Gymnastics and CrossFit North

By Dave Werner

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Basic gymnastics skills were part of CrossFit and training.  Thanks to Nick we were able to get our hands on some great gymnastics equipment. We had a pommel horse, parallel bars, a balance beam, and old worn wooden rings.  It didn’t take long to realize even most basic gymnastics skills were way beyond any adults who had not been a gymnast.  Short comings were body awareness to do basic tumbling, shoulder strength, ab strength, mobility to “fold”.  I quickly realized we couldn’t even start the most basic gymnastics training.  I started researching everywhere I could, including German and Russian materials, to find gymnastics coaching methods.  I realized we were lacking the skills that 6-year-olds would start with.  Children have great strength to weight ratios so we could not use the same progressions as young children.

I spent several years working out training progressions that adults could follow.  Flexibility and joint mobility were huge stumbling blocks.  For instance, not many adults can fully extend their shoulders when reaching overhead which makes everything based on handstands problematic.  Even a childish playground move like a cartwheel becomes a train wreck when you can’t get your body into the right position.  Overhead flexibility was especially limiting in strong males.  Hamstring flexibility was also a huge limitation for most of our clients learning basic tumbling skills.

Beginning gymnastic skills was a lot of fun to introduce in our training and many of our clients were eager to tackle new things.  At the same time these movements were frustrating for people because they couldn’t do them.  I spent a lot of time thinking of drills that were fun but allowed us to address these fundamental deficiencies.  Being able to move your body is the ultimate use of strength so I stuck with developing this line of training. Along the way we had a core group of people who enjoyed tackling these skills.

The process of developing training methods which adults could actually use to make progress became the defining challenge of my coaching career.  It was not enough for me to see an issue, such as limited shoulder range of motion, and then develop a progression to fix the issue.  It was also essential to get the clients excited about the possibilities that would open up for them if they were willing to work through the training progression.

It was a BIG ask.  Many of these issues would require a long time to fix!  Learning effective stretching methods, developing strength increases, improving body awareness, and the ability to use different body areas together, would have to be accomplished in order to pull off some of the simplest gymnastic movements.

For instance, a lot of strength in the mid-back is needed around the shoulder blades, in order to do strict, no-momentum muscle-ups.  Many people have limited shoulder mobility and are not able to activate this area even to BEGIN training mid-back strength.  As a result, the coaching cues to engage and train the target area don’t really make sense to the trainee.  The words make sense, but the trainee’s body can’t feel it.  It takes time and faith in the coach to work through this situation.

In an attempt to show how one thing leads to another, I ended up developing the Athletic Skill Levels.


Fran learning the Pike Kip on the Parallel Bars

Sam working on his handstand

Dave practices his balance on the beam