Gymnastics is an important element of Crossfit and is often overlooked by the majority of athletes because they can just about manage the skills without building the proper discipline
Hey guys! I’m Rhys, a gymnast, calisthenics enthusiast and personal trainer from London. I coach people at a few gyms in London on how they can improve their strength, mobility and coordination through gymnastics and bodyweight training.
How I Got Started With Gymnastics
I actually started gymnastics accidentally. I had been training in the weight room like most people, for about a year and a half before I started to feel a little disenchanted with the gym.
Yes, I was getting great results and I was feeling stronger and looking better than I ever had before, but at some point I realised that I would basically be doing the same handful of exercises over and over for the rest of my life.
This was when I knew I needed to find something different.
I was looking for something more engaging and rewarding than just the aesthetics of training. I wanted to have something I could show for all of the time and energy I was putting into getting fitter and healthier.
I wanted to develop more than just adding a few kilos to the barbell every two weeks.
Coming from rugby, where everything I did was to improve my performance in a match, I needed something similar to work towards.
Just training for the sake of training at some point became a little monotonous and I could feel my initial enthusiasm fading away.
I went looking on google for inspiration but this is before calisthenics was very popular and so unless you had come across that word (and how would you?) it was hard to actually put what I was looking for into words.
One day I was trying to explain to a gym friend exactly how I was feeling and he mentioned calisthenics and showed me some videos of people doing extraordinary things with their bodies - stuff I could never have even imagined before.
I instantly knew that I had found what I was looking for.
We arranged to go to an open training session at the local gymnastics club to try out the rings as a new bit of kit to train with, but of course, it was not open training at all, it was an adults gymnastics class.
The coaches agreed we could come in and do our own thing provided we understood that if they were coaching on any particular apparatus then they would take priority over us and we would need to at least share the kit with their students.
Well, we got chatting with one of the coaches and he taught us a few things and as we trained I kept looking around at all the club members having fun and learning cool skills.
At some point I realised that I didn’t want to leave, I wanted to join the club and start learning all this cool stuff too.
I realised my passion for skill training and felt that this might be the answer to my recent struggles with training.
Since that day I never looked back.
I turned up the next week as a student and fell in love with the training, and a year later I was taking part in amateur comps around the UK.
These days I help people learn how to incorporate skill training into their workouts.
For me it is not about forcing strict gymnastics disciplines onto people, afterall, not everyone wants to do backflips.
But by including skill elements into their training they can really push the boundaries of what they believed their bodies were capable of and they can learn to do some awesome skills like handstand push ups and front levers.
Skills are really the application of 3 key elements of movement, Strength, Mobility and Control.
I coach people today to develop all three of these aspects of fitness and use them to open people up to new exercises and ways of training their bodies that most people look at as being impossible, or at least reserved for the people who started when they were 10 (I started gymnastics when I was 23).
Skill training teaches you to apply the strength gains you have made in the gym, it teaches you how to use the strength to test and challenge your body in new and more interesting ways.
My Training Philosophy
For me training is about taking you from where you are towards new skills. Each time you master a particular exercise, it unlocks new variations of the exercise to push your skill that little bit further.
Then you master that next level of skill or exercise and it opens you up to even more new variations to take you even further again.
Take push ups for example:
You would start with a basic push up
Once you can do push ups you can move on to simple variations like wide or diamond push ups
Next you can make it a little more extreme, maybe clap push ups, or spartan push ups
Then you have more complex push up variations like Hindu Push Ups or Archer Push Ups
Before you know it you are smashing out one arm push ups and thinking about handstand push ups or planche push ups.
But it doesn’t end there, you can progress from there to 90 degree push ups, or clap handstand push ups and so on until you are literally inventing new push up exercises because you have mastered everything anyone else has come up with!
This creative way of training is more engaging because it tests your strength, coordination, balance, explosive power, control, mobility and just about everything you can test.
It engages your mind because you are actively learning how to move better to improve on or master a skill.
Gone are the days where you were learning to do a squat a deadlift and a bench press.
And this takes the Crossfit boys to another level too, because it instills more discipline into an already skill heavy training style, with the combination of olympic lifting, metabolic conditioning and gymnastics.
Skill training helps keep you engaged in your training and quickly becomes a cure to those monotonous gym sessions of the past. I fell in love with it as have so many of my friends and clients who have come along since I started my journey.
Getting Started With Gymnastics Training
The best thing about this way of training is that you have already started. You started when you started training.
The main difference in skill training is learning to use your body as a single unit rather than isolated parts.
Training is split into movement patterns rather than body parts and that will help to develop the coordination across your whole body.
Just having big arms isn't going to get you to a muscle up, yes it will help, but it isn't everything.
You need to learn how to get your hips and shoulders working together, learn how to apply your core strength to a particular movement and combine them all together to master a skill.
The Main Movement patterns are:
There are also Squat Lunge which are generally done as standalone exercises with a barbell or dumbbells
There are also more complex ones such as Jump and Carry, but for simplicity of training we mainly concern ourselves with the Main Elements above.
Obviously we do not want to ignore or neglect any others and in any given training program you would cover most if not all movement patterns.
With this gymnastics training though, we focus the majority of our time on developing the Push Pull Hold Hinge patterns.
The way we train these patterns is with compound exercises that train the pattern and not individual muscle groups.
So instead of doing bicep curls we would stick to Pull movements that would also include our back and shoulders.
Instead of doing Pectoral Fly we would do a complete Push movement like Ring Dips that would also train our shoulders and triceps.
This allows us to build muscle and strength evenly across our bodies having both benefits of a balanced aesthetic but also a balanced athletic and functional physique that has the ability to perform more complex and challenging skills.
Training these movement patterns allows us to simplify the Foundational elements of our strength training, build our body as a complete unit, and gives us time to develop our skills without compromising or neglecting any part of our body.
Workout, Micro & Macro Cycle Structures
Generally any standalone workout will not give a full picture of a training cycle, but you do have the ability to create ‘complete’ workouts with gymnastics, that work on Skills & Strength
As always when you are training you are going to start with the most difficult training elements and work your way down the line as you become more fatigued. In the case of gymnastics it would look something like this:
Skills (Complex Movements and Holds)
Strength (Basic Movement Patterns)
Finishers / Low Level (simple strength/Control/Balance elements)
Cool Down / Mobility
Moving beyond a single workout and looking at the bigger picture, we would focus a Macro cycle on a particular goal or skill, and Micro cycles would be more focused into developing strength for a skill or building control for a skill.
To simplify this, I refer to cycles as Strength Micro cycles and Skill Micro Cycles
A Cycle would be 4-6 weeks of more Strength dominant or Skill dominant training.
A strength cycle would include Strength and Skill elements as would a Skill Cycle, but each would lean towards their respective element rather than every workout being ‘complete’
Mobility and Flexibility
Mobility is an often overlooked element of training although it is just as important as strength for both longevity and functional capability of your body.
I think it is often neglected because it seems boring or doesn't have the same obvious rewards that getting a good pump does.
But just as Cardiovascular fitness has an effect on your body, so does its ability to move well.
A lot of gymnastics skills require a decent level of mobility and you will always be limited in your potential by how well you are able to move.
If you can't touch your toes, for example, a decent Hanging Leg Raise(Toes To Bar) will always be out of your reach.
If you can raise your hands above your head, a perfect handstand will always be slightly out of reach, just as an overhead squat would.
To me, flexibility (passive) and mobility (active) are necessary elements of training that will help push the needle forward in skill training, in the same way as strength and control.
Combining Disciplines To Develop Skills
Building on all of these elements is ideal, but really what we want is the gold at the end of the rainbow, and developing the skills really are their own reward.
They will help you perform better at your sport or the general navigation of life’s physical challenges, and will provide a refreshing view of the gym that will help keep you engaged in your pursuit of strength and or aesthetic goals well beyond the bench or squat rack.
Dare to challenge yourself, to push the boundaries of what your body is capable of and achieve what is impossible to the average person.
Skill Training is a great supplement to any fitness pursuit and will help you change the way you look at training forever.BODYWEIGHT FOUNDATIONS - COMING SOON