USAW certification

USAWlogoMy quick thoughts on the USAW Certification I took this weekend. It was the level 1 certification for sport performance (I think is what it is called).

USAW Cert vs CrossFit Level 1 Cert

Without a doubt the CrossFit Level 1 certification felt much more professional and well organized than the USAW Level 1 certification. From the organization of the class and the lectures to the exercises.

The CrossFit Level 1 certification class had like 60 individuals in the class, I think. In the CFL1 they had six or seven paid trainers and in my class there were some “big name” CrossFitters like Matt Chan, Pat Barber and Sarah Hopping. The lectures were very well run, very organized and each of the trainers definitely knew what was going to be on the exam and what we needed to know to pass. The working portions of the class were well run, rehearsed and very informative. Every person in the class got pointers and not only did they show you exactly how they wanted you to move, but everyone got plenty of chances to move and be coached by the trainers. There was a ton of information passed during the two days ranging from proper movement to nutrition to how the certification is scored and why how the tests were taken ensured the certification was of the utmost quality. I had no complaints after the CFL1 and definitely learned a bunch.

The USAWL1 cert was a bit different. First, there was never a proper demo of how the movements should be performed and only one paid trainer – I think. The guy who led the class had, without a doubt, a ton of knowledge performing the lifts and supplemental exercises and years and years of coaching athletes on the lifts, but he was one trainer and there were about 40 athletes in the class. I did notice that most of the folks in this class moved pretty well already, some exceptionally well. In the CFL1 cert there were some folks that moved very, very poorly. Most of the athletes in the USAWL1 cert could perform the lifts adequately and I think the majority of them could coach the lifts pretty good prior to the certification, too. In the CFL1 I highly doubt about 25% of those who took the certification could coach adequately and some moved really, really bad.

The USAWL1 cert test was a mystery most of the weekend. There were a few topics that were sure to be on the exam, but how the exam would be presented, the types of questions and how it would be scored was a complete mystery. The test certainly isn’t held as highly as the CFL1. In the CFL1 the instructors had nothing to do with scoring the exams and they didn’t even look at them. They just stuffed them into a sealed envelope and sent them away to an official scoring group that would keep their certification 100% legit. The USAWL1 test was hand written for a decent portion of it and the instructor will do the grading and, in his words, “I will skip a few questions because I don’t like how they are worded.” This means not every person who took the USAWL1 cert this weekend (there are three or four each weekend), much less those from weekend to weekend will have the same testing experience and will be graded on the same scale and test. That seems a little fishy, right?

The USAWL1 cert was at least 75% practical in the gym with the vast majority of the coaching coming from three of the instructors athletes. I have no doubt that the three young ladies (I would guess all of them were under the age of 25) are exceptional lifters, but how is their coaching? I think they gave me some really good tips and I definitely will use what they gave me going forward, but it just didn’t feel the same as the CFL1 trainers who are all very experienced athletes with lots and lots of coaching background at their own gyms.

Without a doubt the CFL1 certification feels more worthy, valid and included a lot more information than the USAWL1 cert.


There was a TON of lifting this weekend. One of the coaches at my gym told me that we would do mostly PVC work during the certification and that was wrong. We put weight on the bar first thing Saturday morning. I did three sets of five cleans from the power position (high hang), mid-thigh, low hang and floor in the power clean variation, the same rep/set scheme and same descending order with a front squat after each clean and finally the same rep/set scheme in the same descending order with a full clean. And most of those were with 135# on the bar! That didn’t include the front squats we did before the cleans. Then we had snatches in the second session in the gym after lunch followed by jerks. By the time the jerks came I was dead beat.

On Sunday we did supporting strength exercises like back squats, one legged/split squats, behind the neck presses/jerks, snatch and clean pulls and Romanian deadlifts.

My hands had new blisters on the thumbs, pinky fingers and when I gripped the steering wheel each night driving home I honestly felt like my hands were burned.

Don’t get me wrong, it was FUN! I love spending time in the gym and I love lifting. Love it! But by the second half of Sunday when we had about 90 minutes to work on whatever we wanted and a chance to get heavy on the snatch and clean and jerk I just squatted semi-heavy and did 1 1/4 squats because my hands couldn’t take anymore. The final 30 minutes or so I just sat and hung out because I just couldn’t do anymore lifting. The volume I encountered this weekend was plain out of control. And I loved it. We’ll see how my body feels the next few days.


I’m pretty sure I passed the exam, but the test certainly left something to be desired. There were two questions where if they had used some punctuation the question could have been asking two different questions….so instead of answering the multiple choice that was presented I just wrote out a long answer to both questions, depending on how it was read.

While I understand not everyone does the snatch or clean and jerk the same way, it still would have been really nice to see someone perform the lifts technically correct with someone else walking through the movements. A visual of the right answer before performing the lifts ourselves would have been good.

With a class that big they also need more than one paid coach to lead the course, not rely on young athletes who may or may not have ever coached in their life to assist.

Overall it was a really fun weekend, but I am not sure I learned that much. Assuming I passed the exam it will add another certification to my resume and I did learn some good progressions in teaching the lifts, but I didn’t come away from this weekend feeling like I learned a bunch, which I did after the CFL1.


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