Many of you have read my article on The 6 fundamental strength movements, where I presented the Press handstand, Rope climb, Rings routine, Limbers, Hinge and Squat as six key areas for strength development. The main argument was that you could really gathered many awesome movements around these areas, and this approach would let you become more minimalist, focused and, in my experience, a lot stronger for any activity you might want to do.
But now I want to talk about the long term approach. If there is one rule for constantly getting stronger, is the need to optimize and polish your efforts into smaller areas. Even though the movement world preaches generalism, strength & conditioning is usually most productive under the lends of specialization.
For example, it has been shown that only beginners sprinters will increase their maximum speed by working on long cardio. Or that you can only increase your squat by lunging to a certain degree, after which it becomes more and more important to focus on the squat itself.
So after reducing strength training to six areas, I was wondering how far could this minimalism go. This is what I came to:
As you can see, with time the search for optimization will take one to reduce the areas of strength development.
On level 1, you are doing all of the six movements. Once you get good at Limbers, you can integrate them with the Press handstand (like going from a handstand to a bridge), and the same thing can be done with the Rope climb and the Rings routine (as in the rings you are still working on that pulling strength), which is level 2.
For you to get to level 3, it would mean that Press handstands (and everything that they include, which I’m going to talk about later) is already skill work and that you are ready for high level skills on rings. As for the lower body, one can still practice the deadlift and the squat, or look for something between them, like the Elevated snatch grip deadlift (which for Charles Poliquin includes the benefits of both the deadlift and the squat). The Clean & Jerk and Snatch come to mind too, but only by keeping the squat and deadlift as auxiliaries could your strength not regress in the long term.
With the right preparation, the Gymnastics rings can really be the only piece of equipment needed for upper body strength, and the barbell for lower body strength. Cutting everything down and only focusing on that few movements can, prematurely, be disastrous, but at the right time it may be what’s needed to get to higher levels.
The moment at which you let go of one of these strength movement is when you get really proficient at them, and this depends on what level of strength you need. The category “rope climb” might need to be a lot higher for an Alpinist than for a Wrestler, or for somebody just trying to get healthy. The thing is that there will come a time at which some of this movements become more skill work than strength training (again, relative to where you want to get), and, at least in my experience, that happens first with the Rope climb and Limbers.
Just to give you an idea on what is the time frame for moving from the 2nd to the 3rd level, take a look at this list of possible movements the Press handstand might include:
I am not saying that you need to work on all of these movements, because it really depends on your goals, but please consider that for letting go on the Press handstand and focusing on Ring strength only, the strength requirements are quite high.
Once you are ready for letting go of one movement (moving from on level to the other), you have three choices.
The first choice is to keep doing the movement you take out but only as skill training. If you think about it, each of these strength areas have skill practices where they can be not only maintained, but bettered over time, but where the focus stops being maximal strength.
These are some ideas on some skill versions of these movements:
If you think about it, some practices like gymnastics still rings require a really high level of strength for them to become skill training, which is why they constitute the 3rd level. Actually, the reason why Kinema project talks so much about Gymnastics and Weightlifting, is because we consider them the best when it comes to really integrating your whole body into amazing skills.
This option is good if you could do that many practices. For example, I’ve recently moved to level 2, and right now I am fine with not including any Rope climbing nor Limbers in my strength training, because I can practice some rock climbing and gymnastics once or twice a week, and I know that will maintain or even improve my strength. But these perfect conditions rarely last forever.
Regardless, don’t throw away this option just yet. You don’t necessarily have to go to a gymnastics class, but you can create “integration flows” that can, for example, include many movements for them to be maintained. Or it can be as easy as setting a clock for 10 minutes, twice a week, and just play with the movements to maintain them. It may require creativity and knowledge, but it is possible to maintain many things while increasing others in a very efficient way.
The second option is to just give up on those movements. You stop doing the lower level movements, and then upgrade them for harder ones. This is the type of mentality required for reaching elite levels, but it is also a road full of commitment, sacrifices and, yes, injuries.
The third option is to set an “standard of strength” in some of these areas. This is the approach Ido Portal and Coach Sommer have taken, and it would be the case of the one arm chin up for the rope climb. The standard move can be lower or higher depending on your strength requirements. The idea is that you maintain that foundational level of strength with some key movements and, as long as you keep the ability to do them, you can shift your focus to higher levels.
While I have never liked the idea of petrifying your goals into “gold movements” like the planche or the OAC (which is why I preach areas of development) this might be the best option between total generalization and specialization.
In the end, it is all about choices. The generalist vs specialist debate can only be resolved on specific scenarios, getting clear on what you want, and having the criteria to say no when you don’t believe in the mainstream goals. I hope this article made you realize the self-knowledge required for excellence.
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