One great thing I’ve been reading lately is about standards and gaps, which is Dan John’s explanation in Now what? about how good training needs to have a base of what’s important, a way of knowing if those things are being accomplished and, if not, have a plan to correct the lacks to make it happen. These three things – standards, evaluations and corrections, respectively – are what create superior coaching and training, just for the simple fact that you now know what is important, where are you in relationship to that, and how can you get there.
If you see, my articles on The 6 fundamentals strength movements, and The 7 fundamental stretching positions talked about standards, and this one on Weak links talked about Corrections. I realize both of these topics still need more development, but its now time to get into evaluation.
Now, it is important to note that there are general assessments and specific ones. A general assessment would measure your general physical condition, like the standard long jump, resting in a squat for 30 seconds, or things of that nature. On the other hand, an specific assessment measures your ability around a certain skill. So, in the case of the handstand, the shoulder mobility test will test if you have the necessary flexibility to get into a straight handstand. If you pass the test but can’t do a handstand, it means your attention should be on something different than shoulder flexibility.
So, the three movements I want to propose you today will be specific tests (focused on certain skills), but they will give you lots of information on three areas – Gymnastics, Weightlifting and Flexibility, showing your overall athletic capacity. To be honest, any movement will give you tons of information about a person’s movement capacity, but there are some that due to their complexity just give more and better information. Making sure you correct all of the pieces that make up these complex movements will assure you have the building blocks to excel at these practices.
Movement #1: Press handstand (for Gymnastics)
In the words of Coach Christopher Sommer in Building the Gymnastics Body:
“I focus more on the development of press handstands than any other single exercise, especially with beginning and intermediate athletes.
Why? I have found that press handstands impart athletic ability far in excess of what one would assume for such a seemingly simple exercise. In my experience, a gymnast’s overall gift for high-level elements can often simply be measured by their proficiency in press handstands. My top champion athletes have all been capable of 16-30 technically correct straddle press handstands in a row.
It is difficult to make an accurate analogy; however for the gymnastics- training enthusiast, press handstands, in all of their incredibly difficult variations, are the upper body snatch of bodyweight movements. There is no other single bodyweight exercise that demands more strength, focus, tension, stability, coordination, balance and active flexibility over a greater range of motion.”
This is what a press handstand can tell you:
- Can you not hold the handstand? We have a handstand problem.
- Is your handstand banana like? We have a shoulder flexion problem, and probably a core activation one.
- Can you not lean forwards enough to press into the handstand? We have a lack of shoulder strength, or maybe wrist mobility/integrity.
- Can you not elevate your shoulders? We have a lack of trap strength.
- Can you not get into the initial position? This is usually a lack of flexibility. You now know you have to focus on the pancake and the pike.
- Can you do the pike and pancake, but when doing a negative your legs don’t get pass a certain point? Or you get into the position, but nothing happens? We need to focus on compression.
- Is your negative very different from your positive? Then you need to work on control.
Certain points will need further tests to be more precise on the assessment, like the handstand problem, but you get the point: this movement will measure your ability to do a lot of gymnastics important things.
Movement #2: Snatch (for Weightlifting)
Just as the press handstand, the Snatch is a great movement in that it requires many components for it to be successful. Some things the snatch can show you are:
- You shoulder and thoracic mobility.
- Your glute and core activation.
- Your posterior chain to anterior chain relationship: if you want to good morning your squats, that shows overdeveloped glutes in relationship to the quads.
- Your ankle, knee and hip mobility.
- Your general explosiveness (shown in triple extension).
Movement #3: Bridge (for Flexibility)
The bridge is more of a display of flexibility than a great developer of it, said Emmet Louis in this excellent video. And what a display it is. The bridge requires:
- Wrist mobility
- Shoulder flexion.
- Thoracic mobility.
- Strong glutes and abdominals.
- A loose ribcage: from the chest to the biceps, abdominals and intercostals, it will stretch all of the front of your body. And don’t forget the lats and triceps.
- Hip flexors flexibility.
- Retraction and hip external rotation capacity.
- Although the bridge gives information on your extension capacity, no info is given on your flexion capacity. For that, the press handstand will be your guide.
If you noticed, the three movements require a lot of flexibility, as most gaps will be in that regard. Why? Because a lack of strength just shows you need to keep training a movement, but a lack of flexibility means you cannot even train that movement. In other words, most weak links will be in the flexibility department, so you know what should take priority in your training.
So that is my challenge for you today: can you stop for a moment, check your capacity to do these three movements correctly, and work on the things that are stoping you from optimizing yourself? We all have the desire to succeed and the problems that stop us from getting where we want to. The difference lies in who has the humility and honesty to accept his or her weaknesses, and actively works to correct them.
If you want to know more about these topics, I recommend the work of Dan John and Gray Cook
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–Pliable body (Get flexible fast!)
–The Dynamic Structure (Bulletproof your joints!)