The Progressive Calisthenics Certification is a unique life experience. This two day event allows exercise enthusiasts to gather, train and get certified as progressive calisthenics instructors by none other than the Kavadlo brothers, the world famous trainers and pioneers of the Street Workout movement!
The decision to attend PCC this past October in Amsterdam, NE was a definitive moment of crucial importance in my life. My expectations were very high. I am a dedicated teacher and student of calisthenics and both Al and Danny are role models for me. I’ve been reading their articles and watching their videos for years.
The dawn breaks outside and I’m one of the first attendees to arrive. I see some familiar figures in the back of the training hall and, sure enough, based on a big beard and lots of tattoos, I recognize the Kavadlo brothers. A thought slips into my mind: I know how they present themselves on social media, but what are they going to be like in reality?
I barely manage to learn the names of other participants, when Danny comes to us with a big smile and shakes everyone’s hand. Al joins us few minutes later, sits among us and we begin talking about the flight, about life and about how this is the first time he left his newborn daughter for this long. It feels like I’m talking with an old friend, not with someone I just met. But there’s no more time to talk – it’s 8:30 and PCC is about to officially begin!
Danny is the one to make the welcome speech and claims that when people arrive at PCC they are strangers, but when they leave, they are a family. Even though my expectations of this weekend are high, I remain skeptical.
We get started on push-ups, pull-ups, muscle-ups, bar levers and more! All of these modules start with beginner-oriented exercises and progress to more difficult ones, like one arm push-ups or muscle-ups.
As we practice the moves, it is interesting to notice, that no one is best in everything. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses – and that is how it’s supposed to be! I helped explain a one arm push-up negative to Ben, my training partner, but it was Ben who left ME speechless, when he did a perfect one arm pull-up, a move, that is far beyond my grasp at this point!
We experienced many beautiful moments when we arrived at the muscle-up module. Muscle-ups, while requiring a fair amount of strength to perform, are also a skill, and there is no better way to learn a new skill than to have it explained in person and try it for yourself. Everyone gets super excited. It’s clearly a room full of bar maniacs!
Motivated by the mood in the room and the successes of others, everyone gives their best to the muscle-ups. Our energy appears to have no limits. Once the first person gets their first muscle up, a chain reaction is ignited. By the end of muscle-up session, five people get their first rep. If I haven’t seen it with my own eyes, I probably wouldn’t believe it.
When it’s our turn to try the human flags, we give it everything, just like when we did muscle-ups. Personal records are achieved on many flag variations. Once we are all done with the flags, it was time to cool down. Later that afternoon, Master Al shined, as he taught us more about the principles of progression, and his story of fitness and life. It was inspiring to hear his own story of going from a “towel boy” to becoming a world class calisthenics icon.
We were all a little bit nervous on the morning of Day Two. Was it really such a wise idea to exhaust ourselves so much yesterday? After all, the Century Test remained. But once we start moving, these thoughts just vanish. We go through leg exercises and we learn, among other things, that clutching your palms like a pistol while doing a pistol squat doesn’t only look good, there is a practical benefit to it as well!
Somewhat wiser, we move on to back bridges. During the “free jam” ten minutes, that follow the back bridge module, I am honored to follow PCC instructor Robbie Taylor and show others a stand-to-stand back bridge. The applause makes me feel like a superstar for a minute. I was also able to test how strong my back is during the back bridge module.
There is a short break and I think to myself: okay, squats and back bridges! Perfect! This should keep our arms fresh for the century test! Wrong. We then move on to handstands and floor holds, and our upper bodies are back to work!
As the morning’s training winds down, Danny leads us on a seminar of programming in the gym and putting the pieces that we have learned together. True to form, he also shares some hard-won wisdom and life lessons. We settle into the moment, but we all know what awaits…
PCC Century Test
The test is called “Century.” It requires 100 repetitions of 40 squats, 30 push-ups, 20 hanging knee raises and 10 pull-ups in perfect form and under eight minutes. These demands are not excessive for anyone with a solid foundation in calisthenics, but the tricky part is to do all it after two days of grueling training with sore muscles, not to mention the psychological pressure. Everyone has only one shot at passing the century test on location.
Two participants test at the same time: one is supervised by Al and the other by Danny. The others wait, cheer and congratulate. After eight rounds, I am in the last pair to test. By that time my nerves are almost killing me. Wearing a semi-sinister grin on his face, Danny tells me that this is what he has been looking forward to all weekend. I choose not to inquire at this moment – I hear the gong and I start.
My nerves calm down completely as I begin testing. I feel like a fish that has just been thrown back into water. I realize that this is what I do, this is what I live for and this is where I have broken, overcome and raised my limits countless times. Calisthenics is my passion and the blood in my veins pumps for it! I keep my reps slow and enjoy every single one of them. I finish my tenth pull up, even add an eleventh and shout Danny’s trademark “HELLYEAH!” Others gather around, congratulate me and I can hear from many people that my knee raises were really nice to watch: top form, zero swing, slow and in controlled fashion.
Danny is genuine pleased and says, “Thanks Vít, you just made my day!” It is a perfect ending to a perfect weekend.
In the end, three people did not pass the test. One attendee even managed to do 99 perfect repetitions, but failed to finish his tenth pull up. It was heart breaking. But none of the people who failed let that fact affect the mood in the room. PCC is more about the experience than the certificate. (Plus, they still have 90 days to submit a passing video.) It was now time to celebrate, ask questions, practice the movement we learnt, and of course pose for some crazy pictures!
At the end, I hug both brothers and I thank them for all the articles they’ve written and published, and how much they’ve helped me on my calisthenics and personal trainer journey. I can honestly say that they are the same awesome people in reality, as they are in media, and that it is so refreshing to experience such integrity, because it is so rare these days.
But did we arrive as strangers and leave as family? Yes, I truly believe that we did. But this doesn’t mean that we will all necessarily stay in touch or write every day. Quite the opposite: I may never see most of the people that I met that weekend again. But, the truth is that we were already a family; we just didn’t know it yet.
Everyone who is a longtime teacher and/or student of calisthenics has the same passionate soul, that steam engine that drives us to go on. It’s created by the never-ending hunger to break our own limits and help others do the same. This everlasting desire to improve ourselves, inspire others and let others inspire us is what united us all along. This is who we are and what connects us all.
Vít Stefanovič (born 1991) is a passionate teacher and student of calisthenics. As a personal trainer, he loves to inspire and help others on their own calisthenics journey. He shares his insights on calisthenics on Czech website www.cvicenisvlastnivahou.cz, his Facebook page facebook.com/vita.osobni.trener and on Instagram instagram.com/vitatrener/.