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An Interview with RKC and PCC Instructor, Chris Garay

Dragon Door: Curious to hear how you transitioned from an academic and musical background to a career in fitness.

Chris Garay: In 2009 I graduated from the University of Virginia. I’d been very involved with the drum and bugle corps and drumline activities, but I knew that I wouldn’t be doing that much longer after graduation. I wanted to find something that would keep me active and outside.

My older sister had just completed her first triathlon, so I decided to do a triathlon. I trained and did a few sprint triathlons, and in the midst of it all, my older sister pointed me in the direction of CrossFit. I ended up working out at CrossFit Charlottesville, eventually became CrossFit certified, and started training people. Later I managed the gym for about a year.

During the journey, I’ve tried to learn as much as possible from as many different sources. I did the RKC in May of 2013, and have attended different events with the Poliquin group. Most recently, I went to the PCC workshop in Minneapolis. Now I’m doing a lot more personal training, working in a parkour gym and a yoga studio.

Dragon Door: What attracted you to the PCC Workshop?

Chris Garay: I've been following Al and Danny Kavadlo online for a little bit. I knew that they were both performing musicians as well, which really made me want to work with them.

Plus the background with Convict Conditioning is so storied, and I've had the chance to work with both Jim Bathurst and Max Shank—who are both in the Convict Conditioning book. I knew a little about the philosophy of the PCC and how the progressions can really benefit everyone (especially the progressions to the movements, not just the hardest steps). My clients and the people who I work with are really going to benefit from me learning more of those middle steps.

Over the summer I'll be teaching drum and bugle corps. This will be very different because I’ll have 150 students. In the morning we’ll have an hour to work on strength and conditioning, then throughout the day I’ll teach the music aspect as well.
Chris Garay with Drum and Bugle Corps

Dragon Door: Will you be using some of the PCC principles with your drum and bugle corps students?

Chris Garay: Absolutely. That was one of my reasons for attending the PCC. When I travel with these groups, they aren’t able to take fitness equipment with them. In the past, I’ve used a lot of bodyweight exercises, but the PCC really opened the doors for many more progressions to help the students. Before the PCC, I didn’t know how to teach the bridge progressions step-by-step—same with a lot of the lower body exercises.

I think many people mistakenly think the PCC is mostly about upper body exercises. I learned a lot about squats, split squats, and other things too.

Dragon Door: What exercises do you think will be most valuable for drum and bugle corps?

Chris Garay: I think strength endurance is the name of the game for drum and bugle corps. Their performances last about 10-12 minutes, but they rehearse for 4-10 hours each day, every day for three months. It’s very labor intensive! So, it’s fantastic if they can knock out 10-20 really clean, strict push-ups. If they can really dial in their squat form, and work on sets of 20-30 clean, crisp, and low squats, it will help keep their knees, hips, and ankles stay healthy and strong. We’ll also work on their cores as well with plenty of the dragon flag progressions. Even just the basic hollow body hold will be beneficial.

Dragon Door: What was your biggest take away from the PCC?

Chris Garay: While I'd been exposed to the basic exercises in some fashion before, I think the biggest thing was the inclusive attitude at the workshop, the positive enthusiasm, and the non-dogmatic approach. I have been to plenty of fitness workshops and certifications, and it's very rare when the instructors can admit that their way is not the only way. I like how the PCC material can be combined with other modalities.

Dragon Door: What’s your favorite calisthenics move?

Chris Garay: The handstand. Towards the end of last year, I was practicing hand balancing for about an hour a day and really trying to go after certain goals. I have since backed off, and am probably better off for it, but I still have a romantic love affair with the handstand!

At the time, I was working towards a 1-minute freestanding handstand, and came very close—my best was 55 seconds. Then I started working on some progressions towards the one arm handstand.

Dragon Door: Which PCC move do you find most challenging?

Chris Garay: Definitely the back bridge. In my lifetime, I have had many more reps in movements that have made my shoulders tight. So, having the mobility to perform full bridges and walkovers is a real challenge. While I can kind of fudge my way though some movements, I have to prioritize shoulder mobility to progress with the bridge.

Dragon Door: How are you training right now?

Chris Garay: I'm actually in Providence, Rhode Island for a few days to take an Olympic lifting workshop from the Poliquin Group. I am definitely looking forward to integrating Olympic lifting, calisthenics, and gymnastics in my own training—which I have been doing—but now I’m learning how I can make those modalities work for my clients and athletes.

I have a goal for my clients—who tend to be general fitness clients looking to lose weight and feel better—I want to get them excited about learning new skills. That will make their sessions more exciting for them overall, and they’ll hopefully want to train more often—even on their own outside of the gym.

If I can get them excited about doing their first pull-up, then I can figure out meaningful ways to make the training more important to people in a genuine, fun, and interesting way.
Chris Garay Training Client Assisted Handstand Push Ups

Dragon Door: Who do you usually train for general fitness?

Chris Garay: I’ve trained a variety of clients—when I was at CrossFit Charlottesville I trained mostly professionals, young adults, graduate students, and former athletes. More recently, I've started training older clients in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. One of my clients, a 62 year old woman, deadlifted 100 lbs for a few reps the other day and was ecstatic!

My older clients tend to be business executives with less of a recent athletic background, but who are looking to stay healthy, gain some muscle mass, and lose body fat.

Previously, I lived in Charlottesville and recently moved to Northern Virginia. Now there are more people and many more opportunities, so I am looking to expand my personal training. Right now I coach at a great gym called Fitness on the Run in Alexandria, and that's been going really well. Down the road, if all the stars align, I'd like to open my own facility one day. It would be oriented towards Olympic lifting, gymnastics, and calisthenics.

In the short term, I’m trying to combine my own love for multiple modalities—parkour, jiu jitsu, bouldering, etc.—in such a way that I can get other people excited about them as well.

Dragon Door: What's your favorite calisthenics move to coach?

Chris Garay: I have seen a lot of success with the basics. Teaching adult women to do proper push-ups, rows, or pull-ups can be very empowering for them—especially if they’ve never been able to do them very well before. Taking someone from zero to one is huge!

I think it’s a lot of fun to coach basic handstands and inversions, like the crow, frog, and some of the headstand variations we learned at the PCC. But I really love teaching the basics, getting someone to really nail a move and helping them to get stronger because of it.
The other part of my background—other than music and fitness—is academics. The two biggest misconceptions people have about me is that they think I was a gymnast (which I take as a complement) and they also think that my college major was exercise science. But, I actually majored in philosophy and religious studies! I’m not sure if I’m really using that degree directly, but it does serve as a sort of BS detector! It helps me sift through the good and bad when it comes to training information.

I also think it helps me to relate to people. Fitness might be the most important thing in my life, but that probably isn’t the case for my clients. So, having a bigger picture view helps me understand where they’re coming from and how to relate. The squats we’re doing today might not be at the forefront of my clients’ minds!

Dragon Door: You’re an RKC instructor, too—are you training clients with kettlebells as well?

Chris Garay:
Actually, the reason I got the job at Fitness on the Run was my RKC connection. Most of the personal trainers at the gym—there's about 10 on staff—have their RKC certifications. It’s been a lot of fun working there, and we have a full range of the Dragon Door kettlebells. Most of the clients who train at the gym have a very solid foundation in the swing, goblet squat, get-up, and more.

The RKC-II certification is definitely one of my goals.

Dragon Door: Are you still studying martial arts?

Chris Garay: When I was younger, I practiced a form of karate for a while and worked up to my brown belt rank. I was so young that I didn’t realize what it was really about. More recently I've gotten into Brazilian jiu jitsu and Muay Thai. I try to study them as often as my schedule allows.

I think some people might practice the martial arts for the fitness benefits, but for me, the martial arts are a chance to be a student again.

Dragon Door: On your bio you listed about 24 different workshops and seminars you’ve attended, what’s driving your quest for knowledge?
ChrisGarayPCC Lsit
Chris Garay: After my undergraduate degree, I considered going back to graduate school. But over time, and after working with more people in the gym, I decided to attend these various certifications, seminars, and workshops as my equivalent of a graduate degree. It’s also good for my business because of the networking at events, and the fact that I can apply the new information at the gym on a daily basis.

Every time I go to a seminar or workshop, I try to learn the best from it, as well as meet as many people there who are also attending. It's not everyday that I get to work side-by-side with motivated, like-minded people who have fitness as their main priority, so that's always fun!

ChrisGarayHeadshot thumbnailChris Garay trains clients at Fitness on the Run in Alexandria, VA. His website is, and he can be contacted by email at, Facebook, or Twitter He is currently accepting online training clients.