Dragon Door Interviews Nick Kenon, PCC Instructor

Nick Kenon Performs a Back Lever at the PCC
Dragon Door: How did you first get involved with fitness?

Nick Kenon: It's kind of funny, my first memory of muscle soreness was after my parents signed me up for karate at eight years old—that's how I was first introduced to bodyweight conditioning. I remember having fun in the class, and wanting to work on more at home, so one day I just started doing sets of pushups and situps. I didn't even know I was working out, and ended up doing a lot of sets—a couple hours worth! The next day I could barely even sit up or get out of bed because my abs were so sore! I think that experience got me started.

Through high school, I was involved in rock climbing and martial arts. In Vermont, where I grew up, we really didn't have access to a gym. We had a small gym at my high school, but I wasn't the stay after school type. Otherwise, the closest gym was a 40 minute drive away! So, until I was 17, I mostly did bodyweight training. It gave me a really strong base in pull-ups, situps, push-ups, and squats.

At 19, instead of going to college, I moved to New York City which was a culture shock bonanza of martial arts styles. During the first few months, I went nuts and signed up at three different schools, trying a little bit of everything: Muay Thai, Capoeria, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu—all before studying Krav Maga for a year. Recently, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has sparked my interest again, since I think it's the best match for bodyweight training.

Dragon Door:
How did you get started with personal training in New York?

Nick Kenon:
I had a really influential martial arts instructor in Vermont. Right after I graduated high school, he gave me the idea. He not only ran the martial arts school, but was also a personal trainer on the side to earn more money.

He suggested I should think about being a personal trainer, because I could make good money and help people. I really liked that idea and began researching programs because I didn't know anything about personal training—I'd never even picked up an anatomy book! I knew I wanted a practical, hands-on program to learn how to train clients. One of the programs was in New York and luckily I had a friend living there. I lived with him for three months while I completed the full time—eight hours a day—program. It gave me a very solid background, and I was hired at Equinox right out of the program. I worked for Equinox for a little bit and trained clients at a few different gyms before becoming an independent trainer.

Dragon Door: How do you know Al and Danny Kavadlo?

Nick Kenon: I stumbled across Al's website back in 2011 and have followed it ever since. Later, I ran into Al when I attended a couple of TRX certifications at Nimble Fitness. I told him I followed his website and we hit it off with our shared interest in bodyweight exercise. Then, I started running into Al and Danny every once in a while at Tompkins Square Park. We'd work out together and developed a rapport.

Nick Kenon at the East River demonstrating a Human Flag aka Press Flag

Dragon Door: Are you using mostly bodyweight exercises with your clients? What's your general approach?

Nick Kenon: Yes. I think personal trainers seem to evolve a training style because our industry is so much about learning—as we learn more, we adapt our style. I've really started getting more and more focused on the movement aspects of fitness and less on the "fitness" aspect of fitness.

Everybody signs up for personal training to get in shape and lose weight, but the deeper issue is often a desire to move better—without pain—and gain the ability to live a fuller life. With that in mind, I started using more bodyweight exercises with my clients so they could start developing full body tension, integrate all of their trunk musculature, and improve their posture.

I began to work with gymnastics, martial arts, and classic strength exercises including barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells. I try to give people a three-tiered approach to movement with strength, endurance, and flexibility.

Dragon Door: Who do you typically train? Do you attract or seek out a specific demographic?

Nick Kenon: When I started working in the Lower East Side, my business just exploded. I tend to attract a lot of female clients—mainly young professionals, between the ages of 20 and 40—who want to improve their general fitness and get stronger.

At first, I thought I'd be working with a lot of clients who would just want to do cardio and were scared of lifting weights. I've made it my mission to abolish the fear that some women have of getting big as well as strong. As a result, all of my female clients have ended up getting very strong, but not big or bulky. It's cool because the other trainers at a private gym where I work always comment that my clients are very strong. And my clients have all done this by lifting heavy weights and practicing bodyweight exercises that involve full body tension.

Dragon Door: What's your favorite bodyweight exercise to coach?

Nick Kenon: The pull-up. For men, there's so many things that most guys can do more effectively, and so many things to tweak and improve. At the same time, it's such a difficult exercise for women that when I can help a female client work her way up to doing a full pull-up, it's rewarding for both of us.

Dragon Door: Why did you come to the PCC?

Nick Kenon: Because of Al and Danny. I ran into them shortly before the first PCC workshop and had been reading about it on their Facebook updates and websites. At some point we were all talking and I asked when a PCC workshop might be coming to New York. They mentioned the PCC workshop in St. Paul, Minnesota this August, and suggested I show up. I thought, why not—It's August and many of my clients are away on vacation. So I went and it was awesome. I'm really glad they convinced me to come to the PCC.

Nick Kenon Performs a Handstand

Dragon Door: What was one of your favorite things about the workshop?

Nick Kenon: The environment of the workshop was motivating and supportive. It was awesome to be around so many like-minded people enthusiastic about bodyweight training. Sometimes it's hard to work on this stuff alone day after day after day—it's difficult to find training partners because bodyweight exercise is not as popular as some other exercise modalities. Luckily I have Al and Danny nearby to train with once in a while, but it was just so great to be in a group where everyone was working on progressive calisthenics. Suddenly, I didn't have to be the only one anymore!

And I nailed my back lever! It would have taken me another couple of months if I had been working on my own, because the coaching, motivation, and support made that much of a difference. It was a really great experience.

Dragon Door: Did you bring back cues or ideas that you've started using with your clients?

Nick Kenon: Yes, I learned a ton of new cues and strategies I hadn't thought of before. It was also great to get the collective information from everybody. There was such a wide range of people in attendance with so much experience. I learned from the instructors, but also from people like Logan Christopher, Beth Andrews, and Jimmy Halverson who were really good at certain exercises. Many of the attendees were well-rounded and we all learned a lot from them especially when they tried something new for the first time.

I learned so much about my handstand from Jimmy and his yoga cues. Logan gave me a lot of general strength tips. So I was able to bring back a lot from the workshop to my clients.

Dragon Door:
What's next for you and your training?

Nick Kenon: I've just started a two year program in massage therapy at the Swedish Institute here in New York. It's a goal I've been working towards for a long time and I was finally able to work it into my schedule. I'm really stoked about it because flexibility is such a huge issue for many people. Many times people will have movement issues because of fascial tissue and overall tightness. I think learning about soft tissue work and massage will go hand in hand with personal training. Plus, I can bring that expertise to my clients directly, rather than having to refer out to someone else.

In my own training, since I now that I have my back lever, I'm definitely going to start working more on the front lever. I'm really close, I can get the straddle but I can't fully bring my legs together for more a second before I drop. So, my next big goal is getting the full front lever. I can't wait for it—it's a beast.
NickKenonHandstand thumbnailNick Kenon is a NYC based personal trainer and PCC Instructor.  He can be reached via email at: Nick@StrengthAppeal.com. His website is http://www.StrengthAppeal.com.  Follow him on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nick.kenon Twitter @NickKenon, Instagram @NickKenon, and YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/StrengthAppeal