My Current Training Routine
I’ll start by saying that this post will give you a general idea of my training right now. I will most likely modify things over the coming weeks and months, or I may modify things severely. That’s the nature and beauty of training – we all constantly look for the path that is right for us. That doesn’t mean we have to reinvent the wheel, it just means that certain things may take priority in our training at certain times. Or we may be shown glaring weaknesses in our program that requires a shift in focus. Or we might want to try something fun. So please don’t quote this blog post on a forum in a year’s time and pretend to know what I’m doing in the gym.
I am writing up this post because I often get asked – “How do you combine gymnastics and weightlifting?”. I know I have a lot to learn, but this post will take you through how I attempt to juggle all my goals. I hope you find it useful and interesting to some degree.
On the topic of misinterpretation, I will mention several coaches/athletes through this post that have helped me directly and indirectly. I am extremely grateful for each and every bit of help I have received from them. I am in a state of constant learning. That said, I apologize if I misinterpret or otherwise screw up what they’ve taught me when I write this post. My writings are not their writings, please keep this in mind. If you are curious what each coach/athlete believes, then you can easily research further into their teachings.
I will not go into all the specifics of my training (exact reps, sets, rest, etc), for four reasons.
1. Things change constantly (see first paragraph)
2. People tend to see the post as a routine written for them. They then stop thinking.
3. I am not doing anything revolutionary. If I want to build strength in an exercise, then I keep the repetitions low (1-5). If I am doing an assistance exercise, then I tend to perform more reps (6-12). A look at any traditional strength training program – Westside, Wendler’s 5-3-1 program, or Starting Strength Program will give you an idea of the background which I apply to my training. I am not reinventing the wheel.
4. It’s boring to write it all out.
Finally, I’ll say that it’s not the easiest to write up training posts. Egos tend to flare up when anyone writes posts like this and most people write like they’ve got all the answers. I want to avoid that in the post below. Here is my training, lumps and all. I’d like to take you through my thought process.
Oh, and I apologize if some of these videos do not load. I’ve included various background songs in some of them, and YouTube sometimes locks them down (no mobile viewing, limited country viewing). Sorry for that.
Alright, Ready? Let’s go.
In order to have a plan, we need to know where we want to go. In order of importance, here are my current goals.
1. Hold a one arm handstand for 10 seconds.
I love working handbalancing, and the one arm handstand is such a difficult skill for me. I have traveled to learn about it ;and learned from experts. A consistent 10 second hold is a very respectable mastery for this skill, in my opinion. Additionally, the one arm handstand has forced me to deal with my mediocre shoulder and hip mobility. I have enough mobility for a solid overhead squat, but not enough for a solid one arm handstand. Strange, I know.
Here is some progress so far.
3-5 second holds on each arm are the norm. Ok, but I want to do better.
2. Close the #3 Captains of Crush Gripper
I’ve closed the #2.5 gripper , but the #3 eludes me. I had put grip training as a lower priority as I focused on my Olympic lifting in preparation for a recent meet. ;Working from the #2 to the #2.5 was easy compared to this current jump to the #3 gripper.
The #3 close is also part of a bigger picture of completing the GNC Grip Gauntlet. The other two lifts are going to be a fight as well. I have picked up 165 lbs on my Rolling Thunder (165 lbs + weight of the loading pin), and a 40# blockweight (although the 50# blob is a far shot off that). I have a loadable blob and my own Rolling Thunder, so I am working them into my weekly grip work.
3. Improve Olympic Lifting and Lower Body Strength
The Olympic lifts are very technical, and I enjoy the challenge. ;In my recent meet I snatched 90 Kg, clean and jerked 120 Kg. I want to snatch 100 Kg, and clean and jerk 137.5 kg (over 300 lbs). I want to continue pushing my squat ;so that I can squat 405 lbs x 3. Why a triple? Because I find that one rep maxes tend to be a bit sloppy, a bit high. People don’t fudge triples so much. A triple shows mastery of that weight. I want to master weight over 400 lbs.
4. Improve Upper Body Strength
I want to hold a solid five second planche, and a solid five second iron cross. A full planche of 2-3 seconds is a max effort for me, so I want to be stronger in the skill. My iron cross training has been historically riddled with injury to my left shoulder (I once hurt it so bad I couldn’t pick up a cup), but with improved mobility and training and a new set-up, I am tackling the skill again. I also want to continue strengthening my 90 degree pushup (called a Bower, I believe). I am working to lower down to essentially a back lever on a set of boxes, then push back up to a handstand. Here’s some video of myself lowering down into the position -
I am also interested in “The Elevator” also know as the Reverse Muscle-up.
Both these skills have come about as a way to further challenge myself past a regular handstand pushup.
And what of the one arm handstand pushup?
People seem to ask me about this old video and skill quite often. I am going to push the other exercises hard and see the effect it has on that one. I still believe the skill to be possible!
Let’s recap so far what I want/need to include in my training -
- One Arm Handstand work
- Grip work
- Lower body (Olympic lifting)
- Upper body (Gymnastic skills)
- Mobility (as a good practice in general, but to help with the handstand work)
And to complicate matters a little further, I like to do various physical activities outside the gym. Shocking, I know! I’ve recently rediscovered a love for Bouldering.
John Gill, Bouldering
and a newly-discovered love of slacklining.
me, slacking in the park.
The bouldering has been easy to incorporate within my training with the goals of increased upper body strength and improved grip strength. The slacklining has no apparent cross-over to any of my training goals. Although the focus needed and use of arms for slacklining has a bit of similarity and possible carryover to the one arm handstand, at least in my mind. There’s a subtle movement in the lower arm that I’ll let veteran slackliner Frankie Najera describe here (go to 4:11) -
The movement in the slackline feels a bit like an upside-down (right side-up?) arm movement in the one arm handstand. I may be off mark with this.
In any case, I slackline now because it’s fun, challenging, and it gets me outside. I don’t need much more reason than that. Also, if you’re looking for awesome adventure gear (backpacks, clothes, and even my Gibbon slackline) then check out The Clymb. The site has incredible deals that are always changing, and a purchase kicks a little bit of money back to me, which I greatly appreciate. Seriously, there is some awesome stuff. Go There!
Ok, let’s update the list -
- Upper Body/Gymnastics
- Lower Body/Olympic Lifting
Now, let’s talk about various conflicts that arise. Many come about when you try to work two of these goals within the same training session. Below are my own observations from training.
- Handstand and grip work tend to conflict. Working handstands before grip work definitely makes the grip work more difficult and less productive, and vice versa.
- Grip work before Olympic lifting work also causes problems, unless you use lifting straps.
- Handstand work can intefere with upper body work. If I have a long handstand session immediately before an upper body session, then my arms and shoulders are a bit spent. If handstand work is right after, then my shoulder are too shot to balance finely. If I only have a limited amount of time to train, then I will put the handstand before any upper body strength work, but my own preferred schedule is to put the fine motor control (handstand work) an hour or more away from the strength based exercises (gymnastics work). We work with what we’ve got though.
- Excessively long stretching session for the lower body can reduce power production if one immediately goes into Olympic lifting. Going back to the previous example of limited training time, if I only have a limited time to work with a client then I’ll still work mobility right before Olympic lifting. I would rather have them be able to safely get into a position, even if it means a slight loss of power. ;But personally speaking, I’ll avoid an excessively long lower body mobility session before lower body power.
- Bouldering currently fries my grip for a day or two, so little to no additional grip work is needed during that time. This is the goal anyway.
- Slacklining doesn’t seem to interfere with much, although I probably wouldn’t do it on the same day as a heavy or medium lower body session. The legs do get a bit fatigued as you balance/squat on the line.
- Olympic lifting tends to interfere with handstand work. Supporting heavy weight overhead in the snatch and the jerk tires the shoulders out and makes finer motor control directly afterward difficult.
understandable that a handstand would be difficult afterward
Read and re-read these points. They’ll allow you to make more sense of the program I’ve put together for myself.
As for my training outlined below, I talk about AM sessions and PM sessions. Rather than describing a specific time, the AM/PM means that there is significant time between training periods in order to rest and recover. This might mean one to six hours. ;I get in my training during the day when my free time allows, so it is not always the same exact schedule. ;I simply want to indicate that there is time between sessions during the day. As I previously mentioned, I find conflicts arise when I try to do too much during one session. ;
Ok, let’s get into specifics. I’ll elaborate as needed.
My Training Routine
- Mobility. Handstand
My mobility in the hips and shoulders have improved dramatically over the past 6 months. I’ll thank Yuval Ayalon for pointing out how bad things were, and then tireless research to find the best methods for opening everything up.
I have found Thomas Myers book, “Anatomy Trains“, to be incredibly useful in this regard. It is technical, so I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but those with a solid anatomical knowledge with benefit greatly. I perform soft tissue work on various muscles of the body that bind up the hips and shoulders. For those looking to open up the shoulders for their handstand, look to work on the pec minor, the lats, the long head of the triceps, the rhomboids, the levator scapulae, the anterior edge of the trapezius, and the deltoid. The shoulder is a complex joint! I will write up more on mobility at a later date.
I am currently working one-on-one with a yoga teacher/thai massage practitioner every tuesday, and she has turned me onto this book, “Yoga As Therapy“, which actually references Anatomy Trains extensively. I’ve just started digging into Yoga as Therapy, but I like it tremendously. It is a little easier to read, understand, and apply in some cases. It also comes with the perspective and goals of “I do yoga and want to improve my handstand”.
Mobility, Handstand, and/or Slackline
None of these tend to intefere with each other.
Upper body Light Work, Grip Work
I go through an upper/lower split over the course of the week. I found I can focus much better when doing this, as opposed to trying to hit the entire body. I also like Bill Starr’s simple rotation of a Heavy – Light – Medium training stress. This variation will mean different things for each person, but for the light upper body work today it will generally be easily done and/or higher reps, plus a lot of remedial rotator cuff work. I keep things moving, but still get ready for tomorrow – the most stressful day of the week.
In working with Ido Portal, ;he introduced me to the idea of straight arm strength versus bent arm strength. Straight arm pressing would be things like the planche, or a straight arm press to handstand.
straight arm tuck press to handstand – @CrossFit Fort Meade
Bent arm pressing consists of things like handstand pushups (full range of motion!) as well as bench press/overhead barbell press and things like that. Straight arm pulling would be exercises like the iron cross, the front lever and various other related movements. Bent arm pulling consists of one and two arm chin-ups/pull-ups, as well as any dumbbell/barbell rowing.
With this delineation of bent arm pressing, bent arm pulling, straight arm pressing, and straight arm pulling, I will rotate through various exercises throughout the week. For each upper body day, I like to pair a straight arm exercise with a bent arm exercise. For instance, I’ve really enjoyed a middle split hold to straddle planche for my straight arm pressing -
It’s a little rough, especially using the handbalancing canes, but I’ve seen progress and this looks to be beneficial. By the way, the middle split hold is a progression into the manna. Here Coach Sommer outlines his training progression. I have enjoyed adding the middle split hold to the training also on the advice of my friend and former college housemate, Steven Low. He recommends manna training as a great compliment to handstand training. Read all about his training thoughts and progressions in his enormous and intense book, Overcoming Gravity.
Anyway, I’ll take that straight arm pressing shown above and combine it with something like one arm chin-up work or weighted muscle-ups -
Mobility, Handstand work
Lower Body Heavy, Grip Work
This is my heavy Olympic lifting day, then I work heavy back squats, then I add additional assistance work for the Olympic lifts and squats – things like glute ham raises, RDL’s, or midsection work. I’ll work both the snatch and the clean and jerk, as they both need a lot of work to improve technique. I’ll kick this one up to 85-90% of my max. I’m fresh off a full rest day (Sunday) and lighter upper body day (Monday), so I’m ready to go. I like to work my Ironmind grippers in between sets of squats.
Mobility, Handstand, and/or Slackline
Same as Monday, still works well together
I’m climbing once a week at the moment, as the schedule and finances allow. I consider this to be an upper body medium day combined with grip work. I’ll work some additional pulling/pressing work after climbing either at the rock climbing gym, or back at my own gym.
Lower Body Light
Recovering from Tuesday/Wednesday. I’ll hit the snatch, clean and jerk, and some snatch grip deadlifts. Everything is lighter – 60%ish – and faster. Working on improving technique and timing. I’ll finish with some lower body assistance exercises too.
Upper Body Heavy, Grip Work
I’ll push skills to their max, either do singles or clustered triples in many cases. A clustered triple is where you do singles with minimal rest in between reps, as seen here -
I’ll finish off with grip work, just as I did on Monday. I work whatever feels best to me that day.
Lower Body Medium, Grip Work
Snatches, Clean and Jerks, Front Squats, Assistance work. Keeping things in the 70-80% range. Hard work, good amount of volume, but nothing approaching failure.
Grip work is usually the grippers again. I want to keep my hands use to extreme tension on the grippers. I won’t max out with the grip work but keep it hard enough.
As you probably figured out, I’m stretching and/or working on my handstands every moment I’m not lifting a barbell.
- I look to keep things as simple as possible each workout. I’ve gone through numerous programs over the years. The overly-complicated ones never delivered for me. Never more than 4 or 5 exercises per session. Sometimes I only have one or two exercises. ;Far too many people email me their training programs and all I see is a huge list of exercises. How could they possibly know what’s good and what’s bad? What helps and what hinders? When in doubt, cut back.
- I will adjust my training based on how I’m feeling. Not feeling good? I’ll cut back on total number of sets. Feeling great? Maybe I’ll push the weight a bit heavier then planned or do more reps/sets. I’ve found it very beneficial to listen to your body. Push when you can, pull back when you need. But above all, I get something done! Those that have an off day and skip the gym without even warming up are those that never make progress. There have been countless times when I felt terrible, then warmed up and PR’ed. Get into the gym in any way you can, decide how good or bad you feel after you warm up.
- Practice something more often to get better at it. I work the Olympic lifts three times a week to improve my technique. That is not enough for some! I am squatting in some capacity at every one of those sessions. Not surprisingly, my squat is improving. Handstands are the same way. They need a lot of love and attention to grow. Legendary Wrestler Dan Gable said it best – “If it’s important, do it every day.”
- Work on what’s important to you. No one can tell you what your goals are, although they will try.
I’ve come to a balance between my goals that works well for me. It’s taken a lot of time and experimentation. I’ve followed good and bad programs along the way. Each one has taught me something about what works and doesn’t work for me. I hope that this post makes you stop and think about your own training. Is it accomplishing what you want it to accomplish? Or is it just something you think looks good? Or is it geared towards someone else’s goals entirely?
Whatever you do, find your own path and train hard.