Both were very interested in what I could offer.  We set up meetings at each place to advance the conversations and talk about possibilities.

Just a week ago, GG brought me alongside one of their Bootcamp instructors to co-teach an evening class.  He incorporates the MoveStrong Functional Training Station into his classes, an impressive and envy-provoking piece of architecture!  We quickly planned an alternating circuit, sending his students from the MoveStrong armature to kettlebell stations I had set up, working progressively longer and heavier ladders of goblet squats, deadlifts, and swings (with planks and loaded carries in between), and then back again.

It was a small class–a Friday night, and this is what they’re doing for fun?!–but I felt that was a good thing.  Just starting out in a class setting, I wasn’t overloaded by too many people, and I could really focus on the quality of their movements and offer correctives and cues.  Except for one young woman who had some back problems (watched and cued her carefully!!), they did pretty well.  I noticed, though, that the younger women in particular wanted to zone out like they do with steady-state cardio. iPod in, mind off–which is a quick trip to injury when you’re working in iron.  Maybe it’s just me.

One woman my age really got it, though–she kept grabbing the heavier bells and was laser-focused on what I was doing, making corrections, really putting her energy into it! We talked afterwards, and she said something that just made my heart smile all over:  “A lot of women don’t want to lift heavy, but we need to.  This is it.  This is what I’ve been looking for!”

Yes.  Oh, yeah baby.  I think I smiled for three days straight.

That same night (this is how quickly things are happening), I also sat down to plan the Spring 2013 schedule of 6-week kettlebell classes I would offer through the Parks & Recreation Center.  Because of their limited space and PACKED schedule, I could fit in only Monday nights and Thursday nights.  But it’ll be two classes on Monday, and we’re working out a discount if people sign up for more than one class per session.  Ideally, of course–if they had the space and I had the freedom in my own calendar–I’d want to offer each class on a 3-night/week schedule. But we’re starting small, and will grow as we go.

January 2013–we’re doing it!

In order to establish an inventory of kettlebells at the Center, we’ve agreed that I would take a smaller cut of the tuition, but that the Center would use the larger portion of the tuition (which would normally go into its accounts) to be applied instead to the cost of the iron.  Awesome.  We should be able, given sufficient registrations, to come up with a decent set or three!  Probably we won’t be able to afford Dragon Door quality, but we’ll get something that will fill the bill.

I’ve even come up with a name for the classes, which I hope will both encourage my intended audience, and communicate seriousness:  WORK IN PROGRESS!

–We acknowledge that each of us is a work in progress.  I am still underway.  None of us has arrived.  We help each other, and we get better together.
–We are here to DO WORK.  We’re not zoning out.  We’re not “toning up”. We are here to pay attention, to work mindfully–but to WORK.
–We’re not afraid to sweat.  We’re not afraid to lift heavy stuff.

We are not afraid.

I was talking about kettlebells with some friends recently, and one of them said something that made me wince, a little.  I was laughing about how important this stuff had become for me, that it was my passion–she contradicted me, saying essentially that kettlebells had become my “obsession”.

That set me back on my heels a little.  Was I going overboard?  Are they taking over my life?  I had to think.

Then I look at my crazyplate life, how full it is, has become, remains–and I have to say no.  If anything, the kettlebell has saved my life, allowed me to continue doing ALL of the things I love, with the people I love, and to do it with greater energy and enthusiasm than ever before.   If this were obsession, everything else would fall away . . . instead it has all just become richer and more intense.

A trainer I follow online recently re-posted a blog from a kettlebell club in Japan that perfectly captures how I feel.  They had adopted a kanji,  a series of Japanese characters, to express their training ethic, the deep effect that this work can have on a person.

It reads like poetry, like a song:

You make it different. You are part of its soul.


You put your soul into the iron ball.

And it put its soul into you,

with a little blood.


For the HERS Institute, I’ve had to map out a 5-10 year plan for my life and career.  It’s really hard for me to think that far ahead–so much in my life has been pure happy serendipity! But one item is in there for sure: in 2016 when I turn 50, I will go up for the next level certification in kettlebell instruction. (RKC? StrongFirst? There’s some movement now in the kettlebell world, so this remains to be seen).

I might have to get my first tattoo as well:  鉄球入魂

     Soul into iron ball; iron into soul.

Go strong, friends.


Filed under Kettlebells, strength training