First, let's talk about what was going on before yesterdays joyous discovery. I basically had convinced myself that i had fundamental inability to perform a decent HSPU. Talking with a handful of experts I had come to a couple things: try to engage maximal muscle use, and work on stimulating smaller muscles in and around the shoulder in case any of them shut down in the HSPU position. The first of these is that I would need to look at the exercises in the same way one looks at an overhead press. With the understanding of powerlifting I have, that means to poof the chest out a little bit, allow the back to arch a bit as to get the chest engaged enough to help the pushing action. While your body is no longer in the neutral position, you can basically just muscle through the movement, if you are strong enough. The second part was to focus on the muscles used for the movement, roll out all the small ones and hope that I could "awaken" them enough to help when I needed them. Both seemed like pretty logical fixes that made a ton of sense to me. But, both did not work in any possible way. As mentioned in an earlier post, if you had been there you would have had the same face of sheer confusion as i struggled with just about every hand position, kipping style and so on that I could. I was able to get 3 total reps out of about 20+ attempts. My mindset had basically become: "grind the gears" a little (attempt to get reps whenever I could) and just prey that something awesome would happen come Friday with the workout.
Then, after a few days of bombarding the Internet looking for any and every possible hint of help and advice (my boy Jim Bathurst's site Beast Skills was very helpful for little tidbits), I finally came across Carl Paoli's blog Gymnastics WOD. Carl is a gymnast and trainer out of CrossFit San Francisco that I met a couple times while living out there, and he has some really awesome pointers for people looking to get a bit better gymnastics skills. He posted up a handful of videos on how to improve some points needed for the coming CrossFit Regionals. The first two were on the HSPU and after watching the first one, well, it was like a freaking miracle. I hopped up tot eh wall and banged out 5 solid, smooth, comfortable reps. It was only a couple hours later that I got 6 reps with a 2-inch deficit, giving me an entirely refreshed sense of excitement for the coming event!
There was one main thing that he talked about that helped the most, but honestly it was the combination of three things, along with a realization about how the body works that got things rolling for me. First, he talked about alignment of the arms and where your hands should be positioned so that your body would be most efficiently utilized (rather than going crazy here, check out the video I link through to, it’ll explain it pretty well). Next, it was how to kip. I had been attempted to kip with a major jerk form the knee joint. Carl explains that this forces you out of a “hollow”, supported position very quickly and I found that the second I fall out of that position, well, I fail. So, I needed to be sure my kip was such that my hollow position was held. Well shoot, I actually forgot one more before the main point! This is where the head should be when lowered. Carl suggests to bring the head down so to create a tripod between it and your two hands, this allows a more stable base that again helps to keep the hollow position AND in turn, a stronger press. The final, and the most effective point for me was simply to tuck the chin. I had been focusing so much on looking at the floor (like I am in the picture above) and this basically was forcing me completely out of an effective position and zapping all power out of my body. The second I tucked my chin (and focused on those other points) I got them!
So, what did I realize on my own about all this? I had been focusing on replicating the overhead press for the HSPU and this actually turned out to NOT be a smart move! The overhead press is an open kinetic chain exercise, meaning your limbs are moving through space (you press against something hard enough that IT moves); while the HSPU is a closed kinetic chain exercise (you push against something so hard YOU move). These demand totally different things from your body. With open chain movements, it’s all about engaging more muscle; that is why a slight arch in the back and a poofed out chest on an overhead press is so helpful, you are using more muscle. In closed chain movement, alignment is king. If you are not aligned perfectly, you are killing your ability to move efficiently, you are draining power.
This closed and open chain movement concept, while learned in basic personal training certification tests, seems to have much deeper impact on how we function. And as a trainer I am always searching for new and improved ways to approach how to get better. This just makes sense to me, so much! It is also a pretty new concept to be taken this seriously by me so I am still in the process of understanding it at a greater level. Meaning: I am open to discussion. Moral of the story is twofold: when you feel like you just cannot do something, try to think outside the box a little. And, not every movement is created equal, even if it the same movement. This explains why some dude who can bench press 400 pounds can not do more than 30 push ups (by the way, it is almost always transferable the other way; a gymnast can translate his/her abilities quicker to a barbell than a barbell practitioner could translate to gymnastics). Something to consider very seriously: before trying to set a personal record on the power and Olympic lifts, perhaps try to perfect some of the main gymnastics movements first. You’re barbell lifts will benefit that much more from it.
Never Stop, GET FIT.