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Archive for the ‘Skill work’ Category

Parkour Coach Andrey Is Tarzan

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Sometimes, we need to just play.  If you provide kids an interesting environment, they will play.  They will experiment with trees, rocks, water, sticks, dirt, bugs, etc.  We tend to move away from this child-like curiosity as we get older and we really shouldn’t.  Playing in natural environments is a great way to develop and keep strength.  Not everything has to be programmed out…sometimes the best thing to do is just get out there and create.

From Andrey:

After watching a Tarzan cartoon a while back, the idea of flowing through trees that grow close together sounded super fun and challenging.  And so, I scouted places in SF, figured out a line, practiced, discovered what poison oak is all about, found an amazing cameraman, and shot it.  Hope this video inspires you to go play on those trees like I did.  They are all over Golden Gate Park and Mountain Lake Park in SF, enjoy! “

The Free Standing Handstand Push Up

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Bottom phase of a HSPU

Bottom phase of a HSPU

From The Vault

Originally published in the CrossFit Journal and now resides at - Free Standing Handstand Push Up

Performing handstand push-ups (HSPUs) without the support of a wall or spotter dramatically increases the demands of the movement. The stabilization required during the movement provides a stimulus that is simply not present when the HSPU is assisted. Regularly performing freestanding HSPUs will dramatically improve any overhead lifting or throwing activities. The following article provides a progression for developing the ability to do a freestanding HSPU, starting with no handstand experience whatsoever. This process may take years for many people.

Beginning handstands

Many people will be intimidated simply by the concept of doing a handstand. Fears of falling and/or not being able to support themselves with their arms will be the primary hindrances early on. Proper positioning and a gradual progression will take trainees through this process safely and quickly.

The first step to a handstand is simply to learn how to be comfortable in a hand support. A vertical handstand is not necessary to start this process. Start with a folded panel mat, plyo box, or other stable raised surface. Stand in a shallow lunge in front of the object with arms overhead. In the lunge, the rear leg is the kicking leg, and the front leg is the support leg. Place your hands on the object, and kick your rear leg up toward the ceiling so that the support leg comes off the ground only a few inches. Start small. Getting up into a handstand at this point is not necessary and not recommended.

This initial stage can tell you a lot about the handstand and you can begin to improve handstand technique. The first thing to look for is proper shoulder angle. Many people will push their shoulders forward past their hands. This creates a very unstable position unless the individual performing the handstand is capable of performing a planche. The shoulders should be completely open and active with the arms by the ears. The head should be positioned so that your hands are just visible by looking toward them with your eyes (not moving your whole head). If you can see two feet past your fingertips then your head is too far out and your shoulder angle likely is “broken.” Once the proper position has been established, work on kicking higher. If the handstand is approaching 45 degrees from vertical it is time to move off of the raised surface.

Before moving to a handstand on the ground, you should be very comfortable with forward rolls. A forward roll is the easiest and safest way to exit a handstand that falls forward. Training a forward roll is discussed in detail in CrossFit Journal issue 38.

Practicing a handstand on the ground may be the starting point for individuals who already have a solid base level of strength and kinesthetic awareness. The starting point is the same as it was for the raised object. Start in a shallow lunge with arms overhead. Kick to a handstand by lunging forward and kicking your rear leg up toward the ceiling. The kick is what brings the hands to the floor, not reaching down with the hands. A very common mistake is to reach down with the hands, which breaks the shoulder angle and creates a less stable position. The line from wrists to the rear leg should be kept straight. When starting to kick to handstand, the kick should be kept low. As with the handstand drill on a box, only a small kick is necessary to identify deficiencies in the position. Once proper positions have been demonstrated, the kick can be taken higher. Simply kicking up and stepping back down repeatedly will begin to bring the hips higher in each kick and train an understanding of the shoulder and arm push required to hold a handstand. Once the kick leg is reaching vertical, the support leg can be brought up to meet it in the handstand.

Holding a handstand and improving alignment Once a kick to handstand is consistent, shift focus to holding the handstand. The only way to improve your ability to hold a handstand is to practice handstands. Do handstands whenever you get a chance. This is comparable to learning to walk. When children learn to walk they practice constantly. This is the same approach that should be taken with handstands. A solid static handstand is essential to performing free standing handstand push ups. Handstands can be practiced against a wall to develop strength in the position and to allow for enough time in the handstand to play with body alignment. Handstands against a wall should be practiced both with the back to the wall and facing the wall.

Handstands facing away from the wall do not encourage a proper hollow handstand posture, but allow for practicing balance in a handstand. Start in a lunge facing the wall and kick to handstand so that your heels hit the wall. Be sure to place your fingertips only a couple of inches away from the wall. Start the lunge far enough away from the wall so that you have to stretch forward a bit as you kick to the handstand. This will force a better alignment in the shoulders and improve the mechanics of the kick. This also creates proper positions for other kicking skills such as front handsprings and round offs. Once in the handstand, the shoulders should be pushed up (toward the ears) as far as possible and fully extended. There should be no angle between the shoulders and torso. The line between wrists and toes should be as straight as possible. Once the handstand is aligned properly, push with your fingertips and try to pull your heels away from the wall slightly to hold the handstand. As you get more stable you can walk your hands farther away from the wall to practice your balance.

Practicing handstands facing the wall helps to ensure a proper hollow handstand position but does not allow for balance practice as readily as facing away from the wall does. To get into a handstand facing the wall start with your back to the wall, bend down and place your hands on the floor 1 to 2 feet away from the wall, then walk your feet up the wall as you walk your hands in to the wall. Try to get your hands as close as possible to the wall. Your toes should be pointed and the tops of your feet should be the only thing touching the wall. It is possible to do this with your wrists virtually touching the wall assuming handstand alignment is good. Proper alignment is an open hollow with shoulders fully extended and pushed up. Think about pushing your toes as high toward the ceiling as possible. Once this position is obtained, try to push away from the wall slightly and transfer your weight to your fingertips and hold the handstand.

Practice freestanding handstands as often as possible. Kick up to a handstand whenever you get a chance. When you kick to handstand, think about extending your lunge, keeping your shoulders open, and maintaining a straight line between your kick heel and your hands. Part of your practice should be just trying to stay on your hands no matter what it takes. Walk, break form and bend your arms, just stay in the handstand. As you spend time in the handstand you will begin to feel the adjustments that are necessary to maintain it.

In addition to practicing handstands allowing for walking, you should also make a concerted effort to practice static handstands. Kick into a handstand with a tight, straight body and don’t move. If you have to take a step, come down and try again. As with previous handstands, kick into the handstand with an extended body and shoulders. Once in the handstand squeeze your legs together, extend your shoulders so that they are completely open, and hold the body in a straight, slightly hollow position. Think about digging your fingertips into the floor while practicing static handstands. This will create a more solid base for the handstand. Think about leaning the handstand slightly forward, as it is easier to save a handstand that is falling forward (over onto your back) than it is to save a handstand falling backward. (The exception to this is on rings.) To save a handstand that is falling forward, extend through your shoulders and dig your fingers into the floor as hard as you can. To save a handstand falling backward pike your shoulders and hips and if necessary bend your arms. As the handstand gets stronger, a slight planche will save a handstand that is falling backward.

Assisted Handstand Push Ups

There are several methods of performing assisted HSPUs. Each has benefits, and the various methods should all be used in the progress toward a freestanding HSPU. Doing HSPUs against a wall allows the balance factor to be removed from the exercise so you can begin to strengthen the movement. As with static handstands, these can be done facing the wall or facing away from it. A spot can provide as much balance and lift assistance as necessary. HSPUs can be performed on the ground or on parallettes. Parallettes allow for greater range of motion and help to stabilize the handstand. They can also relieve wrist strain for those with inflexible or injured wrists.

Proper technique during the assisted HSPU will allow faster progress. Throughout the HSPU the body should be kept hollow and as rigid as possible. It is much easier to push a stick than a rope: make your body like a stick. The elbows should be kept in close to the body throughout the motion, not flared out to the sides. In the bottom of the HSPU your hands should be about six to twelve inches in front of your shoulders and your elbows should be directly above your hands. Upright, this would be like holding two dumbbells just in front of your shoulders with your elbows directly beneath your hands. Do not allow your elbows to jut out to the sides or your stability will be severely compromised. When doing HSPUs with your back to the wall, start by just kicking up and working through the movement with your hands close to the wall. As you get stronger move your hands farther away from the wall to allow you to lean your shoulders forward toward the wall as you descend on the HSPU. This forward movement of the shoulders is essential to developing the control required for freestanding HSPUs. In addition to the shoulder lean, bend one or both legs to allow your knees to move away from the wall as well, so you can maintain a straight body from the knees to the hands.

Practicing HSPUs facing the wall allows for a hollow position and proper shoulder mechanics without compromising positions in the legs. Hands should be placed a few inches away from the wall to allow for the lean that is necessary in a freestanding HSPU. As the HSPU descends the shoulders should track forward of the hands. The torso should be kept hollow throughout the motion. Resist the urge to arch as you push back to the handstand.

The self-spotted HSPU was introduced to me by the CrossFit community and is an excellent option for practicing HSPU. Using a bar or stacked mats that are just under shoulder height, kick up to the handstand so that your heels can hook the support. You can then use your legs to help balance and lift the HSPU, which makes this exercise a glute and hamstring exercise in addition to training the HSPU.

A practiced spotter can give enough assistance to allow someone who can just barely hold a handstand to perform an HSPU. This same spotter can also provide minimal, balanceonly assistance to someone who is almost capable of a freestanding HSPU. The spotter should stand in front of the spottee and catch his heels as he kicks up to the handstand. From this point on, the spotter should provide the least assistance possible. To provide balanceonly assistance, the spotter can keep her hands completely open, with her thumbs on the spottee’s calves and fingers on the spottee’s shins. This way no vertical assistance will be provided. On the other end of the spectrum, if the spottee is highly fatigued, or is just beginning to practice HSPU, the spotter can hug the spottee’s legs and perform squats as the spottee performs HSPU.

If you are able to perform a 10- to 20-second static handstand with proper position and can do HSPUs with minimal assistance, it is time to start working the HSPU free standing. It will be easier to start on parallettes, as they will provide more stability. Kick into the handstand and push into an extended hollow handstand. Shoulders should be actively extended, shoulder angle should be completely open and body should be hollow. As you descend into the HSPU, allow your shoulders to shift forward of your hands and let your legs counterbalance this motion. Remember to keep your elbows in. At this stage you will find yourself piking to control the balance at times. This is OK. As you progress, you will find that you can pike far enough to touch the floor with your toes at the bottom of the HSPU then press it back to a handstand. As your HSPU gets more stable, aim to eliminate this pike. The effort required to perform one freestanding HSPU is drastically greater than the effort required in one assisted HSPU, and the stabilization it requires provides a demand and stimulus otherwise not present in the movement.

A freestanding HSPU will take a significant amount of work to accomplish, but the benefits gained along the way will be significant as well. All overhead work will be dramatically improved and stabilized. Performing freestanding HSPUs during a workout will increase the time required to complete the workout versus doing HSPUs with assistance, but it will increase the demands and benefit of the workout. As your freestanding HSPU gets more solid, the time discrepancy will be reduced. Practice freestanding handstands and HSPUs frequently. And be patient, as it will take significant practice to perform them with any consistency.

The Kip Challenge Was Completed

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

A while back we had a group of level 3 gymnasts that were all really close to getting a glide kip on uneven bars. Since these would be the first Cave grown gymnasts to get their kip we decided to make a little challenge out of it. Amanda offered up a batch of cookies (paleo of course) to the first one to make their kip. After much work and progress a couple weeks ago the challenge was completed. Adeline T. got her kip (this was very quickly followed by Meghan R.). And now we have a whole new batch of gymnasts ready to make their kip.

The kip on uneven bars brings much frustration to younger gymnasts. It is an all but essential skill for uneven bars, but requires quite a bit of strength and technique. For most it takes a LOT of work to get. Many hours are spent working on glides, developing strength and getting frustrated. Getting a kip is a significant achievement and we celebrate it every time.

And Even More Backhandsprings

Friday, November 8th, 2013

We had a fantastic floor day on Tuesday with the level 3 girls. Mina and Annesley both got their round off backhandsprings. Things keep happening at The Cave. New skills all the time.

Balandin Does It Again

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Aleksandr Balandin is a gymnast that is freakishly strong. He has made a name for himself  because of his ability to do one thing really, really well. His strength in internal rotation and closing his shoulders is unique. He now has three elements on rings that he pioneered. All of them involve the same basic strength. From hang butterfly through to some other point. A butterfly is a straight arm pull from hang through an iron cross. This skill has been around for a while, but Balandin takes it to a whole other level, by then pressing through a maltese to either stop, press through to inverted cross, or press up to planch. Regardless of where it ends up this skill would have been considered impossible not too long ago. Think through how tough just holding a solid support on rings is, then watch the routine.

Another Round Off Back Handspring

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Monika P. is another one of our level 3 girls. I’ve just recently really started to work on their dynamic tumbling and they are picking it up fast. As posted in Athlete Profile and Gymnastics Development you saw Kayla K. doing round off back handsprings. Now we have more. If you’re involved in the gymnastics program you can’t miss it, if you’re not, take a look over on that side of the gym. You’ll see some impressive stuff going on. More to come…

Keeping Tight

Monday, March 4th, 2013
Mark isn't tight enough

Mark isn't tight enough

If you listen to the south side (gymnastics area) of the gym you will often hear “keep tight”, “tighten up”, or other similar statements coming from the coaches. In gymnastics this idea of keeping key parts of your body rigid is essential to performance of the sport. It is completely second nature for me to squeeze my legs any time they come off the ground.

There are several reasons behind this need to keep tight. The most obvious to an outside observer is that gymnastics is a subjective sport with judging. It is not merely who can perform the biggest tricks, but who can do it while keeping in control and making it look a certain way. Fortunately, for the most part, these cosmetic demands and performance demands are not at odds with each other. Keeping good form, and staying tight generally makes the movements far easier, in many cases it is the only reason they are possible.

This efficacy that comes from keeping tight has everything to do with efficient transfer of energy. Loose body parts act as energy dissapators. Wiggly legs during a swinging skill will act as a shock absorber and mute some of the effort put into a skill. Keeping certain body segments rigid helps to efficiently transfer energy from one part of the body to another, which is absolutely critical in many gymnastics elements.

This skill is taught, encouraged, and constantly trained in gymnastics, but not in many other sports. However, the concept is still applicable and important. Top athletes in any sport do this intuitively. Watch a golfer at the top of his game, when the club is swung, there is a tight line from the golfer’s hip through the torso and shoulder, down the arm to the club. There are key points of tension and pull that allow maximal energy transfer from hip to club head. You can see this in any sport if you watch closely. It certainly applies to CrossFit and is part of why some people can perform movements with far less effort than others.

So take a look at your movements. Are you wasting energy unnecessarily? Could you tighten up on some movements to make things easier?

Ryan Ford on How to Train for Ninja Warrior

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Ok, Cavers, it’s a quick post day.  So here’s a “How to Train for Ninja Warrior” video by Ryan “Demon Drills” Ford and Brandon Douglass.  I’ve been wanting to make one of these myself but he beat me too it, and I don’t mind promoting his work, since he’s a good instructor.  Some of you will notice that there is quite a bit of overlap and many similarities with CrossFit training.  Indeed, a lot of those same functional movement skills come in very useful on the Ninja Warrior course.  Most of my top picks for exercises would have been the same.  Please comment and let me know what you think.

For the record, Ryan Ford finished 32nd in the south west regional qualifiers, narrowly missing the semi-finals for one of the most competitive regions in the nation.  He had an injured ankle before the warped wall.  I will also give him credit for training some of the very beasts that kept him out of the semi’s and providing them with their training grounds, Apex movement.  Brandon Douglass is considered Ninja Warrior Elite, and tied for 10th in 2012 ANW 4 in Las Vegas, along with Elet Hall (NE region) and our own JB Douglass, falling on the transition of the Unstable Bridge in Stage 2.

The Soft Curve vs. the Sharp Curve in the Snatch

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

This blog post is about the hip contact on the snatch.  One day, maybe about a year and a half ago, Russ and a perhaps a few of our athletes and coaches went to do an Olympic Lifting session with John North at California Strength and conditioning.  One of the big things that was brought back was the “hip contact” on the snatch.  Personally I never particularly liked this technique myself, preferring to keep the bar closer to my body through the transition and chaulked up the contrast more to a difference of style than neccesity, (seeing as that there are other elite lifters that don’t use this “hip bump” and have more of what I’ll call a “soft curve”, as you’ll see in the Heavy Musing video).  Nevertheless I didn’t argue the new coaching cue going around the gym.  After all, I consider myself a descent Olympic Lifting coach, but not a master at it by any means.  While I may have a descent snatch for a CrossFitter, (85kg or about 185 lbs, a little over bodyweight) and a several years experience teaching the Olympic Lifts,  John North, has made a career out of specializing in Olympic Lifting and can toss up over 160kg.  But recently the topic has come up again in my teaching circles and I wanted to expose what I think of as this “difference in style” in greater detail using my favorite Olympic Lifting video, “Heavy Musings” by Iron Maven.   If you’ve followed my blog posts for long enough, you’ve probably seen it before (it’s a real gem, pay close attention to the details and subtle differences in bar bath trajectories and body positions ).

At one extreme of the not using contact we have the “soft curve”.  I think the best example used in the video is the grid and bar path trajectory shown in minute 1:31.  Notice that the curve that is traced by the bar at about the point of full extension is still a soft arc, as opposed to fat kid (please don’t tell him I said that!) at 4:48 who definitely uses a lot of contact to execute his successful lift.  Both are great lifts with what I would consider different styles, and obviously a lot more than I can do myself and with better technique, but I still have a strong personal preference for the “soft curve” in 1:31.  Evidently someone else shares a similar opinion.  If  you watch the video on YouTube you’ll notice that mikeyburger1 comments “@1:31 that curve is almost perfect..”  Presumably that’s Olympic Lifting coach Mike Burgner.  But obviously the contact technique has it’s merits as well. Watch the video again at 4:48.  It’s amazing how far back he leans on his jump right before his transition.  I was expecting the bar to be displaced forward somewhat after the , but he actually manages to keep it almost entirely over his base after the hip contact.

There are other amazing lifts throughout the video that fall in between these two extremes, and they are worth observing and scrutinizing as well.  To me the trajectory of the bar in a well executed snatch is almost majestic in how it traces such a beautiful and sublime path through space and I think this is captured amazingly throughout the video. Perhaps my preference for the “soft curve” is partly aesthetic?!?

So what do you think?  Do you prefer the subtle soft curve?  Or do you prefer having that sharp, distinct thigh or hip contact near the point of full extension?  Have you every switched from one technique to the other?  If you have, did you find what you tried helpful?  If so, was it helpful for long term gains or short term gains?  Please share your thoughts.

Athletes Keep Getting Better

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

As time goes on we see new world records. People are running faster, lifting more weight, jumping further and in some sports doing entirely new movements. Timescales at which these are changing are far too short (by current theories) for selective processes to be leading to these changes, additionally there is little selective pressure in humans, but that is entirely a different subject. These records are being beat by better training, nutrition, understanding of mechanics and in many cases (unfortunately) drugs.

Periodically there is an individual where many things line up exceptionally well. A personal strongly genetically suited for a sport happens to choose that sport early on in life and is in the right place geographically and financially to take advantage of a coach that can truly lead them to their potential. Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps are two such individuals. When this happens previous records are beat and in some cases crushed. These records then tend to stand for a long time.

In most sports shaving a few hundredths off of a time, lifting one more kg or jumping a couple cm further or higher is the continual next step. In sports like gymnastics it could be performing the next big skill. The skills being done at the elite level are phenomenal, many of which were considered impossible by the top gymnasts and coaches in the sport just a few decades ago. An example is a triple back flip on floor, which was considered impossible (I’ve even seen articles discussing why from a physics perspective), but Valeri Liukin (Nastia Liukin’s dad) competed this skill in the early 80s.  The video is Epke Zonderland performing the 2012 Olympic Gold medal high bar routine.  He has a release move sequence that is just ridiculous.

A double back flip over the bar to regrasp is called a Kovacs (skills are named after the first gymnast to compete them in a sanctioned international competition). This skill has been around since the 80s. In the early 90s a full twist was added to the skill to make it a Coleman. Then it started being performed layed out (straight body) and with a twist to be a Cassina. This year in the Olympics Epke Zonderland strung a few of these movements together. Cassina-Kovacs-Coleman. Eventually we will reach human limits, but we’re not there yet.

And to see that there is still more to come. An unofficial Cassina 2. A stretched Kovacs double full.