This past weekend, I was privileged to attend the Circular Strength Training Coaching Seminar at Wolf Fitness Systems in Salinas, CA. It took me 18 hours to finally get to Salinas, and even longer to get home (flying in the US has gotten beyond ridiculous – can I get an amen?), but the whole trip was worth the effort – even if I had to check a pair of clubbells in my luggage. This was my second CST seminar since I first got involved with the organization back in 2006, and it was leaps and bounds better than the first one I attended in the Fall of 2009 (past seminar review is here). What follows are my thoughts on the full experience to help you decide if this type of event would be right for you.
John’s CST Background
Back in the Fall of 2006, I had a wake-up call involving some simple joint mobility exercises that I just couldn’t do for the life of me. To make a long story short, I had major movement dysfunctions that led me to discovering the Warrior Wellness joint mobility program, which I started practicing daily (now known as Intu-Flow). This one decision sparked a cascade of others that ultimately led to me working for my CST Instructor Certification in 2009. It’s since been two years, and I decided it was time to pursue the next level of certification and become a CST Coach.
Why I decided to go for the coach level certification
To be honest, it only makes sense that as my understanding of the CST system evolves, that I pursue a greater level of competency with the system behind the techniques. Coaches are held to a higher standard than CST Instructors and I felt more than prepared to challenge myself further after two additional years of exploration.
Coaches, in particular, are required to progress beyond the basic techniques of CST and learn how to assess clients using the Poise Analysis and the Functional Movement Screen methods. Coaches are also immersed in the Compensatory Movement strategy to help rebalance the body from the over-specializations and over-compensations that develop from life and training.
What I liked about the CST seminar
As I look back, the best part of the whole event was meeting and training with other like-minded athletes and fitness professionals. The CST tribe is truly a special community, made up of some of the finest professionals I’ve had the honor of training with. Everyone is positive and encouraging, and the atmosphere feels much more like a family than a conference crowd. But if that wasn’t enough, I got to meet several of you guys, too. In fact, I remember nine different people (out of 30+ attendees) who pulled me aside and complimented me for this website. Thank you for reading and for the kind words – you guys rock!
If that wasn’t enough already, there was a lot more to love about this seminar experience.
One thing that stands out was the format of the seminar being experiential first, and educational second. We learned and absorbed the CST system as we experienced it. There was some time devoted for lecturing and small group labs, but the majority of the time was spent practicing the system. If one arrived well-prepared (as you must if you want to graduate a CST seminar), then the physical workload should feel well-balanced with the lecturing/classwork. At no point did I feel physically overwhelmed – even with multiple daily training sessions. They really have the work-to-rest ratio down to a science now.
The other very cool thing about this is that most of the attendees, myself included, actually felt better and better throughout the course of the seminar. After 18 hours of flying and some jet lag, I woke up on Friday morning stiff as a rail and feeling like I was stuck in a chair-shape. By the end of just one day of moderate training, though, I felt restored and ready to tackle the rest of the seminar. Tired, yes. But also invigorated. That trend continued throughout the rest of the weekend, and despite a physically-intensive 22.5 hour exam (and an additional 3-hour kettlebell seminar after the CST event), I left Wolf Fitness feeling much better than when I had arrived. I wasn’t the only one either!
When we all arrived on Friday, the depth and amount of materials that we realized we were about to expose ourselves to was somewhat overwhelming, but the coaches assured us that “it will all make sense by the end of the weekend.” We covered a lot of ground with many layers of complexity (suited for whatever level of CST you’re certifying for). And they were right, it all made sense by the end of Sunday, and I can still remember the moment it “clicked.” But man oh man, do I have so much more to learn. CST is broad as it is deep, and I’m now convinced one could spend a lifetime studying this art.
One of the organizational models they used this time around was the inclusion of small group training with coaches that rotated from group to group. This provided an opportunity to learn CST in an intimate format from different professionals (with different perspectives and teaching styles). It provided a good balance of group learning along with just enough individual attention. This was a big improvement over the last seminar format of everyone learning in one large group, and just one more reason why I think they’ve got their seminars down to a science. Not only that, but all of the coaches performed extremely well and each of them went the extra mile to help us learn.
Another thing that was cool to witness was the higher caliber of seminar attendees. The stakes are definitely higher now, and all of the FlowFit and Clubbell Trial by Fire exam scores were much better than at my last seminar. People are coming more prepared, and so that’s just one more reason to put in the work if you’re thinking about going for certification. Speaking of work, we did a lot of it – and I really mean that – a lot. But there was just enough fun mixed in to keep our attention spans from faltering.
The last thing I really liked about the CST seminar was eating a cowboy-style, bacon cheeseburger with absolutely no shame whatsoever. Not only that, I washed it down with a 7-layer, King Kong sized slice of double chocolate gorilla cake. I don’t know what part of the gorilla they used, but it was incredible. (Note: I did this AFTER the entire seminar.)
What I didn’t like about the CST seminar
It would be remiss of me not to mention what I didn’t like about the seminar overall, but in 4 days since graduating, I still haven’t managed to come up with any legitimate complaints. Sure, it was hard traveling to this particular facility because it wasn’t near any major airports, and I did feel bad for all the international attendees. Traveling with clubbells is never fun either. But neither of those are necessarily seminar-related.
If I had one complaint, and this is more of a way I would have improved the seminar, it deals with the content itself. All of the Clubbell 6D Matrix materials were repeats from the seminar I attended two years ago. This leads me to believe that CST has not seen significant development in the last two years, but I’m just speculating, of course. Nevertheless, it was good to review those programs anyways, and I rated the overall seminar content at 4 out of 5 stars.
Perhaps some real complaints will come to me later (and if they do, I’ll update this review), but for now I’m quite satisfied with how everything went overall.
A somewhat-related prediction
Though it has been refined over several years, the CST system is still in its infancy, and its practitioners represent a fringe minority group – much like Pilates, Feldenkrais, and even yoga did in decades past. Nobody outside of the fitness industry really knows what CST is, nor do they really care.
TACFIT, on the other hand, is growing rapidly, and in a much shorter period of time. Obviously, TACFIT is a much more marketable brand than CST, and much more suitable for the fitness industry, in general. I think TACFIT already has and will continue to eclipse the CST system as a whole, and will slowly take the lead as the next generation of health-first fitness. I also think that TACFIT has the potential to compete with other fitness industry giants such as CrossFit given the right leadership and management. Watch for this to start unfolding over the next few years.
Thoughts for those pursuing certification
This is not an easy certification to obtain (instructor or coach level), so if you don’t really want it, don’t bother going for it. We were told that about 60% of attendees usually pass on average, leaving about 40% who must retest to certify. So, this is not a mail-order personal trainer certification. It requires a large time investment, and even then, some people do fail. The bottom line is that you must put in the work, and the tests are designed to reveal those who have and haven’t prepared adequately.
That said, even if you’re not interested in certifying, there’s still a wealth of knowledge to be gained from attending a seminar. I would encourage anyone with a remote interest in fitness or strength and conditioning to look deeply into the CST system. Plan ahead. I would recommend no less than 6 months to prepare, and 1-2 years would be more appropriate. Go deep into Intu-Flow, FlowFit, and clubbell training, preparing more than necessary. And if you have any questions about the process, be sure to let me know.
One last note. If you are a fitness professional and are looking for relevant certification opportunities, my recommendation is to get good at CST so that you can get great at TACFIT when it starts to explode and go stratospheric.
All in all, it was a great experience with a wonderful group of people, and I can’t wait for the next one!
If you found this article helpful, please share it with your friends and tweeps:
CST Coach, CST-KS
Health-First Fitness Coach
P.S. Check out a couple of my interviews with Scott Sonnon to learn more about the inner-workings of the CST system:
P.P.S. Wolf Fitness Systems is an awesome place to train. The facility was ideal and the staff were top-notch. They were wonderful hosts for an event like this and handled all hurdles with ease. With the family-esque atmosphere, it came as no surprise that about 25% of the seminar attendees were locals who train with the Wolf pack. I’d recommend to anyone within driving distance of Monterey/Salinas CA to check out their great gym and programs.