99 Reps

by Eric Bergmann on October 27, 2015

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John Du Cane Speaking At PCC

“There’s an epidemic.  99 reps…”

Dragon Door founder John Du Cane uttered this ominous phrase during the PCC workshop I attended.

In order to pass the PCC, you must complete the Century Test, which requires 100 reps. Yet there is a 99 rep curse.  One rep shy of the goal. There were multiple such instances when I got my PCC, and I feel they could have been avoided.

If you’re looking to get your PCC or are simply looking for some techniques to help you squeeze out extra reps in your training, this article is for you.

We’ll go through the four movements of the test one-by-one, but first a comment on form: great form will be more efficient and preserve energy throughout the test.  Before you worry about increasing reps, be sure your form is approaching perfect.

The Squat

PCC Century Test SquatsPosition check:

How is your foot position?  Do you have contact with the ground through your big toe, little toe, and the center of your heel?

Play with the width and rotation of your feet. Find a position that allows you to feel like you are sitting between your legs while keeping your feet flat on the floor, knees inline with your toes, with a neutral spine.

1) Lower down slowly and with control. On the way up, begin pushing not just down through the floor, but also to the sides, like you’re standing on a towel and are trying to rip it in half using your feet (your feet, including the big toe joint, must remain flat on the ground).

2) As you’re ascending out of the hole, bear down on your abs—think low and deep, like you’re about to get punched below the navel.

3) On the hardest rep(s), try using the Valsalva maneuver: breathe in on your way down, but don’t breathe out on your way up.  Hold the air in to keep your intra-abdominal pressure high until you hit the sticking point (the hardest portion of the rep).  At that point begin to slowly let the air hiss out as you complete the rep.  You should sound like a tire losing air.

4) At the top of each rep get tall and relaxed.  Now is a good time to take an extra breath before beginning your next rep.  You have 8 minutes.  The clock is not your enemy, fatigue is.

The Push-Up

PCC Century Test Push UpsPosition Check:

Are your forearms approximately perpendicular to the ground throughout the movement?

Are your upper-arms approximately 45 degrees from your body at the bottom of each rep, so that you look like an arrow when viewed from above?

Have you found a hand position of appropriate width for your upper-arm length and that accommodates your shoulder girdle? Play with hand placement and rotation to find your best position.

Is your body in a straight line from shoulder to heel?

1) Pretend you have a big dial in each hand. When you hit the bottom of the rep, grip the dials hard and turn them as you push into the floor—the left one goes counterclockwise, the right one goes clockwise.  Your hand and elbow positions shouldn’t change, but you’re gripping and turning those dials anyway. The harder the rep, the harder you turn those dials and push.

2) Just before the sticking point, bear down on the abs (low and deep, like you are going to get punched in the gut again). Keep that tension until you finish the rep.

3) Lockout at the top of the rep and relax, but don’t linger. Remember: you’re still holding a plank. Don’t sag when you relax—your next rep will be terrible if you start in a weak position.

4) Remember the pressurized breathing from squat tactic #3?  Use that again.

The Hanging Knee Raise

PCC Hanging Knee RaisesPosition Check:

Is the bar deep in your hands, not near the fingertips?  Do you have a strong grip on the bar?

Are you shoulders packed down so that you’re not dangling off the structures of your shoulder?

Are your knees and feet together?

Check again.  Failure to get into the right position will reduce your body’s willingness to fire the abs and to flex the hips.  Don’t believe me?  Grab a bar with your fingertips, hang from your shoulder sockets, leave your legs flailing around and let me know how you did versus being in a strong position.

These tactics will be about limiting body-sway, which is typically what wrecks candidates on the hanging knee raise.

1) Lower the legs slowly after each rep.  The shorter and lighter your legs, the faster you can go. The more you’re built like me, the more you’ll need to control the eccentric portion of the movement.

2) Do not relax at the end of a rep.  You risk losing position and incurring sway.

3) When the reps begin to get hard increase your grip on the bar, your depression/packing of the shoulder-blades, and the pressure you’re applying between your knees and feet—double-down on your starting position.

The Pull-Up

PCC Century Test Pull UpsPosition Check:

Do you have a deep grip on the bar—i.e., not near your fingertips?

Are your feet slightly in front of your body?

This is it. The moment when people complete 9 1/2 reps and wonder what just happened. Here’s how to avoid that:

1) Crush the bar.  When the reps get hard your grip gets harder.  You’re about to go for rep 100?  Crush that bar like it’s covered in butter and you’re dangling over the Grand Canyon.

2) Right before the sticking point, bear down on the abs and glutes.  Deep and low for the abs, hard for the glutes.  This won’t help unless you’re already crushing the bar.  You are crushing the bar, right? Good.  Crush harder.  They should have to pry your hands off the bar after your 100th rep.  Want a high-five when you pass?  Too bad.  Your hands won’t open for the next several minutes.

3) Remember the pressurized breathing?  Now’s your time to shine.  Get air in at the bottom position.  Start hissing out air at the sticking point.  Keep hissing until you complete the rep.

4) Savagely rip that bar off the supports.  Think about driving your shoulders and elbows toward the Earth, rather than pulling your head over the bar. Refuse to fail.

These techniques, properly utilized, should get you about a 20% increase in reps. Practice them and watch your numbers go up.

See you at 100 reps.

Al Kavadlo, Eric and Beth Bergmanns6


Eric Bergmann is a New York City based strength coach, movement specialist, and proud member of the PCC family. He co-owns Bergmann Fitness—a boutique training and nutrition service—with his wife, Beth. You can find out more about them at bergmannfitness.com

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  • Billy

    Great article Eric
    Well thought out and broken down into manageable and achievable chunks
    Very helpful

    • Thanks, Billy. I hope it helps with your training.

  • Matt Schifferle

    It’s been a while since I’ve done the century test, but I’ll give it a shot today and apply a few of these tips.
    Passing the century is just the beginning after all!

    • Let us know how it worked out for you.

      Working up to 40 pistols, 30 archer push-ups, 20 straight leg raises, and 10 archer pull-ups may be the next step!

  • John Du Cane

    Very nice piece indeed Eric, thank you so much for the thoughtful and very practical tips…. Fewer people will hopefully now become members of the “99 Club”. To paraphrase Groucho Marx: “I wouldn’t want to be a member of this club if they let people like me in”…:)

    • I’m bringing a flag with a crossed out 99 on it to the next PCC in NYC.

  • Great post, Eric, I hope everyone reads this before attempting the Century. There are crucial tips here!

    • Thanks, Adrienne! That means a lot coming from you!

  • mike legrice

    This is fantastic, I like the cue for pull ups “bar under your chin not chin over the bar” (not sure why, I’m weird). Does anyone think that for pull ups pulling the bar apart is a good cue?

    • I don’t think that makes you weird. There’s a big difference in motor control and output when using internal vs. external cues/imagery. Focusing on the position of your chin will probably never produce the same quality of learning or force as focusing on the position of the bar.

      What do you mean by “pulling the bar apart”? Do you mean that you’re trying to snap or bend the bar (left hand counterclockwise, right hand clockwise)?

      • mike legrice

        If the bar were a towel pulling the towel apart like you are trying to rip it in half. Does that make sense?

        Thanks for the reply 🙂

        • I haven’t used this cue, so I can only speak from theory and my personal experience trying it just now…

          I don’t expect it to produce increased strength. I could see it being used for someone who is rounding (like a turtle) the upper back and/or internally rotating at the shoulders.

          That said, if it works for you, go with it

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