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Apr 22

Become The Lord Of The Rings

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“You cannot run away from weakness; you must some time fight it out or perish; and if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?” — Robert Louis Stevenson

Whether you want to stand atop the podium the CrossFit Games or you just want to keep posting personal bests on the whiteboard, your level of success is predicated on a willingness to identify and summarily eliminate deficiencies. And even though a full third of all CrossFit programming includes various gymnastics elements, many athletes marginalize the importance of these moves, instead dedicating their early time at the gym to easier skills they have deemed a greater priority. But any serious CrossFitter should stubbornly insist on eliminating weaknesses, not avoiding them.

Gymnastics moves are intimidating if you have never done them before — or if you’ve tried in front of fellow athletes and failed. But mastering these moves and their core elements can make you vastly more proficient at everything else you do in CrossFit.

“CrossFit founder Greg Glassman is an ex-gymnast who understands the benefit of moving the body in different planes and has set gymnastics up as a foundational element of CrossFit,” says Jeff Tucker, former gymnast and CEO of CrossFit GSX  in Fort Worth, Texas. “All gymnastics ever did was serve me well throughout my 24-year career as a firefighter. I could move my body better. I was more agile, more explosive, stronger. If you’re not doing gymnastics, you’re not doing CrossFit. It’s that simple.”

Dusty Hyland, co-owner and head gymnastics coach of DogTown CrossFit in Culver City, Calif., believes that gymnastics can be a valuable tool for any athlete because of the many purposes it serves. “Gymnastics is fundamental to everything across the board,” Hyland says. “Basically, it’s no-load weightlifting and body mechanics 101. Put another way, it’s functional bodyweight movement. And for the elite CrossFitter, unfortunately, it’s the most underutilized third of the programming. It shouldn’t be. It can identify mobility deficiencies and help you avoid injury. If you can get efficient in these movements, you’ll have a leg up as a competitor.”

See Also Ring Dip

Additionally, Tucker and Hyland contend that the core strength and stability benefits can translate immediately into nearly every other CrossFit activity. From a stronger kip to a heavier deadlift, those who train gymnastics moves in earnest can expect a significant performance boost.

“We want athletes to understand that the greater their core strength, the greater their overall strength will

be,” Tucker says. “One athlete went from a 325-pound plateau on her deadlift to 369 simply by adding gymnastics moves that better developed her core. For those who would doubt the payoff, we see the proof constantly.”

Don’t go thinking that you have to go all “iron cross” to start getting all gymnast-y. As with anything else, focusing on a basic progression of moves is central to developing proficiency. And these moves, which you will encounter if you spend any length of time at your local box, help to diffuse the aura of impossibility surrounding gymnastics for CrossFitters. No need to start walking over to the rings. Snuffing out this weakness starts, not surprisingly, between your ears.

The Intimidation Factor

Some people who are new to CrossFit — those maybe looking to sweat off a few pounds — are often intimidated when walking into an environment in which people are hand-walking and doing ring dips. This throws up a red flag and forces immediate evaluation of their own capabilities. Doubt can quickly creep in about the value or practicality of this type of skill work.

“I think definitions become really important,” Tucker says. “People say that gymnastics are too skill intensive. What is skill-intensive work? Is the snatch skill intensive? Or the overhead squat? So much mechanics go into doing these things correctly before going heavier. One of the greatest things we do that we put out there is that you don’t have to do as much skill-intensive work as you might think to do gymnastics work. And you’re never alone. On average, about 2 percent of people in a class can do most gymnastics moves like the iron cross, and that’s fun for a coach like me. Obviously, there has to be some prerequisite strength. It’s only once we find a starting point that we start to work on more advanced things.”

But the popular vernacular — and what folks have learned about gymnastics from NBC — could cause peoples’ survivalist brains to go into high gear. No one wants to fall off a high bar, right? “When people use the term ‘gymnastics,’ they immediately think of the Olympics and the highest level of a very specialized sport, not fundamental position,” Hyland says. And, he adds, any coach worth his salt is going to walk you through the progressions in a way that promotes proper skill development and safety.

“What we are really discussing here is a focus on proper position for better mechanics in movement,” Hyland says. “Efficient movement rooted in safety starts with the development of optimal position. And once you can train without fear, you can train in earnest.”

Training (Slowly) in Earnest

Step away from the rings. We’re not there yet. Before we can snuff out your glaring gymnastics incompetence (or unwillingness), you have to resign yourself to starting small. And on the floor. Try the following exercises.

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