Conquering the Century Test

by Adrienne Harvey on November 18, 2014

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Adrienne Testing Pushups At Sweden PCC

Adrienne closely observes push ups during the Century Test at a PCC Workshop

The Century Test is the climax of every Progressive Calisthenics Certification event. After three days of intense training, the Century is the only opportunity for prospective candidates to prove their mettle and earn the title of PCC Instructor.

While helping Al and Danny teach at several PCC workshops, I’ve noticed the same common issues continually come up during the Century Test. Before you think these don’t apply to you, remember I’ve actually seen many accomplished and highly athletic people make these very mistakes! Of course we make sure to point out the complete rules and standards at each workshop, but why not work to avoid these hidden perils from the beginning?

First, let’s talk about speed—you will have a total of EIGHT minutes to complete your Century Test. Somewhere along the line, a terrible rumor started about doing the test “as fast as you can.” Unfortunately, this is the opposite of how the test should be approached; the Century is not a race!

While we don’t want you to fall asleep mid-test or run out of time, we do require you to use a moderate pace that allows you to complete each rep with your best form, crisply and cleanly. We also need to be able to evaluate and count your reps in real time. If someone gets into speed demon mode, it’s very difficult to evaluate AND count each rep while making sure they are up to our standards. We shouldn’t be seeing “motion blur” around you!

Once you begin a set, you can’t stop until you have completed the required amount of reps (which will be counted by whoever is testing you—Al, Danny, or an assisting PCC instructor). For example, the first set is 40 bodyweight squats. Once that set begins, there’s no stopping until you complete all 40 reps. After a set is completed, you can take as much time (within that total of eight minutes) as you need to rest between sets—more on that later!

For many PCC attendees, an odd issue happens with the squats, but it is easily corrected. Sometimes people focus SO much on the “down” portion of the squat that they don’t always fully complete the “up” portion! Make sure you stand ALL the way UP at the end of each squat rep. Again, if this can happen to some of the most athletic and accomplished people then it can happen to anyone. If you have a training partner, ask them to keep a close eye on your full squat movement (or record a short video of yourself).

Testing Squats at the PCC

As for the lowering phase, the top of your thighs must come below parallel with the ground without any bouncing at the bottom. Some people have had issues here as well, so make sure you go all the down before you come all the way up!

Next up are push-ups, 30 reps. Men will do these from the feet, and the ladies will be doing them from the knees. (Feet must be together for men; knees together for women.) Again, be sure to come all the way up to a full lockout at the top – much like the squats, it’s easy to become preoccupied with the bottom portion of the exercise, the required depth, etc. while shortchanging the completion of the rep. Use a comfortable, moderate pace so we can see that all your reps are up to our standards.

Al Kavadlo Testing Pushups at a PCC Workshop

Many of the women who come to the PCC are super fit and have not done push-ups from the knees in a while—these same women often tend to have some very fashionable workout wear. This can be perilous when these high performance fabrics make our knees slide during the push-up. Suddenly our hands and knees are very far apart, and it’s against the rules to re-adjust them during the set. Make sure you have a non-slip mat below you, and/or hike up those shiny capris past your knees so they do not move on that mat!

Another issue that even very fit women will have with the knee push-up (especially if we’re used to doing push-ups from the feet) is the idea of keeping the body in a perfectly straight line from the knees to the shoulders, without bending at the hips. Have a training partner observe you, or shoot a video to watch and make sure for yourself. One cue I have used successfully with clients is to have them practice by starting in a “straight arm plank” position, then while keeping the trunk straight, drop down to the knees to find the proper alignment to begin a knee push-up.

Danny Testing Hanging Knee Raises

Hanging knee raises are a real equalizer! Like squats, they’re tested the same for men and women. You must not swing or use momentum to make these reps, and you must hang onto the bar for the entire duration of the set. Make sure to grip the bar tightly while squeezing your shoulders down and back (basically, don’t hang like a limp noodle!) Imagine trying to bend the bar in half to intensify this feeling. Make sure to practice this at home!

Don’t underestimate a set of 20 knee raises. Bringing your knees above your waist takes a surprising amount of abdominal strength when you don’t use any momentum. When your feet come back down (also under control), I’ve found that aiming to put them just below (or even slightly in front of) your body is a great way to prevent momentum. People have found themselves in big momentum-trouble when they’ve extended their feet behind them on the “down” portion of the knee raises, because they start swinging back and picking up momentum. It almost becomes a mini-kip. Control is the name of the game with knee raises!

Finally we have the pull-ups, which are often the most challenging (and potentially heartbreaking) part of Century Test. Sometimes someone with plenty of time to spare just wants to get the test done and he or she does not give themselves adequate rest between the hanging knee raises and the pull-ups. I’ve seen very strong (but reasonably fatigued from 3 days of fun and intensive PCC work) people fail the test at the workshop because they couldn’t finish those last 1-3 pull-ups. An extra 30 seconds to 1 minute rest time between sets could have meant the difference between passing at the PCC or having to go home, regroup, train and submit a test video. It’s moments like these that we all wish for an “undo” or “rewind” button on life! Don’t underestimate the adrenaline rush of “test time”! Remember, it is not a race; you have 8 full minutes, so use it!

For the pull-ups, men will be doing 10 dead hang pull ups from a pull up bar with their choice of underhand or overhand grip. (If the bar is too high, and/or your hands are somehow shredded because you were inspired to overdo it a bit on the previous days, do not hesitate to ask us for a step stool!) Women will be performing 10 “Aussie” pull-ups (down under the bar—also known as bodyweight rows) from a waist-height bar. Again, I can’t encourage the ladies enough to experiment with these bodyweight rows. When practicing for the PCC, find a bar that’s the right height for you, and make sure that your body is positioned in such a way that you’re able to pull yourself up to the bar without having your feet slide—experiment with a mat, or a good shoe choice, etc. Pull yourself up close to the bar at the top of each rep, stay engaged (think plank) without having your body bow up or slump down.

Adrienne Demonstrates Aussie Pull-Up

Men, make sure that you are doing full pull-up reps, as half reps won’t count and can be costly in terms of fatigue! A SLIGHT kink in the elbows at the bottom of the rep is technically allowed, but make sure to have someone check you and video yourself to make sure that you aren’t slipping into doing half-reps. And, no kipping or momentum allowed!

I hope that these details have been helpful, and please feel free to ask questions here and always at the workshop. We really do want everyone to pass if they are truly ready and able to represent the PCC as a certified instructor, while helping their students/clients improve their fitness and quality of life.

Hope to see you at a future PCC Workshop!
Adrienne

Adrienne at the PCC Workshop with Adam

***

About Adrienne Harvey, Senior PCC Instructor, RKC-II, CK-FMS, Primal Move Nat’l Instructor: Originally RKC Certified in 2010, and RKC Level 2 certified in 2011, kettlebell and bodyweight training have been crucial in Adrienne’s personal quest for fitness. A core member of the PCC team, Adrienne loves sharing her knowledge with small groups and individuals. She also loves to develop recipes and workout programs to further support performance, body composition, and of course—FUN. Go to http://www.giryagirl.com for more information about Adrienne!

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  • Insightful article, Miss Adrienne! Now that I know how meticulously you evaluate the exercises, I’m motivated to practice the Century Test more often!

    • Thank you! Glad to hear you’re practicing the test as well 🙂

  • jpujjayi

    great points on all counts..!! these pointers are well headed…especially the timing,, the ‘don’t rush it’ aspect… the heartbeat is elevated enough with all the excitement and energy …and the thought of pass/fail…. breathing will help.. use that silent lifter..the diaphram… and belly breathe between each movement… calms the mind and paces the body… when you step up to the line again, your heart will let you know you’re there.. !! thanks again Adrienne for excellent writing and a nice layout of progressions of the Century

    • Great advice on the breathing, Jim, I hope everyone sees your comment. Good stuff!

    • Frank Delventhal

      good point, maybe a technique that I do with my Kettlebell clients may work here as we. 5 times:
      10 heavy hardstyle swings with maximum weight
      then they have 10 breaths break
      They have to set their breathing pace if they breath to fast they tire too soon.
      if you breathe far too slow you feel like fainting (I warn them of that!)

      So they have to find “their” breathing pattern that makes them relax/recover most within 10 breaths.

      Maybe such a kind of breath-break will help preparing for the century too, I guess one can make more use of the breaks to actively recover and to focus on the next step.

  • Frank Delventhal

    Excellent points 🙂 I give you a 10 out of 10 possible points.
    As I have been one of the “many” how died after the 9th pulp and just could not left oneself up any more. I did the test later on, but one should really not underestimate the 3 days before the century test. All in all it is a great event that one really should go to.

    • Thanks Frank – it really is surprising how those three days can add up! Nine reps there at the end can be so frustrating, especially!

      • Frank Delventhal

        In the review that was a good think, ask Al how log it took me to get the 10 reps. It took me far longer than I thought it would, nearly the maximal time to make the rehearsal. I learned a lot about frustration, technique, willpower, sore elbows and how good it feels when all the work pays off. Especially because I could to the first steps of the century pretty easy in good fom. It may sound stupid or stereotype but I guess failing it directly at the PCC made me in end effect a better trainer and athlete as if I would have passed right away – tanking in consideration what that taught me.
        Surely one should go there enough prepared to just do it.

        For me I had to find out the right mix of Australien Pullups, Chinups, Pullups, Wide Pullups and negative Pullups until it worked out for me.

        • That’s incredibly valuable info, especially considering you were already so close to passing at the workshop itself!

  • martymonster

    Hi Adrienne. Its very encouraging to see the attention to detail that is going into the PCC. The problem so many fitness organisations have with certification courses is in keeping standards up and ensuring instructors are fit for purpose.

    • Agreed! We take testing very seriously, but it’s great to know that the new PCC Instructors are ready to demonstrate and teach. 🙂

  • Geekpixie

    These are all fantastic points. I think one thing we all often miss which is so easy these days in the time of smartphones, etc, is record yourself! That doesn’t mean upload every try to youtube of course 😉 But record yourself going through reps and see if your form is correct. It takes little to no effort and yet can safe so much time and practice with incorrect form! Thankfully I have a good coach who taught me this early on. =)

  • hapworth

    Great article! Just wanted to ask for clarity on two things…

    1. The pushup requirement is a full lock out on top (like Al says) versus one with a slight kink (the way Paul says)?

    2. If the women are super fit, why not let them do full pushups (if they choose to)? I could see it as playing it safe and making sure they totally crush it, but if modifying it to knees makes it more difficult… Do you give them that option?

    Thanks!
    -h

    • Thanks for the questions! For the test there’s a full lock out at the top of the push ups. As for the women, I don’t think we’d stop anyone, but we also wouldn’t want to intimidate anyone by requiring full push ups (performed properly, knee push ups for 30 reps shouldn’t be underestimated–especially on the last day of the workshop!)

    • Rodolfo Oliveira

      I believe they keep the girls all have to do the kneeling pushups to keep a standard among all women. If some did full pushups and some did kneelig pushups you would differentiate the test among women which would not be good for a Certificate.

      • It is good to have an exact standard — and after three days of the PCC Workshop, 30 correctly done knee push ups are not an easy thing

  • Marcus

    Thanks for this Adrienne, reading it brought back the adrenaline rush of The Century =)

    I think you make a very good point about using the full 8 minutes to your advantage instead of charging ahead and failing because you ran out of steam.

    I wish everyone who takes The Century a solid pass, and if you don’t pass first time (like me) all is not lost. You’ve still got time to go home and put in the practice until you do pass it.

    Enjoy your training

    Marcus

    • Thanks for sharing a little bit of your story here, I am sure many people will benefit from your experience as well!

  • Such sage advice from the Queen of the Century!!

    • Thanks, Coach Wade!! Anything you’d add? We’re all ears 🙂

      • On the contrary, I learned a lot from this article. It was interesting in particular to read what you said about athletes maybe neglecting the concentric element of the squat–let’s face it, plenty of us do that in training, right?

        Also, so important and rightfully discussed in the comments–the demands of the friggin course itself. I know the team is all about imparting maximum knowledge and body wisdom rather than just “thrashing” participants, but if you are not a little exhausted after such a boundary-pushing course, you probably have streak of alien DNA or something, I’ve spoken to folks who failed the Century, then had a single day of rest and tried it again and massively exceeded their numbers on it–after ONE full day of rest. That should tell you something about how full-on the PCC is.

        One last thought: a very smart strategy is to really specialize on pullups for a few months before the PCC–since this is where so many people seem to fail (and on that final rep). Two tactics for doing this (which you can use holistically) are:

        -to get massively strong over 10 reps. If you can perform ten assisted one-arm pullups, ten regular pullups will seem a barrel easier. and;

        -to radically increase one-set volume on regular pullups. I advise athletes to be able to get 20 good reps on any given day to be very sure of acing the Century when the time comes.

        None of this adds to your post though Adrienne, which is now surely the “go to” article on PCC testing. Well done!

        • Thanks a ton!

          It’s funny you mention the “one full day of rest” phenomenon as I’ve seen that happen as well — while the PCC instructors are definitely not thrashing participants, we do find ourselves saying “guys…. we know you’re really excited about this stuff, but make sure not to totally burn yourselves out!” Some people will get a first muscle-up, or flag etc and then they can’t stop!

          Great advice on the pull-ups, hope everyone sees that! 🙂

          • Thanks!

          • Frank Delventhal

            I know that you say that but that is like telling a youngster in a candy store … you can have it all, it is all free … but do not take too much …
            That “can” work, but it´s really hard not to get completely carried away. 😉

          • So true — and honestly we don’t ever want to dampen the enthusiasm either 🙂

  • Eric Buratty

    Very humbling observations all around, Adrienne! Gotta practice like you “play” . . . or test, in the case of The Century 🙂

  • Kefas

    Hi Coach Wade!
    I need help(I have your books). I started your program New Blood from CC1 book 9 months ago. And I was doing bu*lsh!t over that time. At first, I was doing first steps, but after 1 month, I could not do more than 20 wall pushups.

    I was feeling pain in my right arm in elbow after these pushups. So I skip that step and jump to next step.

    I passed through first excercises too quickly. I thought, that it would not cause any problem. But when I was doing step 5(classic pushups) I could not do more than 5.

    I started again my CC 1 month ago. But I cannot do wall pushups because I have a some sort of pain in my right arm elbow. However, my left arm has no problem.

    What should I do to improve my condition, or how to eliminate my pain in elbow??

    PS: Sorry for my english.(In healthy body, healthy soul)
    I am 18 years old. (Left-hander)

    Kefas

    • Yo Kefas! Sounds like you’ve got yer head screwed on–good to hear from ya and well done!

      Most little dings can be worked thru with patience and light exercise, but it’s just not responsible for any coach to try and diagnose pain over the internet. Go see your doctor, kid!

      • Kefas

        You are strange! 🙂 I want to be independent from everyone. I don’t like doctors.
        AND I don’t want to be kid, Coach Wade. Thanks for your post anyway.
        Kefas

        • You want to be independent…so you’ll take advice from some guy over the internet, but not your doctor?

          I think you’re the strange one, dude.

          And as for “kid”, please don’t take offence, my man. When you get to my age, anyone under 50 is “kid”!

        • Sam

          My earlier comment is still ‎”awaiting the moderation” so i´ll try again. Kefas, Check Paul´s answer to StrivingMan´s similar kind of elbow pain problem in comments of Paul´s post “The Ten commandments of calisthenics mass: part II”.

          • Thanks for being patient, it just flagged it because there was a link in your post — no problems!

          • Sam

            Thanks Adrienne! After the first comment i pretty much knew it was not uploaded because of that link. Sometimes i wonder how i have the patience for calisthenics, when at the same time i can´t wait 10 seconds for my comment to upload 🙂 By the way, i haven´t done the certificate but i have done the Century quite a few times, and i have to say that your post showed once again that you are a great PCC instructor!

          • Thanks Sam — and LOL about the “sliding scale” of patience… I think everyone can relate to that on some level! 🙂

  • Good stuff Adrienne, it was actually the knee raises I struggled with the most. As I was in a rush to get through them, I didn’t do them in my usual slow and controlled manner (probably due to a spot of nerves). This made me really struggle to stop myself swinging. I’d also advise everyone to stick to what they know, don’t differ your speed or form for the century test.

    • Great tip, Dave — and I can totally imagine how that could happen! Thanks for sharing that, I’m sure it’ll help someone! 🙂

  • Kefas

    Thank you very much Sam!
    I think my pain is caused by high range of motion. I think the pain in elbow is caused by too high bending in elbow joint.

    • Rodolfo Oliveira

      Try doing some joint circling and starting the Trifecta from book 2 mate! It will probably help ya

      • Kefas

        Hi Rodolfo!
        I have both books. I have been doing some of the exercises from Trifecta for a half year. N-holds are very tough! I can do a perfect full bridge, but not the best L-hold and I can do full twist hold too.
        I also do some circling training. No one can help me, only I can.
        Doctors would send me to rehabilitation and I do not have a time.
        Anyway, thank you Rodolfo!

        • Rodolfo Oliveira

          I believe Coach said that more to be safe than sorry my man… you should probably search for more informed doctors, maybe someone specialized in exercise… just be careful with your joints bro! Success!

          • Kefas

            I thought, that someone specialized in exercise is Paul, but he does not wanna help me, bro!

  • nico

    Thanks for the great post. About the horizontal pulls: you mention experimeting with your position to stop yourself from sliding. This happens to be a problem I’m dealing with.
    Do you happen to have any pointers?

    Nico

    • Check back with the height of the bar, the surface below, are your feet flexed? Keeping elbows in on your sides or are they flaring out? (let me know what happens!)

      • nico

        I found that when my chest is under the bar my feet dont move. But I’m not able to let my chest touch the bar (just cant get high enough). When I position my body a bit more in an angle ( my arms not completely straight upwards) I can get the full range of motion but my feet tend to slide.

        Went from a bar height of around 4 feet (completed 3 sets of 30) to a lower bar height I guess its about 41 inches, I am about 6 foot 1 so this is approximately hip height for me.

        I always keep my elbows in and my feet flexed.

        hope you can make something out of this.

        Nico

        • What’s the floor surface like? And when your chest is under the bar, are you able to get high enough that your elbows are behind you?

          • nico

            I changed locations and found that it made a lot of difference.
            Now I start from the top position wich works great.

            Thanks for the help.

            Nico

          • EXCELLENT!!!!!!! 🙂 (It’s kind of a weird thing right???)

          • nico

            Right, how the smallest of steps can make the biggest of differences.

            Also, I probably should put my ego aside and ask for help more often.

            Nico

  • Clive Burns

    Thanks Adrienne! Hope PCC makes it to Australia again. Brisbane would be perfect 🙂

    • So glad it helped! 🙂 Hope we can bring the PCC to you too! 🙂

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