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The Passion of Calisthenics, with Nigel Wills, PCC, WSWCF

Nigel Wills with the Kavadlo Brothers at the PCC
Dragon Door: How did you get started in fitness? Did you play sports in school?

Nigel Wills: No, not at all! At school, if you weren’t interested in soccer—or football as we call it here—there was very little motivation to get you into anything else. I actually cut a deal with my physical education teacher so that I could just run around the field while the class played football. And, that’s what I used to do! As long as I stayed where the teacher could see me, I just ran cross country around the field for 45 minutes instead of playing the actual sport. I wasn't really into it. At the age when my friends started going out drinking, I only did it twice. I didn’t like it and thought it was boring!

By default, I wandered in to the local gym and started training as an alternative to what everyone else was doing. And I stayed with it—now I'm 47 and have spent 30 years in the gym. Back in 1988 when I started, it was very functional. I just stuck to the weights and learned how to deadlift and squat properly. The other guys in the gym were older and took me under their wing—and that was it!

Dragon Door: When did you know that you wanted to be an instructor or trainer?

Nigel Wills: About five years after I started at the gym, I took a course but never really did anything with it. I worked in another career for quite a while. Gradually, I was drawn into training and started privately training people part time with my qualification. After I redid my qualifications, I got an advanced level personal training qualification. I earned more qualifications and started teaching boxing classes, circuit classes, spinning classes part time. Teaching classes built my skills. It’s scary when you first start. When 15-20 people are all looking at you for instruction, it all comes down to you! It’s a lot to learn group teaching skills and one-on-one skills at first.

Gradually, I picked up more and more clients. Finally I made the jump because I was really enjoying it. I thought I’d do even better if I was training full time, and it hasn’t stopped! I’m incredibly busy. It's been a really smooth ride and it hasn’t been hard to generate a workload. I’ve never had to advertise and am privileged to have so many incredibly loyal clients.

Dragon Door: How did you decide to go for your PCC certification?

Nigel Wills: I stumbled into PCC three years ago online. I had been aware of the calisthenics world and did a lot of calisthenics, but never realized how big it could get. My training partner, Danny—who you met three years ago when we were at the course in Newcastle—said we should go to the PCC. We went, we qualified, and we absolutely loved it. The PCC became the framework for everything we do now. It magnified everything so much more.

We used one of Al's calisthenics books to define a baseline, an advanced, and an elite level of ability for all the dynamic moves and isometric holds. For example, 30 press ups is baseline, 60 is advanced, and 100 is elite level. Three years ago, we set a goal to hit elite in every category. And incredibly, we are now at the elite level for 12 out of 14 dynamic moves. For example, we can do 20 consecutive pistol squats. We use this framework for our clients as its rep ranges and time targets give them challenging, progressive and achievable strength goals.
Nigel Wills Pistol Squat

Dragon Door: Did you recently open your studio or have you had it for a while?

Nigel Wills: We opened Cali Club in January this year. I’d been doing PCC work for the past three years, but it wasn’t embraced at the gym where I was training. Even though my clients were all rapidly increasing in strength and ability—elbow levers, pistol squats, skin the cats all daily occurrences—and loving the variety calisthenics offered, they’d noticed that the gym was not promoting calisthenics. Sadly, the gym’s "vision" offered very little inspiration. A ludicrous scenario was developing where many of the members had more ability and passion than a number of the established trainers.

As a trainer, I believe I should lead by example—I’m always pushing and striving to improve my ability and knowledge. If my clients see me working hard, it will inspire them to join the journey. This simple ethic was lacking there. Clients don’t want to see you leaning on a wall yawning reps back at them, they want to see you nailing that one minute handstand and failing plenty of times along the way. It makes you human and they realize it is achievable for them as well. You made the same mistakes as they have, but it takes time. Speaking from experience gives so much more added value to any future coaching. Clients know when you speak from experience instead of a manual!

I realized my career would die if I stayed at that gym. So, in a four week turn around, I left and set up my own place with two other coaches who also have PCC certifications. One of those coaches is Rob Sanders, a qualified sports therapist. He specifically uses calisthenics to treat many of his clients. Now we have a bespoke studio with air conditioning, a gymnastic floor, and a five meter long pull-up bar. We also have a show bar for moves we consider to be labors of love, but that were considered to be "showing off" at the previous gym. Now that my clients are training in this new environment that we designed, their commitment and abilities have soared! They love Cali-Club and I wholeheartedly encourage them to treat it as their own club.

Dragon Door: How are you using the PCC concepts at your gym?

Nigel Wills: We've stuck to the PCC guidelines for rep range goals—and our clients have just gotten stronger and love calisthenics even more. They know that they can’t do an elbow lever in two weeks, and that they have to get stronger and learn the way to get there first. When someone realizes it might take them nine months to get their first handstand, it creates a "buy in" because they know they’ll get it when we work on it.

It's really pulled passionate people into Cali-Club. It's a niche market, but our clients are seeing even more results here than at the previous establishment. They are training in a fruitful, cohesive environment. Watching them assist, encourage and celebrate each other convinces me that I was right to move and create Cali-Club.

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

Nigel Wills: Danny and I are working really hard on the front lever. We consider it to be one of the hardest moves. I've worked with Al and Danny Kavadlo, and Max Shank on it. Along with the front lever and the planche, I’m working on getting my muscle-ups slicker and slicker so that I can do more fancy stuff with them. Plus just this week, I nailed my first ever dragon squat. With Rob’s brilliant fusion of calisthenics ability and sports therapy knowledge, he was able to assess my restrictions, work on them and help me nail the move—all in one morning!

Danny and I also qualified as level 3 WSWCF (World Street Workout & Calisthenics Federation) instructors back in February. We are the only WSWCF instructors in the UK. Only 80 people in the world have taken and passed the qualification. While there’s some crossover with the PCC, the WSWCF moves are a lot more showy. It's not particularly my bag, but Danny loves it.
WSWCF Nigel Danny

We’re also working on improving the flow between moves and just getting sexy with it—you can really get creative with calisthenics. I'm 47, and I'm still doing it without injury, and without distressing my body. The only thing I need to keep in mind—and I spoke with Danny Kavadlo about it at the PCC—is that I need a little longer to rest. At 47, I need a little bit longer to recover, and have had to slightly tweak my training. I want to get to the elite level on all the moves—and while I know that takes months and months, knowing that I need to put the work in is what keeps me motivated and focused.

Dragon Door: What are your plans or goals for your gym?

Nigel Wills: Recently, one goal has come out of the blue. One of the ladies who’s trained with me for 3-4 years passed the PCC last weekend. She did it for herself—she already has a career in another field—and wanted to prove to herself that she could pass the PCC. Now, I'd love to get more of my clients through PCC the next time it's in the UK. The Century Test is not easy. I don't know many PTs who could cleanly pass the Century Test.

A third of my clients can already do pistol squats. I trains men and women including a 19 year old guy, others in their 30s, 40s, and ladies in their 50s. In fact I have a lady of 64 who can do a dozen military press-ups! That’s what I love about calisthenics—I love showing my clients that they can do it. Calisthenics, like martial arts, demands discipline, and you have to make sacrifices. As Al says, you can't pull your chin over a bar ten times when you're carrying an extra 20kg of body fat. So, while people can start training when they’re overweight, they need to commit to it to really start getting results.

Calisthenics grabs the people who've got commitment. I want my studio to be where the people who are committed to getting real results come to train. There’s no boundaries or barriers, but it’s not an environment for slackers. If you’re not prepared to work hard – don’t come!

A group of ladies trains in the morning and one of them is hitting eleven clean chin-ups, the others have 2,4,5 and 6. There's one lady who still hasn't gotten one, but she's not ridiculed. Everyone loves and supports her and they know—more than she does—that she's really close to getting it! Besides, she’s can deadlift 1.5x her bodyweight which is hugely respected. I want to create an environment people know they can achieve—and they are, because the results are speaking for themselves.

My books are full, and that’s a privileged position to be in, but I also want to have enough time for my own training. I train clients from 6AM straight through to lunch, and then afterwards too. Whenever there’s a gap or pocket of time, I use it to train—sometimes I’ll run a 5k when there’s a small time gap, or work on my calisthenics. Because I use the time well, even at 47 years old I have 5% body fat at 75kg and I’m in good shape.

This week I’ve also been approached by a recognized UK body to help create and deliver small CPD calisthenics certificates for fellow trainers later in the year.

Dragon Door: What has helped to inspire and motivate you with your training and your business?

Nigel Wills: One thing I think about is that while going through life, we become who we are because of the influences of others. Setting up my own studio was a really big step, but I was amazed by the amount of love that came out of my past to help. I’m so lucky to have Danny as a close mate and training partner. He has pushed and pushed me with unwavering love and belief since day one. We also got on our hands and knees painting, decorating, and putting up the bars at the studio. Cali-Club really is our baby.

Mark McDonald, one of my oldest school friends, is a graffiti artist who works for one of the national newspapers in the UK. He came out of the woodwork and designed a beautiful logo for Cali Club. Diana, another friend—and an aerial acrobatics teacher—gave me gymnastic flooring. And then there’s been endless love and support from my yoga guru, Nam Lowen. We have a reciprocal relationship and endlessly share our inspirations and ideas!
Nigel Wills PCC At Cali-Club Gym

Cali Club has become something that’s so full of love from all the people around me. There’s quotes on the wall from Nelson Mandela, Samuel Peach, Al Kavadlo, Bruce Lee, and others. I’m a huge Carly Simon fan so as you walk out the door, "Baby, you’re the best" is over the door.

NigelWillsLeadThumbnailNigel Wills, PCC, WSWCF trains individuals and groups at his studio, Cali-Club. He can be contacted at or mobile 079099 15576. Follow him on Instagram @nudgerwills and Facebook Nudger Wills.