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Three Big Takeaways from the CrossFit Gymnastics Seminar and How it Can Help You- Coach Brandt

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First of all, I want to say thank you to all of our members at CFE for giving me the opportunity to coach you every day. I’m always in pursuit of finding ways to bring you safer and more effective training methods to help you perform to the best of your ability. Your health, no matter where you are in your fitness journey, is my number one concern everyday. I’m beyond thankful for the opportunity to love, support, and serve you day in and day out. It’s a privilege to walk hand and hand with each one of you every week as we get closer and closer to our personal goals in fitness.

This past weekend I attended the CrossFit Gymnastics course. While I obtained copious amounts of coaching development information, there are three key pieces I took away from the weekend that I wanted to share with all of you, so you can apply them immediately to your training. Knowledge is power, and the more you know as athletes the more successful you can become.

#1- What does gymnastics look like in CrossFit?

When most of us think about gymnastics, we immediately default to thinking about the Olympics: Aerial routines, uneven bars, and floor events. When we think about gymnastics in CrossFit, we automatically default to thinking about handstand walking and muscle ups–at least most of the time.

CrossFit defines gymnastics as “moving your body weight through a full range of motion or extended range of motion without an external load”. CrossFit classifies air squat, push up, and pull up as gymnastics. CrossFit also uses equipment like the floor, pirouettes, the rig, the rings, and the rope to implement gymnastics. Therefore, congratulations! You all have been experienced gymnasts for your entire CrossFit careers. Don’t be intimidated by the word “gymnastics”.

#2- Scaling gymnastics movements.

How many of you learned to snatch with a 100# barbell?…..NO ONE! We all learned with the same 4 oz piece of PVC pipe. Depending on who you are, you may still use that same PVC pipe today to work on specific Olympic lifts. Gymnastics is a lot like Olympic lifting when we break down the movement. I’m going to use the hollow hold as an example.
Regularly programmed in our warm up, we all have seen the unforgivable hollow hold (figure one). A core exercise where we lay on our back, push our lower back into the ground, lift our shoulders off the ground, raise our arms straight over head, lift are feet slightly off the ground with legs together feet pointed and, thus, lounging into the hollow position. Hold this for 20 seconds and you’re sure to feel a warming sensation in your abdomen. In this example, the hollow hold is the 100# barbell. It’s our end goal. It’s what we want to get to. What about a “hollow tuck”? That is the PVC pipe. As we get stronger and better at our hollow tuck, we get a little adventurous and start extending our legs straight. This half hollow position is now like a 50# barbell (while snatching metaphorically). Finally, after weeks of practicing, we are confident enough to lift our arms over head, and thus fulfilling the entire “hollow rock” position. This is the 100# barbell.

Gymnastics movements are hard; scale them, and start at a beginner pace. Just like when we Olympic lift, we learn on a PVC pipe. Learn gymnastics in very safe, basic positions and get very strong and confident there before you add weight or further complicate the movement (arms and legs out for this example). The same thing can be said for toes to bar, pull ups, handstand push ups, etc. Better to be stronger and dominate in a smaller skilled movement than be broken and have a poor attempt at a high skilled movement.

#3- Attacking strict movement before kipping.

If you look at “CrossFit’s Hierarchy of Fitness,” you will see from bottom to top that it reads: nutrition at the base, metabolic conditioning next, and then gymnastics. After gymnastics, comes weightlifting and then sport. CrossFit believes that gymnastics is such an important part of our fitness that it comes before weightlifting. It comes before the almighty barbell and way before competing as a sport. It is believed that being able to move your body weight efficiently and strongly through full range of motion without an external load is more beneficial than with an external load (barbell, dumbbell, weight).

Gymnastics is so important because it develops strength, stability, and control of the body. You should be able to complete all movements at strict body weight before you implement the kipping technique. I cannot express that enough. Whether it is toes to bar, pull ups, muscle ups, handstand push ups, etc., you should be able to perform the movement strict before kipping. Why? Safety and health. Think about handstand push ups. That’s all your body weight crashing down on your head and neck if you don’t have control over it. To have control over it, you need strength in the movement. I’ll take it one step further. CrossFit goes on to say (referencing “Movement and Injury Considerations”), “A SLAP tear in the shoulder(superior labrum tear from anterior to posterior) occurs when the shoulder is forced aggressively into external rotation. The same thing often occurs during the kipping pull up. We can prevent this from happening by keeping the pull up form tight and not violently throwing the body forward”. It goes on to say that being able to control the movement is the best line of action against injury. We can only gain control through strength. We can only get stronger by practicing strict movements. I know kipping allows you to get more sets, and it looks better on the whiteboard at the end of the day, but take a step back, and look at developing stronger positions.

Thank you again for the opportunity. I hope the information above gives you an insight into what gymnastics is, how to scale gymnastics, and how to strive for strict movements.

~ Coach Brandt