Review of the Progressive Calisthenics Certification (PCC)

I guess you could say I misjudged the situation.

A decade ago I tried to talk Danny Kavadlo out of becoming a personal trainer. He had just taken on a mortgage, a wife, and a newborn. He had health insurance and a steady paycheck. He didn’t listen. His brother, Al Kavadlo was already a successful personal trainer and was encouraging Danny to throw it all away and pursue a career in meatheadedness (real word).

It seemed only fitting that Beth and I spend the weekend learning from the Kavadlo Bros at the Dragon Door sponsored Progressive Calisthenics Certification in Alexandria, VA.

Al & Danny Kavadlo

Since that fateful day when they decided not to listen to my terrible advice they have become the lead instructors for the foremost calisthenics certification, have each penned multiple books, and helped thousands of people improve their lives.

Eating my words has never felt so good

Eating my words has never felt so good


I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there is no other certification or course where you can have this much fun. We do a lot of education each year. Nothing has ever been like this. If you are looking to broaden your skillset as a trainer or strength coach, have a passion for calisthenics, or just want to have an awesome time I’m not sure you can do better than the PCC.

Day 1:

8 AM: We arrive at Urban Evolution, a parkour oriented gym in Alexandria with burnt hotel coffee helping us shake off the cobwebs from the night before (we have friends in DC and may have stayed up past our bedtime). Al and Danny are already in the parking lot, holding court amidst a group of eager pupils and fans.

The gym is unlocked 5 minutes late, as is gym tradition. We file in, register, and pick up our 600 page manuals. Did you want to know something about using calisthenics as a training methodology? It’s in these pages. Comprehensive is an understatement. I feel like I’ve already gotten my money’s worth. John Du Cane, Dragon Door founder and all around good guy is personally greeting everyone and passing out these weighty tomes. You immediately get the sense that this weekend is going to be awesome.

The Kavadlos strike a gong and we are introduced to the people with whom we’ll be learning this weekend. It’s a motley room ranging from 19 to 60 years old, composed of trainers, strength coaches, and military operators mixed with a physical therapist, doctor, engineer, chiropractor, student, martial artist, wrestling coach, mother of five, fence shop manager, public policy consultant, teacher who traveled all the way from Saudi Arabia, and even someone who had previously been in a coma and had to spend nine months relearning how to walk.

PCC Group Pic

Beth and I get to tell the story about how we knew the Kavadlos back in the day. I’m proud of those guys, and also feel like I might be getting really, really old.

AM Session:

It’s time to get to work.

We break up and hit the floor. Tension and alignment concepts are introduced and we perform our first bodyweight ab-dominant movements. This group is quite fit and we move rapidly through the progressions, learning from the instructors, our own bodies, and our fellow students.

Pushup progressions are next and a variety of feats are learned and attempted.

Incline 1-arm pushup

Movement limitations are exposed and explored. Someone nails their first one-arm pushup and the room explodes. There’s something special about those who are interested in the PCC — they’re just awesome people.

Pull-up progressions and concepts are introduced and we grab the bars. Everyone is impressed with Beth’s superhuman strength.

Beth Pull-up

Don’t mess with her. She will calisthenic you to death. This is starting to feel a whole lot like an intersection of work, play, and learning. Laughter and shouting are coming from the far side of the bars as one of the guys hits his first one-arm chin-up.

It wasn’t me.  I’m working on it.

It wasn’t me. I’m working on it.

It was this guy.  GET IT!

It was this guy. GET IT!

PM Session:

Human flag progressions! Human flag regressions might be a better word. These are an insane combination of skill, strength, stability, and proprioception. The regressions are awesome and it’s getting hard to keep us from playing with the movements. Al and Danny remind everyone not to burn themselves out and that there’s more to come over the three days. We don’t listen and keep hanging sideways off of scaffolding.

Seriously.  To death.

Seriously. To death.

Muscle-ups are next. I’ve never attempted a muscle-up and the mechanics seem daunting. After a little coaching and a bunch of comically bad attempts I pop over the bar for my first muscle-up. I feel awesome. Al demonstrates a no-momentum bar muscle-up. I attempt one and immediately feel way less awesome.

We find some quiet space and Al gives his seminar. It is as much about training philosophy and epistemology as it is about lever-arms and strength-to-weight ratios.

Day 2:

AM Session:

It’s time to attend to the lower-body. Squat variations are up first. There were more variations in here than I’d anticipated, and individual movement limitations radically changed the perceived difficulty of each variation. Joint limitations, stability and motor control dysfunctions, weight-shifting inefficiencies, and more were magnified and exposed by a variety of single-leg squats.

Not so bad

Not so bad

So bad

So bad

Bridging followed, as did some unusual bridge variations.

Bridge with Partner Resistance

Dragon flags and L-sits ended the AM session. This served as a segue into more gymnastics inspired movements.

Next time, more hip flexion, less Al-face

Next time, more hip flexion, less Al-face

Not pictured: Flashdance leg action

Not pictured: Flashdance leg action

PM Session:

Fatigue began to set in on the group, but that didn’t stop us from performing levers on the bars. From abdominal movements to front and back levers, we were back in the mode of playing, and the hands-on coaching from the instructors helped many of us achieve various levers for the first time.

Al Kavadlo Back Lever

I have no gymnastics background and found some of the muscular stresses fascinating. The back lever shocked me with its significant posterior chain involvement without external loading. I spoke with Al about it and he noted that he believes that back levers have carryover to deadlifts, but that the converse is not true. I’ll be experimenting with placing them in my training.

Danny gave his seminar and provided ample food for thought not just about how to devise appropriate calisthenics-only programs, but also about the role of the coach. He also told the story about how some imbecile tried to talk him out of pursuing a career in fitness.

Everybody Needs Training Cover

That night several of us got dinner with the PCC team. It was a great chance to relax and get to know everyone better. Martinis, meat, and mirth. But there was only one day left and we would all be taking the Century Test. We ended the night early and prepped for the final day.

Day 3:

Elbow levers, head and handstands dominated the work, and we all did our best to find our bodies in space from a new perspective. The last two days definitely indicated that I do not spend enough time upside-down.

Beth wide base headstand with split


After a review of the rules and judging criteria of the PCC Century we jumped in. Beth and I had the privilege of going first. We passed and the pressure was off. As we witnessed the attempts of the other candidates a PCC instructor who took the course last year stopped by to cheer on PCC hopefuls. What a great community.

The pass rate was quite high in our group, with only a few candidates failing to achieve the one hundred reps. Pass or fail, we all learned a great deal, forged new relationships and alliances, and went home better for the experience.



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