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An Interview with Grace Menendez, PCC and HKC Instructor

PCC Instructor Grace Menendez one Arm Elbow Lever

Dragon Door: How did you get started with calisthenics and yoga?

Grace Menendez: When I first moved out West, I was one of those very common individuals who was deconditioned, but still pretty lean. I hadn't really done any exercise other than whatever sports I’d played in high school! When I moved to LA, there was a huge yoga culture. I wandered into an outdoor donation class and that pretty much did it. I’d forgotten how much I missed moving.

Dragon Door: When did you decide to become a yoga teacher?

Grace Menendez: Not too long after I found that yoga class in the park! I looked around LA for a yoga school, and while I thought I didn’t have any family in LA, my Dad helped me locate a distant cousin who ran a yoga school in LA. I was very happy to find someone from my family—and a Cuban Yogi—so I checked out his school and was pleasantly surprised. His program was very deep into the sister science of Yoga: Ayurveda, which consisted of the more inner healing aspects of the practice. I found it fascinating—and thus began my tutelage.

Dragon Door: What led you to the PCC?

Grace Menendez: I wandered into a CrossFit gym out of curiosity and got increasingly into the training for a while! I had never done weight lifting before and was first introduced to the kettlebell. At some point I did get a pretty serious low back injury and quit going to the gym so I could rehab my back. I began toying with the idea of training myself.

I wanted to delve deeper into kettlebell training and began reading all these books from Dragon Door including Pavel's Enter the Kettlebell and also blogs from seasoned RKC's—I thought it was great. Training yourself also has some drawbacks and I got injured a few more times until a friend of mine suggested that instead of just doing more yoga, I should check out this calisthenics dude online named Al Kavadlo.

Soon I was reading Pushing the Limits, and of course Convict Conditioning! I loved Al’s look and his ideas about bodyweight exercises. Because I was trying to rehab my low back, I couldn't lift weights at the time, but I just kept progressing with bodyweight. I was really excited at how well I was doing and how creative it allowed me to be in terms of expressing myself with movement—as an art form and a rehabilitative tool!

Dragon Door: How did you use calisthenics to rehabilitate your injury?

Grace Menendez: Every time I thought I was progressing in my kettlebell training, my low back would act up again, and when I couldn’t really do anything, I began to revisit my yoga practice. While yoga is great, I felt like it was a little bit limited. I love the idea of doing bodyweight exercises for strength and thought I should do that instead. I was already flexible enough, but needed to get stronger to support my posture.

I got really obsessed with bodyweight training and the progressions and regressions Al has for everything. At first, even though I’d look at an advanced exercise and think, "Oh my god, I can’t do that one yet," I could do the regressions that came before it. These ideas helped me start programming my own training. I was empowered to discover how much of my strength baseline could come from being adept at manipulating my own bodyweight!

Without bodyweight training, I feel like I wouldn’t be as good at kettlebell training! I really believe in the power of bodyweight movements. Ever since I began incorporating bodyweight training into my weightlifting routine, my back has not had any more issues!
 
HKC Instructor Grace Menendez Kettlebell Swings

Dragon Door: Which movement from the PCC is your favorite?

Grace Menendez: I'm a big fan of the push-up and pull-up for sure. The pull-up is something that I always wanted to do. I started following you [referring to interviewer] and would see your weighted pull-ups and stuff. And of course always wanted to do pull-ups like Linda Hamilton since I was a little girl! I mean, look at her arms! I wanted to look like that, so I knew I had to become obsessed with pull-ups. Once I could do one, I just loved to hang from the bar! I feel empowered when I do them.
 
Grace Menendez Chin Up at the PCC Workshop in Minneapolis, MN

Dragon Door: So far there’s only been a few women who've attended the PCC workshops. After asking around, I found out many women are concerned that we’ll only working on very advanced pull-ups and muscle-ups, which isn’t the case. Now that you've experienced the PCC, how would you encourage other women to attend?

Grace Menendez: Even though there were just a few women at the PCC in Minneapolis, the ones who were there were so confident and powerful looking! The PCC movements are beautiful—calisthenics means "beautiful strength" and that’s why I like the idea behind it. I am crazy about calisthenics especially the inversions—if you’re into yoga you're basically already into it!

It's sexy to be able to do push-ups and to move your body in all these supple ways. It gives you so much confidence! My posture and form has really improved—and it’s mostly all from bodyweight exercise. I love when people complement me on the results of my training!

I see so many women with atrophied backs and poor postures, but when you see a strong woman, it's like wow! People are just drawn to them and it’s awesome! I feel like we need more women coming to these events and feeling enthusiastic about these movements! And bodyweight exercise is great for women who are not confident about working out in a group or a gym, they can easily workout at home!

Dragon Door: And you're also a massage therapist, how did you decide to study massage therapy too?

Grace Menendez: I started because of yoga. In the yoga program I studied, there was a bodywork program too. It didn't really go in depth into anatomy, it was more focused on detoxification—kind of like a Swedish massage. But, I really liked the bodywork, especially because as a Yoga Instructor, I see many people drawn to practice because they are rehabilitating their own injuries. They want to get better and massage definitely can help!

Because the bodywork is a great complement to the yoga practices, I signed up at one of the schools that was a little more spiritual and Eastern—the National Holistic Institute in Studio City. It was a wonderful experience, a whole year of learning different bodywork modalities from Swedish, deep tissue, sports massage, and even Shiatsu!

I felt like it was something that I was naturally really good at because I was already so strong and massage felt easy for me. Plus I love the therapy aspect of it and talking to people one on one. Most of my massage clients are yoga students and athletes who train with kettlebells. It's humbling to help people with their stress management, injury recovery, and to teach them the importance of good posture, and a strong mind-body connection!

Dragon Door: How are you using what you learned at the PCC with your clients?

Grace Menendez: Everyone who works with me leaves with some kind of postural re-education and an exercise prescription. Many of the exercises are for remedial skills—the regressions from PCC. Building strength to support our skeleton is so important, and everyone needs to start somewhere especially as soon as they step off my massage table.

Dragon Door: What are your post-PCC goals?

Grace Menendez: Well, I already teach donation yoga, and noticed there wasn't a calisthenics class in the park where I teach—so I just recently started one! I want to make that class a regular thing, and get people excited about this type of training.

I definitely want to make bodyweight exercise the base of my personal training, especially because many people are not ready to lift weights and really need to start at the very beginning.

It’s a good addition for my business. I can now offer my clients massage, personal training with bodyweight and kettlebells, and everything is all wrapped around the philosophy of yoga. All of it is important for wellness—the uniting of the body and mind, manual therapy, and movement therapy.

Dragon Door: What calisthenics moves are you focusing on right now?

Grace Menendez: I like a lot of the lever holds, and handstands will always be on the menu until I am just walking on my hands predominantly! Recently, I also bought some gymnastic rings to practice more muscle ups! But the handstand has definitely consumed me! I think handstands are one of the most powerful moves in calisthenics!
 
PCC Instructor, Grace Menendez one Arm Handstand

Dragon Door: Along with continuing your new calisthenics class, what are you doing next with personal training and teaching?

Grace Menendez: I definitely want to expand my classes and private training base. And right now I'm training for the RKC—I’ve got to do that because the kettlebell training is still really important to me. The RKC is the next step since I already did the HKC, and now the PCC!

Bodyweight training has become a big part of my training for the RKC. I also enjoy doing a lot of the primal movement drills in my own training, so would like to continue to expand my knowledge get more certifications in that area.

Dragon Door: What sets you apart as a trainer?

Grace Menendez: I look at the individual person. While I feel like most people have goals like weight loss, I understand that while the body is important, it’s the mind, habitual posture, and everyday habits that really determine someone’s level of health. I know from my own experience how long it took me to get to the level I’m at—and it all started with my thoughts of wanting to heal myself from the inside out!

That's what I love about the yoga aspect, and why I teach breathing exercises. I want it all to expand past just a physical practice. I want people to practice more of the basic stuff like breath work and postural re-education.

I have a client who has a neurological disorder which effects her movement. I told her that if she can breathe, then she can move. I don’t want people to feel like they have to give up. I love the regressions and the fact that people can start at any fitness level, get strong, move, and feel better. When I move, I feel good—all the static energy that's around and inside me dissipates and I feel clarity, strength, and peace! I really believe that, and feel confident that I can offer it to clients of every level. Participating in the PCC inspired me to want to spread these ideas to everyone I come in contact with! We can all benefit from this type of training and still have fun!

PCC Instructor Grace Menendez 1 Arm Elbow LeverGrace Menendez can be contacted for personal training, calisthenics classes, yoga, kettlebell training, and massage therapy via email yoginigracie@gmail.com or Facebook: facebook.com/tankgirlgrace
 

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