Achieve Your True Strength Potential


This past weekend I had the honor of assisting at the first StrongFirst (SFG) Level II Kettlebell Certification in the United States.  Along with 3 brothers and 1 sister in strength, I attempted the Iron Maiden/Beast Tamer Challenge at this certification. None of us surpassed the challenge this time around, but we all trained long and hard for it and put forth a good effort.  The other four SFG’s who attempted the Challenge had gone through strength testing (half or third bodyweight press) and endurance testing (100 snatches in 5 min with a 24kg kettlebell for men and a 16kg kettlebell for women), before the Challenge and I am sure that impacted their performance.  As for me, I knew that my press was not as strong as I wanted it to be before I attempted the Challenge so I knew that I might not get the press; and sure enough, I did not.

I achieved my 24kg press last out of all the lifts, on August 11, 2013.  I confirmed that I had the 24kg pistol in January 2013 and that I had the 24kg pull-up in June 2013.  Even when I first pressed the 24kg it was only on my left side and I pressed it with a lean that would not qualify the lift at the IM Challenge.

First Time Pressing 24kg – August 11, 2013

Not proud of my form, but I got it overhead, very unexpectedly.  Clearly you can tell it was unexpected from my reaction :)…

The Monday before I left to assist at the StrongFirst Level II Certification I still had only pressed the 24kg on my left side and although the lean was less, I still leaned to the side as I pressed it.  I really wanted to be able to press the bell on both sides before attempting the IM Challenge and preferably press the 24kg on my right side for the Challenge because that is my stronger side.

Press Practice on Monday September 23, 2013 – The Monday before attempting the IM Challenge on Friday September 27, 2013

Again, not tremendously proud of my form, but mentally I felt good about attempting the IM Challenge.  I still have a lean when I press because I am not generating enough tension and I am not wedging under the bell. The next time I go to attempt the Iron Maiden Challenge I want to be able to press it on both the right and left sides, without a lean, with proper tension and technique.

As Friday arrived I was overwhelmed by the support I received from not only people close to me like Eric, my boyfriend, my brother, my parents, and a friend of mine from high school who I have not seen in 20 years but who sent a note of encouragement along with one of the SFG candidates… but also from SFG colleagues and even SFG Level II candidates who I had never met before who approached me to thank me for writing what I write in my blog posts and for inspiring them.   It was amazingly overwhelming and very unexpected.  I had no idea how many people’s lives I touched from sharing my stories, my experiences, my challenges, and my triumphs.

“When Friday comes have faith that all the early Sunday mornings and hard training will pay off.  There is no attempt… there is only do!  Strong, Happy, Thoughts!” ~Eric Gahan (my boyfriend & Iron Body Studios’ Co-Owner)

Know this.  That 24kg bell is just another hurdle you already physically flew over.  The mental battle is NOT real… There is nobody else there except you and the bell.  Achieve this for nobody except yourself…  Embody the spirit you project to your students, become that rock you know you are, remember your training, and represent…” ~Leonidas Scantalides (My brother)

After attempting the Challenge, people who watched and people who supported me were more upset about the outcome than I was.  I think people wanted me to succeed so badly.  I wanted to succeed too, but I was in a good mental place that I knew that if I did not, I would be OK with it.  Really.  A few people expected me to cry, a few others expected me to obsess about it.  None of that happened.  In reality, after I did not succeed I was both relieved and happy.

A friend and colleague asked me if the Iron Maiden Challenge set the tone for me for the weekend.  I replied to him, absolutely not.  He knew I had trained long and hard for it and he was curious to know how it impacted me after not surpassing the Challenge.  When faced with a stepping stone (I will not call this a failure because it was not a failure – it was a solid attempt and I nailed two of the three lifts), it’s important to shake it off, figure out what you need to do to have success the next time, focus on doing whatever that is, and to move forward.

24kg Pull-up Iron Maiden Challenge Attempt September 27, 2013

24kg Pistol Squat Iron Maiden Challenge Attempt September 27, 2013

In addition, this weekend was not about me.  This weekend was about the SFG Level II Candidates and it would be selfish and unprofessional of me as an assistant instructor to wallow in missing the press on the IM attempt.  They TOO trained hard for this weekend, for many months.  They TOO had great anticipation for this weekend.  Overall I was there to support them through this weekend, to help them achieve their Level II Certification.  The IM/BT Challenge is just an event at certifications.  It is supposed to demonstrate how we apply our principles of strength and skill to surpass strength challenges like the IM/BT Challenge; but most of all, it’s supposed to be FUN; an event of camaraderie.


Why did I feel relieved and happy?

I felt relieved because I knew that I trained hard for this challenge and that I put forth the best effort that I had in me.  I nailed the pull-up and the pistol but the press was not Iron Maiden title worthy yet so I did not get it and for THAT I am HAPPY.  I was happy because I knew that it was not my time yet.  Happy because I knew that I will surpass the challenge when, like my pull-up and pistol, my 24kg press is a great demonstration of skill and strength with effective technique and not just a passable press.

When I surpass the IM Challenge, I don’t want all three lifts to be merely “passable”, I want them to demonstrate the principles of strength and skill that we at StrongFirst practice.  These principles of strength and skill that turn petite 5 foot 1 inch on a tall day and 115-118lb on a heavy day women like me into beastettes of strength stronger than some men out there.

I am also happy because through my training for the Iron Maiden Challenge I became incredibly strong.  Strength that even surprised ME when I discovered I had it;  I can double press double 20kg (88lbs) kettlebells for multiple sets of 2 repetitions…

Double 20kg (88lbs) press for 2 repetitions

I can half kneel press a 22kg (~50lbs) kettlebell and I can press the 22kg for multiple sets of 2 repetitions right and left sides…

22kg (~50lbs) Half Kneel Press


AND I can do 3 consecutive pull-ups with a 20kg (44lbs) kettlebell around my waist…

20kg (44lbs) pull-up, 3 repetitions

These strength accomplishments are significant for someone my size or anyone of any size really.  On Thursday when we went through our skills testing as assistant instructors, I weighed in at about 117lbs and this is HEAVY for me.  When I surpass the Iron Maiden Challenge, I will be the smallest Iron Maiden thus far.  When I do surpass the IM, I want this, and the skill and strength of the lifts that I demonstrate, to be an inspiration to not just all women, but in particular to women my size.  That yes, you too can do this; yes, this is also possible for you to train to be this strong and to achieve your true strength potential.  I know this is possible for every woman because I watched a candidate this past weekend who was about my size, 5 foot and a few inches and about 119 lbs, on Phil Scarito’s team double clean two 20kg kettlebells (88lbs total) like they were 16kgs and achieve a personal record on her double push press (congratulations Jennifer Meehan!).

I achieved my true strength potential with both the pull-up and the pistol but not yet with the press.  When I do, I will be ready to surpass the IM.

One of my friends and colleagues, Josh Halpert, attempted the Beast Tamer Challenge this weekend.  I’ve seen him attempt this before and get both the press and the pistol and I know that he also has the pull-up.  He said to me, Not many know what it’s like to go through that and your support means a lot.”


If you have ever trained for the IM or BT Challenge you know that no one knows your journey but you.  No one understands unless they’ve been there themselves.  Especially what it feels like during the moment of the attempt.  No one knows what it’s like to be up there in front of 80 plus people merely five steps away, awaiting your success in anticipation.  Having that many people in front of me did not have an impact on me for my pull-up or pistol because they are both lifts that I am very confident with, but it sure screwed with my head when it came to my press.  All I could think about before the second attempt was “Which way will I face so that I can block out the crowd?”.

People may have watched you on your journey, but no one has been on this journey with you.  No one knows what it feels like to me to start training for the pull-up with a max of 6 body weight pull-ups and then train weighted pull-ups consistently for almost two years before I achieved my 24kg pull-up.  No one but me knows what this journey was like for me.  No one knows the struggles I have had with the press; the days that I have spent my training sessions in tears over my challenges with my press.  The trial and error to figure out what programming works for me and what does not. The trial and error to figure out what warm up works for me to press almost half my bodyweight or how training with these heavy bells consistently can take a beating on my small body frame and child-like sized hands and wrists.  On this journey I’ve learned that what works for the majority of people when it comes to pressing heavy does not work for me and that I have to be really warmed up to excel at heavy pressing.  No one knows what a battle the journey of the press has been for me but ME.

Although I appreciate feedback from people who have never been on this journey themselves or specifically trained someone for this challenge, at this point, I know what I need to do to achieve my true strength potential with my press.  It’s not truly a strength issue at this point, but rather perfecting the skill and technique of the heavy press for me.  For some reason I freak out and push myself away from the bell instead of wedging under the bell when it comes to the 24kg.  I need more time with this bell to grab it by the horns and demand respect from it (per my friend and colleague George Samuelson – “take your respect from the bell!”) instead of running away from it.  There is no more analyzing I can do, or advice, or programming anyone can give me.  I know what I need to do and I just need to find it from within and get it done.

22kg Iron Maiden Practice on Friday September 20, 2013 – Exactly one week before I attempted the Iron Maiden Challenge

For those of you working to overcome your own strength and skill challenges right now and working to achieve your own true strength potential, this post is for you and these thoughts are for you… get it done!

“There is nobody else there except you and the bell. Achieve this for nobody except yourself…  Embody the spirit you project to your students, become that rock you know you are, remember your training, and represent…” 

“There is no attempt… there is only do!” 


3 Comments on “Achieve Your True Strength Potential

  1. Great article! Love that you listen to YOUR body in your training and know what that means. I’m just in the first year of my strength journey and it is so nice for you to share your perspective. Really helps motivate and inspire. Thank you!

  2. Hi Artemis! First I’m so grateful your posts come to my email account because I haven’t been able to find time for facebook or much of anything especially this past week and I’m so happy I got to read this. My week has been absolutely NUTZ…full of taking care of the “WHOLE” family none of which I care to put in this email because this is about YOU.

    I remember the first day I met you at yuck know where lol… I’ve watch you grow from a single girl who just moved back home to begin her dream to an AMAZING woman who has found and achieved what I see as the dream…LOVE, SUCCESS, BUSINESS, CONFIDENCE, HEALTH and FAMILY both personally and professionally! YOU AMAZE ME!!! You are a daughter, a sister, an aunty, a lover, a friend, a mentor and so much more. Your strength, your knowledge, your insight, your passion, your drive, your kindness, your SMILE, your desire to help others, your blogging, your training, your energy, your awareness of nutrition and body you ARE truly SPECIAL!!! This is why I LOVE being in your company not just physically but mentally. Receiving and reading this email was so emotional for me I WISH I could ((((HUG YOU))) right now. I watch you train, work, and practice what you preach and time and time again I’m in awe of your greatness. Writing isn’t my strength but reading your blogs are so inspiring I had to reach out to you! What you share from your heart is so much more important to me than anything else. I so wish you had been able to concur the press last weekend but regardless of when you do I want you to know from someone who has watched your journey you ARE an IRON BODY Maiden to ME!!! I LOVE you and I’m so very proud of you!!! The very first picture of you with that breath taking smile says it all to me. Congrats to you my “little angel”…Baby I can see your HALO you know your MY saving grace!!! That song always will be on my training play list because of YOU 😉 See you soon, XoXo Sharon

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