To become a superior athlete you need to..
Lift more weight
Lift weight faster
Lift more weight in a given time period.
You can become more physically capable by doing any of the above.
Most strength coaches and athletes are either not thinking about or measuring any of these methods, or they focus on only one of these measures of progress.
There is also a whole other area of development that is neglected by 99% of the strength training community.
Why Has This Occurred?
There was no money in teaching gymnastics movements in a gym. Convincing people machines were the key to strength and performance was a way to get people into gyms and it worked up until the boom of CrossFit.
Before the 1950′s anyone who trained strength was likely to do some weight lifting, some gymnastics and compete in bodybuilding. Guys who did weights would do handstand push-ups, back bridges and partner hand balancing.
They could express their strength and have some fun with or without the barbell. This specialization has also happened in most of our sports.
A special mention for athletes and sports lovers. In the Russian system, which was a nation wide systematic approach to improving physical performance, general strength, body awareness, mobility and work capacity generally was highly regarded and always maintained alongside specific event fitness.
The missing ingredient…
Build and maintain structural integrity, skill and mobility to remain physically capable in the long term.
The truth is strong athletes and gym goers have a whole world to express their “gym strength” through complex movement. It’s great to improve in terms of weight (1 Load, 2 Speed and 3 Work Capacity) and these goals shouldn’t be disregarded to train “pure” bodyweight movements.
BUT, if you’re skipping bodyweight training with your athletes and clients you’re missing half the picture!
What movements should I focus on?
- Rings – Muscle-ups are just the beginning here
- Floor hand balancing and other supports – bent arm and straight arm – planche, handstands, push-ups – handstand push-ups, L-sits, V-sits etc.
- Bar work – chin-up / dip variations, most of the above can be done on parallel bars or a single bar.
- Locomotion – somersaults, jumping, sprinting, skipping, crawling, rolling, trampoline work etc.
- Functional mobility
Why should I bother?
Because they’ll get you results, that’s why!
Closed chain movements will yield superior strength gains transferable to the real world. This is commonly acknowledged with the squats / deadlifts vs. leg press debate for running athletes. Even pull-ups are almost always considered superior to lat-pull downs.
Why then would handstand push-ups, dips, planche variations etc. not be our best upper body strength developers for real world strength?
A couple of recent experiences
I’ve had two recent interactions that anecdotally support my theory…
A world record holding bench press competitor, Florian Loock, recently came to train with me, he had just benched 220.5kg the week before!
His background? He was a national level junior gymnast!
One of Australia’s leading coaches in Olympic lifting, Martin Harlowe, also shared a story about two girls he has that within 12 months of lifting were already national standard.
What did they have in common with Florian? Both had been competitive gymnasts until they made the switch!
There are four key reasons to utilize body weight training:
1. More tools
If you’re a coach then you will have another set of tools to use to help your athletes and clients. I have seen first hand that the sense of achievement with teaching people L-sits, shoulders stands and muscle-ups is something completely different to adding another 5kgs to their deadlift. These achievements are valuable for the psyche and performance of the athletes I support.
2. Increased body awareness
Knowing where the body is and how to change those positions is at the heart of what we do in performance coaching training. Yes more force and more speed are part of this picture but so too is movement quality.
If you think of wrestling then it’s easy to see how strength, control and body awareness through awkward positions will be much better developed through a combination of gymnastics and powerlifting strength than powerlifting alone.
Stagnation is death. We must progress to stay alive and with this training the next movement challenge is never too far away.
As you’re able to use your body in ways you never thought possible and ways that 99.9% of the population will never even dream of, you will build a deeper belief in your capacity to learn and improve in the gym and in life.
Never underestimate the value of self-belief and knowing you’ve gone beyond the work of your competitors in your preparation.
4. Injury prevention
Closed chain movements have long been valued for the hamstrings. I’m here to tell you that there is nothing better for creating healthy shoulders than ring training, handstands and levers.
Even Charles Poliquin has seen this and placed them at the top level of his movement hierarchy.
So what does it mean for you?
In 2016 it’s not about what you know. It’s about what you can do, and the results you get with what you teach.
If you’re a performance coach or a PT then you need to keep up with this time of experience and expression. There is nowhere to hide, not behind machines, degrees or textbooks.
Learn new skills. Give yourself and your athletes unbreakable capacities and confidence in the human body!