I Failed the Century… and What I Learned as a Result

by Marcus Santer on February 11, 2014

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Al and Danny Kavadlo in NYC

“Nothing happens without hard work, time and discipline.”
Al Kavadlo

I know, it’s a real cliche. But like most cliches, it contains an element of truth—I hit 40, looked at myself and my life and thought, “Is this it? Is this all I’ve done?”  And because I couldn’t afford to buy a Porsche, I decided to do the other cliched thing men frequently do when they hit 40, I decided to get into the best shape of my life.  Not that I was in bad shape to start with, but I definitely had that ‘Skinny Fat’ thing going on.

I’d spent the last 10 years focusing solely on Qigong (think Chinese Yoga if you’ve never heard of Qigong) to take care of all my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs. But looking in the mirror at my 6 month pregnant belly, I had to accept that as good as Qigong had been for helping me say goodbye to depression and thrive in spite of the stresses and strains of modern 21st century living, when it came to keeping me physically strong and looking good, it simply wasn’t delivering the goods.

Something had to change.

Now there’s something you should know about me before we go any further.  When it comes to research I’m a bit OCD, because when I commit to something I go all in. But I won’t commit to anything until I’ve really done my homework. Know what I mean?

This formula has helped me to succeed in most things I do:

1) Work out what I want to achieve.
2) Find a Method that has a proven track record for delivering what I want to achieve.
3) Find a good teacher that teaches that Method
4) Work my arse off: Persistence, discipline, tracking progress.

Using this formula I discovered:

1) I wanted to get into the best shape of my life.
2) When it came to physical exercise, calisthenics was my preferred method because it could help me grow strong and I didn’t have to waste $1,000s on equipment, memberships and so on.
3) The best source I could access was something with the odd title: Convict Conditioning.
4) I was ready to invest the required hard work, time and discipline.

The 3 things I loved about Convict Conditioning which made it stand head and shoulders above any other information I could find back in 2011 were:

Paul ‘Coach’ Wade is direct with a no bullshit approach to getting strong.
The progressive, step by step nature of his system.
A focus on ‘The Big 6′.

I dived in and here are the results: I’m stronger now at age 42 than I was when I was 22.  I look and feel better too.  And it’s all thanks to ‘Coach’ Wade and the brilliant Convict Conditioning.

Why I Took the PCC in Sweden

“Welcome to the most advanced, evolved, engineered piece of fitness equipment in existence… Your own body!”
Danny Kavadlo

I’m always keen to offer the best to my own students, it’s important I’m doing everything I can to help them live a happier, healthier and longer life. And based on my own experience with Convict Conditioning I soon began encouraging them to pick up a copy and get practicing too.

But the majority of my students are as far away from the ‘ideal’ customer the Convict Conditioning sales page is targeted at as you can get. And unfortunately most were unable to get the benefits simply because they couldn’t get past the marketing.  So I began looking for a way to teach my Qigong students calisthenics but in a way they would find accessible.

Marcus Santer with the awesomely talented Kavadlo Brothers--two of the instructors from the epic Sweden PCC

Marcus Santer with the awesomely talented Kavadlo brothers at the epic Sweden PCC

Something else you should know about me—it’s important to me that I’m suitably qualified to safely teach somebody something before I start. But trying to find a suitable calisthenics based instructor training course was proving to be a bit of a non-starter.

I saw that Dragon Door started teaching PCC courses in the USA, but I couldn’t quite stretch to traveling to the USA from the UK for a 3 day course.  So you can imagine my delight when I saw there was going to be a PCC workshop put on in Sweden. I didn’t hesitate for a second. I signed up straight away and began working on:

‘The Century’.

The Century really bothered me because it’s the gateway between you and the right to call yourself a PCC instructor.

I knew I could do 40 body weight squats
I knew I could do 30 push ups
I knew I could do 20 hanging knee raises

But the 10 pull ups, hmm. Now I was worried.

On a really good day with a following breeze I could just about crank out 11. So how the hell was I going to crank out 10 after doing the 3 other exercises in The Century and under 8 minutes?  But before heading off to Sweden, I’d managed to do The Century twice and I was optimistic I’d be able to pull it off on the day.

Boy, how wrong was I!

After two and half days of awesome, mind blowing calisthenics tuition from Al, Danny and Adrienne I was exhausted.  So when it came time for The Century test, here’s what happened:

  • Squats – Pass
  • Push ups – Pass
  • Hanging knee raises – Pass
  • Pull ups – I got to 6 and I knew I was in trouble.

Hanging from the bar trying to get my 7th pull up was an experience I won’t forget in a hurry. Agonizing inch by agonizing inch I finally strained my chin over the pull up bar.  “7!″ my examiner, Adrienne shouted.

I could hear the other PCC students urging me on.  In spite of wanting to let go of the bar, the iron determination I’d forgotten I had simply refused to let go. I took a deep breath and pulled the bar…  Slowly I ascended, millimeter by millimeter as the support of the group gave me strength I didn’t have.   Ah, but this was no Rocky movie—I got 1/2 way and my arms simply stopped pulling.

It felt as if someone was setting fire to my muscles, and I had zero left in the bank—but still I wouldn’t let go!

I heard someone behind me shout, “Change your grip!”  At the time, I had an overhand grip on the bar, the ‘pull up’ position. The underhand, ‘chin up’ grip can, for some people, make life a little easier.  And somehow I managed to change my grip and gave it another go.


I hung there for what felt like an age and then it was ‘game over’ as my feet landed back on the floor with a heavy thud.

I’d failed The Century.

What Happened Next?

“There’s a lot of failure on the road to success and that’s good.”
Danny Kavadlo

After 3 days of full on calisthenics awesomeness (I did my first non-handed head stand and some other cool stuff) I simply didn’t have enough juice left in the tank.  And hey, what use is a test if everyone passes? It’d be a pretty poor test right? Because then the only requirement for success would be being able to afford the cost of the workshop. You’d literally be buying your qualification not earning it. And that doesn’t work for me.

Luckily the generous people at Dragon Door give you 90 days to submit video evidence of you completing The Century.  So the first thing I did was grab myself an accountability partner.  Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about getting something done it’s this—having someone to hold me accountable increases the likelihood of me getting the job done. It’s amazing what I can do if I know I’ve made a promise to someone else I’m going to do it.

The second thing I did was grab Danny and ask him how I should practice to nail The Century. His advice was to practice The Century.

So twice a week for the following 4 weeks I did that.  And twice a week for the following 4 weeks I failed.  Again and again and again.  And then on 8th December, much to my amazement I finally did it.  The video’s here if you want to watch it.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned on the road to passing The Century is that failure really is just a stepping stone to success, that you can only really fail something when you give up.

Summing Up

Group photo from the legendary PCC Sweden Workshop

Group photo from the legendary PCC Sweden Workshop

I was a little nervous about traveling from the UK to Sweden on my own to attend a 3 day calisthenics workshop. Would I make a fool of myself? Would I be too old? That kinda crap.  But I was delighted to discover all my concerns were unfounded. A friendlier group of dedicated and friendly students you couldn’t wish to find.  And as for the instructors, well, awesome isn’t a big enough word to do them justice.

So, if you’re on the fence about attending a PCC workshop. Based on my experience I’d tell you to book your spot ASAP and take advantage of the generous early bird discounts Dragon Door offers.

Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve found something of value in this article.

Kindest regards,

Marcus Santer helps people to live happier, healthier and longer lives through the practice of Qigong. He is the founder and chief instructor over at Qigong15. The author of 4 books covering all aspects of Qigong his mission is to make Qigong as popular as Yoga, Tai Chi and meditation, because he believes Qigong is quicker to learn, less physically demanding and gives greater benefits than Yoga, Tai Chi and meditation all put together.  You can find over 500 posts showing you how to live a happier, healthier and longer life through Qigong on his blog, Qigong15.com

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  • Everything you say here resonates with me more than you know. It applies to all life, too. There really is no “failure”–just more learning.

    You’re my boy, Marcus.

    PS. “Too old” for PCC…you kids make me laugh!

    • Marcus

      Thanks Coach =) I thank my lucky stars for the day I stumbled over your epic Convict Conditioning. It started me out on an exciting, never ending journey of growth. And thanks to John Du Cane for publishing my article, I really appreciate it.

      • John Du Cane

        Thanks for the great piece Marcus, very pleased to be able to spread your word!

        • Marcus

          Thanks John =)

      • Hell, folks are loving this article! I hope it’s the first of many!

  • jpujjayi

    Awesome video !! Congrats,, and nice writing of your journey…. truly the sucess is in the learning… age can be a distraction at any age..!! ‘i’m to young, to old, not old enough, etc… keep on movin’ on…. there’s lots of gas left in the tank !!! Jim Perry

    • Marcus

      Thanks for your kind words Jim, you’re right, there is a lot of gas left in the tank =)

  • Michael M.

    What a fantastic article. I’ve always struggled with pull ups so I feel your pain on that one. I doubt I’d have had much in the tank either following those 3 days. Sounds intense in a really good way. I assume you’ll be getting yourself all inked up some day soon.

    • Marcus

      Thanks Michael, I progressed really quickly with squats, but pull ups are my Kyprtonite mate. But it’s such a good boost when you achieve something you worked really hard for. Hard to beat. As for the ink? Who knows =)

      • BodyweightReallyIsBetter

        Congrats Marcus. Btw, pull-ups are my Kryptonite as well. Just got into bodyweight training a few months ago (ditched gym weights thankfully). I couldn’t even do one pull-up OR one chin-up! Now I can do 1 pull-up and 3 chin-ups. Who wouldn’t have thought that is something I can say I’m proud of now?! Facing your weakness and making ground is a priceless feeling. Well, congrats again!
        – Anthony

        • Marcus

          I hear you Anthony, my good friend used to find it hilarious watching me trying to crank out 1 pull up on his bar. Thanks to Progressive Calisthenics that’s all changed. Hard work and effort is the key. And you’re right, facing your weakness and making ground really is a priceless feeling. Thanks for taking the time to share your comment Anthony and keep up the good work =)

  • Congrats, Marcus! We are proud to have you in the PCC family!

    • Marcus

      Thanks Al! Really appreciate that. You’re an inspiration.

  • Justin Termini

    Great article, Marcus. I’m glad to see that you were able to persevere and make it through it. Nice job!

  • Jarlath Grassroots

    Great article Marcus,

    I’m signed up for the PCC in Ireland in May and am looking forward to it
    but of course the ‘Century’ is there at the back of my mind.

    And I hadn’t thought of myself as an ‘oldie’ (maybe I’m in denial 🙂 ),

    thanks for sharing your story & of course well done!

    • Marcus

      Hi Jarlath, you’re going to have a great time on the PCC in Ireland. I’ve never done a workshop with such a group of really open and welcoming people. The teachers are pretty cool too LOL =)

  • Way to go Marcus!

    • Marcus

      Thanks Jamie =)

  • Marcus, I remember the exact moment you described at the PCC Sweden–I am SO PLEASED that you were able to pass with an awesome video! Many people will benefit from you sharing your story here, and we are all so proud of your progress 🙂 Sky is the limit!

    • Marcus

      Thanks Adrienne, and thanks for helping me make a break through with my clutch flag, really appreciate that =)

      • You’re very welcome! Can’t wait to see what you do next 🙂

  • Karen Lee

    Thanks for this article, it’s perfect timing for me! I got over my fears and signed up for PCC this coming April, not positive I’d be ready, but still determined. Then a nagging shoulder problem ended up being a neck issue and I’m not sure I’ll be ready by then. I was shocked to find how hard it was to get my head in a good place after that realization. Your article reminds me to remember that, even if it ends up that I “fail” to be there in April, like I planned, I can rise above and go to the next one, stronger and more prepared than ever. In the meantime, there’s lots I can do now and that’s where I’m gonna keep my head.

    Thanks for your positive and very real outlook here, it’s very much appreciated! And congratulations on passing!

    • Marcus

      Thank you Karen. You’re right about going. Reminds me of the Woody Allen quote: “80 percent of success is showing up.” Make sure you get that shoulder/neck issue checked out though – Safety first!

  • Markus

    Hi Marcus,

    I recently signed up for Munich in June.
    I have previously doubted long whether I
    should do this or not, but then thought, if not
    now then when?

    I still doubt that I’m able to pass the century
    test (with my 40 years I feel also a little bit…old), but
    your experience gave me the last kick. Thank you for the
    inspiring report, I will train
    hard to be prepared as good as

    • When the hell did “40” become OLD? Jesus Christ people, it’s the PRIME calisthenics age, where body wisdom and natural strength overlap perfectly!

      Get hitting those pullups, kid. If you go for the PCC and fail I’ll oversee your re-test videos PERSONALLY until you get that shit right.

      Marcus teaches us that, with discipline, the PCC is within the reach of any athlete. Truth.

      • Markus

        YES, SIR!

    • Marcus

      I thought like you Markus, and boy was I wrong. There were quite a few dudes there older than me.

      Whenever I’m tempted to think of age as an excuse I think of my hero Jack LaLanne who to celebrate his 70th birthday towed a row of 70 boats over a mile long swim. Some of the boats even had people in!

      When would now be a good time to get started building your own fitness legacy?

      Go for it Markus =)

      • Markus

        I will, thank you!

  • Lee

    Awesome and inspiring article! I thought I was all set to attempt the PCC last summer/fall, but unfortunately an accident involving chemical burn and surgery rendered me incapacitated for some time. I have been set back, for sure, but articles like this certainly motivate. Congratulations on your success and achievement!

    • Sorry to hear about your injury, my man.

      Scars only make you tougher, boy. You should go for it.

    • Marcus

      Thanks Lee, sounds to me like you’re on the verge of having your own success story. Make sure you share your achievement and inspire the rest of us.

  • dannykavadlo

    This is in many ways my favorite PCC blog post yet. Marcus, I remember advising you to practice the Century. I am so happy to see that your hard work paid off! Keep inspiring, Marcus!

    • Marcus

      Danny! Wonderful, thanks for taking the time to comment. You’re absolutely right, I simply followed your advice and supplied the hard work and the results speak for themselves. Thank you for the advice =)

    • BodyweightReallyIsBetter

      Danny, I remember you mentioning something similar in another post. Someone wanted to improve on something (forget what exercise it was exactly…maybe pull-ups), and your advice was to practice that, plain and simple.
      Well, it works. I went from ZERO chin-ups to 3. Instead of wasting time on some lat pulldowns or dumbbell curls (weights and machines are a thing of the past for me), I kept at the chin-ups. I went from doing 0 to 3 in a couple of months. I would still be at 0 if I avoided them because they were so difficult for me (as I foolishly did for so many years).
      I can’t perform 1 full handstand push-up, so guess what I’m doing to improve that? Yup, handstand push-ups! ;O)
      Thanks for all your advice Danny (and the rest of PCC crew). It’s all priceless!

  • Leo

    Hey Coach,
    I´ve been doing jackknife pull ups for a couple times now and each time I experience severe soreness in my lats. Should I rest more than a week before doing the next pull up workout and ain´t sore anymore or do them while still sore?

    We have to run 12 minutes without pause at school, trying to run 3 or 4 kilometres.
    Last time I totally failed so I want to train for it properly now.
    Any ideas on how often I should do it during the week and how to approach the training?

    I´ve got some minor aches during squats in my knees. I´m currently working on half squats. I also finish of with some supported squats. I worked up to this for maybe 6 months, skipping no step and meeting the progression standard of each. I don´t think it´s a form issue, either-I think I´m doing them correct. Any tips and ideas?

    • Leo! Hey, often new exercises can make you sore–that’s great, you are challenging your body! If the soreness continues after a few more weeks, add rest days, otherwise gut thru it–sure, new techniques can make ya sore, but the extreme soreness typically only lasts a few sessions.

      As for running–the same principles that apply to progressive calisthenics apply to ALL bodyweight, running or otherwise! Begin at an easy pace, rest between sessions, and slowly add (time, distance or intensity) without killing yourself. You can do it, kid.

      Minor aches? Maybe it’s the running! I say keep at it for six months to strengthen your joints. Hit me up if the pain gets worse, but I suspect it’ll get better as your tendons strengthen. Don’t overthink this stuff, my man!

  • Sean ;-)

    Too Old!!?? Come on guys your killing me LOL Ok Ill admit I’ve asked myself the same question..”I’m 40 and what have I accomplished?” but I’ll stand toe to toe, with a steely eyed stare, with anyone that tries to tell me I’m too old to accomplish anything I put my mind too. I think we might be brothers from another mother Marcus cause I can totally relate to how you go about things. I too become a bit obsessive compulsive when I get my mind focused on something I’d like to accomplish. Main reason I have come to discover this site and the materials of many of the contributors of the PCC community. I really could relate to your article and how you go about processing things. Like many that have recently turned to bodywieght I’m working on strength in pull ups. I’m currently working off a 1 1/2 thick galvanized bar on a home station I made based on recommendations from Al’s book raising the bar. The only draw back to age is my body isn’t has young as my mind so I can’t just throw myself recklessly into exercise like my youthful days. I have to respect the process more and work on mobilizations to keep the fibbers healthy and pliable. Anyone that has CC1 or more recently AL’s new book stretching your boundaries ( so far a good and helpful read) would have more than enough exercises to scale up or down due to injury. I watched the video Marcus, great work, something to strive for.

    • Marcus

      Hi Sean,

      Yeah, I’d go toe to toe with anyone who tries to talk me down too. Trouble is I can be my own worse enemy and talk myself down better than anyone out there. That’s where reading this blog comes in handy. I keep topping up the tank.

      My pull up bar is a handle off a tool called: The Brute, used for scraping floor tiles off. I put a couple of collars on either side of my loft hatch and slot it in there. It’s okay as long as I don’t do wide pull ups =)

      Trouble is when it came to filming, for The Century test, you couldn’t see my head cos it disappeared into the loft. I tell you, trying to find somewhere I could film myself doing The Century was nearly as hard as the test itself LOL!

      I watched a video of one of my calisthenics hero’s on Youtube, he said he’d been doing calisthenics for 20 years. I’ve been doing it for 2, guess there’s a long way to go yet.

      One day at a time right?

      Bye for now


      • BodyweightReallyIsBetter

        Hey Marcus, I’m not someone who needs motivation or inspiration, BUT it sure doesn’t hurt to find inspiration with others. For me, it’s more a matter of gaining some more knowledge that can better prepare to achieve my goals.
        Speaking of calisthenics “heroes” on youtube, ever see videos of a kid that goes by TheFortress? Man, wish I started when I was his age!
        Anyway, thinking about it now, I certainly do aspire to look like him (though not to be even be quite as big) or the old Soloflex guy. There was one picture in particular which I put up on my wall for a little extra inspiration. Not sure if I’ll get very close to him, but now that I have transitioned over from gym weights to bodyweight training, I think the possibility is stronger than ever. Going to try and attach a picture if the blog allows it….Btw, though my goals include strength, I’m not going to lie….I want to look really good too.

        • Marcus

          Who doesn’t want to look good =) My wife certainly isn’t disappointed by all my hard work and effort with calisthenics LOL!

  • Rudy Hartono

    Hi Marcus,

    I don’t know if you will read my message but just want to give you some information

    There is a lot of Qigong style and some of them said that you must used your stomach for breathing.

    But qigong that i learn from my master, must pull my stomach toward my spine on entire exercise and only using chest for breathing. So if you using this method it’s impossible to get 6 month pregnant belly 🙂

    I also train calisthenics, because qigong only not enough to develop muscle.

    That’s why other than breathing exercise you also need to train your muscle.

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