If you were to walk into my massive, spacious, cavernous, 200 square foot Garage Gym and ask any of my athletes what the number one focus of this past summer was, you would hear a resounding “body control” echoing from the rafters 8.5 feet above your head!
You see, one of the main things I have always been extremely focused on, in my own training and with training others is learning more about ones own body. The way I talk about it is body awareness, and body control. But in the fitness world, this is generally understood as proprioception. This is basically the idea of a sixth sense, which we all actually have, some more than others, but we all have the ability to be aware of things within us and around us without really knowing how. I am absolutely fascinated by this stuff and I found, through research and trial and error, that learning more about proprioception will very quickly help you become a fitter, healthier person.
Here’s a little bit about all this works. All your senses are pretty self-explanatory. When you touch something, you feel it, when you see something, your process it, same with hearing and tasting. I really don’t know the inner mechanics of all that, but I know it to be true because I can hear the tapping of my keyboard, I can feel the keys under my fingers, I can see the words appearing on the document and I can taste the bacon I just ate in my mouth! But what about this sense of awareness; how do I have the ability to put my arms, hands, fingers and head in the most effective position for this whole typing fun? Well, from what I can understand it goes a little something like this: your brain says, “arm, move to the computer”, your arm then moves to the computer, then your arm says, “hey brain, I just moved to the computer, give me another game to play!”. This sort of thing happens hundreds of thousands of times a day; think about it, just take a moment and try to comprehend how many movements you make each and every day and that there is a full-blown process for each and every one.
We just take this stuff for granted all the time, but when you take a moment to realize that this stuff can actually be improved, you all of a sudden realize just where you stand might stand athletically. I mean, look at like a pro football player: his ability to comprehend how to change direction not once, but twice, or three times even, all while catching a football, avoiding a couple massive dudes wanting to crush him and this all takes place while airborne. Yeah, that’s body control. The best athletes are the ones who can control their own bodies the best, I mean think about this: if you didn’t know how to put one foot in front of the other, how would you be able to do anything athletically? That’s a bit of an extreme example, but you get what I’m trying to say here.
So how do you become more aware of yourself? Well, one of the quickest ways I have learned is to practice basic gymnastics. Do headstands, handstands, forwards and backwards rolls, cartwheels and on and on. The more you move your body through space, the more you’ll be able to understand HOW to move your body through space. If you spend the majority of your time moving other objects through space (as in: lifting weights…), sure you’ll get strong, but you will rarely allow your mind to connect to the body in an intimate way. I am not discounting the effects of connecting to the barbell, or anything else for that matter, I just think that getting your mind and body syncing is probably one of the most important things you can do for overall health. If that is way too tough to get to right now, start simply buy doing very basic body weight movements (squats, push ups, sit ups, pull ups, etc). To help out even more, do these in front of the mirror, and, place your hands on the portion of your body that you’re moving. What you’ll be doing is using your main senses to assist in understanding how you move. The more you move, and the more focused you are in each and every movement you make, the better you’ll be at those movements! Easy as that!
In the end, it’s my belief that while lifting heavy things is really cool and impressive, the most impressive thing in the world is being able to have full control of your body. Google any gymnast, or Parkour athlete or B-Boy and you’ll know instantly what I’m talking about.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
So I mentioned yesterday about getting the handstand push up (HSPU) finally, here is how it all happened (this is going to be a bit of a geek-out post, just a heads up...:
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.
This was a distinctly different visit than all the other ones because instead of joining a class, or working out with the coaches, I stayed for 6 hours as part of a gymnastics seminar. Basically it was a day of realizing just how out of shape I actually am. But, the good part was that i learned a lot of great progressions and I feel very confident in not only building my own personal skills up a lot, but in helping others learn how to control their bodies.
Roger, the head coach and gymnastics wiz at CrossFit Marin lead the class with coach Russ. We moved through things quickly but very thoroughly, and in the end, I know all of us in attendance had made some pretty great strides. But let's go back a bit and I'll talk a little about the actual location before getting into how the seminar was. Just like the vast majority of CrossFit gyms, this one was hidden from view completely. But once you find which entrance to drive in, it is impossible to miss. Two things stood out to me when I rounded the corner to the back of the warehouse complex: the incredible view of the mountains, with trails winding like a spider web towards them. And, the string of rowers and bars resting on the ground outside two massive roll-up doors. This was CrossFit Marin!
The place is big. Facing the doors, to your right is the gymnastics half. Just like your typical gymnastics center it is filled with tumbling mats, parallel bars, uneven bars and the whole collection of gear that inspires running around, jumping around, swinging around, rolling around and more. To your left is where you see all the weights, rowers, racks and bars. Then, to your far left you'll find a collection of what seems to be construction junk, but actually is all the equipment to their successful Parkour classes. They have everything! It had that down to earth feel about it that your typical family style CrossFit gym has. There was a group of very young children swinging around the gymnastics side, a CrossFit class with a few older people in it, a couple strong looking dudes, and a couple younger people in it as well. Then, off to the side there looked to be a personal Parkour lesson going on with a young teenager. Everybody was all smiles, and everybody was working hard!
I really think what stood out the most here was the view from the open gym doors. For me, and clearly for so many others, looking out on scenery like that just touches something deep inside that makes you connect with your inner workout animal. When I look out onto a mountain range, I want nothing but to be running around in nature, throwing my body around and throwing heavy objects around. I am sure that within the CrossFit community most of you know exactly what I'm talking about. I think that CrossFit Marin has that special aspect to it. It's really just a huge warehouse with a ton of equipment lying around; but with the addition of the view, it becomes something entirely different. Add good coaching (which they clearly have), add a ton of really cool athletes (they have one of the largest member bases of any affiliate I've been to thanks to all their different programs) and you have a pretty unique spot.
A good collection of CrossFitters showed up for the seminar and we all mingled and chatted amongst ourselves before things got underway. And things got going quickly. Roger got us prepped and we went right into tumbling. I would say we spent an average of about 30 minutes at each skill: forward and backward rolls, handstand progressions, muscle up progressions, planches, pull overs and a handful more. Let's just put it this way: we were there for 6 hours and we only had a 15-minute break to grab some food. Yeah, we got after it!
Rogers coaching was great. He talks very deliberately and clearly and you instantly understand what he's trying to say. What stood out so much to me was how much focus on safely and spotting we worked on and I appreciate that. Rather than just throwing us into drills and progressions, he really allowed us to learn how to approach this with our training partners and clients. All is all, it was one of the most informative seminars I have ever been to and as mentioned before, I not only feel that much more confident in practicing all this myself, but getting others to do it with my support.
Talking with some of the attendees and with Roger and Russ, I am that much more excited for what CrossFit has done for the “specialties” that are out there. I honestly feel that with the interest of the growing CrossFit community, gymnastics, power lifting, Olympic lifting, martial arts, running, triathlon and so much more get more and more attention. CrossFit focuses on becoming generally fit, more athletic, it focuses on allowing each athlete the means to attempt any sport. And because of the incredible effects of CrossFitting, people seek out these specialties and give them a try. I personally want to do so much more gymnastics work thanks to not only CrossFit, but to the motivating an inspiring instruction of Roger and his crew. Sure I can bang out “Fran” in a great time, and hoist a super heavy barbell off the ground. But what about having complete and total control of my own body. Gymnastics gives us the ability to understand ourselves in space. Imagine what you’d be able to do from a physical standpoint if you could do even a fraction of gymnasts can do. Yeah, it would be insane!
As for a video for this trip, it is in the works. Given the slightly different nature of the visit, I realized that I have to put a good deal more effort into the editing process. But I wanted to get the write-up up at the very least while it was all fresh in my head. So, apologies for the delay in the video but it should be up at some point this week.
I strongly urge any and all of you out there to seek out your local gymnastics center and set up a few sessions with an experienced coach. If you are in the Bay Area, CrossFit Marin is clearly top of the line. If not, I have a couple resources that are really great to get into them, and I highly suggest, CrossFitter or not, that you learn more about how you body works from a physical standpoint. Your overall athleticism will thank you!
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