Pink Ribbons and Strong Women

by Benji Williford on October 18, 2016

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exercise to help beat cancer

All too often, a person’s mindset toward training can be superficial. Most people who work out are focused on improving their physical appearance, or achieving a personal accomplishment.

So what happens when this mindset is turned on its ear, and you are instead faced with uncertainty due to extreme adversity? Do you become defined by a diagnosis? Do you shut down and give up?

October is breast cancer awareness month, and statistics show that 1 in 8 U.S. women will get diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. I personally can’t think of anything that signifies adversity more than receiving a cancer diagnosis.

Among many clients with many great stories, I’ve had the honor to train with three women that not only endured a breast cancer diagnosis and treatments, but did so with strength and poise. I met and started training with two of them post-treatment, while the third was diagnosed after she had already been training with me.

None of the three were defined by a diagnosis or allowed themselves to become victims. Instead, they each went on their own introspective journey to determine what was really important and find their purpose to persevere. Essentially, it came down to longevity and maintaining independence. Calisthenics training was at the top of the list to achieve these goals.

Why calisthenics? I decided to ask my three clients (Denise, Lori, and Ginny) for their thoughts on why they train.

Denise Mackey-Natz is a salon owner, wife, and mother:

Denise one-arm handstand

“I went through breast cancer and treatment July 3 – December 31, 2009. I had a lumpectomy and 8 rounds of chemo followed by 25 radiation treatments. It’s crazy to say, but that was the “easy” part for me because I always had an end date in mind to keep me focused. In February of 2010 I started tamoxifen for 5 years every day. This was the hardest part of my journey because the end date was so far away. In early spring a dear friend of mine convinced me to train with Benji. I truly believe that this saved me! My body was so weak. Regular visits with Benji have not only helped my body get stronger, but also my mind! And the friendships I have made throughout my workout journey will last forever. My husband and I even go one night a week together. It is our date night and we look forward to it every week!”

Lori Eklund Walsh is a therapist and mother:

Lori Raised pistol squat

“Throughout a variety of stressors and challenges the past few years, I have used my ability to maintain my workout routine as a benchmark for how well I am managing. In my mind, if I can’t get up and go to boot camp, I’m in trouble, need to take a serious look at what is going on, and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly. This was never truer than this past year after having been diagnosed with breast cancer. My goal was to not let the cancer and my treatment interfere with day-to-day life. Being able to continue my regular workout routine was paramount to maintaining my health and sanity. My Tuesday-Thursday workout group provided me with a supportive, encouraging, caring community that helped keep me motivated and grounded. People said I was an inspiration, but really, they were my inspiration. They told me I was beautiful when I showed up bald after losing my hair. They told me I was strong when I felt drained and weak. They laughed with me and cried with me, but most of all they welcomed me, accepted me, and just loved me.

I don’t have any scientific proof of the benefits of maintaining my activities at the level I did. But I firmly believe that the cross-body movements, balance, strength building, focus, and coordination applied from my calisthenics training helped keep me motivated, improved my mood, increased my stamina, minimized the size-effects from the treatments, and aided in memory and concentration. I was fortunate to have been in pretty good overall health at the time of my diagnosis, and even more fortunate to have been able to be with a group of people who were instrumental in helping me stay healthy during the course of my treatment. “

Lastly, Ginny is a widow, mother, grandmother, and all around bad-ass:

Ginny advanced rail push-ups

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, resulting in a mastectomy. After just returning from my checkup, I can report once again that I am still cancer free and in good physical shape. This did not happen by not being proactive. When first learning of my cancer, my doctor emphasized how very important it will be to maintain a regular exercise program, along with good nutrition, and weight control. Exercise has made a huge difference in my life. As my doctor said, it plays a big part in producing antioxidants in my body, which is so important. Daily exercise and good nutrition keep me mentally and physically healthy. This regimen is not just for those of us who have been diagnosed with cancer, but very important for everyone as a preventative measure.”

What drives you to train? I encourage you to look deep inside to identify your true purpose, and I hope it’s never due to the need to overcome extreme adversity.


Benji Williford, PCC, RYT, CF-L1 is a Personal Fitness Trainer located out of Eau Claire, WI. Benji believes that, “A successful fitness program is based on positive dialogue between the mind and body.” He can be reached through his website:, or by email:

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Ten Tenets of Calisthenics Skill Training

by Al Kavadlo on October 11, 2016

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Al Kavadlo Calisthenics Skills

When I got into working out as a teenager, all I cared about was having a muscular looking upper-body. I wasn’t familiar with the concept of “functional fitness” and I don’t think it would have interested me much at the time anyway.

Back then I just wanted to look good with my shirt off. Doing a muscle-up or pistol squat had never even occurred to me. A lot has changed since then.

With progressive calisthenics continuing to grow in popularity every day, more people are training to learn bodyweight skills first and foremost, with muscular gains being secondary. Though training for mass, strength and skill certainly have some overlap, there are several subtle differences to keep in mind if your top priority in fitness is learning new ways to move your body.

Before getting to my advice on skill development, however, we first must define our terms. Skill training encompasses many things, including moves where precise balance is key, like the handstand or elbow lever, but it also includes exercises like the pistol squat, human flag or muscle-up, which although they require significant strength, require loads of coordination and body awareness as well. You can treat pretty much any calisthenics exercise as a skill if you approach it with a focus on movement quality, though there is undeniably more technique involved with a back lever than a basic push-up.

With that in mind, if skill is what you seek, you would do well to abide by the following ten principles:

1. Build Your Foundation
You’ve gotta crawl before you learn to walk, and you’ve gotta get good at pull-ups before attempting a muscle-up. While it can be tempting to rush ahead and try advanced exercises when you are new to calisthenics, the best way to eventually attain those skills is by building a strong foundation with the basics. Aim for double digits on classics like push-ups, hanging knee raises and squats before you worry about anything too ambitious. Advanced skills are built upon proficiency in the fundamentals.

PCC Century Testing hanging knee raises

2. Utilize an Earlier Progression
If there is an exercise that you feel is on the fringes of your skill set, the best way to work toward acquiring it is to find an earlier progression that you can manage for around 3 solid reps (or in the case of isometric holds, something you can hold for a few seconds).

If your goal is to perform a freestanding handstand, you should first get very comfortable holding one against a wall. If a full pistol squat eludes you, there are many regressions you can use, such as a bench pistol. Whatever you are working toward, there are lots of ways to assist yourself or modify the leverage to make anything more accessible. (Check out me and my brother Danny’s new book Street Workout for progressions and variations on all the major calisthenics skills.)

3. Take Long Breaks
Learning new skills is taxing on your neurological system as well as your muscles, that’s why it’s helpful to allow yourself plenty of rest between attempts. There’s no need to time your breaks or abide by any strict protocol when skill improvement/acquisition is your chief concern, however. Simply warm up, and start playing around with whatever it is you are working on, be it a backflip, muscle-up, or elbow lever.

Though it only takes a few seconds to attempt these moves, remember to take a few deep breaths between each effort and give yourself a few minutes off when you feel like you’re beginning to fatigue. Be aware that you may tire quickly when working on new skills, even if you don’t feel the same type of burn in your muscles that you are used to from more conventional set and rep protocols.

Al and Danny Kavadlo partner exercises

4. More Sets/Fewer Reps
Along those same lines, it’s usually best to do only a few reps at a time (or practice fairly short holds in the case of isometrics) when training new skills. For this reason, you may need to do more sets than you typically would in order to get enough total training volume into a given session. Remember, your goal is precision – as soon as you cease to be able to perform at your best, it’s time to take a breather. It’s not unusual to do 5 or more sets of a single exercise during a skill training session.

5. Video Your Workouts
Taking a video of your training session isn’t just for showing off on YouTube. You can learn a lot by watching yourself try new things. You may find that what you think you are doing and what you are actually doing are two very different things. Watching a video of yourself can help you stay objective and find ways to fix your form. Reviewing your video in between efforts can also give you something to do while you’re taking those long rest breaks.

6. Don’t Bite Off Too Much
You can’t learn to do everything at once. Movers who have a large arsenal of skills have gradually acquired new ones little by little over many years. Focus on one or two new things at a time, while keeping your other exercises and skills in maintenance mode. Sometimes when you hit a plateau with one skill, you can shift your focus to something else, and eventually return to the previous skill with renewed focus and greater experience.

Al Kavadlo one-arm elbow lever

7. Avoid Failure
If your primary concern is gaining muscle mass, it may be best to push to the point of absolute fatigue, as this will pump as much blood into the muscles as possible. Conventional wisdom is that “the pump” can help facilitate muscular growth.

When learning new skills is your primary concern, however, it’s best to avoid muscular failure. You want to be as fresh as you can for each effort, so you can get the greatest yields for your time. It’s best to keep a little bit in the tank to avoid burnout when working on new skills.

8. Find Training Partners
We all must walk this path for ourselves, but along the way others can offer guidance and inspiration. If you have the opportunity to work out with friends or attend a workshop – take it. The collective energy that happens when you get a group of calisthenics fanatics together is something that must be felt in order to be understood. Whether it’s through organizing a meet-up with your buddies at a local park, or coming to a Progressive Calisthenics Certification Workshop, there’s no better motivation than the energy and encouragement of your peers.

PCC China human flag

9. Be Patient
Many people underestimate how long it can take to learn a new move, then get frustrated and give up because it’s not happening quickly enough. Accept that some days will be better than others, and that you may get frustrated at times. This is okay. There is no true “mastery” in fitness, so aim to keep the beginner’s mind: Instead of focusing on the goal, focus on the process; instead of setting deadlines, set intentions. Patience is the key to unlocking advanced calisthenics skills.

10. Stay Consistent
The secret to fitness is not in any specific exercise, or sequence of exercises. It’s not in any particular set and rep scheme, and it’s not in any particular tool or apparatus. It’s not about periodization, core stabilization or muscle confusion. Those things may play a role, but the real secret to fitness is consistency. Because without consistency, none of those other details mean anything. If you want to improve your calisthenics skills, you’ve got to stay the course and keep practicing. You will learn more from your own trials and errors than from anything else. Enjoy the journey and embrace each step in your progression.


Al Kavadlo is the lead instructor for Dragon Door’s Progressive Calisthenics Certification and the author of several best-selling books, including Street Workout and Pushing The Limits. For more information visit

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PCC Holland: A Celebration Of Unity

October 4, 2016

No one ever knew it would go this far. We believed, we hoped, we dreamed. But nothing could have prepared us for the outpouring of passion, dedication and intensity from the global calisthenics community. In fact, when we launched the Progressive Calisthenics Certification just over three years ago, we knew we were providing the first […]

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Progressive Calisthenics Returns to Australia

September 27, 2016

I just flew home from Australia and boy are my arms tired…from teaching the PCC, of course! Last weekend the Progressive Calisthenics Certification returned to Australia for our first ever event in Sydney, and it was one for the ages! Attendees traveled from all parts of the continent in order to be part of this […]

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Announcing the Street Workout Photo Contest Winners

September 20, 2016

Danny and I had a tough time selecting our favorite entries to the Street Workout Photo contest, but after some deliberation, we have selected the following winners: This image was our favorite due to the fun energy and unique location of the photo. Danny and I are big fans of Coney Island in our native […]

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Give The Squeaky Wheel Some Grease

September 13, 2016

Keeping things simple, yet effective is something that I’ve personally struggled with at times. Every so often, I find myself imagining the solution to a problem has to be complex in order to provide the result I desire. I’m also often reminded that said solution to said problem is staring me in the face, I […]

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Grip Strength for Greater Triumphs

September 6, 2016

Many times we associate grip strength and grip training with those ubiquitous spring-tension grippers and strongman training. While I really enjoy grip training with heavy odd objects, giant kettlebells, etc. it’s also very possible to train for a monster grip using bodyweight training only. With just a little creativity, bodyweight grip training presents infinite variations […]

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The Official Street Workout Photo Contest

August 30, 2016

The wait is over! Street Workout is now available in paperback format. To celebrate this monumental occasion, Danny and I are inviting YOU to show us your best Street Workout moves, based on one of the photos from our new book. To enter, post your original photo on Facebook, along with a photo of the […]

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Health & Strength 2016: This Is What We Do!

August 23, 2016

As I stepped on the stage at Dragon Door’s second annual Health & Strength Conference, my mouth was dry. My hands were moist. My heart beat hard against my rib cage. I took the stage to address the hundred or so freaks and geeks of fitness in attendance. My lips parted and I began to […]

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A Twist to the Push-up: Introducing the Intrinsic Strength Push-up

August 16, 2016

Men and women of all fitness levels are familiar with the push-up and its ability to challenge and build full body strength and muscle. There are many ways to regress and progress the push-up to fit the needs of any everyday athlete. Regressing the push-up’s difficulty can be as simple as changing the angle of […]

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