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Dragon Door Interviews PCC Instructor Matt Schifferle

PCC Instructor Matt Schifferle demonstrates how calisthenics can be practiced anywhere
Dragon Door: How did you get started in fitness?

Matt Schifferle: I’ve always been involved in many activities like hiking, biking and skiing while growing up in Vermont. I got into martial arts when I was 10 and was always active. But in junior high I started to realize that I had the potential to get in better shape if I worked out just a little bit more. Basically I tried it for a few weeks, liked the results and I’ve been exploring fitness ever since.

Dragon Door: Are you still practicing martial arts?

Matt Schifferle: Yes, I am. It was tough to leave my Tae-Kwon-Do school of 25 years back in Vermont, but I still continue to train on my own out here in Colorado.

Dragon Door: How did you find out about the Progressive Calisthenics Certification Workshop (PCC)?

Matt Schifferle: Like many people, I first found Convict Conditioning. An internet advertisement for the book appeared at the perfect time—I was looking for something new and different to do. I was getting pretty burned out on the iron game. I read the book through once, and have been working on Progressive Calisthenics ever since!

Dragon Door: What were some of the biggest changes that you experienced after switching your training towards calisthenics?

Matt Schifferle: I was hoping that working on calisthenics would help to heal some of my injuries. I had a number of aches, pains and injuries from years of lifting weights. Not only did it help with those aches and injuries, but I also gained a lot more strength and muscle mass. Everything improved within a couple of months. One of the biggest changes I had made was to shift my focus towards technical proficiency in my training.

Dragon Door: Which one of the Convict Conditioning "Big Six" is your favorite?

Matt Schifferle: It used to be pull-ups. And while I'll always be a big pull-up fan, lately I’ve really been diving into the push-up progressions. The medicine ball push-ups are deceptively difficult when the technique is dialed in. I thought I had them for awhile, then I changed a couple of things with my stance and realized I really didn’t!

Dragon Door: Your website focuses on the ideas of freedom and independence, what inspired that direction?

Matt Schifferle: I’ve always looked for flexible interests that can fit into many lifestyles. I’ve always wanted to feel secure in knowing that I can continue to practice and advance in training no matter what is happening in my life—no matter where I live. For the first 10 years I was involved in fitness, it was very constricted, I had to have a gym membership and access to certain equipment. I had to follow a particular diet plan day after day if I wanted to stay in shape. I got really burned out and started to question if it was even necessary. Over the years I’ve discovered that no, it’s not necessary!

Dragon Door: What were your injuries?

Matt Schifferle: I had problems with my right foot, both knees, my left hip, and lower back. I also had issues with my thoracic spine, right shoulder, left elbow, and to a certain extent my right wrist.

Then I started practicing Progressive Calisthenics and all of it went away. Some of the issues I had been dealing with since I was a teenager. In the past, I had been very bull headed with my training. For example if my shoulder was hurting, I would still workout as if it wasn't. Of course this made my shoulder worse, but I used to be stubborn in that way. One of the biggest changes was with my knee issues. I had had knee pain for well over 20 years and now it’s gone. I thought I’d have it for my whole life.

Dragon Door: Which exercises or progressions have helped you the most so far?

Matt Schifferle: It goes without saying that the bridge is one of the best therapeutic exercises out there. I think it strengthens what’s weak, loosens what’s tight, and reins in what’s uncoordinated—it does so many things. The bridge transformed my back—how I feel, move, and everything. Some people think it’s over-hyped in Convict Conditioning, but if anything, I think it’s under-hyped. Bridges are really, really important. I also think that the one leg squat progressions are huge.

It’s about keeping all the systems of the body and mind in line, making sure everything is working in balance. Weakness can’t hide when you’re working on Progressive Calisthenics. I can get on a weight machine or ride my bike for 100 miles, and that would only require a fairly narrow range of physical capabilities. And while if I could do those things well and convince myself that I'm fit and healthy, there would be other areas where weakness could hide—weaknesses in joints, instability and flexibility issues, or coordination and motor control issues.

With Progressive Calisthenics, these issues can't hide, you have to work on all of it or it just won't happen. I think this is why some people feel nervous about bodyweight exercise, it exposes weaknesses. Some people won't like that, but it's best to face these weaknesses head on.

Dragon Door: What type of clients do you typically train?

Matt Schifferle: I train a variety of people, but I also train a lot of women. Usually my clients are in their 30s and 40s, but I also train senior citizens who are looking to continue making gains in their fitness. My senior clients feel like they have gone as far as they can with really hard workouts, so they want to know what else they can do to continue progressing. Bodyweight training is the perfect solution for them because it’s all about working at a higher level of technical proficiency, not just grinding out as much workload as possible.

Dragon Door: How do you introduce the concept of bodyweight exercise to your clients?

Matt Schifferle: Some people are like me when I first came across Convict Conditioning—in the back of their heads they imagine that it would be cool if bodyweight training could actually be really effective, but there's also a lot of doubt. Many times, all I have to do is give them a couple of examples or share my excitement on how effective it can be, and they become as enthusiastic and hopeful about the process as I am now. They usually run with it and love it.

Dragon Door: Did you achieve a personal best or a first at the PCC?

Matt Schifferle: Yes, I did my first muscle-up at the PCC. I remember many people also got their first muscle-up as well. I also did my first ever shrimp squat, elbow lever, skin the cat, and for the first time I was able to kick up into a decent, or half way decent, handstand. The PCC was also the first time I really seriously experimented with the one-arm push-up progressions. The PCC exploded everything for me. Since the workshop which was about a month ago, [Ed: at the time of this interview] I’ve put on about four pounds of muscle just using some of what I learned.

Matt Schifferle Bar Calisthenics muscle up or bar dip demonstration

Dragon Door: Wow. You were in great condition when you arrived for the workshop, what do you feel like made the difference?

Matt Schifferle: Again, a lot of it was due to the technical knowledge of little details. Learning to use a different type of grip with the muscle-up, where and when to move the shoulders or hips, and in which direction. The little things that usually tend to get glossed over are really the key to getting what you want. First, developing first awareness of what needs to be done and the high level of instruction at the PCC made all the difference in the world.

Overall, something that really resonated with me—and with the fitness independence and fitness freedom mindset—was the idea of so many different ways to progress with calisthenics. There's so much flexibility and freedom in how we can turn Progressive Calisthenics into an art form and a mode of scientific training. It was liberating to learn new ways to move and more ways to train. Instead of just one way to progress with push-ups for example, we learned so many options, and how to use them. It was really liberating.

Dragon Door: Did this change your approach with your clients?

Matt Schifferle: Yes, the biggest change I’ve made with my clientele is moving away from the idea of a technique being "right" or "wrong." With bodyweight training I tell my clients there’s many ways to approach or progress a technique. Now, when I make a correction, I don’t call it a correction, I call it an upgrade. We upgrade their push-ups when they’re strong enough—and they love it, they take right to it. They're ready for the next level.

Dragon Door: What are your next goals?

Matt Schifferle: I’ve been exploring the realm of applying Progressive Calisthenics towards bodybuilding. I've wanted to find out how much muscle I can pack on with this approach. I’ve gotten a lot bigger so far, and am discovering that bodyweight training has huge muscle building advantages. I am planning to explore this in detail and share the results on my website.

PCC Instructor Matt Schifferle demonstrates a pistol aka one leg squat

I am also working towards finding better ways to share the ideas of bodyweight training with others. I want more people to know that the benefits and potential for big results with Progressive Calisthenics is so deeper than what most people believe. I’m writing a book on the fitness independence lifestyle which I hope to get published in the next few months as well.

MattSchifferleBarCalisthenicsMatt Schifferle, PCC Instructor can be reached at his website, via email: or Twitter: @thefitrebel.