Hi, my name is Kat

The background.

I grew up in communist and post-communist Russia. My parents were both working full time, raising 3 children in a tiny studio apartment, yet they stayed fit without gyms or machines. They were athletic, as were many Russians. In Russia, you do not rely on medicine to pull you out of lifestyle related disease, simply because in communist times medicine was ineffective and dangerous, and in capitalist times, it was expensive. Russian fitness focuses on prevention and longevity first.  

In her youth, my mother used to do gymnastics and rock climbing and my dad was an amateur boxer. When they became parents, they couldn’t indulge in their sports anymore, but they were incredibly disciplined in their daily training. They didn’t spend more than 20 minutes a day, and they didn’t use any fancy moves. We never saw them training hard, getting injured from incorrect technique or lying in a pool of sweat at the end of a workout, but every day over years and years, their fitness habits resulted in truly impressive endurance, flexibility and strength.

Case in point: a few weeks ago, at 58 years old, my parents participated in a sport competition run by my brother’s gym in Haifa, Israel. Dad completed 27 strict pull-ups, while my mom scaled a 6-meter rope. They go hiking and mountain climbing on a regular basis, while still working full time and looking after grandkids.

I am not like my parents. Fitness did not come as naturally to me as it did to them. I still remember mom pushing us out the door to go play outside when all I wanted was to read or play with my toys at home. I did springboard diving since before I could swim, did balroom dancing, ice skating and cross country skiing. Those activities gave me an appreciation for movement and a love of a challenge. I am super grateful my mom sent me to do those things, but I am not an athlete (though I ended up winning many competitions in the past 15 years, representing overseas, and setting national records all the same).

Fitness and movement wasn't something I wanted to do all day every day and after leaving home and moving to another country, I had to create my own fitness practice, based on my own values and preferences. What were my references: I preferred to sit in a library and read books all day.

But I knew I had to find a way to make fitness happen. My parents instilled in me that much. Movement is life and it is never a decision 'whether' to move, but a decision 'what'  for and 'how' to move. So for me, the journey was different. It was based around discipline, and the discipline was based on maximum meaning, maximum purpose and maximum efficiency.

Challenge #1 - motivation.

I believe that our toughest challenges, when overcome, can become our biggest contributions to the world and my toughest challenge used to be relying on day-to-day motivation.

I would start a regime, be it fitness, nutrition, study or work related, going strong for a few weeks, then losing motivation and eventually abandoning the plan. I found that I relied on excitement and had to motivate myself before I took action every single time. It was exhausting and I never lasted. In the long term it eroded my confidence in the ability to achieve goals and finish what I start. The problem was that it wasn’t just fitness, it was every other area of life.

With that awareness went to work. My journey took me to discover the power of habit and discipline, the value of meaning and purpose, the importance of living life in Beta. I learned to leverage strengths and manage weaknesses, to discover values and align them with actions, to accept reality and act with compassion, integrity and courage, to stack priorities, to focus and to harness the power of less.

In a true bookworm fashion, I read hundreds of books and scientific articles on the topics of human psychology, strength and conditioning, nutrition, fitness and philosophy. I took university courses in Psychology, Behavioral Science, Cognitive Therapy, Business Management, Exercise Science, Anatomy and Physiology. I became a certified Fitness Professional, a Strength and Conditioning coach, a 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 parallel with that I kept tinkering with my own fitness habits. As soon as I began applying the very first principles, my fitness began taking off and since the beginning of that journey, I haven’t quit training in 15 years. There were numerous other challenges, but the thing I realized over these 15 years was that there is no ‘victory’ or end point in fitness. You do not ‘become fit’ and then stop, resting on your laurels.  There are always goals and challenges, and the achieving and overcoming is what makes the human animal thrive. Through those challenges that we learn and by working towards our goals we grow.

My physical practice helped me overcome many life challenges with energy and enthusiasm. Moving well, moving purposefully and moving often makes me healthier than I have ever been. It reduces daily stress, focuses my mind and builds my character. It makes me capable and confident to achieve goals in other areas, allows me to appreciate my body and live life in high resolution. 

Two years after my personal fitness took off, I began helping others to become better versions of themselves.

Challenge #2 - Whose goals are these, anyway?

A huge challenge in my early years was going after someone else's goals. 

Those were typically conventional aesthetic goals a.k.a. trying to get the abs, the shoulders, the arms, of somebody I saw on TV, read out from a women's mag or saw at the gym. Trying to be slim like a model, lean as a fighter etc etc. So, I would jump from programme to programme, wondering why I lost enthusiasm so quickly and never liked what I had to actually do to 'look' like somebody or to have the bodyparts I was after.

Why? Not because there is anything wrong with aesthetic goals. Not at all. I believe everybody has aethetic goals somewhere among their priority stack. The issue was that I was too mentally lazy (and I say this with love and humour, we're all mentally lazy sometimes) to think for myself and prioritize my own values. Because while we all might care about looks and endurance and strength and flexibility and health, we prioritize those things differently, at different times in our lives. Not only that, but all those things look very different to all of us. Health migh look very different to me than it does to you. Strength for one person might mean completing 5 ring muscle ups, for another it might mean performing a Turkish Get Up with a 32 kg kettlebell, and to someone else strength is being able to go for a long hike without getting sore knees.

Once I realized this and set my priorities in order, I realized that while I care after aesthetics somewhat, I care about health and physical achievement more. That I value function over form, and I want my training routine to tick many more boxes than appearance alone. Things like focusing my mind, improving my movement, learning patience, perseverance, discipline, integrity, trusting the process, respecting my body, have fun, achieve,  Self awareness, self control, handling failure, balance, minimalism, simplicity, elegance, poetry in motion.  

My goal achievement and satisfaction skyrocketed since then.

I have since experienced the same process with my clients. Everybody's different, but everybody's the same in that we all need to think for ourselves. When the goals come from YOU, i.e. when your mind, heart and gut align on your goals, you get the buy-in from your entire being and you do not self-sabotage. When you try to follow a goal you think you 'should' go after, you will trip yourself up every time. 

What I do with my clients now, especially if I sense that their goal setting is not coming from their own thought process but that they are 'borrowing' goals from others, culture, society at large or even from me, is I take them on a 'getting real' exercise.

As a result, we have an inner alignment and then magic happens.

Challenge #2 - Crossfit

My minimalistic fitness practice made me incredibly fit, just as it did with my parents and siblings. 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, ran fast and swung from rings like a monkey as if I was born doing it. No one believed me when I said that 7 years ago I couldn't perform one push up from my toes. No one believed that all one needs to be fit is 20minutes, 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 creak from sheer volume of training. I began to question the purpose of all those arduous long workouts. I wasnt reading that much anymore, a large porion of my day was spend 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 through this experience, for myself and my business:

- that my fitness philosophy was based on health and longevity, minimalism, efficiency, training smart not hard, self-improvement, intrinsic motivation, learning and competing with yourself. Other disciplines 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 while carrying someone with a sprained ankle down a mountain, 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 like to achieve. I simply need a sport that is health-promoting, allows for short traning 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 health can be considered as a mere absence of disease, wellness is super health and fitness is super wellness. In that way it is impossible to be fit but not healthy. More importantly, that fitness is super wellness maintained over  a lifetime. that fitness isn't about playing one finite game and winning once; instead it's about playing the infinite game, and playing for as ling as possible.

- That it's important to stay in touch with your values, because many things in life will test your focus.

- That if you don't stay connected to your own priorities, goals and standards, you will start chasing other people's dreams.

- That you should never follow anything blindly, even the words of your coach. No one will ever do your thinking for you.

- 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 you 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 and physiology that apply to us all. 

The reason.

Someone once said that the best way for us to show up in the world is to do what makes us come alive. I chose to coach as a career path because what makes me come alive is finding out what makes people tick and helping them tick better. 

It has been 13 years since that first big challenge inspired me to help others build fitness habits, 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 princples comprise the core of my 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 overtime 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

 

14 years of experience

About Ekaterina Tabakova

Kat is a strength, conditioning & mobility trainer, a nutrition coach, and an SFG Level II instructor based in Auckland.

Kat's philosophy is based on being an eternal student, on practising Long Game thinking and Growth Mindset, on efficient and time-tested approaches to creating a strong, flexible, disciplined and antifragile human, on step by step technique coaching and building unshakable fitness habits.

Certifications
Certified Personal Trainer (ACE)
Group Fitness Instructor (ACE)
Crossfit Gymnastics Certification
Comprehensive First Aid
CPR Certified
Water and Fire Rescue Certified
SFG Level II Certified Instructor
Precision Nutrition Certified Coach - Level 1
Crossfit Certified Trainer - Level 1
Sports Performance Nutrition Certified Coach



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