Today I want to talk about a crucial topic in our training-optimization. We all have a limited amount of time: our lives go fast, and our projects are broad. Unless you want to dedicate fully to strength training, at some point you are going to be faced with the decision of what to focus on and what to sacrifice. This is also important because we know that training is only one part of life: we want to be complete humans, not specialized gymnasts nor even “movers”. Training minimalism is a must for someone committed with the big picture.
So, as you can see, this topic is of great importance. As such, this article looks to analyze what are the main strength movements that are the best, in my opinion, to focus on. I want this to be a opinion with arguments, which is why I’m going to analyze certain companies in the movement world that have tried to reduce strength training to certain movements, to see what’s common to them.
Gymnastics Bodies has the following strength courses: Foundation, Rings, Handstand and Fundamentals.
Foundation->You develop the Front lever, Planche, Manna, Side lever, Single leg squat, Hollow back press and Rope climb.
Rings->In Rings 1 you develop the Back lever, Muscle up and Rings support. I would say in the other courses they will go for different rolls, kips, transitioning skills (muscle ups, elevator, pelican) and straight arm elements (press to handstand, iron cross, maltesse, inverted iron cross and maybe victorian)
Handstand->Handstand 1 develops a 120 sec handstand, Handstand 2 develops Press to handstand (tuck, pike and straddle) and Handstand 3 develops an Straddle One arm Handstand.
Fundamentals->It’s about learning basic concepts and positions.
Extra->In this post, Coach Christopher Sommer argued that his top 5 gymnastics strength exercises were a Ring series, Press handstands, Handstand push ups, Rope climb and Front & Back limbers.
Gold Medal Bodies strength programs are Elements, Integral Strength, Parallettes and Rings.
Elements->Introductory program with locomotion exercises for identifying weaknesses in strength, flexibility and/or control.
Integral Strength->They go for progressions on movements like Push ups, Chin ups, L-sits, Bridges, Shrimp squats and Jumps.
Parallettes->Parallettes 1 develops various movements, Parallettes 2 develops Bent arm press to handstand (you can go for straight arm), Double arm lever, Single arm lever, Planche, Straddle hold and V-sit.
Rings->Rings 1 develops various movements, Rings 2 develops Back Kip, Front kip, Forward roll, Back lever, Front lever, Iron cross and Handstand (with a bent arm press)
Upper body->You can see here that he’s chosen the Pike press to handstand, Stalder press to handstand, Planche, Front lever, 360 pulls, Handstand push ups and One arm chin up. He also said that, on top of those, each person can choose 2 more movements.
Lower body->He hasn’t being clear, but one could deduct from some of his comments that it is 2x bw high bar squat, 3x bw conventional deadlift and maybe some movements like harop curl, shrimp squat, and the Olympic lifts.
He has said before that his top 4 movements are Deadlift, Front squat, Chin ups and Dips. He also said that the Strongman version of this would be Tire Flips, Log Clean and Press, Stone Loading and Keg Carries.
What to do?
If you got to here, you might be thinking that doing all this stuff is just impossible. If you sum all of the previous “fundamental” movements, you would get a number of almost 50! If they are fundamentals, why can’t people agree on them?
First of all, because every company wants to create a distinctive trademark. I get this, but you should also understand that there are things that connect them all. Second of all, because, in reality, there are no fundamentals. I agree some of this movements give us amazing qualities that can make us better “movers”, but just as today we focus for historical reasons on gymnastics type training, tomorrow we may say doing a downward dog is a fundamental position for any human being.
Anyways, I still believe these efforts towards integration have a lot of value. If you think about it, all of the movements that I mention could be reduced to:
-Press to handstand variations: This could be from an L-sit, a Manna, Single arm levers, passing through a Planche, with a 90 degree push up, with bent or straight arms, in a pike, tuck or straddle position, with one arm, etc. This movement by itself will integrate many of the above.
-Rope climb: You could do it with one arm, on a front lever position, behind the back, on a V-sit, weighted, etc. All of your bent arm upper body pulling can be covered here.
-Rings routine: This covers many bent arm movements (handstand push ups, chin ups, push ups, dips, muscle ups, etc) and straight arm movements (planche, front lever, iron cross, maltesse, etc).
-Limbers: The only person to mention this was Coach Sommer but I think they are crucial, because they introduce us to the “back reality” and the world of tumbling. They can be slow (bridge pull, dropback, etc), static (bridges, mexican and scorpion handstand) and plyometric (handspring, walkover, valdez, etc).
The only movement that would not be covered here would be the Side lever. If you wanted to, you could add a category named “Pole movements”, but I believe if you just focus on the 4 movements above you will have the necessary strength for pole movements.
-Hinge variations: This would include deadlift variations, olympic pulls (snatch and clean pull), kettlebell swings and jumps. It would also include the Tire flips and Stone loading.
-Squat variations: You could do unilateral movements (pistol, shrimp, dragon) or barbell exercises like back squats, overhead squats, front squats, etc.
A movement like an Snatch is a combination of a Hinge and a Squat.
I have not included any upper body movement with barbells because I believe bodyweight exercises beat anything here. One could, for example, add the Overhead press as a worthy movement with barbells, but remember that I am trying here to optimize as much as possible. You could very well add it as an auxiliary exercise, but for our primary strength goals what we want are movements that in reality are worlds: if you get a chest fly, the road is over, but if you create a category as “squat”, the journey really has no end.
Finally, I haven’t included any Loaded carried movements like the Farmer’s walk, nor any Lunges or Twist movements, because I think with the Hinge and the Squat you have more than enough for your lower body, and those other movements could serve as auxiliaries.
So what are my 6 fundamental strength movements? They are:
-Press to handstand
Believe me when I tell you that I have thought out very well this movements because I myself have had the “I might be missing something” syndrome. The distrust of our own criteria is a characteristic of the Information Era. You don’t have to sacrifice all of your crazy projects (one arm headstand push up, hefesto, etc), as you can use them as auxiliaries for this movements and probably integrate them in some manner.
But, if being a minimalist is of your interest, make these six movements the center which everything revolves around. If you focus on developing and exploring all of the six movements above, I promise you will not miss anything, and that any movement practice you want to engage on will become a matter of skill, not of strength.
Click here to see part 2 of this article, that talks about the long term approach to this movements.
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