Crossfit Gymnastics: A Seminar Experience

I’ve been following Crossfit Gymnastics via social media for a while now. I had made the assumption of what Crossfit’s version of a gymnastics skill looks like, thinking kipping, arched handstand walking, and A-symmetrical muscle ups made up the entirety of this area of the sport.

However, once I looked further into it I realised this is not the case. Crossfit gymnastics as a subsection of Crossfit, is programmed, taught, and demonstrated on social media by professional athletes. They’re mainly ex-competitive gymnasts who happened to discover Crossfit, and realise they’re seriously good at it thanks to years of training their strength, flexibility, and motor control in ridiculous ways. As a result they are helping to develop and progress one of the more neglected areas within Crossfit.

This, combined with working in a Crossfit gym, sparked my interest to learn more. Last month I travelled to attend the Crossfit Gymnastics Advanced Certification at Crossfit Amsterdam. Which is in Amsterdam believe it or not. Having done my Level 1 four years ago and not really being a Crossfitter, I was pretty apprehensive about how I’d get on. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to learn many new movements since my skill level isn’t as high as I knew most people’s on the course would be. But I knew it would be valuable to my own training, my coaching and for my box, all of which was enough motivation to man up and go.

We covered a lot of content in just two days. This included mobility, locomotion, and prancing around like gazelles. We went through floor skills such as basic tumbling, rolls, jumps, and handbalancing. On the rings we covered levers, muscle ups, skin the cat, forward rolls, and backward rolls. We worked with parallettes and covered basic pushing movements along with L-sits and planches. One of the fantastic thing about Crossfit Amsterdam is the space and equipment they have. We played on the parallel bars, trying out Russian dips, swings and walks. We took one bar away to work on pull overs, back hip circles, and forward rolls. For all of these movements we went over how to spot and teach from the basic progressions to the more advanced.

One of the elements I enjoyed most was learning about the auxiliary training. This is what needs to be done before you begin training for a skill, and what you need to be practicing alongside training for a skill. It’s assistance work, for example, strengthening your upper body through a bigger range of motion with something as simple as a push up. Turn it into a deficit push up and you’re targeting muscles that you’ll use in a similar way when you transition through a muscle up.

I got to experience what real core conditioning is, which I now feel is more important than people realise, and also pretty torturous. Even though a lot of movements involve your core such as front squats or toes to bar or a strict pull up, these are all done for repetitions. How long can you hold a hollow body position for? That kind of endurance can only be built from conditioning your core, but in doing so the ease of every other movement you do will increase along with how efficiently you perform them.

Attending the course made me think about why gymnastics and bodyweight training is often less of a priority. I think it’s because it’s less measurable. It’s far harder to measure progress with a handstand than it is to increase weight on a lift. Increasing your freestanding handstand time by 2 seconds is like the equivalent of adding 10kg to your squat and getting a PB. But would it feel as much of an achievement? You might not even notice it. It’s unlikely you’d be up there ringing the PB bell. It takes a lot of hard work and patience, and time spent on progressions to work towards the advanced gymnastics skills. If all you’re looking for is immediate gains then it’s unlikely you’ll want to focus on something that’s a slower process.

The most important thing I took away from this course wasn’t the skills I learnt or the shiny new progressions to teach, despite the insane amount of fun I had experiencing this, but the ideology behind Crossfit Gymnastics. The idea of NOT RUSHING. Taking your time with each progression and mastering one step at a time. You only have one body, so work with what you have. The smaller things like mobilising joints, stretching, and auxiliary strength work can often be the most significant.

The more seminars and workshops I go on, the more similarities I realise there are between how to approach and train towards a skill. The progressions themselves vary but only slightly, and the more variations you can collect, the easier it is to find which cues and what kind of movement works for you and your students. You’re training and teaching from a broader pool of knowledge and you understand there is no one way or one right way. But the best way for each individual.

If you take the time to develop motor control, increase your strength through bodyweight exercises, and just improve how you move, everything is easier and more efficient. Crossfit gymnastics is designed for just this, and they’re working to find the most affective and teachable progressions for each skill so that everyone can utilise them as a resource. I really see value in what I’ve learnt and hope to carry this forward with my training and my teaching. The inspiration I’ve gained not only from going through the course, but from the other students and our amazing coach, has been so significant and has helped me focus on where I want to head next. It’s made me feel incredibly grateful that I have a body that can move and can continue improving. That’s what I plan to do.

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Thank you to Elaine Yoder for sharing so much knowledge, being incredibly patient, and for being an amazing coach. Thank you to the coaches at Crossfit Amsterdam for being such welcoming hosts. And thank you to all the students I had the pleasure of training alongside. You are all so inspiring and made the weekend amazing for me!

Follow Crossfit Gymnastics: @cfgymnastics

When to Quit a Skill

When it comes to training, especially if it’s part of your job, it’s pretty common to feel pressure to be the best at what you do. To show you’re capable of so much, and to be able to perform a variety of exceptional skills. As a result you want to train all the things at once, and it can be hard to find focus. Deep down you know that when you try to do everything, you end up doing nothing. Or you achieve very little. When you finally choose a skill or a goal it’s so exciting. Trawling Instagram or YouTube, or even on my Facebook newsfeed, something will pop up that I’m in awe of or I think it’s just really cool. There’s the new focus. I’ve had that lightbulb go off in my head so many times thinking I’ve found the exact thing I want to work towards right now, this very second. That’s the skill I want to learn.

When you’re right at the start of your journey you’re filled with motivation. It’s so exciting to be starting something new. But the honeymoon stage doesn’t last. As humans we tend to want instant gratification and having the patience to put the work in can be tough. We demand things from ourselves and create high expectations, including our progress with training. How many times have you had a bad training session and come away feeling deflated and discouraged? Rather than seeing it as time invested, it’s a waste of time. You question your choice in training goal and wonder if you should find something else. This is one of many reasons why people jump from skill to skill. Getting bored easily, dissatisfaction with progress, or lack of focus are all contributing factors. On the flip side, being completely obsessed with that one particular thing, that you push too hard, don’t listen to your body and don’t allow rest or time out is just as detrimental to your progress. But this isn’t necessarily the time to give up what you’re working for. A change in perspective can help greatly with reigniting motivation.

Things don’t always go to plan. You might have patience, follow your programme diligently and listen to your body, but you can’t account for injury or illness or a disruption to your progress. Something out of your control might interfere and force you to change course. At the beginning of the year I was working towards a muscle up. It’s a pretty cool skill to be able to perform, and I thought it was about time I make it my goal. I didn’t achieve it. I had good programming and coaching, and I put the time and effort into each session, but that wasn’t the issue. An old injury from several years before that hadn’t properly healed meant that I couldn’t pull through the transition on my left arm without feeling like something was about to rip in my tricep. Rest, massage, stretching, nothing helped. As much as I hated to admit it, this was not a skill my body was ready to learn. I could have persisted, I could have ignored the pain, but I could have also really badly injured myself. In this case, it was the time to let it go. This is an example of when it’s definitely time to change your training and move on to something more appropriate and beneficial for your body.

At GMB, the Support Team receive emails all the time from people sharing their goals. Sometimes about training, and sometimes about life. This was a goal someone wrote in that caught my attention and made me think.

“I want to have a very healthy and vital body that I have a great level of control over so that I can use it to live life to the fullest, play and have fun.”

Then I remembered to think about the bigger picture. Yes, we need direct and specific goals, but looking at the bigger picture made me think about what training meant to me in the first place. In the beginning it wasn’t to be able to perform X, Y and Z. I didn’t even know about X, Y and Z. I remember my first workouts when I started going to the gym and how good I felt about myself afterwards. How physically and mentally strong I felt, even though at the time I could barely do push ups on my knees. It felt like an achievement to be moving my body. Every time I trained it felt like progress because it was another session I’d started and completed. And that’s why I continued.

I wanted to think about what training really means to me. What it means to be able to move and have strength and control, and the freedom it gives me. There are so many things I can’t do. But what about the skills and goals that I have achieved? I am discounting them against everything I still can’t do. I don’t feel my training should be about that. It should be about staying healthy and having fun. If there’s something I can’t achieve then I need to focus on something else. It’s actually quite simple.

So does quitting a skill mean giving up or failing? No. It means moving on to the next phase of training whatever that needs to be. Everything changes, and you need different things at different times depending on the circumstances. You can’t always control your circumstances, but you can control how you approach them. Work with them rather than against them. It’s the same with your body. Work with it to give it what it needs. It won’t always be that one perfect skill you’d love to master. It might be something much simpler like rehabbing a shoulder, building core strength, stretching to improve posture and alleviate pain. Always remember you can revisit a skill you want to learn at a better time. You can always start something again. In the meantime do what you need to do, and appreciate everything you’re already achieving.

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Photographer: Simon Carter

The Freedom in Flexibility

Most people want to wake up every day with no aches and pains, and move easily. Having a good level of flexibility is one thing that will make a difference to this. However, even if you know that, it doesn’t mean it’s as simple as just getting started. It can be hard to know where to look, which programme to follow, which piece of advice to listen to. Surely there is a correct way to stretch? Yes and no, because everyone’s different. There is no correct way, but the best way for you and your body.

If you know you aren’t very flexible or you feel stiff you might think you need to start stretching every area of your body. This would be time consuming, hard to maintain long term as it’s a big jump from no stretching at all, and it can mean slower progress. It’s the same as working towards any goal. You pick just one, or sometimes two, but you don’t try and work towards ten at once. That’s too much to focus on at once, and it’s likely you wouldn’t reach any of those goals.

It helps to keep stretching simple. Figure out what you want to prioritise, and focus on that. If you wanted to improve movement in your hips, you only need a couple of stretches to practice. Choose a protocol that makes sense to you and follow it. Then build a habit of adding stretching in to your daily routine, whether that’s first thing in the morning, during a break at work, or after your training session.

As a coach, put an emphasis on exploring flexibility training within your own practice. Stretching is something that takes time to gain confidence with. It requires listening to your body and understanding the difference between no stretch, a bit of discomfort, and when to stop before you push too far and hurt yourself. Making it a priority means when it comes to teaching flexibility, you can pass on that ability to develop confidence and independence to your students.

In one of my classes I asked my students to choose what they needed to work on and start stretching, and then I’d come round and help. They all got started, using different techniques we’d been learning, and really they didn’t need much input from me in that particular session. After months and months of practice, they’d gained awareness of their own needs, and they’d developed the confidence and independence to go and do it themselves.

As you would with your own training, you’ve got to be able to progress with your students. Recognise that they will improve, and what they need will change. Teach them new things if and when it becomes helpful for them to learn. Show them that they can push to a certain point. You’ve got to be able to modify for different abilities and make flexibility training accessible to all levels. Learn from what you experience, pass this on to your students, and then in turn learn from them.

If you don’t have someone coaching you through it, there are some important things to remember. Slow down. Stretching requires a lot of patience as progress can often be slow, so trying to rush your progress won’t be beneficial. We receive emails asking how to achieve the splits in two weeks, or asking why not much progress has been made after a month. Stretching is one step at a time. It’s little and often and being consistent.

Less is more. You don’t need to do all the stretches you could possibly find to improve your hip flexibility or achieve the splits. Try out a few and see which ones feel like they target your tightest points. Focus on just three or four stretches at a time, and pay attention to your progress. Whenever you feel you’re hitting a plateau, reassess and make changes if you need to. You can always change your approach. These concepts are something I’ve learnt from GMB Fitness by following their stretching programme, Focused Flexibility. If you’re unsure of where to start, or you’re looking to supplement your flexibility training, this is a great programme to check out.

There is no universal rule on how you should stretch. When it comes to improving flexibility there is no right or wrong way. Progress is a reflection of the time and patience you put into it. Stretching is a way to explore your own body. Whether you’re stretching with weights, holding static stretches, or stretching with a partner, you’ll get out what you put in. So take your time, be consistent, and keep working towards better movement and more freedom in your own body.

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Realising Why Health Matters

When training is part of your job, it takes priority on a daily basis. What gives us the ability to train is our bodies. If our bodies aren’t working then we can’t train. This sounds like an obvious concept, but it’s not something I focus on or think about. I take the time to appreciate that I can train, but I take my body for granted. I’m used to waking up every day knowing that at some point I’ll be moving around. I had forgotten what it feels like when this isn’t an option, and you no longer have the choice to even get out of bed because your body won’t let you. I had forgotten what it feels like to be sick.

I’ve been injured in the past and this has put certain things on hold. But an injury doesn’t cause you to stop training. Physical injuries can often be worked around. If you sprain something, break something or bruise something you can still move other parts of your body. Even if you’re rehabbing damaged areas, you still have the ability to move your body and be active.

I woke up one morning a few weeks ago, not feeling great, but I assumed I was tired from the previous days training. I fell asleep until lunchtime and once I’d woken up that was it. I threw up, and through the day anything I tried to eat just came back up. My head was fuzzy, my limbs felt numb, and when I wasn’t kneeling with my head over the toilet I was lying in bed. I wasn’t able to concentrate on work. Walking up and down the stairs became hard work as my energy levels dropped.

Injury or illness is often a sign to slow down. But who wants to slow down when they can keep pushing and keep achieving? Maybe because you’re supposed to be an example of health, maybe because you don’t want to lose gains. But sometimes you’re forced to. So after two days I finally gave in and accepted I was sick and stayed in bed.

The frustration of not being able to train when that’s what you do is not a comfortable or desired feeling. It’s one of the best parts of my day. But I realised it wasn’t going to happen for a while longer so I let it go. The frustration and discomfort of not being able to eat was what really got to me. Something that is so natural, and necessary for day to day function wasn’t possible. Despite barely doing anything over a couple of days I started losing weight, which you never want because that means your strength is being flushed down the toilet along with your vomit.

Unhelpful thoughts entered my head. I’m missing the sunshine and being out in the fresh air (sunshine in England is precious). I’m missing out on spending time with my friends. I’m wasting time that I could be spending doing useful things. Im wasting time doing nothing and not having fun. I’m being lazy. Except I wasn’t being lazy, I simply needed some rest.

When you take a step back and look at the situation, you have to focus on a different priority. Being healthy. Taking the time to build back up, not being impatient, and actually having a bit of self compassion. Give yourself a break. Take it one step at a time, like the stairs that feel so hard to climb just to go and get a drink from the kitchen, but it’s worth it when you get back upstairs and can fall back into bed.

It’s ridiculous how much I take for granted. I feel frustrated when I have a bad day training, but that’s a stupid attitude because at least it’s a day of being able to move around and use my body. Training seems far less important when you can’t even keep food down. Once I was able to start eating again it felt like a luxury. The simplest things like drinking a black coffee, being able to chew solid food, and waking up with the energy to get out of bed, felt magical. Like sunshine and unicorns. I could get back to work. I could go out for a walk. I didn’t need 20 hours of sleep a day. This was what I was grateful for before I even considered going and smashing out some training.

Eventually, ever so slowly, I was able to train again. I did not think “first session back, time for squats and deadlifts followed by sprints in a weight vest to finish up with!!!”. Not that that’s my usual training. I did some stretching, some locomotion and practiced handstands. I stopped before I felt tired and then went home.

Regardless of any gains you lose or how much being unwell sets you back, it brings you back to reality. You realise you aren’t invincible, and you can’t always “push through it”. You become more considerate of what you’re training, plan your sessions out more thoroughly to help get you back to where you were, and perhaps even reassess your goals. As a result you come back stronger. Don’t forget that strength comes from health. Health is the foundation for everything you do. Eat well, sleep well, take time out to relax, and then be grateful for all the handstands, all the pull ups, and all the weights you lift.

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Finding Your Community

One of the amazing things about our world of fitness and movement is the community that’s been created. Community is simply people who are considered as a unit because of their common interests. We love to move, we want to find others who love the same, so we find a way to reach out and unite. There are friendships and connections that wouldn’t have been built without the passion shared for working towards the same goal. The strong support system that’s evolved to help one another become the best version of ourselves.

Communities come in all shapes and sizes. They range from small individual gyms which form a family dynamic, to global networks including people from all over the world. So how can being part of a community be a benefit?

If you’re a newcomer to training and are unsure of where to start, then finding other people with a similar goal is a great way to keep motivated and inspired. We’ve all experienced the initial excitement of starting a programme or joining a gym, and then a couple of weeks in momentum is lost, and it’s hard to get back in to the swing of things. We aren’t all able to self motivate, and a lot of us don’t want to hide away training alone. Finding a community that you feel you fit in to, and that fits your needs, can make such a difference. Let’s look at some of the movement and training communities out there.

The Gym Community.

Whether it’s a Crossfit gym, a Parkour gym, or a Globo gym, you get to know the familiar faces. Members become friends. Even as a coach, it’s impossible not to form friendships, and I consider my gym a family. This has been built by the coaches putting effort into teaching, the students wanting to learn, and taking the time to show an interest in one another. Many people join gyms for the social aspect and to meet new people. These are tiny groups full of love and support.

The Online Community.

This is how connections with people we’ve never even met develop. GMB’s online community is Alpha Posse. It’s a place for like minded people who enjoy moving and training, and is so welcoming to anyone and everyone. Being part of AP gives you access to programmes and resources, you can create a training log and share your training, ask questions, and generally have fun. The GMB Trainers are there for support and advice. One of the most important things is that there’s no judgement. And what’s really special about Alpha Posse is the relationships that have been created through the ability to share and interact with one another in such an encouraging, motivating and safe space.

The Social Media Community.

This is the medium in which the biggest community has been created. We all know social media can have a negative impact on people. It’s easy to compare yourself to others. You see some cool movement or a skill that you’re unable to do, or something better than what you’re capable of, and it can knock your confidence. You might feel reluctant to share your training. But I’d encourage you to share. On the flip side, challenges are set, games are played, and it becomes all about the fun. People can get involved and challenge one another to create movement practices and develop them beyond what they thought was possible. Instagram, for example, is a fantastic tool for this. Without social media we wouldn’t have so many people to share what we love with and constantly inspire.

The Trainer Community.

Trainers are a community within themselves, and if you ever feel becoming a Trainer is something you want to pursue then you’ll naturally become part of this. If you already are a Trainer and new to teaching, then just like someone new to training, a good support system is important. As a GMB Trainer I’m part of a group of people who want to help one another become better at what they do as their occupation. We have an online forum for interacting with one another since we’re based all over the world. A huge aspect of our community is communication and sharing. Teaching ideas and tips, making suggestions for improvements on how to coach specific movements, or sharing helpful cues. Our job is to help and guide people, and that starts from guiding one another as Trainers.

When it comes to fitness, getting started can be the hardest part. We never know exactly what’s right for us until we try it, and this applies to training. But sometimes it’s just about having the right people around us. A little bit of guidance and reassurance that we’re on track. And like I said before, finding what fits.

Looking at the bigger picture, although we train for ourselves, we’re one of so many people who are working towards the same goal. Being part of this amazing community of movement, fitness, whatever you want to call it, is something to be proud of. Make the most of everyone around you, whether it’s your student, your training partner, or your friend on the other side of the world. We need to utilise our communities to continue becoming better and better at training, and at life.

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Crossfit: The Sport of Fitness vs. GMB Fitness

The reputation of Crossfit is so varied, just like the sport itself. You can read about how “Crossfit Changed My Life”, and in contrast how “Crossfit Led To My Physical Demise”. There are arguments as to why it’s good for you, and why it’s the worst possible choice of exercise. But it clearly has something going for it because it’s growing as a sport, and it’s growing as a community. It’s an entry point into fitness, and it can be used to improve or condition for another sport, plus it increases the capability of doing certain jobs. It offers an environment where you’re surrounded by like minded people who share your passion for burpees.

Crossfit was my entry point into fitness and the world of training. That was years ago, before there were any boxes in Cambridge, and I had to make it work in a Globo Gym, using the smith machine for pull ups, and trying not to crack the ceilings with wall balls. I came back into this community when I was approached about teaching hand balancing at Crossfit Stags and Does in Milton, Cambridge. I taught for two months before I moved to Japan, and since coming back last year, I have worked alongside the box owner and Head Coach, Duncan Bolt, to create Crossfit Gymnastics Skills classes. The good thing about having done Crossfit in the past is that I’ve had some practice programming it and I understand it to an extent. I’ve been able to develop how and what I teach so that it’s not purely Crossfit, but a combination of what my students want, and what they need.

Your average Crossfitter wants to be pushed, train hard, and occasionally leave feeling like their limbs might drop off. They want varied movements to feel constantly challenged. We’ll get complaints at the gym if there are front squats three Mondays in a row. I’m used to focusing on one or two goals at a time. It’s a different mindset toward fitness, and very different to how I approach my own training.

But whatever the reason is behind people joining, they stay because they want to be better at it. It becomes about performance. Improved performance is what anyone who trains anything wants. This is where I’ve seen the value in integrating GMB Fitness material in order to benefit my students’ Crossfit, to help them become better at what they do. And so what I teach is different from the other classes in our box. The Gymnastics Strength and Skill classes focus on quality of movement, skill work, and flexibility. Although all of these elements are included in each Crossfit class, I’m able to spend more time on an individual skill, for example handstands or back levers. Everything is strict right down to push ups. I work with my students to find the best progression in order to work on that skill in detail. Everything from the warm up to the stretching is geared towards that skill. And I’ll include a WOD to condition for a skill, often focusing on specific gymnastics movements, which will be a combination of Crossfit and GMB. There is a surprising amount of overlap here, and whatever we train, it’s always about quality.

There is an emphasis on mindfulness. Nothing is rushed because it’s not about how fast you can perform any of the movements. I want my students to become more aware and really understand what’s happening in their bodies when they move. For example, how it feels to be upside down, completely still on your hands, and being able to breathe slowly is very different from the way you expend energy when performing handstand walks. Locomotion involves distributing weight across hands and feet in a way that improves body control and coordination. There might not be monkey cartwheels in today’s WOD, but the ability to move in a wide variety of ways will help with movement efficiency in every WOD.

I have the opportunity to target areas that might be overlooked simply because they aren’t the immediate priority of a Crossfitter. If you’re learning a specific lift to be able to perform reps efficiently and safely in a WOD, then spending the majority of your training session practicing that lift might be more of a priority than developing better ankle flexibility. However, at some point you might need better ankle flexibility to improve your technique so that you’re able to lift more weight or break through a plateau.

Crossfit is becoming more technical. At regionals this year they included strict muscle ups and strict handstands push ups. For the elite Crossfitters, these high level skills are becoming more and more important to be able to perform, especially at high volume. If you want to be at this level then you can see what you’re aiming for, and how developing that kind of strength and control is a priority. Eventually those skills will require more focused training.

As it filters down through different abilities, it’s simply about being able to move better. To be able to progress past a certain level of Crossfit your body needs to be able to do more. And this is where I feel GMB comes in to play. GMB is not just an entry point for people looking to move again for the first time. It’s something that can be utilised and applied to so many different sports or disciplines.

I’ve been very fortunate to have the support of all the coaches in the box, and I’m constantly learning from them as much as I learn from my own practice and being part of GMB. I’m fortunate to work alongside people that see the value in what I teach. I might not be a Crossfitter but it’s an amazing community to be part of, and I hope that what I bring to the gym as a Crossfit Gymnastics Coach (because one time I got a certificate that says I am) and GMB Trainer continues to benefit and challenge my students.

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Thank you to all the wonderful coaches at Crossfit Stags and Does: Will Stacey, Nick Apps, Duncan Boltt, Joe Kenney, and Ed Miller.

Re-Balance

Once upon a time my training consisted of nothing but handstands. I became injured, had to say goodbye to rings and anything that involved bent arm strength, and find something else to focus on. I had no pain doing handstands so I rolled with that. I grew them like a flower, giving them all my love and attention. And in the space of about two months I reached 60 seconds. I worked on straight lines, different head positions, stags, scorpions, straddles, tucks. I went to seminars and looked for coaching to be as emerged in the world of hand balancing as I could. Upside down was my favourite place to be. And I spammed Facebook with picture after picture of my life inverted.

At some point something changed. I became tired of them, I lost all the loves, and eventually I thought “f*** you handstands, you suck.” I think I’d lost track of why I was doing them. The funs of life intervened, I broke my foot and had to change my training again. I didn’t think kicking up into a handstand in a cast would have been ideal anyway. So they went into ‘maintenance mode’. Well ‘I don’t want to train that skill anymore’, mode is probably more accurate.

I’ll be honest, I kind of lost them. It was like “whoops, where’d my handstand go..?” Even though I never lost the ability to kick up and hold one they stopped being consistent, my line was more like a zigzag, and I had a lot less strength and mobility in any inverted position. Can you say closed shoulders… I just let them go and said goodbye. I was busy jumping off rocks and breaking bones anyway.

Moving on from something that consumed my training and that I’d worked so hard to progress and perfect felt like a massive step backwards. Even though it’s important to cycle your training and focus on other skills or develop different attributes, it was still in the back of my mind that I wanted them back.

I remember back to those training sessions when I was practicing them just because I wanted to. How it made me feel to be upside down. I would completely zone out, and repeat the same movement over and over again to learn how it was supposed to feel. I was doing it because I loved it, I wanted to get better at it, and it was for me.

I never thought I’d get back to the point where my handstands feel like mine again. I never thought being upside down would become a happy place like it used to be. Or that I could be that present in such a still movement. There’s so much peace and simplicity when you’re able to see such a simple movement for what it is. A place to be quiet, and find balance.

And being able to block everything out around me. Since I train in a Crossfit gym, there can be quite a lot of noise from other people when they’re lifting or WODing (yeah that’s a real word now), and it can be distracting. Maybe ear plugs would help. But if I focus on my breathing, count the seconds in my head or out loud, then I can’t hear anything. People walk past so I’m aware of movement around me, but all I’m watching is the floor between my hands. I re-balance and re-balance, checking my body from finger tips to toes, and then I’m holding myself on that balance point and it’s effortless. I sink into the floor, like if I relaxed any more my fingers would dissolve through the mats. My feet reach up to the ceiling, my whole body extends, my mind goes quiet, my breath is steady, and I’m so happy in that moment.

People often ask, “How long will it take to get my handstand?” Of course it depends on the individual, their background in training, and their current level of strength and body control. But really it takes as long as it takes based on the amount of time and effort you put into your training. I think it takes as long as you’re able to love them for, and put up with the frustration and inconsistency that is more frequent than those tiny inches of progress you make. If this is you, don’t let that go. Because actually every time you kick up, tuck up or press up, hold for a few seconds or a minute, or wave your legs upside down, it’s progress. It has got to be one of the most worthwhile skills that you can learn, and I still find it’s the most enjoyable and worthwhile skill to teach.

I’ll probably always have a love hate relationship with handstands. I’ll never be a hand balancer, and there are so many hand balancing skills I’ll never achieve. And I really don’t want to. It’s got nothing to do with that anymore, it’s just about having all the funs and doing what I enjoy. Sometimes on the floor, sometimes on a tyre, and sometimes in a door frame. It’s about what I feel in my body when I move. Most importantly it’s about the love.

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Movement as a Second Language

Most things, language, sport, music, are easier to learn as a child. Adults are fixed, and children are still like clay that’s waiting to set. You can mould clay into anything. Information gets absorbed like a sponge, into the brain and into the body. What you do with your body as you grow up becomes what’s normal and natural for you.

If you make the assumption that because you haven’t spent your entire life playing sport or moving your body in some way, you’ll never be able to, then you’ve just set a limitation on yourself that takes away something so valuable. Strength, control, and freedom in your body. A healthy body. A form of focus and mediation, self improvement, something that’s just about you, just for you.

I move every day. But I never have been, I’m still not, and never will be an athlete. I was active as a kid, joined in with sports at school, (oh the memories of hockey sticks, and smelly changing rooms), did some gymnastics, and I loved climbing trees and cartwheeling down hills. I rode horses until I was 14 but I’m not sure how that translates to a handstand or a pull up. And then I stopped moving. For 8 years.

One day I decided I wanted to change my body, so I did. Like learning a language. I started learning words, but I couldn’t string sentences together, let alone understand grammar, or grasp the concept of pronunciation.

I remember what it felt like not having the strength to do push ups, not even on my knees. I remember pulling on a bar with everything I had, my legs kicking the air, and barely getting a 90 degree bend in my elbows. I remember when I couldn’t do a handstand. Yeah, I used to not be able to balance on my hands. I’d forgotten how to jump, lost the ability to cartwheel, couldn’t swing a kettlebell, couldn’t move like any sort of animal. I remember the first time I picked up a 10kg barbell on my back, and with weight on my body, I had no idea where my body was in relation to the space around me. I couldn’t squat. I couldn’t understand what I needed to make my body do. Muscle memory wasn’t there, my central nervous system was having a freak out, and what the hell did “engage my muscles” even mean?

I sucked so bad at everything. But it made me want to work harder to achieve it, just to prove to myself that I could. I wanted skills and set myself goals, but I learnt pretty fast nothing just appears. Beginner gains are encouraging, but they last all of one month before you actually have to put in some effort. It comes down to learning. Not just how to perform movements and skills, but learning how to learn. You start to develop awareness in your body so that every time you try something new, you understand what you are trying to do. Brain and body connection.

The more you learn about making this connection in your own body, the better you can teach this to others. I am not as physically skilled as a lot of Coaches, but I think it having learnt it as an adult benefits my coaching. I teach adults, and I can look at a student and understand what their body is feeling. If they can’t do a push up, I know how to progress the movement. But I can also empathise based on my own experience of starting from scratch. I went to some adult gymnastics classes a couple of years ago, and we were learning a front handspring progression into the foam pit. The coach said “I don’t know if you’ll be able to do this because I’ve never not been able to do it.” That’s some great coaching right there. She didn’t know if she was giving us something we could do or if it was too advanced. Encouraging for sure.

If you’ve never been athletic, if you didn’t learn these movement patterns and body weight skills as a child, it really doesn’t matter. I say it all the time, but adults are so strong. We have bodies that are designed for this, and it’s never too late to start learning. It’s just that for us, those of us who learn from scratch, it’s like a second language for our bodies. The more we learn, and practice, the more natural and ingrained it becomes. We’re aiming for fluency, and we know that’s something that might never come. But you’ll always be able to do something. Just like there is a solution to every problem. There is always a progression for every movement, and you build from there.

Im surrounded by amazing movers who only started training as an adult. People so inspiring and so talented that you think they’ve been doing this all their life. You see all the photos of beautiful holds and stretches, videos of repping out pushing and pulling, lifting, tumbles, and balances. But the work that goes into that, the physical study of training involves relentless hours of effort and energy. It’s repetition, until you’re so bored you resent it. It takes twice as much effort as the ex-athlete who trained and competed for 10 years. This stuff doesn’t come naturally, but it can come.

I’ve been training for 4 and a half years. There are so many skills I still can’t do, and many that I’ll never achieve in my lifetime. Everything new feels like I’m jumping backwards with my eyes closed. Eventually I’ll land on my hands, my feet will follow, I’ll stand up, and I’ll be fluent in that movement. It’s worth every second of work, and now is the time to start.

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Starting Over

It’s the start of a new year. You can forget about last year and all the mistakes it’s been marked with. Hope is abundant as we look forward and plan to make each element in our lives better. It’s time for a fresh start. You’d better do it now before the opportunity passes and you have to wait another eleven months for January to come round again.

#whoopswhere’dmynewyearsresolutionsgo?

I’ve been thinking about the concept of starting over. Routines are broken over Christmas and New Year, and so it’s hard not to think about our lives as we slow down for a couple of weeks. After using this time of year as an excuse for excess, what usually follows is an overload of “I must give ups”, and “I must start doings”. Good approach, works every time right?

Plans are so shiny and bright that you feel invincible. Surely you’re going to succeed in every task you set? But after a few weeks, when the shine’s worn off and the effort that it takes to make progress feels too much, we veer off track. And that’s the end of that.

It’s one little thing at a time. You’ll have moments where you won’t want to train, so you don’t. You don’t care about your nutrition or sleep, so you let that slide. Doesn’t matter that you gave up drink because you really need to relax with a glass of wine. Losing motivation at work makes getting up in the morning that much harder. All that hope slowly drains away. But improving your life and improving yourself doesn’t have to be done through this annual unsustainable pattern.

Starting over is uncomfortable and confrontational because it means facing the reality of whatever your situation is, and it means letting go of whatever it is you feel you’ll be nothing without. That can be a habit, a person, a place, a job. But starting over can also mean the difference between happiness and growth through aggressive ups and downs, and standing still with little or no satisfaction in the life you’re living. Which one would you choose? I’ve had to start over in the past few years numerous times. I’ve quit so many jobs, started relationships almost as fast as I’ve ended them, injuries and illness have stripped my training right down to basics, I left England. I came back. And I’d change none of it, because every experience good or bad has helped me take a step forwards. I’ve never waited for the new year to make changes, I make them when they need to be made.

It’s scary as hell to make big, extreme life changing decisions, but it can sometimes be scarier to look at yourself on a day to day basis and acknowledge your mistakes, of which there will always be many, as well as your achievements. The reality is we do start over every day. You don’t need the excuse of the new year to do better, or be better. Find a way to move forwards and focus on the next steps. Ask yourself what it is you want and how can you make this sustainable. Figuring out what you need to be happy is an ongoing process of trial and error. It doesn’t suddenly stop on the 1st of February.

It is important to look back over the year and reassess where you’re at. But don’t berate yourself if you haven’t made one hundred and one brand new life goals. You have the choice to do this whenever you want to, and maintain changes for as long as you want. We improve every day, we have the luxury of time, and we all have far more inside us than we realise. You are so much stronger than you realise. Yes, you, the person reading this right now. So whatever change you want to make for yourself, do it without fear. Start over each day and make it count. Tomorrow, be stronger.

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The Autonomy of a Trainer

As a trainer, your job is to teach. You share information with and educate others, while inspiring and supporting them in reaching their goals.

What is just as important as teaching your students is teaching yourself. Training, always learning, and developing your own practice. We always say “keep exploring”, but it really is true. The more you explore, the more you open your body and mind up to achieving great things.

There must be a formula for achieving greatness. That one right way? You can follow a great teacher or a great coach, and have someone say to you yes, that’s correct, well done. But gold stars don’t help you develop independence or original thinking. Being good at what you do comes from trusting yourself, following your instincts and pushing your boundaries.

Sometimes pushing boundaries can feel daunting and that’s why we look elsewhere for direction. But isn’t it actually the most exciting thing to be able to take your practice anywhere you want? It’s important to train to be able to teach, but to get better at teaching you just have to teach. So your own training; that can be your creation. As you create, this influences and inspires how and what you teach. This is where you start to develop your own practice for both yourself and your students. This is how you start to develop autonomy as a trainer.

I’ve spent the past month reassessing my goals, and thinking about what it is I love most when it comes to moving my body. There are new skills that I want to achieve, but I’ve put no time limit on them. Each day I work on what I feel will be the most beneficial to either achieving those goals, or what it is my body actually needs in that moment. This communication with yourself and this awareness is something no one else can give you. This is another reason why it’s so important to be proactive and independent with learning.

It’s taken me a long time to let go of thinking that I always need to be guided. I’ve been with GMB Fitness for two and a half years, and one of their trainers for over a year. I’m representing a company, I’m teaching what they create, and it’s something I really believe in. But I’m still an individual and what I do can be unique. Unique in the sense that no two trainers will ever teach the exact same thing in the exact same way. We aren’t supposed to be versions of one another. We’re a community of contrasting people. I have strengths, I have weaknesses, I need feedback and I need advice. But I also have the ability to think beyond what’s put in front of me, and see the potential for something different.

GMB have been setting challenges. Just search for #froggerchallenge #pistolchallenge #monkeychallenge on Instagram or Facebook. I decided to make this part of my study, and another way I develop my practice. It forces you to think, until you aren’t thinking but just feeling. Remember, we have resources everywhere. Take what inspires you and build on it. See something, try it, and develop it. (Always credit the source of inspiration). Learn from the people around you and in turn they’ll be learning from you.

Develop your own autonomy, and you become a leader. When you let go of the expectations you have on yourself, your potential is limitless. You can take charge and move forwards with conviction in your practice, and in your teaching. You become the person to guide other people, because they see that confidence and beautiful movement, and that becomes inspiration.

It takes time to grow into your own skin, and to figure out what matters to you and what you love most as a trainer and as a human. That’s just part of the journey, and you’ll keep experiencing until you suddenly find you’re stood upright with insight and an understanding of where you’re headed.

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Our world of movement is tiny but it’s growing every day. That growth starts with you, the trainer. You have so much choice and so much freedom, so take whatever you want to do and run with it.

Here is a compilation of movement that I’ve been exploring over the past few weeks. This is what I love.