22 Oct Lessons From The StrongFirst Lifter (SFL) Barbell Certification

Pavel Tsatsouline & Scott IardellaThe barbell is the undisputed king of strength, is it not?

Understand this is not dogma, just pure truth.

As much passion as I have for kettlebell training, there is no tool more effective to improve maximal strength than the mighty barbell.

I have total respect for the barbell.  It not only represents ulimate strength, but powerful human movement.

When I started out training many years ago, it was the “barbell bug” that bit me.

And, here I am today still with the barbell, but much more wise in my training approach.

Here’s one thing I know about barbells.

As incredible as the tool is, it’s not for everyone because I know it simply doesn’t or won’t appeal to everyone, although everyone could certainly benefit from training with it.

There’s a great quote I recently posted about training with barbells and kettlebells that reads “some will, some won’t, some do, some don’t.”

This article is for those that “will and do.”

The reality is that Grandma Betty, little Joey, and everyone in between could train with a barbell, but that won’t happen for reasons beyond the scope of this article.

With that said, I recently just got back from attending the StrongFirst Lifter (SFL) Barbell Instructor Certification workshop.

What is the SFL?

It was a 3 day immersion covering the fundamental power lifts and other accessory exercises (note: this did NOT include the Olympic lifts).

It was 3 days with some very strong and very smart people (you know who you are).

Doc HartleThe focus was on powerlifting and it was an outstanding education led by the one and only, Pavel Tsatsouline and Dr. Michael Hartle, Master ketttlebell instructor and Strength Coach, Chiropractor, and former competitive powerlifter.

(*To learn more about Doc Hartle, check out episode #37 on the Podcast).

The 2 instructors perfectly complemented each other in teaching style and delivered the highest degree of training and instruction.

The experience was masterful.

What were the big benefits of attending this certification?

In the most simple terms it comes down to 2 things.

Technique and programming.

Let’s start with technique.

I’ll give you a great example.

When I started training many years ago, I had no idea what I was doing, to be honest.

We’ve all been there though.

A specific example is with the bench press.

I mean, I would get on the bench and press the weight up from my chest.

That was about the extent of my technique.

I have to say that now the bench press may actually be one of the most technical lifts there is (again, this is excluding the Olympic Weightlifting which is an entirely different strength skill).

You might be thinking, why is the bench press technical and isn’t that just overcomplicating the lift?

To get the most out of the lift in the safest and most efficient way possible, the bench press should be a technical lift.

It may depend on how much you want to get out of the bench press.

If you want average results, you could perform the exercise without focusing on the technique.

But, if you want optimal results and perform the lift safely and effectively, it does become “technical.”

It just depends on what you want to get out of it.

The bench press is just one lift covered in this certification.

The bench press is also one of the most efficient exercises for building upper body strength there is and to maximize the results and minimize injury, efficient barbell technique is a requirement.

That’s just one example of technique.  Apply the same rationale here to these exercises:

  • Front squat
  • Zercher squat
  • Back squat
  • Military press
  • Deadlift (conventional and sumo style)
  • Good Morning

These were the exercises covered during the 3 day workshop.

You might even be surprised to see some of the exercises listed here, but I can tell you they are all extremely valuable exercises when executed properly and they all have a role.

Can you imagine how deep the technique goes covering just these lifts?

Do you think technique matters?

Absolutely it does.

Technique is neuromuscular efficiency and it literally makes all the difference in the world in separating the average from the elite.

Now, let me tell you about the other big benefit of the weekend: programming.

The information and lectures on program design were priceless.

I had heard about how good the programming information was, but I didn’t really know how good it truly was.

The programming was pure gold.

Program design is key to get the best results.

The problem with programming is that many people don’t do it.

They typically follow something that I call the RAV approach (RAV = random acts of variety).

The RAV approach is sure fire way to maintain a nice, steady plateau.

Please, don’t do that.

Here’s a BIG ACTION for you to take away from reading this article and please remember this.

As Pavel said during the weekend, “pick a system and do the system.”

Doesn’t matter what system you pick, as long as it matches the goals you want, just pick a system and finish it through to completion.

Avoid the RAV approach, if you’re serious about getting results.

Anyway, there was so much good information about programming, it was “mind blowing.”

This was because the level of detail with programming was extremely specific.

The explanation and examples given on linear progressions, step cycles, and wave cycles, just to name a few, provided a whole new level of understanding and appreciation for program design.

Let me say that just taking a step back to analyze what I already knew about programming and then learning the new concepts that were presented solidified a much stronger understanding of superior program design approaches.

Terms, concepts, and specific program templates were reviewed in detail covering programming for beginners through advanced.

There were programs for many different strength training goals, including hypertrophy based programming, off season programming, competition programming, and barbell/kettlebell programming, as well.

I believe these programs are the “best of the best” available and this was something that was thoroughly researched and presented in the SFL Instructor manual.

Pavel and Doc blended programming into several different lectures that were interspaced during the technique training sessions of the workshop.

Again, this was some of the most cutting edge, valuable, and detailed information I’ve ever heard discussed about programming.

I’d even say it was “game changing.”

Getting the best results has everything to do with program design.

So, for those that are committed to getting better results with barbell training and training safely and effectively, this course is outstanding.

As I discussed with some of my very smart and passionate colleagues at the workshop, this may very well have been the best workshop I’ve attended to date, for the reasons I mentioned.

If you’re committed to getting better with barbell lifts, specifically with the power lifts, then this workshop is totally for you.

If you want to get the cutting edge in effective strength training program design, this workshop is totally for you.

Like other certifications from StrongFirst, you do need to prepare sufficiently for this if you plan on being certified.

It’s not a “show up and get certified” program.

Go to StrongFirst.com for complete information and requirements.

By the way, this is no affiliate link and I don’t receive compensation in any way for recommending this.

I recommend this because I share the things that I believe in and fully endorse that can make you better.

It’s as simple as that.

If the barbell is part of your training and you’re serious about it, then look into this to see if it’s a fit for where you’re at.

I’ll leave you with another great quote, this one from Doc Hartle.

“Plan the work. Work the plan.”

In terms of planning your continued progression in strength training, this one’s a no brainer.

Please share this post anywhere you’d like.


Scott’s background as a strength coach, athlete, and former clinician are the basis for his one-of-a-kind approach to teaching strength, human movement, and peak performance. Scott is dedicated to helping serious fitness enthusiasts, athletes, and lifters all over the world, regardless of age, background, or training experience, become the best version of themselves through improved strength and skill development for a lifetime of health, happiness, and high-performance.

Scott is the passionate host of The Rdella Training Podcast, a leading weekly fitness podcast in Apple Podcasts where he interviews the most brilliant minds in the industry. Finally, he is the author of The Edge of Strength, available in Amazon and currently working on his follow-up book. To learn more about Scott, please visit our About Page.

Get stronger, perform better, and evolve into the athlete you were meant to be.

  • Tristan Phillips
    Posted at 20:54h, 23 October Reply

    Great post. So when are you getting the chief on your podcast? Is that in the cards? Either way, keep up the great work.

    • Scott
      Posted at 08:12h, 04 November Reply

      Hey Thanks Tristan!
      Ah, that would be great, we’ll see.
      No matter what, I’ll have some great guests coming!
      Cheers! Scott

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