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

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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.