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Where has the movement gone?

Posted 15th June 2015 by Josh Schouten

A number of interested people have asked me “what are you working on now?” As a coach I’m always trying to challenge myself and explore new ways to improve my training and that of the members at Momentum.  I continue to practicing new moments and find coaches and courses that can inspire and motivate me.  One of my new projects is to learn more about gymnastics p-bars.  I’ve not used these little devils very often and I’m keen to see what new tricks I can master – and then inflict on the members.  At this stage I’m simply trying to get the hand of some foundation movements.

In this day and age, it’s common to see athletes trying to take shortcuts. Athletes can often have BIG egos and they try to skip the foundation movements in an attempt to race toward the sparkly end goal (Just kipping it real!!).  Far too often these athletes fail to reach their desired end goal due impatience, or due to an injured related to the poor prepare required to achieve the movement they are working towards.

“Mastery is the point where the body has sufficiently adapted to an exercise so that the exercise can be repeated with perfect technique over multiple working sets.”

Physiologically, mastery is a number of specific changes to both the  connective tissue and the muscle.  Connective tissue adapts at a much slower rate than muscle.  Just because an athlete is strong enough to perform a certain movement (for example a back lever), it does not mean that their physical tissue is truly ready to perform it.  Training age is the number of years an athlete has spent lifting weights in the gym (body weight included).  Some athletes are very gifted with a high level of muscular strength, but due to a young training age their connective tissue can not yet support this strength.

Athletes need to focus on building connective tissue strength by performing exercises that all the tissue to adapt and become stronger.  Honestly, athletes need to check their egos at the door and realise that strength training is a journey and the path to steady improvements needs to be followed.  You don’t just walk into the gym and load 200kg on the bar and then start back squatting, so why do so many Crossfitters begin kipping before they can do the strict gymnastics movements (pull-ups, muscle-ups, handstand push-ups)? Yes, the fun factor of attempting gymnastics movements can be stripped away from certain athletes, but it’s far less fun developing sever elbow tendinitis or rotator cuff tear because the connective tissue has not been prepared.  Are you going to the gym to be entertained, or are you going to the gym to train?



Imagine a pyramid with “general physical preparation” (GPP) as the base and “maximum athletic potential” at the peak.  The wider and more solid the base, the higher the peak may eventually reach.  In other words, the degree of mastery of the fundamentals is the building blocks to the level of advanced skills and athletic potential down the road.

Spending time working on foundation movements will allow the required adaptations to occur, making the athlete stronger and more robust to handle the demands of athletic performance.

Many CrossFitters struggle to develop their gymnastic skills for two main reasons:

  • It’s hard to see progressions
  • Most struggle to dedicate the time needed to master gymnastics.

When lifting weights athletes can see the progress, more weight on the bar or more repetitions performed.  The inability to perform a muscle-up after a month of practice can turn athletes off gymnastics.  Most athletes fail to spend time working on the basics of the L-sit, push-ups, pull-ups, dips (Russian dips, ring dips), ring lockouts, rotator cuff strength, and other key foundations needed to reach  a muscle-up.

The choice comes down to the athlete.  They can choose to spend the time working on the foundations and building a strong base, or they can take shortcuts and struggle to achieve their goals or possible injure themselves.   You can do what most CrossFitters do; they limit their athletic potential by avoiding the benefits of mastering basic gymnastic skills (kipping all the way).  They have the attitude of “lets lift heavy weights, because gymnastics is too hard.”

You squat heavy, you deadlift heavy, you press and pull heavy weights, and yet many of us struggle to master our own bodyweight.  There is something seriously wrong with this picture. Just look at most of the top female CrossFit athletes, they come from a gymnastics background and their strength, mobility and body control is amazing.

As CrossFitters we need to start spending more time focusing on gymnastics movements and body awareness.  We need to find new and different ways to scale the gymnastics movements so that progressions can be made safely.  Gymnastics strength, skills and mobility require just as much time and effort as improving your squat, deadlift and Olympic lifts. Improvements in the bodyweight exercises will improve functional movements and help to prevent injuries in the future.

I plan to start focusing more of my training on gymnastics movements in the future because they challanging, rewardsing and simply bloody hard work.