It is not our abilities that make us who we truly are. It is our choices.
I grew up in Russia as Ekaterina Vladimirovna Tabakova.
But everyone calls me Kat.
My parents were aircraft engineers in communist times and then multiple business owners after the communism ended (I think that’s why I have an obsession with engineering and human industry). They raised 3 children, a dog, a cat and a pet rat in a tiny studio apartment. Despite minimal space, resources and time, they stayed fit all their lives. They were both ex-athletes and used sound principles of technique and consistency. In the tiny studio, we had a piano, three violins, tons and tons of books, a pull-up bar, kettlebells and jump ropes. There were no gyms around at the time, and in winter the temperatures dropped below -40C, so for 3-6 months in a year you couldn’t really go out for a casual run.
I did springboard diving since before I could swim, gymnastics, ballet, ballroom dancing, singing in the choir, drama, cross-country skiing and ice skating. I graduated from music academy, majoring in violin and minoring in piano. I did not intend to follow any of those things into the professional arena, they were just meant to give me a good start in movement skills, body confidence, appreciation for music and love of quality movement.
They did that.
As a teenager, I quit all physical activity and descended into the world of wild consumerism that was taking post-communist Russia by storm. My character stopped developing, I became weak, impulsive, soft, sickly, infantile and lost all drive. Since I was not setting goals and not accomplishing anything, I was also insecure.
And I gained weight. One day at 14 years old, I saw that my butt became so shapeless that it seemed to be sliding down my leg. I came to mom for advice, after all, she has always been fit, doing her morning exercise routine every day at 6am like the clock. Mom said ‘well, for starters, use the stairs instead of the elevator when you’re coming home’. We lived on the 8th floor of an apartment building. On the first day of using the stairs, I realised that my shapeless butt was the least of my worries: I couldn’t even climb all the stairs without feeling like I’m dying and my legs are about to fall off! At the ripe old age of 14 years old, I was a total blob!
That kicked me into gear and I used the stairs from then on. My mission was simple: every time I came home (I made myself do it at least once per day) I had to use the stairs for as many flights as possible. At first, I could only climb half way and then take the elevator. Eventually, I became so fit that I could climb all the stairs to the top. Then I started doing different exercises, such as taking 2 steps at a time, taking part or all of the stairs at a run, or going all the way to the top floor and then coming down to our floor.
I totally forgot about my butt, because my focus shifted to what I could see improving and my confidence went up! By the time I glanced at myself casually in the mirror one day, I noticed that my butt has changed shape and was round and perky. I ran to mom with my amazing discovery.
That was the first ever true fitness lesson in my life. The lesson was five-fold:
1) Do it every day, like brushing teeth.
2) Make it as simple and convenient as possible.
3) Override your lazy mind. Skipping a day is not an option. Just do it.
4) Focus on the goal that is meaningful to you. For me, it was fitness and not on aesthetics.
5) Challenge yourself a little, only a little (this is key), every time. Fall in love with mild discomfort, NOT agonising torture, and you will create an engine for life-long improvement.
I never forgot this lesson.
Thanks, mom! You saved my ass many times over through the years, as I kept climbing stairs whenever I could from then on.
Fast forward to 2002, coming from New Zealand, I thought that the Western model of health and fitness must be better, because everything was supposed to be better in the West, no? So it was all the more confusing that even though fitness is a huge industry in the West, 80% of people in New Zealand are not doing anything at all fitness-wise and people are sicker and weaker than 50 years ago. Fitness seems to be a ‘hobby’ to some, and normally it involves some sort of team sport, or fat loss Bootcamp, or bodybuilding training – all seasonal and temporary spurts of activity.
It is a strange notion because I view fitness as something you do every day simply to take care of your body, not as a sport or other activity like dancing or hiking.
Sport and activities are fine, but if they are there at all, they are done in addition to fitness. That’s how you stay injury-free in your sport or activity, after all. Fitness is the foundation. It is not meant to be a ‘fun’, exciting or even a public/social activity. It’s not an activity at all, more like a discipline that you do day in and day out for the rest of your life. It’s just basic body maintenance. And then, on top of that, you can engage in sports and activities, alone or with others, for fun or for achievement.
What I have realised over the years living in the West is that the majority of people don’t do anything at all to take care of their bodies, even though they seem to brush and floss their teeth every day! Even the people who engage in activities and sports, don’t have a fitness discipline. Instead, they try to pretend that their sport IS the fitness discipline. That’s why they get injured all the time. For the non-sport people thinking that fitness is something ‘you ‘do to shed fat then stop’, something ‘gruelling’, something ‘punishing’, something ‘fun’ or ‘exciting’ or ‘optional’ or ‘social’ or ‘expensive’ or ‘gym based’ or ‘competitive’ is why they aren’t doing anything physical at all.
In the 13 years of my coaching practice and prior to that, I read hundreds of books on the topics of human psychology, motivation, habit building, strength and conditioning, nutrition, fitness and philosophy. I got a degree in Psychology, taking courses in Behavioral Science, Cognitive Therapy, Exercise Science, Anatomy and Physiology. I became a certified Fitness Professional, a Strength and Conditioning coach, a Precision Nutrition Coach, a Kettlebell Instructor and a few other letters after my name that speak more about my obsession with learning than anything else. In the end, I realised that it all came to the first five-fold lesson from my mother all those years ago.
You see, I am not a naturally active person. I am not at all into sports. I do not watch sports, ever. Nor do I watch TV. I am a bookworm. And have been my entire life. I can sit and read or write all day without moving. So my fitness really has to be a discipline, not a pleasure. When I was first realising this 16 years ago, I wanted my fitness routine to be as time-efficient and as much a ‘bang-for-my-time-buck’ as possible, so I could pursue my other passions in peace, knowing I have a healthy capable body.
While I used to practice bodybuilding in the early years, it bore me really quickly. The bodybuilding routines were too long and led to no noticeable improvement in movement or strength. They also demanded some incredibly unhealthy nutrition practices. I got bored and disengaged quickly because I care about health, energy, movement and physical skill much more than sculpting a perfect set of artificially shredded abs. My own routines since then have been increasingly simple, minimalist, functional, goal-oriented, time-efficient, effective, without any pointless or random exercises. In 30 minutes a day it improves my movement maximally benefits my body, and teaches my mind to focus and persevere – two mental skills I need constant reminders about, especially in the modern distraction-ridden climate. Most importantly it is NOT meant to be fun, in the conventional meaning of the word. If by ‘fun’ you mean practising integrity, overcoming weakness, laziness and overriding doubts and distractions, then my fitness practice is wildly fun, every time! 🙂
Thing is, even though my model of training isn’t at all based on body sculpting, the form does follow function, so you get a good looking body as a side effect of healthy habits anyway. Personally, I might not have unnaturally bulging glutes, shredded shoulders and a ripped 6-pack, but I’d rather those glutes can swing a 32kg kettlebell 100 times in under 5 minutes; I’d rather those arms can Turkish Get Up a 32kg kettlebell at a height of 155cm and bodyweight of 55kg; I’d rather that chest and back can do pull-ups, ring muscle ups, and one-arm push-ups; and I’d rather those abs can perform 15 strict toes to bar and a 30 second L-sit. I’d rather run fast and far, even though I only practice running for 20 min once every 10 days. I’d rather hike for as long as I want. I’d rather be able to carry anyone out of a burning building. And I’d rather never, ever be sick. That’s what I aimed at, and that’s what I got. For a 30-minutes per day routine, I say it’s not a bad result.
The above are just facts. I am nothing special, I am not a ‘genetic freak’ despite what some lazy people like to tell themselves (and me) to excuse themselves from making an effort. Anybody can do this with some guidance and determination. Anybody who adopts a life-long discipline based on health and quality of movement. Not a ‘fat loss beach-body prep’ or another short-term quick-fix pursuit.
I haven’t stopped exercising or sustained an injury for 15 years and still counting. I have taught my model of fitness to hundreds of clients, adapting it to their lives, values and goals.
After 13 years in my job, I am still passionate about WHAT I do, WHY I do it, and FOR WHOM I do it, and am always improving in HOW I do it.
Challenge #1 – Crossfit Ninja or an Ego Trip of a lifetime.
My minimalist fitness practice made me incredibly fit by Western standards.
When I discovered the world of Crossfit, I could do everything at the elite level almost right away. Naturally, my coaches began signing me up for competitions, which I began winning.
In my first year doing Crossfit, I qualified for the Australasia regionals. Ditto for the second and third years. I was the alien creature who could do everything seemingly without effort, the crazy fit little Russian who lifted heavy, jumped high, run fast and swung from rings like a monkey as if I was born doing it. No one believed me when I said that I was a violinist as a kid and not a gymnast. No one believed that all one needs to be fit is 30minutes, a firm purpose, good technique and the discipline to do it all consistently over time.
So, slowly I began to build an identity out of my athlete persona, to become addicted to the winning, and worst of all, to buy into the exhausting long workouts, the twice a day training sessions and the compromise on form and progression in the name of ‘intensity and competition’. People were now streaming into my business asking to make them as strong, as flexible, as fit and move as well. I did that, making them stronger and better, and rehabilitating their Crossfit injuries, only to see them go and get smashed again by another WOD. My joints began to get creaky from the sheer volume of training. I began to question the purpose of all those arduous long workouts. I wasn’t reading that much anymore, a large portion of my day was spent in the gym and a large portion of my income went into all the supplements needed to keep up the brutal intensity of workouts. So, I left to start Kettlebell Academy.
I learned a lot from Crossfit and through this experience, for myself and my business:
– That fitness, as good as it is, has its place as a supportive function of my life, not a dominating presence in my life.
– That my fitness philosophy was based on health and longevity, minimalism, efficiency, training smart not hard. Other disciplines (Crossfit) may be based on other principles, which will suit other people, but mine were these and they seemed to make me good at Crossfit (without actually even doing Crossfit).
– That I think it is not sensible to be injured by training. I would rather get injured while lifting a car off of someone or carrying someone out of a burning building, than while exercising.
– That competition is competition and training is training. Making training into competition is failing at both.
– That moving with good technique, using smart progression and staying injury-free is of utmost importance to me, far beyond winning or proving something.
– That I may not have thought of myself as an athlete but I am one deep inside. I am a part-time athlete. I like to achieve. I simply need a sport that is health-promoting, allows for short training sessions, requires minimal equipment and space and builds character. I since have found such a sport.
– That for general preparedness it’s best to be well-rounded across 10 physical domains: strength, flexibility, stamina, endurance, speed, power, coordination, balance, accuracy, agility.
– That the progression of Technique – Consistency – Intensity is how I now structure my coaching.
– That values on paper and values in reality are different things. Be it your own, a business or a fitness discipline. So, if you want to know your values, don’t look at what you have written down, but look at how you act. Actions and choices are far better indicators of values than words and thoughts. If you want to know the values of a business, don’t look at their mission statement or their Instagram quotes, look at the state of their clients. If it all aligns with you, you’re in the right place.
– That everyone is different and we are all special snowflakes, but there are rules of anatomy, psychology and physiology that apply to us all and we would do well to master them before we go on to try to break them.
Someone once said that the best way for us to show up in the world is to do what makes us come alive. I choose to teach and coach because what makes me come alive is seeing patterns, cutting through the noise, chiselling down to the essentials and providing guidance.
It is finding out what makes you come alive, what makes you tick, what makes you shine and what makes you stumble, and then teaching you to find your groove and to tick better. I
t has been over 13 years since I decided to help others, and in that time I have had the chance to revise, perfect and refine my philosophy and approach numerous times. I have trained hundreds of clients and competitive athletes, run celebrity bootcamps and instructed Boxing classes, taught Olympic Lifting, Power Lifting, Gymnastics and Kettlebells, competed nationally and internationally, seen fads come and go, fell for some of them and learned from my mistakes, and through it all I noticed the principles that stay strong and endure.
Those principles comprise the core of The Kettlebell Dojo and Kettlebell Academy of New Zealand philosophy.
My fitness journey taught me that first of all, form follows function. And that it is a far better strategy to focus on improving your function from the inside, rather than obsessing about form. Focusing on health, strength and progress over time will give a byproduct of a great looking body and well-organised mind as well. I work with the outside and the inside of the person, to help improve their function. The form takes care of itself.
Ekaterina (Kat) Tabakova, 2019
Ekaterina (Kat) Tabakova is a Russian-born and New Zealand – dwelling strength & conditioning coach. Kettlebell Academy and Kat’s Kettlebell Dojo were born out of her desire to see busy people make more of their lives and improve as individuals via having an unshakable fitness habit that is sustainable, aligned with their purpose and based on the integrity of body and mind.
Kat’s specialities are:
Movement Progressions, Fitness Minimalism, Kettlebell, Callisthenics (floor, bar, TRX and rings), Mobility, Barbell (Olympic Lifting, Powerlifting), home-based athletics, jump rope, injury prevention, Rehabilitation of shoulder/spine/knee/wrist, nutrition coaching, health mindset coaching.
Certified Kettlebell Sport Coach
Strong First SFG Level 2 Certified Kettlebell Instructor
Registered Personal Trainer
Continuous Education Provider
Certified Precision Nutrition L1 Coach
Certified Group Fitness Trainer
Certified Crossfit Gymnastics Trainer
Certified Group Fitness Instructor