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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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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