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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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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