Start with the End in Mind

By Shaun Cairns, Senior SFG Instructor, StrongFirst

As a trained Computer Scientist I was taught always to define the output so that I can determine the required inputs and processing. When it comes to your health you need to do the same thing. What shape do you want to be in now, tomorrow, and next year? This will define what you need to start doing today. What inputs (food and drink) and what processes (exercise) are required to achieve the desired future output.

Strong enough

The secret lies in being “strong enough” to do everything you want to do, not just today, but as you get older – and this mean building strength that is usable and will last as you get older. Endurance training alone is not going to get you to the type of you you want to be.

Strength training and then strength endurance training is the key. And when I talk of strength training this assumes great mobility and stability. One cannot build strength on dysfunction. So if you are lacking in these areas then get fixed before trying to get strong.

Introducing the kettlebell

In all my years of strength training I have found that the best mobility, stability, strength and strength endurance results have come from training with the humble kettlebell. Basically a cannonball with a handle coming in various sizes from 4kg to 48kg.

So what makes the kettlebell so unique? First and foremost it is the ballistic style of exercise that this piece of equipment is best suited to, i.e. the swing, clean, snatch, high-pull and their respective variations.

Ballistic training? A bullet is ballistic in nature. It has one instance of propulsion and then it continues along its flight path until the energy dissipates. This is the same for the swing (and other ballistic exercises) where there is one instance of propulsion, the hip drive. The kettlebell swings up until it’s energy dissipates and then returns along the same path to the start of the exercise where the movement is repeated for the required time or repetitions.

Explosive exercise

What makes this so effective is it’s explosive nature where acceleration is important. When applying this to the following equation:
Force = Mass X Acceleration
The force component (forces acting against your body) increases dramatically the faster we can accelerate the kettlebell. Now increasing the weight of the kettlebell as well as the acceleration has a multiplication effect on the force that is acting against your body. In order to cope with this greater force the body will adapt by getting stronger.

Another advantage of the kettlebell is it’s offset centre of gravity, i.e. the weight is not concentrated around the handle but rather in front of the grip. The result is that the kettlebell is constantly trying to pull you out of correct alignment. Resisting this results in increased strength and stability.

Start today with the end in mind. Take back control over your eating and exercise. Failing this you may just end up becoming that weak person you never thought you would be.

Nutrition for strong body

Nutrition is not my area of expertise, but in my experience it has less to do with what you put into your body and more to do with what you DO NOT put into your body. It has less to do with low calorie, unsustainable, crash diets and more to do with consistency over the long term. So don’t beat yourself up when you indulge (or overindulge), just make sure it is the exception and not the rule.

So what is the rule in my opinion. Everyday eat 3 meals consisting of protein, carbohydrates and fat ensuring this comes from whole foods, i.e. foods that don’t have a list of ingredients on the packaging such as unprocessed meat, vegetables, rice, etc. Don’t become a slave to your food. If you didn’t eat breakfast no biggie, your muscles are not going to shrink and at the same time this is not a strategy for instant bikini readiness (unless this is planned fasting which is a completely different subject for a different article).

Most importantly don’t restrict your calorie input over an extended period (more than a week) because that is unsustainable in the long term especially when adding in appetite stimulants such as exercise.

About the Author:

Shaun Cairns, Senior SFG Instructor, is a former competitive swimmer and rugby player, who now holds the honour of being the original “beast tamer”. To have the title of “beast tamer” bestowed on you, you need to complete a one-leg squat (pistol), chin-up (from dead straight to chin over the bar), and a one-arm clean and press with the “beast”, an intimidating 48kg kettlebell. Shaun was the first to do this in 2005 and to date there are only two dozen who hold the title of Beast Tamer. In 2004 Shaun successfully completed the grueling course held in the US to obtain his certification under Pavel Tsatsouline, Master of Sports. In 2009 Shaun was invited to be a part of Pavel’s instructor team. Since then he has been running instructor certification workshops in South Africa, Australia and in the US. Shaun now runs his own successful kettlebell business in South Africa, giving kettlebell instruction, training, and workshops. In addition he is the exclusive importer of DragonDoor Kettlebells and DVDs into South Africa, Medi-Dyne stretch and strength products and GymBoss Timers. Kettlebells for Africa ( is the only one-stop kettlebell shop in Southern Africa.