The Gears of the Gymnastics Motor, Part 1: Static Positioning

One of the most emphasized aspects of artistic gymnastics is one of the most widely overlooked in competitive fitness gymnastics, and that is static body positioning. In gymnastics there are descriptive terms for a variety of common positions of the core, arms and legs including: arch, hollow, tuck, pike, straddle, stalder, lunge, ‘puck’, ‘cowboy’, blocked out, lever, planche, plank, pressed out, etc. All of these terms and innumerable other variations are combined to create common body positions. These positions form the building blocks of gymnastics skill and successful manipulation of the body in space.

These positions should be recognized

  1. at the start of a skill
  2. when your body goes through them in the middle of a skill and
  3. at the end of a skill

For example, a strict muscle up starts in a false grip hollow hang, goes through the bottom of a dip (deep ring support) and ends up in a straight arm ring support. The parallette ‘shoot through’ starts in a plank, passes through a planche and a tuck support, and then ends up in a reverse plank. A handstand push up starts in a hollow body handstand, goes into a headstand and then back into a hollow body handstand. A swinging TTB starts in an arch, goes through a hollow, into a pike (and lever pull) and then goes back down. And we could go on and on.

So we work static positioning for two reasons. First, if you want to be able to get through gymnastics movements effectively you need to recognize when your body is in each of these positions. In this way you learn new skills faster and can modify movements more effectively. I.e. your coach says “tuck tighter” or “get hollow” or “press out” and your body says, “I know what that feels like so that’s easy.” Second, you need to be strong in those positions. If you are not aware of what the position feels like and do not have the muscle memory and local muscle endurance to hold the position, then you will find yourself unstable. Subsequently, you will either fall out and fail or you will use way too much accessory and unnecessary muscle movement to complete skills.

So how do we work static positioning? The answer here is also two fold. The first part is the easy part. You just identify your common positions and hold, hold, hold and hold. In brute, our athletes spend a lot of time getting into the basic positions on all apparatus commonly used in CrossFit including rings, bar, parallettes, and floor. We hold recognized positions that are in the beginning, middle and end of our tested movements including: deep ring support, ring support, false grip hang, handstand, headstand, bar lever, bar pike, parallete L sit/tuck sit, hollow/arch hold on floor, hollow/arch hold on bar, and the list goes on and on. Our hold and rest times vary and increase incrementally with athlete growth and progress. And we get very, very good results. The reason is not that we invented something new, but that we are implementing something tried and true and known to work in gymnastics training.

The second thing that we do is hold with virtuosity. If we are taking an L-sit for example, our athletes may be able to hold longer with sloppy form (shrugged shoulders, bent legs, letting the triceps relax so the hips fall back), but we prefer good artistic gymnastics form (pushed out shoulders, straight legs, pushing out through the triceps to keep the hips forward). The picture included here is one of our athletes and you don’t have to wonder about whether she is active in that position – you can see it. The reason we train for virtuosity in static positions is the same reason you train to front squat more than you can squat clean. You want to train to be stronger than required for your goals. If you can hold an L-sit for one minute with the proper form then holding in a more relaxed position in competition is cake. Furthermore, the shoulder, tricep and core strength you develop training for virtuosity will serve you well in many more endeavors.

So be humble enough to work the basics, and be bold enough to do them better than anyone around you.

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