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From out-of-shape social worker to studly trainer, Stephen Llewellyn interview

Stephen Llewellyn Coaching L-Sit

Dragon Door: How did you get interested in athletics and personal training as a career?

Stephen Llewellyn: I was about 27-28, and luckily I had not put on any weight. I think my genes helped me, but I still knew I was quite unfit. One day I started playing squash again—my dad used to coach me in squash when I was a kid. He wasn’t a professional player but he played at a fairly high level. When I became aware of being so unfit, I made the decision to hit the gym to get back a respectable level of fitness. At the same time, I discovered how working out made me feel alive and feel good. Everything transpired from there, and I’ve never looked back!

Dragon Door: When did you start your career as a personal trainer?

Stephen Llewellyn: I've been a personal trainer for about two years now. I used to be a social worker, so I have always been interested in helping people and problem solving. Personal training seemed like a different kind of problem solving and involved an activity that I really enjoyed. The idea of helping people with something I have a real passion for seemed like a no-brainer to be honest. I knew that personal training is a difficult, competitive industry, but I wasn't getting any younger so I decided to give it a go.

Dragon Door: What inspired you to go to the PCC workshop?

Stephen Llewellyn: About four years ago, I got into calisthenics and bodyweight exercise. Like many other people, I’d somehow discovered Convict Conditioning which was a real game-changing eye-opener. And to be honest, I never really enjoyed lifting barbells that much. I didn’t dislike lifting weights, but as soon as I saw Convict Conditioning and what I could achieve without lifting weights, it blew my mind! Soon after, I saw people like yourself and obviously Al and Danny online. I also wanted to replicate some of the things I saw going on in the Street Workout scene which looked so cool. Seeing how well-built these guys were blew away the old myth that I had to lift weights. Obviously, when I saw that there was a bodyweight certification and the chance to meet some of the Dragon Door guys and Al and Danny, I knew I had to do it.

Dragon Door: What’s your favorite move from Convict Conditioning or the PCC?

Stephen Llewellyn: It's like opening a bag of sweeties. At the PCC, I absolutely loved having a go at the flags. Before the PCC, I could do a clutch flag, but I had never really done any variation of the straight arm flags, and I managed to get a chamber hold. Danny helped me the first time, but the next time I just kind of jumped into it and really shocked myself! I think the flags are just incredible. I struggle with static holds like the flags and levers—those things are kind of my nemesis.

It’s hard to pick favorites because it is all such awesome stuff. The icing on the cake for me was doing a bridge while supporting Danny's weight. I never thought I'd be able to bridge with an 80kg man standing on me!
Stephen Llewellyn Bridging and supporting Danny

Dragon Door: When did you run the London Marathon?

Stephen Llewellyn: In 2010. I was really into running, especially the serotonin/dopamine "buzz" I used to get from it. The marathon was something I wanted to tick off my bucket list. And to be honest, I have done very little running since then. Training for it kind of ruined my knees, but those pistol squats sorted me right out!

Dragon Door: Did you also start with pistols because of Convict Conditioning?

Stephen Llewellyn: Yes, I saw them the book, then I watched Al and Danny doing them on YouTube along with some of the other Street Workout guys. I thought it was a brilliant way to build my legs without having to back squat. I was never really comfortable with a heavy load on my back. Finding a way to really push myself without any weight just ticked all the boxes. I learned it as quickly as I could, and never looked back. My legs are stronger now at nearly forty than when I was in my twenties.

Dragon Door: Are you working with a particular demographic in your personal training business?

Stephen Llewellyn: I’m training a wide range of people, a real mixture of men and women. But, most of the people I've encountered in the gym—and who train with me—are desk-bound or have to drive a lot. At first they usually lack in mobility. I have really learned a lot working with them, but getting them moving with restorative exercise is a real challenge. If someone comes to you and they don’t have any aches or pains, then it’s easy to train them.

My preferred modalities are bodyweight and kettlebells—I think mixing those two things is an ideal combination. The goblet squat is a fantastic exercise, especially for someone struggling to squat. I can give them a 12kg or 16kg kettlebell, then all the sudden they can get down into a squat while keeping their back straight.

Bodyweight exercise and kettlebells work really well together for mobility as well as strength and everything else. If someone wants to be a bodybuilder, I'm probably not the best trainer for them, but I can help with pretty much everything else.

Dragon Door: I totally agree, kettlebells and bodyweight exercise are such a natural combination. What are some of the top things from Convict Conditioning and the PCC that you’re using with your desk-bound clients?

Stephen Llewellyn: The basics—like plank progressions and bridges—work so well. Practically everyone can lie on the floor and push their hips up, they might not get very high to start with, but they’ll learn to start activating their glutes. The bridge is also one of my favorites to practice. The first time I heard about stand-to-stand bridges, I didn't really believe anyone could do it. Seeing the photos in Convict Conditioning and watching someone actually perform it on YouTube made me wonder how I could bend over backwards and spring back up! I was fascinated and knew that it was something I really wanted to do.

At the PCC, Danny told us about his obsession with the one arm pull up which was similar to how I felt about the stand-to-stand bridge. After a lot of perseverance, crashing about, falling, and getting a bit of wisdom from Paul Wade himself on the PCC Blog, I eventually managed to pull it off. But the real beauty of it is the progression—we start with the short bridge, then the table top bridge, then reverse plank, half bridges then the full bridge, and beyond.

The plank is similar, and by simply changing the leverage we can make an easy exercise very difficult. I just love the simplicity, because you can do all of this in a small area, and you don’t need equipment. I also do a lot of push ups and Aussie pulls with clients of course, and teaching a client to squat is a must! I also like to teach the hip hinge kettlebell movements and my favorite kettlebell exercise, the bottom-up press.

Dragon Door: What are you working on in your own training right now?

Stephen Llewellyn: I have been focusing on a lot of ring and parallettes work for quite a few months with the Gold Medal Bodies programs. I was pretty obsessive about getting a strict ring muscle-up—another move that looked so seamless and sexy. After a while, I kind of hit a plateau with rings, and moved onto parallettes... I don’t often change programs, some of the ring progressions were getting a little bit too tough, particularly with the false grip progressive movements. Obviously my false grip is much better now, but I’m also fascinated with the parallettes. They’re just a simple bit of kit and the training possibilities with them seem endless. I still dabble in kettlebell training, and do Turkish get-ups as much for mobility as anything else. After watching Andrea Du Cane’s video on Facebook, I’ve started playing around with the windmill too. I almost have the movement pattern down, but still need to do a lot of work with it.

Dragon Door: Speaking of muscle-ups, did you try a bar muscle-up at the PCC?

Stephen Llewellyn PCC InstructorStephen Llewellyn: Yes, and maybe it's a mental block but I have always struggled with the bar muscle-ups despite having a very solid one on rings. Going around the bar is challenging and I have always ended up chicken winging it, which is a really bad habit. Oddly enough, at the PCC I didn’t chicken wing it and ended up getting three or four in a row! I haven't been able to replicate it yet, I must have been feeding off the energy of the great atmosphere at the PCC!

I loved how the PCC was non-competitive. There was no ego, no chauvinistic attitudes, or anything like that. Everyone was obviously willing each other on and I think that's part of why I pulled it out of the bag. I did the best bar muscle-ups I've ever done while I was there. They weren't perfect, but I was really pleased. Even though I haven’t really been able to replicate them yet, it’s all about the process.

Dragon Door: What was your favorite thing about the PCC?

Stephen Llewellyn: I think it was meeting Al, Danny, Annie Vo, and everybody really. I remember the group of people the most, rather than any sort of personal achievements. It was a really nice thing to be part of—obviously it was great to put a face to all the people I’ve chatted with online. And meeting John, he's a real gentleman and English as well. Finishing with the Century Test was the icing on the cake.

Dragon Door: Speaking of the Century, did you do any special training or preparation for the test?

Stephen Llewellyn: I did, because I was terrified of failing! I thought that if I messed up the basics after working out on rings and parallettes, then I would never forgive myself. So, for the last month I put my skill training to the side and knocked out quite a few Century Tests to make sure I was comfortable doing them. I went into the test quietly confident. It was funny, when we were all preparing to take the test, Al came up to me and said, "Steve, you want to go first?" And he smiled at me in that way that he does… and I said "Ok, I’ll go first." And he replied, "Yeah, I thought you would!" I think Al knew I was anxious to smash out those reps and it was a great feeling when my neck cleared the bar for the tenth pull up!

I also was able to perform a couple of moves for the group, which was quite nice. While there was no ego involved, it was a lovely thing to demonstrate my drop back bridge and behind the back pistol squat. People appreciate the hard work that I’d put in to get to that level. It goes back to what we were saying earlier—we had that connection and were all there for the same reason. Like Danny said in his seminar, we are the "freaks and geeks of fitness". I’ll never forget that!

Stephen Llewellyn Coaching LSit thumbnailStephen Llewellyn, PCC owns and trains the Bodyweight Basement in Birmingham, UK. Contact him via email:, mobile: 07853200246. Visit his website at and Follow him on Facebook: