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An Interview with Marty G., Federal Law Enforcement Special Agent, PCC Instructor

Marty At PCC

Dragon Door: How do strength, flexibility, and mobility training factor into the challenges you have with your job as a federal agent?

Marty G: In the unit I was attached to four years before my current detail, we were wearing up to 45 pounds of kit and equipment for hours in seated, standing, and non-traditional positions—and our movements were not always linear. Unlike other tactical units which might wear their gear for a couple of hours during operations, we might need to wear ours for an extended period of time anywhere from 4 to 16 hours depending on the assignment, often times in a cramped vehicle. This can cause a lot of mobility problems at the joints, specifically the knees, hips, back, and neck. Many of my colleagues—myself included—were having serious issues, some of which required surgery. I have a double stress fracture in my L5, S1, as well as disc bulging in the thoracic area. These concerns were simply the result of wear and tear on the body.

Obviously, physical fitness is important—especially for my unit at the time, and also for my field in general. We try to stay in the best possible shape, and as such, attempt to find exercise programs, techniques etc. that don’t just focus on strength and linear movement, but also use multiple planes of motion, mobility, and many different aspects of physical fitness.

When I don’t have access to a barbell, rings, or kettlebells, I can use bodyweight exercises. I am able to address the mobility issues I have—which are mostly in the thoracic spine and hips—with the knowledge and direction from different strength coaches and programs. Working with coaches and professionals from different areas of expertise has helped me build programs I can use, and also pass on to my colleagues. We share a lot of information with each other when we find something that works to keep us healthy and in great shape.

Dragon Door: Sedentary time in any job can be a risk factor, but it seems to be especially challenging in a job like yours where you may need to be ready to take action…

Marty G: When many people sit down for an extended period of time, their lumbar rounds, their shoulders come forward, hips are in flexion, the hamstrings and glutes get tight, and so forth. During an operation when we’re wearing gear it can further compress the spine in different areas—especially if we need to be in awkward positions. In my experience that’s how most of our mobility problems have developed.

If you watch a group of us, you’ll see that we’re constantly stretching, using a "stick" or foam roller to loosen up tight areas while trying to stay mobile and agile since the work we do is reactionary. Going from 0 to 100mph under load can be a challenge if we are not loose. We also need to be centered and balanced. If we are not moving, it can catch up with us, so we make sure to get up and move around at least every half hour. The simple idea of being as active as possible while being "immobile" is very useful.

Dragon Door: When did you start training with Marty Gallagher?

Marty G: I first met Marty at a strength and conditioning seminar with Pavel Tsatsouline in Virginia in 2011. One of my colleagues read Purposeful Primitive and thought the seminar would be fantastic—and it was! We found out that Marty was located fairly close by and he offered to help us with our programming.

Marty is a no-bs guy, but he is also a very caring individual. If I tell him that my week of workouts was garbage and I sound frustrated, he'll try to find out what's going on in my life; he knows from experience the multitude of factors that can negatively affect performance. Marty knows so much about programming that if I have one bad week, it won’t ruin everything. He’ll change the exercise, and change up the numbers until we find the right combination that will give me results.

I have been fortunate to be able to pick his brain about exercise and program design for the past three years. He's been an enormous help. Marty is so knowledgeable that he can even dissect and solve problems over the phone when I can’t see him in person—not an easy task, as anyone in the S & C field knows. I Wish I could train with him more in person, but it is also great to have him available by phone or video as he does with other clients in my field. After seeing my performance improve over three years with phone and video coaching, we made just a few in-person adjustments at the PPS seminar and my results really took off.

Dragon Door: What were some of the most useful takeaways from the PPS seminar?

Marty G: Obviously just having Marty, Brad, and Kirk at the seminar was fantastic. What sets those guys apart is their knowledge of the movements, programming, and how to relate it all to our fields. As much as I may already know about movements and programming, I want to know how to keep making gains even with my lifestyle, job, and personal life. Additionally, I thought it was very interesting to learn how they approach their squat, bench, and deadlifts with their set up, visualization and preparation. Every movement is scripted—from their breathing, how they set up the bar, how they approach the bar, their grip, and their footsteps—almost like a dance. When they are ready to lift, they are at 100 percent focus. I have taken that approach to my lifts, and have found that using the same preparation routine for every set is a huge help—call me superstitious, but it works. If I do my routine, once I’m in the after a squat or bench you will most likely hear me say "yep" to myself, which means I know it will be a successful set.

Marty, Brad, and Kirk’s ability to make it all work is what really distinguishes them. For example, when I told Brad Gillingham my front squat had been stuck at the same max poundage for 3 years, he gave me a short 6-week Russian front squat program he felt would work for me given my work schedule and other commitments. And he was right. Although it took me 10 weeks to complete due to work travel, my max still increased by 10%. It was clear that the program worked because Brad and Marty helped me make adjustments so it fit my work and life situation.

Another example, Marty and Brad also moved me back to a traditional deadlift stance because of my back issues, to use more leg drive at the bottom pull (instead of using a sumo stance which was causing my butt to rise, putting more strain on my lumbar spine). Since that change, I have had zero problems in the lumbar area or issues getting the weight off of the ground. I think the hardest part of programming is personalizing it for the individual versus the group, and that’s what separates the great coaches from the others.

Since attending the PPS seminar, I have made some very big gains with my barbell back squat, deadlift and bench press as a result of some small changes in technique and volume learned from Marty, Brad and Kirk. At the seminar, Marty made it easy for us to understand programming. He also only needed to see 1-2 reps of a movement before he knew what we needed to change. He takes into consideration your lifestyle, job, any injuries you may have, your body type, and anything you’re struggling with, and then sculpts your technique and your program to make tremendous gains. If you can go to one of his seminars, prepare to have your mind blown.

Marty, Kirk, Brad and all the participants have kept in touch after the seminar—a priceless resource I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t attended. It's one thing to read about it, but to actually listen and watch these technique masters—then having them watch you lift is tremendous. My max in all three lifts—bench, back squat, deadlift—has drastically improved over the last 18 months because of the seminar, even though I don’t always have much time to train. Many people might think that if they can't train with a coach several times a week, then they won't make gains. But these seminars—the PCC and the PPS—have shown that if you have the knowledge and solid technique then you can still make tremendous gains on your own, or by keeping in contact with a coach like Marty. Some of my best gains with Marty and his programming only involved training two days a week with each workout taking only 30 minutes. You might not think the minimalist approach will work with the big lifts, but it does so long as you focus on perfect form for quality reps. You can gain so much knowledge from these seminars along with dramatic results.

At the PPS course with Marty, Brad, and Kirk, you're training with three masters. I don’t think you can find three more knowledgeable people in the world to learn from—I am still reaping the benefits from that two day seminar.

Dragon Door: What are some examples of the adjustments in your programming?

Marty G: The biggest example would be how to properly train around travel and long work hours-which can completely interrupt a program. I was traveling a lot while I was working with Marty, but still made very good gains. I would do certain workouts once a week and by the third week I was making great 20lb jumps. But then I would need to go on a foreign trip or other work assignment for an extended period of time that would disrupt the training. Sometimes I would be without a barbell for two weeks. So, Marty and I would discuss what I could do instead during the interim if equipment wasn’t available. Often, I had been training heavily with barbells, then would need to go somewhere with no equipment or just a basic hotel gym. When that was the case, Marty would help me work with bodyweight exercises or using light weights and slowing down the movements to create a "grind". Both of these techniques which require a tremendous amount of tension, but in different ways.

Heavy barbell exercises require a lot of tension, so if I couldn't train with a barbell while traveling for two weeks, I had to find ways to challenge my CNS and keep the physiological memory of that tension. Pistol squats, slow handstand pushups, frog stands, and dragon flags can give me a tremendous and complete workout. And since the principles of tension are the same, when I came back to the barbell, my body still remembered to tighten at the right times. As Marty says, what the best powerlifters do better than anyone is create tension before a lift. And tension equals strength.

Dragon Door: How did you first become interested in the PCC?

Marty G: At the Purposefully Primitive Strength Training seminar, Marty mentioned the PCC. I spoke to John Du Cane about it and he said that I should definitely come and bring some of my work colleagues. John has always been very gracious with opportunities for training at his seminars and told me about the upcoming Progressive Calisthenics Certification workshop in Alexandria, VA. It sounded fantastic especially since the PCC was all about bodyweight. Even though I also work with kettlebells and barbells, I’ve taken other bodyweight courses before that piqued my interest, so I wanted to do the PCC too.

Dragon Door: What were some of the most valuable moves for you at the PCC?

Marty G: There were so many, it’s hard to pick just a few. The moves that focused on mobility, shoulder strength, and thoracic/trunk tension—problem areas I have—such as skin the cat, back lever, bridge, handstand push-ups, human flag progressions were a big help. I had previously struggled with muscle-ups, handstand push-ups and other moves that require a lot of agility, explosiveness, and tension. At the PCC, the attendees and I found success when the instructors broke those complex moves down into numerous steps, each building on the next for a complete progression. If I couldn't get into a handstand for handstand push-ups for example, then I would work on frog stands instead. I learned the most from the ideas surrounding the progressions. I realized that just because you can’t do the final move which is step 10, being able to do step 5 is still a success—and a workout in its own right. The PCC manual is full of progressions for every exercise taught and is over 2" thick! At first I wondered if I would use all of it, but yes I actually am!
Marty Muscle-Up at PCC

There were so many moves I couldn't do before that I was crushing at the workshop. The focused repetition, the knowledge from the other attendees, plus the instructions from the Kavadlo brothers and Beth Andrews made it happen. I think many people are intimidated by certain moves and think that they'll never be able to do them—especially when it’s not obvious how long it took someone to master the move. But, if the progressions are used step-by-step as seen in Convict Conditioning and at the PCC, eventually the move will happen. Danny and Al were the first to be humble and say that the moves they were teaching and demonstrating took years to master, and to not beat yourself up if you can’t do something on the first try. Instead, learn the technique, learn how your body reacts and what adjustments you need to make, and take your time.

It’s important to be patient, not compare ourselves to others, and realize that sometimes life gets in the way. I still can't do a human flag just yet, but now I know the progressions to use. These steps are very difficult, but will still give me the results I want for trunk, oblique, leg strength and everything else. If I can create a tremendous amount of tension with bodyweight exercises—the human flag and levers require 100% total body tension—then my strength with barbell training goes up as much as 10-20 percent!

Every time I asked Al a question, it was almost like asking Confucius—he’d start his reply with, "I can't give you a universal answer because how the move treats you might be different than anyone else, but..." The philosophical answers were fun because there are no set answers, it’s trial and error! Al teaches that there’s not just one way, and that everyone will find their own path. If someone has tremendous upper body strength then they might find some moves easier, but they also might struggle to do a bridge.

For example, one of my fellow participants at the PCC struggled to do a muscle-up, but she could hold a perfect bridge for five minutes! Because of my shoulder and thoracic mobility issues, I can't even get into a full bridge yet, let alone hold it for 10 seconds. She could even hold a bridge with Danny Kavadlo standing on her and she only weighs 120lb! It really proves that we shouldn't compare ourselves to others, because we all have different strengths and weakness. But no matter who we are, we have all the progressions to assist us.

Because of the increased mobility I’ve been able to gain from the information, the PCC has been the most valuable seminar I’ve been to for my job. My body feels so much better after doing many of the movements and exercises taught at the PCC. There are always reasons for agents in my field, especially those in the tactical units, to do movements like the bridge and skin the cat. While sitting in a truck with your gear on, your hips are really tight and under tension, your kit is forcing your shoulders forward—and you can't release the tension well. Doing bridges helps to release the tension in the hips as well as open up the thoracic spine; it’s basically the opposite of sitting in a chair. Hanging in the skin the cat has done wonders for opening up my shoulders, my grip strength, and trunk work. Over time, moves such as these have loosened up my shoulders, hips, and are helping my thoracic spine become a lot more flexible.

Dragon Door: What are your current training goals?

Marty G: A number of different things. For calisthenics: full bridge holds for 30-60 seconds—a big challenge because of my mobility issues with my shoulders, hips and back; a strict human flag; successive strict muscle-ups without momentum, and a 25 yard handstand walk. As it relates to barbell work, I am still working towards a 2.5x bodyweight deadlift and low bar back squat, 1.5x power and squat clean, and a 1.75x bench press and front squat. And for kettlebells it will be the Beast Tamer challenge. Some goals are closer than others, but I believe they all can be reached.

Dragon Door: What is your athletic background?

Marty G: I played general sports growing up and was fortunate enough to play baseball in college. I discovered Brazilian jiu jitsu during law school and have been practicing for close to 15 years. It was in college that I met and had phenomenal strength coaches who taught me an appreciation of physical fitness. When I first met Marty at that seminar in 2011, I also bumped into my old college strength coach, Mike, who I hadn't seen in 12 years. It was funny to see how they all run in the same circles.

Mike is a phenomenal human performance specialist who really taught me the importance physical fitness as part of my lifestyle—in college and afterwards. In law school a few years later, I appreciated it even more when hang cleans and other Olympic lifts became harder on my joints than before and I began to experiment with different programs. But, this same appreciation of physical fitness led me to my current field. I am constantly trying to improve my fitness because I have to stay active and healthy for my job that I love doing. Without understanding the importance of physical fitness, I would not be where I am today.

Brazilian jiu jitsu has a good correlation to Progressive Calisthenics and kettlebells because it involves moving the body using tension and leverage. My BJJ has improved since going to the PCC just from the extra kinesthetic awareness, for lack of a better term. The awareness you need on the mat is similar to what’s needed for movements like handstand pushups, levers, and getting into what might look like contorted positions under control. Grappling on the ground is very similar.

Dragon Door: What advice do you have for someone who is considering the PCC or PPS?

Marty G: The advice I'd give is to be humble, because you WILL be humbled! There were many movements I really struggled with, but I had a great time and progressed because the instructors were top notch. And I’ve stayed in touch with them after the workshop—Al, Danny, John, and Marty—because this is what they love to do and they are a great resource to use for Q and A on nearly anything in the fitness arena.

I was the only person in my field at the PCC, almost everybody else was a personal trainer or physical fitness specialist working with clients every day. So I nearly wore them out with questions about certain movements, how they teach them, their methodology of programming, etc. It would have been silly to not to ask them about a field many have made their careers. Being humble, having an open mind, enjoying the instruction and then staying in contact with the other participants from the workshop was the best part for me. The PCC is absolutely fantastic.

In my experience, there are only a few strategies you can use to improve a barbell squat, but if you're trying to get a back lever, for example, the PCC manual has a 20-step progression to build yourself up towards it—much like Convict Conditioning. I’ve followed the Convict Conditioning books and they are incredible. If you humbly and patiently follow the steps, you'll eventually get there.
Marty Support Press Progression towards the Human Flag at the PCC
Dragon Door: It also takes time to build up a habit of building extreme tension.

Marty G: That’s so true. As Pavel says, "strength is a skill" and as such it takes practice to build tension. And it’s important with all the PCC movements because if there are "leakages" anywhere, then the movement will fail. If I try to do a clutch flag and focus only on my upper body grip and tension, don’t flex my quads, glutes and point my toes, then the clutch flag will fail. I’ve been to two bodyweight seminars, and have always been very sore afterwards just from building all the tension. The experts are able to create the most tension, even though they might not be the biggest or look the strongest. The same thing goes for kettlebells, when I create tension for the military press, and bring the kneecaps into the quads, there’s always a direct correlation to improved performance in the upper body portion of the movement.

That's the great thing about all the programs and seminars Dragon Door offers—they all relate to each other. Bodyweight training carries over to barbell and kettlebell lifting. Personally, I feel I get the most direct benefits the more I can master the PCC movements. I think it is because of creating tension, flexibility, mobility, and body control—as opposed to controlling something external.

When I was in Asia this past fall, the gyms were often insufficient or I didn't want to deal with crowds. So, I was able to work out in my hotel room. It was wide open with a desk I could use for Australian pull ups, I could do handstand push-ups on the wall, and pistol squats on the floor. There was even a long couch perfect for dragon flags.

That’s what Convict Conditioning and the PCC are all about. It was probably the best workout during that entire trip, and I didn’t have to go anywhere to use a barbell or get on a treadmill, I just used bodyweight exercises and shortened the rest periods to push the pace a bit. That was another thing we learned at the PCC from Danny and Al—you don’t need a lot for bodyweight workouts. If you are in a park or a hotel room, you can make it work.

When I was attached to my prior unit, we were able to travel with kettlebells, rings and so forth because of our transportation logistics. But now, I often only have a hotel room. While there’s only so many ways I can do a barbell back squat, or a kettlebell front squat, there seem to be unlimited ways to do a pistol squat, bodyweight squat, a pull-up, and more. The PCC teaches so many exercises and progressions that I can now just take a look around anywhere I am and find a way to make a good workout.

Another thing I like about calisthenics is that it automatically includes an element of mobility training—which I need. When moving your own bodyweight, you have no excuses. With a barbell, I can still get the barbell up on a bench press even if my left arm is weaker than my right arm. But if I’m doing handstand pushups, and my left shoulder is not feeling good, then I’ll have a very difficult time. I was impressed by all the important aspects of bodyweight training covered at the PCC—mechanics, hand positions, and the intricacies of the movements we were doing. Kettlebells and barbells work within basic planes of motion, which need less control—but if you can’t control your own body through all the planes of motion, then how will you control anything else?

Even though I didn't have the hip or thoracic mobility to do the crow stand—I could barely do a frog stand—it was helpful to get the information and to see others holding the position. When getting into the bridge, my shoulders were quivering! I felt so weak, even though I just needed to get stronger and more mobile in some pin-point areas. I think troubleshooting, and learning how to troubleshoot is the best part of any course.

Dragon Door: What do you want to learn more about next?

Marty G: Definitely programming and the science behind it related to different energy systems and a broad client range. I am always so impressed by coaches who can take anyone from any walk of life and improve their fitness through specific programing—from the members of our special operations forces, to those in federal law enforcement, to the day in and day out parents who simply want to improve their lifestyle.

So far I have only been working with members/candidates of my former unit, and those goals are pretty narrow—help the guys get through the selection and basic schools, prepare for the 10 minute snatch test, and afterwards helping them to do their job with a minimized risk of injury while they are operational. I have been happy to see that my kettlebell programming has been successful so far with a basic 6 week diet of swings, goblet squats and TGUs in varying load and intensity. The agents in the unit and who go through selections are already pretty strong, flexible, mobile, and have good cardiovascular endurance, but many of the guys have never used kettlebells before. Is great to see them progressing with the hip hinge, getting power with the swing, learning the tension needed to do the get-up for shoulder strength and stability, and practice perfect form in the goblet squat for mobility. We focus on those three exercises which give a ton of bang for the buck. We don’t need a lot of time to complete a workout; it’s all about efficiency in both time and movement.

It has been very gratifying to take the knowledge and lessons of technique and programming I have learned from the seminars/certifications I have attended and see these guys do an average of 160-180 perfect reps with a 24kg kettlebell during the 10 minute snatch test. Many times they’ve no previous kettlebell experience and I only had 10-12 sessions to work with them before they took the test. My best number in the test while in selection was 280 reps, but by following my programs I was still able to put up 267 reps and keep my HR at around 160 BPM after not doing the test for nearly two years. For me those two examples have proven the effectiveness of simple programming with a focusing on technique and small movements.

The Dragon Door instructors effectively communicated that developing these skills take time. In Convict Conditioning, Paul Wade says that we should be patient, sometimes getting to a certain stage may take a year! In my field there are a lot of type-A personalities, we want and expect results fast no matter the circumstance or how we are feeling.

There have been many times that I was overseas for 2 weeks on a work trip, and my sleep schedule was terrible, my diet wasn’t good, I had missed workouts, and I’ve got jet lag—yet I am so hard-headed that I still feel the need to ask Marty why I couldn’t make the reps or load of a particular lift. And in typical Marty Gallagher fashion, he responded with, "Did you just listen to yourself…you answered your own question." Then he laughed. He is a little bit of a tough love guy in that regard, but he keeps me honest with myself and reminds me to be patient and listen to my body. One is hard pressed to find someone so knowledgeable and generous with his time for me and the other guys in my unit who’ve worked with him.

John Du Cane has also been fantastic. I don't know of any other company who’s offered to pass out so much knowledge to me and my colleagues. Dragon Door and John have always been very gracious to us. And attending these two recent seminars has been eye opening. If I hadn't gone to those two seminars, I wouldn't be where I am with my training now. The Dragon Door instructors are doing a fantastic job.

Dragon Door: And for people who aren’t in your field, it’s very inspiring to know that these training methods are relevant and effective enough that people like you are using them.

Marty G: I think it just goes to show that successful methods and principles are often not the most complicated ones, but rather those that can be applied broadly and used by anyone to be successful. Many people think that they'll never be athletic because they don't have hours to train, access to a gym, or because of their job or family responsibilities make consistent training difficult. I think it’s great that all of the Dragon Door instructors come from different walks of life—some aren’t even full time trainers. Some are small business owners like Beth Andrews who owns a gym but also has a family. The instructors set a great example because while they might have their own businesses, family responsibilities, and maybe only train part time, they can still get great results with a basic diet of barbells, calisthenics and kettlebells. They’ve been able to make the time to learn and train with these methods, and their examples are very motivating to their clients and fellow fitness enthusiasts. They teach that our training should prepare us to be the best versions of ourselves.

If I could, I would practice jiu-jitsu, kettlebells, barbells and calisthenics all day—and I’m sure my results would be fantastic, but I don't have that luxury. However, given the time that I have, and the resource of talking with other people who train this way, or who might have my body type—I can get fitness advice that I can learn from and relate to. I think it's great how diverse the Dragon Door instructors are—and while we might all be different our fitness goals are very similar.

Marty G has been a Federal Law Enforcement Special Agent for 10 years, a PCC Instructor, and an avid Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner for nearly 15 years.