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.
Archive for the ‘Skill work’ Category
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…
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?
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.
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.
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.
I think it’s an appropriate time to admit it, even if it’s not completely Kosher in the CrossFit, Gymnastics, or Parkour world. Baseball is pretty awesome. It’s just a sweet game. It’s the ultimate duel of wills and strategy. It takes that unique human ability to launch missiles out of our hands with just the powers of the human body (and awesome mechanics) to an extreme that boggles the mind. No matter how hard we train at anything, there are animals, other species that is, that can pretty much kick our ass at whatever we try to do physically- except for throwing. We’re the throwing champions and that ability has lifted us over the prehistoric giants. If it weren’t for throwing, we’d probably be extinct, because that’s how we made up for our otherwise great lack of physical aptitude and made food out of larger, stronger, scarier animals. Today we don’t have to hunt with stones and spears, but we showcase our great ability to throw and our amazing fine motor control in Baseball, and we have some pretty awesome teams right here in the Bay Area. Since we have quite a few baseball fans in The Cave, and two Major League teams to be proud of, I’ve decided that today’s blog is going to be about baseball and pitching mechanics.
How about our San Francisco Giants and Barry Zito keeping the season alive? Sometimes you just do have to earn your $126 million and extend the season. Here is a slow motion of his pitching mechanics:
Believe it or not, this does relate to CrossFit in some way. Pitching mechanics might be the most beautiful illustration of what Greg Glassman has called the common theme in functional movements: Core to extremity. The power is generated in the large muscle groups, which would be the legs and the core and is then transferred and magnified into and by the extremities, which in this case would be through the shoulder, upper arm, fore arem, wrist, hand and finger of the pitching arm. Here is a repost of my favorite pitching mechanics video featuring Tim Lincecum:
You have to love physics. Here is a little video regarding some of the strategy of pitching:
Most of you know that the Giants just won their last game 5-0 vs. the Cardinals, so they’re in a must win situation heading back home to AT&T park. Hey, at least we’ve got an exciting series!
The A’s have been eliminated by the Detroit Tigers, nonetheless they definitely deserve a lot of recognition, especially when you consider the following:
The 2012 Oakland team beat Texas to win the division on last game of the season after trailing by 13 games.
Team Payroll for 2012:
#1 NY Yankees - 195.9 million - 94 wins
#5 Texas Rangers - 120.5 million - 93 wins
#30 Oakland A’s - 49.1 million - 94 wins
Sometimes you just have to fight the odds, believe and go at it like you’re the champ, and the A’s have done just that, and they lost to one hell of a Detroit Tigers team. Here is the trailer for a great movie about what it takes to be the fighting underdog:
So let’s hope The San Francisco Giants rise to the occasion for the next two games to get to the World Series.
Our friend and neighbor, Andrew Frierson owns Andrew’s Camps next door. He is a former minor league baseball player who runs summer camps and coaches baseball. He has actually sent some of his aspiring Ninja Warrior kids over to our parkour classes and after they are done running, jumping, swinging and vaulting they go next door to hit some baseballs. What an awesome place to grow up if you’re a kid, next to the Cave and Andrew’s camps!! I just want to see our little Ninjas grow up to play baseball and be able to do a wall run up the outfield wall to keep a would-be homer in the ballpark! How cool would that be?!
During a conversation with a relatively recent Caver who has been doing CrossFit with us for a few months, I asked her if she’d be interested in taking a parkour class. I was very surprised when she told me that it seemed to her that Parkour was more of a “guy thing” or a boy’s sport than a girl’s. Now, in my opinion, there may be some good reasons why not to try parkour, but that should definitely not be one of them. Parkour isn’t a guy’s sport, especially not any more than CrossFit is a guy’s sport! I can see why some people may think that, say, boxing is more becoming for men than for women (that is not my personal opinion, women can be boxers if they so choose, but I can understand that line of thought more so than for other sports.) but women excel and love to practice most sports, and especially parkour! It is actually more beautiful to watch, in some ways, than guys doing parkour. While elite traceurs (male parkour practitioners) can be more powerful and explosive, traceuses (female parkour practitioners) are generally more graceful and have beautiful “flow” and lines. It’s hard to explain, but I really don’t have to because I have a video to prove it and you’ll see what I’m talking about:
So now we’ve settled that issue. Parkour isn’t “for boys”. How about for CrossFitters? Well, depends what kind of CrossFitter you are. It seems that these days CrossFitters are interested simply in CrossFit. Old school CrossFitters had a broader interest. Back in the day, when no one knew what the hell CrossFit was, some of us (including Roger and myself) were like CrossFit evangelists telling everyone about it, and Greg Glassman would travel around with his posse talking to people and having seminars and explaining to people “What is CrossFit”. This is a partial quote from the “What is CrossFit” page on CrossFit.com:
“Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.”
Back then it wasn’t about simply decreasing your Fran time, or 1-rep maxes, it was about being exposed to a wide variety of movement stimuli. ”Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survivial, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness..” part of the prescription was to go out and try all these things, including gymnastics. As a matter of fact, my second exposure to parkour came at a CrossFit certification seminar in Sta Cruz where Glassman had guest speaker Jesse Woody from American Parkour do a little presentation on parkour as part of the cert. In my own Level-1 certification I assisted Roger in teaching the gymnastics segment (we taught handstands, back handsprings, round offs, rolling, presses, etc- not just “handstand push-ups” leaning against a wall) and we got to learn combat from John Hackleman. It was all part of the program just as much as working with a barbell was. The CrossFit that I was exposed to at first which drew my attention included all these interesting things and the piece that resembles it the most is when I see it at the highest level at the CrossFit Games. At least they got to do a triathlon, run an obstacle course and throw stuff. So my point with all of this is that it saddens me when Cavers box themselves in to just “specializing” in CrossFit. You should go out and try stuff! But you’re afraid of getting hurt!- OK, be extra conservative. Don’t do anything rash or be reckless. Swim in a pool, not in the open ocean. Try parkour in a safe gym environment with instruction, not on a wet metal rail over asphalt. Try rock climbing in a gym first before you go do it at the Red River Gorge. Recently not only Cavers but thousands of athletes went off to do the “Tough Mudder”. I heard about a lot of injuries, not just from our gym but from friends of friends. I can guarantee you that if these people trained Parkour in a gym environment first before going off and trying obstacles with a 10 mile run built in they would have been far less likely to get hurt than if they just “winged it”. Their prior experience would have left them much more confident as well. Sure it’s possible to get hurt training new sports in the gym, but it definitely makes you more robust in other activities and the real world!
Now this relates to the ”American Ninja Warrior & Parkour Seminar” that I am hosting here at our very own Cave on Nov. 4th (for adults) and Nov. 3rd (for kids). (The kid’s event is basically sold out but if the weather forecast is for no rain we will open 12 more kids slots.) This, believe it or not, is the perfect situation to step out of your comfort zone and do something new- and relatively safe. How “relatively safe”? As safe as your CrossFit class. Seriously. That safe. Maybe safer. We are very good at designing and scaling obstacles and as long as people listen to instructions and don’t go try something stupid that they’re asked not to do, the risk is minimal. Usually athletes surprise themselves and have big smiles on their faces the whole time and thank us later. What if you can’t make it or it’s not your thing? That’s fine, but try something else. Dance. Judo. Gymnastics. Try something that involves different types of coordination, agility, body control and timing. Maybe it’s picking up an old ball sport that you used to play with your friends as a kid like tennis, baseball or basketball or perhaps it’s going biking, skiing or snowboarding with some of your fellow Cavers. Maybe it’s taking your old skateboard out of the garage, albeit going to the sporting goods store to buy a helmet, wrist guards and knee pads. Live it up, use your body. It’s rewarding!
Recently Patricia M. suggested that we should have a dedicated “falling and rolling” class. She pointed out that this is the type of thing that she would like to feel prepared for and competent at. Surely knowing how to fall and roll is a boost to your “fitness”. At least it was important in “old school” CrossFit. Here are two videos, one with Roger Harrell teaching shoulder rolls in what was probably the 2nd ever gymnastics certification. This video goes over some of the basics movements. Russell Bruel is always a great demo-guy:
But shoulder rolls are mostly useful if you are falling forward and in a somewhat predictable manner. There are many other ways that you can fall. In our Parkour-1 Foundations, the pre-requisite for The Cave’s adult parkour classes, we teach and emphasize shoulder rolls, as well as falling backwards and “break falls”. Nevertheless, those are merely three “orientations” in which you can fall. As in illustration check out this Ukemi video. Ukemi has been referred to as “The Art of Falling”.
This guy is so good at falling that it’s almost weird.
As a disclaimer, I would like to add that even with a lot of training, you shouldn’t be over-confident that you can “always” save yourself in a fall no matter what happens. My friend and former Cave employee Travis Furlanic has several stories where he whizzes down a steep hill into an intersection on his skate board ( I personally do not recommend this- some Ninja Warriors are crazier than others) and saves himself from certain death or paralysis by doing a shoulder roll over the hood of the car of the poor freaked-out driver that happened to be crossing the same said intersection. Of course, Travis lands on the other side of the car on his feet while some bystander is screaming how that was the most awesome thing he’s ever seen. But recently a bearing broke inside the wheel of Travis’ skate board while he was skating down a steep hill. The wheel locked up and when Travis tried a shoulder roll on the fall he under-rotated and dug is shoulder straight into the pavement, separating the joint. He’s ok and doesn’t need surgery, only having a level-2 separation, but it will still take months to heal. This goes to show that even if you have elite instincts and extremely good reaction time, you can’t always save yourself in every situation, but it certainly does reduce the risk of injury.
Many of you have heard me discuss the difference between training and practice before. This is my definition, so this can be taken however you want, but it helps me clarify what I am trying to accomplish by any given activity. Training is what we do when we want to induce a physiological change. These are the changes that make a significant physical difference. In many cases others can see the changes. Muscular growth, heart and lung development, changes in metabolic systems, etc. Practice is what we do to induce a neurological change. Fine motor control, motor patterning, etc.
Given this definition, everything we do falls on a gradient between pure training and pure practice. Some things lean strongly to one side or the other, and other things fall smack in the middle. Almost nothing is fully to one side. An activity could be training to one person, but practice to another given radically different physical capacities.
We only train about 10-20 minutes/day. Training is a fundamentally damaging activity. It stresses your body to induce a response. Excessive training can lead to over training (or under-recovery). As you recover from these stresses you hyper compensate so that the next time you are exposed to that same stress you can handle it a little bit better. Training can include hard sprints, lifting heavy, cycling a lift fast enough to exceed sustainability. Training is generally very uncomfortable.
We can practice significantly more. In some cases 8+ hours/day. With excessive practice there are risks of overuse type injuries, but for the sake of this post lets say that practice activities are non-damaging. Elite athletes often will “train” 8+ hours/day, but what they are actually doing is practicing for most of that time and training for a very small portion of that time. They can handle significantly higher training volume than us normal folks, but they still have to limit training time. Most time is spent refining movements, learning timing, etc. Also understand that what these athletes can handle as “practice” would be “training” for most people. The level of output in their respective sports is very high, but compared to their training intensity it is low.
Practice is where we gain efficiency. Since we can practice for hours we can really refine movement and develop mastery of the mechanics involved in our activities. With enough practice amazing things are possible. This practice will allow you to exhibit strength you can not get through training. This is why we encourage you to come in early, or stay late and practice movements. It won’t negatively impact your training, and it will help your mechanics enormously. So come on down and practice. Pick a few movements to master and put in the time. Be sure you are practicing correctly because “Perfect practice makes perfect”.