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Striving for Excellence

I recently attended a workshop in New York City led by Phil Scarito, one of 12 master trainers in the world at StrongFirst, founded by Pavel Tsatsouline. In the world of kettlebells and martial arts, he is, like Madonna, recognized by one name: Pavel. He started the Russian Kettlebell Challenge, an advanced kettlebell training certification, with Dragon Door in 2001. Dragon Door is a website and publishing company catering to general health, weight loss, and fitness. Pavel has written many books and articles, he’s involved in martial arts, and he was the physical trainer for the elite Soviet Special Forces Unit in the 1980s. The physical challenge involved in obtaining a mere Level 1 certification through StrongFirst is intense, so imagine for a moment the level of strength Phil must possess as a Master Trainer or a trainer who trains trainers. Among the many points he stressed that day was being pumped or built or huge doesn’t always equate to being strong. Phil was about 5 foot 4 inches tall and looked nothing like those guys who can barely move their arms because their lats are too tight and say “bro” a lot. No, Phil was a powerhouse who moved fluidly and was much stronger than he appeared. 

After this eight-hour workshop (not to be confused with the Level 1 Certification training), I also learned something else. At the end of a physically intense day, Phil got real with us. He told us he and his staff don’t workout. Say what? He said, “We practice,” a phrase usually reserved for martial arts, dance or musical performance. To me, practicing means you are not quite there yet, but you’re continually trying to improve. It reminded me of a gentleman in my Toastmasters’ group, Kevin Moulton, who has been practicing for next week’s Toastmasters International 2016 Convention. For those of you unfamiliar with Toastmasters International, it is a non-profit organization founded in 1924 to help people develop public speaking and leadership skills through practice and feedback from fellow members. Kevin takes it a step further by participating in speech contests within the organization. He made it to the international level and is vying for the top spot. I recently asked him how many times he rehearsed his speech, and he said he’s delivered this particular one in front of 20 different audiences. I always thought public speaking came naturally for him. I never imagined he needed to practice at all, but that’s probably because he practices all of the time! 

As a fitness coach and one whose job it is to correct form, I felt a weight was suddenly lifted from me. I thought I had to be perfect to teach this stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I have pretty good form, but I don’t habitually and consciously make each and every repetition of my workout more perfect than the one before because sometimes my mind drifts off into things like my to-do list. ShopRite or Acme? Hmm. Do I really feel like dealing with that awful parking lot at ShopRite? Nope. Acme it is! 

At the end of Phil’s workshop, when the rest of us were ready to dive into a tub of Bengay, he got on the floor and performed a bunch of one-handed pushups meticulously. If someone like that feels he always needs to practice, then none of us are above improvement. 

“But Kim, this stuff is not rocket science—it’s a just a workout for cryin’ out loud,” you might say. If that’s the case, I am not here to argue or judge. If your workout is another thing to cross off your to-do list, and you’re happy with that, that’s cool with me. But if you want to get better or if you’re prepared to strive for excellence, then check your ego at the door and let’s get to work. 

On that day, at that workshop, I had to check both my sneakers and my ego at the door. (Kettlebell training usually is done with bare feet.) It was humbling to have my form corrected all day long, but I became better because of it. Now I’m staying more present in my own workout, making each repetition more precise than the last, and focusing on my position instead of worrying about the timeline of my day. I also have been able to relate to how my clients may feel when I correct their form. At Active Life Fitness, our number one goal is to keep everyone safe. To us, that means emphasizing technique. When we use proper form, our bodies are moving more efficiently, which, in turn, leads to better results. Instead of counting reps, let’s make each rep count! Together, we can become better than we were yesterday—and with a little practice, even better than we imagined.

- Kim Musikant

Active Life Fitness Personal Trainers & Gym
94 North Ave, Garwood, NJ 07027
(908) 389-8009

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