Every so often I will get a question relating to a specific testing element, and why it is done the way we say it should be done. Rather than just saying “Because we said so,” I believe you should know the “Why” in addition to the “What” and “How” behind the FitRanX Level Tests. Recently we got a great detailed message from a member that I felt sharing to the larger group was warranted. Now, this is a VERY long and detailed answer, but it is one that I have been thinking about since we released the current version over a year ago. [By the way, SFG stands for StrongFirst Girya (Girya is the Russian word for kettlebell, and StrongFirst was created by Pavel Tsatsouline after he left DragonDoor, the company behind the Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC)]:
First off, there is no need to worry about ideology, although I do appreciate the thought. Having gone through the Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) in 2010 and observing their evolution, as well as StrongFirst’s and StrengthMatter’s, some groups take “THEIR WAY” very seriously.
I really do appreciate the question, because it allows me to uncover some of the layers of scaling that most people don’t realize exist. I too had similar questions at my RKC, but it was even worse than your SFG. At least you had weight classes, even if that 24kg represented a range of 24-35% Bodyweight in that 150-220 class, which as you know, makes a HUGE difference.
In 2010, the RKC requirements were:
- Men Open Class 24kg
- Men Masters (50-older) 20kg
- Women Open (over 123.5 lbs) 16kg
- Women Open (under 123.5 lbs) 12kg
- Women Masters (50-older) 12kg
As you can see, there were no weight provisions for Men at all, only Women. And why the 123.5 lb weight was determined the cut-off for Women, I have no idea, as it doesn’t even convert to an even weight in kilograms.
To give some background information on the FitRanX tests, the current tests are the 3rd version. Nick invited me to join him and provide input on the 1st version when he decided to create an Instructor Certification to help gym owners run the tests correctly and to their fullest potential. At the time, there was very little scaling between the age groups other than reps and time intervals during the conditioning portion. The weights were very light across the board, and there weren’t any weight classes at all.
That was my first edit, the addition of weight classes in the strength elements. In the 2nd version the weight classes were 50lb divisions, which were pretty large. They made for significant variances in difficulty depending on if an individual was at the top or bottom of a class. Now, in the 3rd version, we have 25lb divisions, which seems to be the sweet spot between logistical reality (being able to assign weights that are easily accessible) and degree of difficulty.
Most people, when they ask a question about a Level Test, are asking from a position of their own experience/challenge, which is very common and understandable. But it is the equivalent of looking at a forest and missing the trees, but in reverse. They are looking at their specific tree, while I have to consider how their tree fits into the entire forest. You may not feel like the KB specific tests are scaled, but in fact they are. Between the Men’s and Women’s categories and 3 age brackets, there are 6 scaled tests. (and I’m not even going to discuss the BW %’s yet). And it’s not just the KB specific tests that are assigned, although it makes sense that those are the ones that stood out for you, given your background.
The other specifically assigned movement is the Medicine Ball Slam. The weight and reps are assigned and different for every Gender/Age bracket and test. We had an individual at one of our Instructor Certifications point out that for him (at about 5’-5” and 150lbs), the Bracket 1 Medicine Ball weight was much more difficult for him than his testing partner (who was over 6’ and 250lbs). I responded that Yes, that particular test element was more difficult for him, and easier for his partner, but what about the Pull-Ups? For the Pull-Ups the inverse was true – they were easier for the smaller individual, but harder for his partner.
We had another question related to the Pull-Ups at a recent certification. It had to do with the band sizing on the Pull-Ups, and why didn’t we scale that according to weight as well? Meaning, why couldn’t larger individuals use a thicker band? Well, again this was a case of someone asking a question that related specifically to their specific Level Test and Gender/Age Bracket. Since all Brackets (except for Age Bracket 3 Women, again, due to scaling between the 6 tests) have to eventually perform full bodyweight pull-ups, it would actually be a much bigger challenge to allow a larger individual to use a thicker band as a crutch, only to be faced with the now seemingly insurmountable task of doing unassisted pull-ups on a higher-level test. I most likely sounded like an A-hole to the person who asked the question, as I also added that there are only two ways to get better at pull-ups: get stronger or lose weight.
Other areas that are unintentionally scaled by bodyweight are Push-Ups, Bodyweight Squats, Planks, Jump Squats, Box Jumps, and Crawls. All of these are more difficult for larger individuals. Even the KB Roll to Post and TGU will be more challenging for a larger individual at the lower levels who hasn’t gotten stronger.
Another (unintended) challenge related to scaling of weight is that depending on a person’s percentage of body fat, they may weigh into a higher weight class, but lack the strength to lift the assigned weight. This is where the tests, across the board, encourage a healthy strength to weight ratio. In today’s snowflake society where it’s not nice to tell someone they are overweight or weak, the reality is that it is simply easier to do things when you are carrying around less body fat, and weight in general. The bodybuilder look was very popular for a while, until guys realized that it wasn’t easy carrying around 50 extra pounds of relatively useless muscle.
You’re probably wondering when the heck I’m going to get around to answering your specific question, but I wanted to give some bigger-picture context before diving into it.
When I first looked at Nick’s version 1 FitRanX tests, a few things popped out at me. One, the reps were really high on the strength elements. Two, the strength element weights were really light, and they were all the same – no scaling at all. Three, the movement categories were extremely inconsistent. And four, the kettlebell weights were ridiculously light.
Now, I was looking at his tests through my own personal lens. I had just recently completed my RKC, and so I had my own ideas about what a “real” KB weight should be. I also was on the heavier side, and focusing on strength and power, and so his whole test looked like an aerobics class to me. When we sat down to write the curriculum for our Instructor Certification, we brainstormed all the different certifications and events we had each attended, and we noted all of their strengths and weaknesses. One of the things I admired about the RKC Snatch Test was the simplicity in its requirements. I liked that for some things (like pull-ups), an individual should be able to perform “X” reps with “Y” weight. I was able to convince Nick to increase the weight requirements and reduce the rep counts on the Strength elements from version 1 to 2, and again from 2 to 3 (Version 3 is the current, and at this point Final, version).
I did consider, when writing the current version, to make the KB Specific movements (Swing, Clean, Snatch, and various Complexes) scaled to Bodyweight in addition to Gender/Age. But I ran into a few specific roadblocks.
Dan John, author, and high level RKC Instructor, is a friend of ours, and he acted as a sounding board for me while I was writing the current version. One of his challenges for me was to be able to perform an entire Level Test with one size kettlebell. On version 2, we had assigned BW%’s for each of the Strength lifts, but the actual weight lifted varied from movement to movement, which made test-day logistics very challenging. Proudly, I was able to do that through the strength and carry elements, by modifying reps and movements so that perceived degrees of difficulty remained equal throughout the movements. BUT, it wasn’t working for the ballistic movements. Using the same BW% for the Swings wouldn’t have been too bad, but working up through the Levels to the Cleans, Snatches, and Complexes would have been much too difficult within the context of the entire Level Test.
You see, when I first looked at the FitRanX tests, I made the same mistake most people do. I failed to see the tests as a culminating challenge, instead I was looking at each individual movement, and thinking “That seems pretty easy.”
So, while for me, at 39 years old and 195lbs, doing 90 Snatches in 4:00 with a 24kg KB (the Men’s Bracket 2, Level 7, 30% BW assigned weight) is doable by itself, it is highly doubtful I could do that after completing the Strength elements and before completing the Tri-Sets and pass the Level 7 Test.
I thought about assigning a lighter BW % to the kettlebell specific tests, but that eliminated the logistical simplicity of only having to do one BW calculation per Level test. It also ran into the challenge that there are only so many readily accessible kettlebell sizes, and coming up with a size range that was logistically realistic and appropriately challenging throughout all of the 6 Gender/Age Brackets and the 7 Level tests within each Bracket proved just about impossible.
While on the surface, it may appear that there are some test elements that seem to have been randomly included with no scaling, rest assured that in the larger context of movement progression, gender/age bracket, level, time interval, rep count, weight, rest interval, and more, every element has some degree of scaling integrated into it.
Tim Peterson, Chief FitRanX Instructor