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Philosophy of Gymnastics for the Insane: Part 1

Nov 07, 2013

Yesterday I posted my Gymnastics for the Insane syllabus and today I am going to delve a little deeper and explain why.


In order to walk, squat, swing a kettlebell or olympic lift efficiently we need to know how to stand on our feet in a strong, stable position. We need to use our toes and the arches of our feet for balance, we need to brace our spine in a well organised position and we need to activate our abs and glutes in order to be stable.

It makes sense therefore that before we start walking on our hands, doing handstand push-ups, doing cartwheels and other tricks that we need to learn how to create this same strong, stable foundation on our hands. We need to balance using our fingers and hands, we need to create stability and alignment by pressing through our shoulders (elevating scapula), tucking in our butts (rotating pelvis) and pulling in our chests (protracting scapula), and finally we need to stack everything over our base of support (hands) to give us the strongest most stable position. And this is fucking hard. It takes a long time and a lot of hard work, but it is important. It is the foundation of gymnastics.

A side benefit is that the strength that you create while training handstands is beneficial to so many other areas of your training. Sara, from Agatsu, wrote an amazing article in My Mad Methods about how handstands benefit Olympic lifting.

Landings and Falls

When anyone asks why I teach landings and falls I always tell them this story. On my first day at University Trampoline Club my ego immediately took over and I inadvertently almost killed myself. It had been 5 years since I had done any gymnastics and I'm not sure if I'd ever done a half out (double front with a half turn in the second) in my life but I decided now was a good time to try. I mistimed the exit, landing at a 45 degree angle and immediately projected myself off the end of the 4ft high trampoline. I flew over the length of the trampoline, over the end deck that was there for safety, over the terrified first year students and started falling head first towards the concrete floor. As I reached the ground I decelerated a bit with my arms and then I rolled out and stood up. I pretty much pissed my pants but I didn't have a scratch on me. I have never been so grateful of the years spent practising how to fall.



Bridge was never one of my favourite exercises, I didn't dislike it I would just always rather do handstands or another exercise. So when I stopped doing gymnastics, I stopped doing bridge. That was until a year or so ago when I noticed that all the cool kids were doing bridge. A 3 minute bridge is one of the requirements of the Agatsu level 2 test; bridge is one of the 6 exercises in the amazing Convict Conditioning book and Bill Murray is a big fan of the bridge (I made this one up). So why were they doing bridge? Well my research into this could fill an entire blog post in itself but if I have to quickly convince you of the virtues of a bridge then I would say:

  1. The bridge develops the spinal muscles which protect the spinal cord.
  2. The spinal muscles control the movement of the spine generally helping with throwing, twisting, bending over, lifting etc.
  3. Bridge helps with spinal flexibility and posture.
  4. Bridge helps with opening the thoracic spine, which is important because we spend so much time in the opposite position. Think of the shape of your spine as you sit at your computer. You need to reverse this and bridging really helps.
  5. Once you start bridging you will quickly realise it also works your arms and legs.

Tune in tomorrow for part two where I explain why I am teaching muscle-ups, floor skills and slacklining.

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