Adam asked me to write an article from my own experience of transitioning from bodybuilding to strength & conditioning. I suppose I never considered it to be a massive switch until I sat down and thought about my training journey and where it has taken me over the last almost 20 years.
I started training at age 16 with the primary goal of many an insecure teenager….lose weight! So I headed to my closet gym and threw myself into a better lifestyle of training most days and cutting the crap out of my diet. After a year at age 17 I did my first show in the Figure Class. I competed continuously for about 3 years going from one show to the next, one season to the next. At age 19, I represented Scotland at British and World level for NABBA. During this time, I listened to the judges and did what I had to do to get to the required level. Even from a young age I had an intense passion for hard training and attention to detail. It didn’t take me long to outgrow my class though!
After almost 10 years away from the stage, I made my comeback in New Zealand in the Physique Class. This was the class i was made for. Years of hard training had given me thickness and fullness which many envy and I made a very bold statement as to what I believed Physique to be…thickness, fullness, shape, condition and femininity.The following year I became a mother and my attitude to training and my reasons for training changed. Like many women athletes who have kids, the softening of the bones and reduction in strength and muscle mass was hard to handle. The gym I trained in at the time had a few kettlebells which nobody used and I started playing with them. Just swings and figure of 8’s at first. I enjoyed the change and the challenge of something new. I live by the motto of “do it right or don’t bother” so I decided to learn correct kettlebell technique. I attended a couple of workshops and a few months later I certified under Steve Cotter and the IKFF. Only 6 months later, I trained under Steve again and became an IKFF CKT2 FMD (Certified Kettlebell Trainer, Fitness & Movement Dynamics). I knew level 2 would be tough so for 6 months leading up to it, my entire training became kettlebell focused. Prior to this, KB’s had been an add on to my bodybuilding training. I knew this approach would not be enough to attain CKT2 status so I bit the bullet and switched. I had several reasons for making such a big change….
- I wanted to prepare well for CKT2
- I wanted to challenge myself as an athlete and prove to myself that I was more than a one trick pony.
- I wanted to see what effect this switch in style would have on my physique.
I was also on a mission to prove that bodybuilders are not just pretty to look at but that our training also prepares us for other strength related activities. I came across several “functional trainers” in my new field who heard the word “bodybuilder” and instantly wrote me off. Bodybuilders are often seen as one dimensional, aesthetically beautiful but not truly strong. This more often than not is not the case. So my entering the world of functional training was also to prove that my years in creating beauty had also created true strength.
Between March and September 2010, I went from conventional bodybuilding training 5 days a week to GS (Girevoy Sport) training 3 days a week and KB leg training twice a week. On GS days, I focused on swings, cleans, jerks, Long Cycle and snatches. I worked up to 8 minute sets in Long Cycle with a 16kg bell. I learned quickly to regulate tension and relax whenever possible and just “switch off”, focus on my breathing and get to the end. In BB, my workouts usually lasted up to 90 mins. My GS workouts never went beyond 45 mins and hit an intensity level I had not felt before. I finished every session quite literally dripping with sweat. During these 6 months, my conditioning, strength endurance, skill and technique all improved. My ability to switch off and focus also improved. Physically I changed a lot. I lost some size and became more athletic. When I was competing, my abs used to make an appearance about 6 weeks out from show day. Now there they were all the time.
CKT2 arrived and I successfully passed. I even outsquatted the entire group with my KB double overhead squat with a pair of 28kg bells. I like to make statements so achieving a PB with Steve Cotter spotting me we a proud moment.Since CKT2, I have gone though several GS and BB training cycles. Choosing conditioning over size for a few months and then switching back. I then decided to finally find my happy place…create my own path and stay on it. I opted to leave isolation moves behind and go back to basics using kettlebells and other tools to make training challenging and a blast. Every week I squat, deadliest and bench but I also use KB’s, sandbags, Battling Ropes, hammers, tyres etc. I combine explosive power moves with conditioning work which is maintaining my size and strength as well as improving work capacity and fitness. My goal for now is to be a well rounded athlete with no visible weaknesses.
I believe that my years in bodybuilding served me well by teaching me the discipline and dedication needed to hit targets and be successful. It gave me mental as well as physical toughness which I pass on to those I teach.
I will always love bodybuilding but my passion now lies in physical performance over aesthetics. Those who come to me for help often have body image issues (as many of us do) and my way of attacking these issues is by being physical…getting people moving, squatting, bending, twisting, pushing and pulling. I feel that emphasizing movement and performance gets people enjoying training and the daily victories that come with staying on course. My training now has variety which it lacked before. I am still the gym rat I always was….I am just a gym rat with lots of new toys now.
I believe that all of us in the Iron Game have addictive personalities and we channel this energy into our training. I spent many years in the pursuit of physical perfection. Now my addiction is driving me towards creating the most dynamic, explosive and powerful version of me.
I’m not afraid of change. I embrace it and roll with it. I believe more of us should adopt this attitude and diversify from time to time. Change is good.
Kirsten Tulloch is a full time trainer who trains out of Tauranga, New Zealand. She is available for kettlebell instruction, fat loss, personal training, and physique transformation. Contact her at email@example.com