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Interview: Steve Opalenik, Winner of the Street Workout 50 Push-up Challenge

Steve Opalenik Jeep Human Flag
 
Dragon Door: What's your athletic background?

Steve Opalenik: I was a wrestler throughout middle and high school. Even though I spent a lot of time on the mat, it wasn't until my junior and senior years that I really got into it. I’d grown up really liking chicken tenders and French fries—so I was always a little heavier. But in my junior year I focused on wrestling, changed up my diet, and stayed more active during the off season. Much of my love for bodyweight exercise comes from wrestling. Even though we hit the weights pretty hard when training for wrestling, we also did push-ups all the time. Our coach had a rule that we had to give him 15 push-ups any time someone swore during practice! Bridging is also a huge thing with wrestling, so I’ve always loved to bridge.

When I was in college, I got a call from my brother in Taiwan. He’s a martial artist. He told me to check out a book called Convict Conditioning and that’s when I really got started with bodyweight training. I thought it was very cool that I didn’t need to go to the gym to do it. I had previously worked as a personal trainer part time, but hadn’t kept up the certification because I still had my full-time job.
 
Steve Opalenik Assisted One-Arm Bridge

Dragon Door: What is your full-time job?

Steve Opalenik: I am a licensed mental health counselor in Massachusetts. I counsel people with diagnoses and addictions, and I also do family therapy and couples’ counseling. Even though counseling is my full time job, my love for calisthenics also fits into it. Many people want to be more active but can't really motivate themselves to go the gym. So, I’m also working part-time with my brother and sister. My brother teaches martial arts and my sister is certified to teach yoga and Pilates. We're building a nonprofit organization so that people in addiction recovery can work out with us for free. Many times in recovery, someone can lose their sense of self and only identify as an addict. We are trying to build a community to help give people a sense of self and full body health. I think that when people improve one part of themselves, then they can also bring other areas of their lives up to that level.

Dragon Door: That's exciting!

Steve Opalenik: We’ve had our first few classes during these past few weeks and it’s still going strong. I’m also certified to teach yoga as a 12-Step Recovery Program. We have a 12-Step group for addiction and for families who are dealing with addiction. These classes start with a gathering and conversation regarding topics of interest , then we incorporate some of the 12-Step principles in our yoga practice. I am in the process of starting that right now, and figured that calisthenics can be included, too. The idea of "holding the issues in our tissues" is a big part of the recovery training we do with yoga.

Similarly, when we work with full body calisthenics exercises—instead of isolation exercises—we tend to engage the fascia a little more. This helps to move some of the stuck energy, feelings, thoughts, and emotions in our practice. This correlates perfectly with bodyweight exercise and movement. Sometimes we do bear walks, crab walks and side monkey walks just to move and engage everything in our systems. By using martial arts, bodyweight exercises, and new movement patterns we work with the brain’s neuroplasticity to form new ways of thinking and reinforce behaviors. It's very interesting stuff, and we seem to be going in a really good direction.

Dragon Door: What was your inspiration when you created your video for the contest?

Steve Opalenik: Since the contest was about Street Workout, I wanted to get out on the street. I live in Springfield, Massachusetts which is on the borderline between some very urban areas and right on the cusp of some rural areas too. For the video, I wanted to do it on the street. Since everyone in the Dragon Door community is creative, I also wanted to add a little flavor beyond just doing 50 pushups in a couple of minutes. So, I recorded the video on the 4th of July even though it was really hot on the pavement. I wore my sleeveless Superman t-shirt that has a cape attached and used that as motivation to keep going. How could I fail if I was trying to rep Superman? I am very blessed that my family and friends came out to like and support my video.
 

Dragon Door: Since the challenge was a surprise to everyone outside the Dragon Door office, you didn’t have much time to specifically prepare for it. What is your training like and how did it prepare you for the challenge?

Steve Opalenik: It’s funny, but the day before the challenge was announced, I was talking with my wife about going to a PCC workshop. I’d wanted to go for a while but in the past year we had a daughter, bought a house, and have been working on many things, so the PCC just hadn’t been in the cards. When I checked DragonDoor.com to see where the next scheduled PCCs would be, I saw one nearby in Boston. Then, the challenge was announced the very next day—and trying it sounded like the perfect idea.

As far as my training goes, I just try to stay consistent and have fun. I try to follow the Convict Conditioning Big Six in my training while adding in other fun movements. My wife let me build a gym at home in the garage. We have a small climbing wall, a pull-up bar, Neuro-Grips, a punching bag—all that fun stuff. I target pull-ups, push-ups, and bridging in my training. I’m working towards the stand-to-stand bridge and have to get over the fear of dropping back! I think I can do it, I just don’t want to fall on my head. I train about 3-4 times a week and don’t really aim for a specific number of sets or reps, I just have fun with it. I also like to explore the higher level movements like flags, levers, and all that fun stuff.
 
Steve Opalenik Garage Gym

Dragon Door: Other than the formidable goal of a stand-to-stand bridge, are you working on or working towards any other specific moves in your own training?

Steve Opalenik: I've been working on pistols a lot lately and can do the Wushu pistol pretty well. Now I’m working on doing pistols without having to hold my toe—pistols really attack my quads, and it’s hard to hold the leg out there! I am working on elevated pistols so that it’s ok if my straight leg dips a little bit. Muscle-ups are also fun to work on, and I can get about 1-2 at a time on good days, so doing them is another big goal for me.

Dragon Door: So, now that you’ve won admission to the Boston PCC, have you started working on the Century Test?

Steve Opalenik: I had started adding it into my workouts recently and am feeling pretty confident about it. Now I’ll start doing my main workout first, then add the Century Test to the end of the workout. I want to be prepared to pass the test after all three days of the PCC—when I know I’ll feel tired. While doing the test itself might feel easy, having to do it at the end of the weekend will be tougher. That’s why I will start practicing the Century at the end of my workouts.
 
Steve Opalenik Shoe Elbow Bridge

Dragon Door: It sounds like you have a good approach to your training. Are you planning to use the knowledge from your PCC Certification primarily for teaching classes at your nonprofit?

Steve Opalenik: Glad you asked, I think it will be a step towards the nonprofit business. I’ve been calling it The Promethean Project. Our concept is focused on finding your inner flame and potential, then using that potential to get physically fit, manage an addiction or get spiritually fit. We will also offer mediation classes and martial arts options too.

While I love being a mental health counselor, working through a service or with insurance companies can be draining. It’s a means to an end, but it’s not really what I want to be doing. I think the PCC Certification will help me get closer to running the nonprofit Promethean Project full time—that's the real goal. I want to work with like-minded people to create a supportive community with peer run activities. I want the community to get involved for support and to have fun! The PCC and Dragon Door community is so awesome and open, even though I’ve only met you guys online, I still know what everyone is working on. It will be awesome to meet everyone face to face, pick their brains, and learn.
 

Steve Opalenik Jeep Flag thumbnailSteve Opalenik is a licensed mental health counselor in Massachusetts. Learn more about The Promethean Project at http://theprometheanproject.weebly.com/. Follow Steve on Instagram @theprometheanproject and Twitter@prometheantx
 

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