"Don't rush to get grown, drive slow homie..."*
More than being from an awesome and totally underrated Yeezy track, these lyrics carry a super important message that is so applicable to movement and training. Too often we see an insta-famous trainer or athlete do something impressive on social medial and rush into trying to replicate that movement or skill without knowing anything about it, skipping all the baby steps that will help us develop the movement properly, safely and efficiently. For example, I often see people trying to kick up into free-hold handstands without having first learned about hollow body positioning or the role of the hands in maintaining balance. Most often this results in the person flailing around, trying to stay inverted by throwing their legs back and fourth, before they fall out of their "handstand" +/- a proper dismount. In a world full of YouTube Fitness Instructors and Social Media All-Stars we seem to have forgotten one really important fact:
When it comes to movement and skill training, much of the value lies in the learning process, not solely in performing the movement itself.
A really great teacher (Shawn Mozen at Agatsu Fitness) once said during an Indian Club workshop I was taking:
"If you want to get better at learning new things, you have to practice LEARNING new things".
This seems pretty self explanatory, yet still so many of us approach new skills with a 'meathead mentality', trying the full, most advanced version of a skill without knowing any of the points of performance. Another common example of this lies in the Pistol Squat. All the time I see people collapsing into and bouncing out of the bottom of pistol without having the slightest bit of awareness of what their hips and spine are doing.... It hurts my heart (and brain). So, to put this warning as bluntly as I can here is what I have to say:
Throwing yourself into a movement won't get you anywhere fast, except maybe your Chiropractor's office.
On top of this, rushing to perform a 'pinnacle movement' (to borrow a term from Mike Fitch) without taking time to learn the basic principles and groove the movement patterns robs your conscious mind of the chance to learn so much about your current abilities and areas that are lacking or need improvement (which may in fact help you improve other movements as well) in addition to robbing your central nervous system of the opportunity to learn the sequencing and patterning of the skill.
Slow and controlled movements, especially when it comes to gymnastics and bodyweight skills are far more impressive and they give our bodies time to collect feedback about how we're moving and where our body is in space, allowing us to 'code' a complete and error-free program! For the most part, the value of learning a new skill properly revolves around using the right muscles in the right way, at the right time, and once again we're circling back to the concept of motor learning and neuromuscular control. Based on these concepts, I use a 3-step sequence that I have found to be pretty effective for learning new movements, as well as teaching them to others:
- Prime the Movement
- Groove the Movement
- Do the Movement
Prime the Movement
Priming the movement involves waking up the main muscles or systems that are crucial to proper performance of the skill you're going to be working on. Often, this part of the sequence can be included toward the end of your warm-up. For example, I might use hollow rocks or holds before a handstand practice, monster walks on a single-leg squat day, and scapular pull ups on a pull up day.
Groove the Movement
Grooving the movement involves taking our body through a range of motion or a movement pattern that mimics the skill that is being worked on, often under lower threshold conditions. This helps our nervous system and muscles learn what needs to be done under a lower stress or weight than the 'pinnacle' version of the skill to avoid the development of compensations. For example, on a handstand day I might use tuck ups (shorter lever = less stress) or wall walks (weight support + inclination = less stress); on a muscle up day it might be kneeling or banded transition work.
Do the Movement
Please note: This is NOT me giving you permission to try a full muscle up or kick up to freehold handstand out of the blue/with no experience!!!!! Rather, this step involves completing repetitions of the most advanced version of the movement skill that YOU are CURRENTLY capable of performing with PERFECT form, timing and tempo. For a total beginner working on handstands, this might include something as simple as pike holds on the ground or with the feet elevated on a box. The KEY here is:
Do what your body is CURRENTLY capable of and not one ounce more!
Why? Going beyond your capabilities will likely lead to compensatory muscle recruitment or movement patterns, and on top of being extremely hard to un-learn, movement compensations predispose us to injury like woah; whether it be an immediate acute injury, or one that occurs as a result of repetitive strain. Do yourself a favour:
know your limit and play within it**
The moral of today's story: SLOW DOWN! Deciding to learn a new movement or skill is an AMAZING GOAL and you should be applauded for having the guts to be open to something new. BUT you need to do your homework. Find a trainer or movement coach that is qualified to help you develop that skill safely and efficiently and/or do a whole whack of research on prime movers, fascial slings, muscle recruitment patterns and joint positions (& common flaws). Don't rush to the full advanced version of the skill; take your time to learn the baby steps and enjoy the process. Believe me, you'll be much more fulfilled when you can hold a perfect handstand for 60 seconds, rather than kicking up and flopping over like a wet noodle!
Happy training friends!
**Ontario Gaming Commission