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Welcome to the Champions Club Summer 2018!

Next Theme Workout: Shark Week/Hawaiian Mashup - Saturday at 10 am!

Entries in freestyle (10)

Quote of the Week vol. 203

"As someone who is a coach and a teacher, my main job is to be a student... What you are seeing right now from me is just work in progress, and so is everyone else."

- Carl Paoli

Handstand Walk w/ Carl Paoli

I know people like Kroll, Shakes, and Mr. Wonsil have talked to me recently about their desire to be able to handstand walk. It's a fun skill to learn and very demanding of the shoulders and midline. It's also a good drill to reinforce the falling feeling you need while running. Still, it's a tough skill to master because we just don't spend that much time upside down on our hands (at least, compared to our time on our feet).

With that being said, Carl Paoli just posted a goog video from one of his seminars where he helps an athlete go from barely a handstand walk to being able to basically walk out the door - all in about 3 minutes! Check it out.

Dissecting the Hollow Rock w/ Carl Paoli

For the people who have been here for a while, Carl Paoli needs no introduction. But if you are new, you might not know that the San Francisco super-coach came to visit the Champions Club in the fall of 2012 and it proved to be one of the best nights of our lives. You can recount the day in the editorial:

September 7 and the Events that Followed

One of the things that impresses me the most about Carl - other than his incredible humbleness and hospitality - is his ability to coach live on the spot. At his seminars he has no problem picking a random athlete and trying to correct them in front of the entire crowd.

Here's a great clip from one of his recent Free+style Connection Seminars where he does that with something as simple as the hollow rock. Check it out.

"True human performance can only be measured by feel."

free+style Series: Progression Types

Carl Paoli had a great quote in an interview with Kelly Starrett on MWOD where he said that innovation happens when you make something you know relevant to someone else.

My understanding of coaching changed after I read free+style and I want to try to share it with you in a way that you might understand and care about. If this is considered copyright infringement then my life is ruined; you may kill me on the spot for disrespecting my master, send my money to Kanye's G.O.O.D. foundation (Getting Out Our Dreams Debt) and give Carter full reigns of the Champions Club.


One of the biggest eye-opening things for me was understanding that there are different types of movement progression. It made me feel more comfortable when I see athletes mess up in front of me and it also made me be more curious when I see a movement I don't understand. I'll start with the stuff we are all familiar with.

Formal Movement/Progression

The things we do in the gym do not exist anywhere else in the world.

A perfect push-up with shoulders first, rigid midline, elbows in. A perfectly proportioned and balanced barbell resting on our shoulders taken into a squat. Rings conveniently carved in a smooth circle to go from a hanging position to a support. These things, done exactly as you know them, cannot be done in any other setting than an exercise session. They are a formality and done with a specific goal in mind.

If you want to make Kris Campbell better at pushing things, we start with a push-up. It's a formal, simulated movement that can address specific points of pushing that need to be developed. We can progress from hands on a tire, to hands on a box, to hands on plates, to hands on the ground, to feet up against the wall. Whatever we do, it is a step-by-step process with a calculated goal in mind.

Natural Movement/Progression

In CrossFit, the movement standard for a pull-up is not elbows in, or hollow body, or hook grip. Nope, it's much simpler and less strict than that. The movement standard for a pull-up in CrossFit is to get your chin over the bar from a hanging position. That's it.

When these started to come up in timed workouts, the early athletes at Santa Cruz all adopted a method of swinging their hips and legs to assist the motion - which not only let them get their chin over the bar quicker, but saved their arms for the other movements in the workout.

This became known as a kipping pull-up.

The kipping technique had a bunch of different variations - including a specific technique that became popular in 2008 when an athlete from CrossFit LA  I think(I would look up the video but SOMEBODY changed the main site) did pull-ups with a circular kip. This technique grew in popularity after Chris Spealler set the Fran record using it and was referred to as the butterfly kip. 8 years later and everyone knows it.

Because of the broad standard for pull-ups and the setting they were done in, athletes naturally adapted. Then coaches, like Carl, take those natural adaptations and build formal progressions to help increase the learning rate when teaching new people.

Creative Movement/Progression

It is safe to say that nobody in the free world has done the elusive elbow muscle-up and lived to tell the tale. I also don't plan on teaching partner cleans during Steve Zelenak's Day 8 of Fundamentals. And I hope to God the Junkin Jive J-string Rope Climb technique will never see the light of day again. That is because all of those, and everything else you see above, are examples of creative movements that were used to fit a one-of-a-kind occasion.

What's interesting about creative progressions is sometimes they are done so much that people build formal progressions for them - such as backflips (creative progression of jumping) and snowboarding (creative progression of... sliding? snow walking? Alaskan dogsledding?). Also, since creative movements/progressions are often done with minimal coaching, it is important for an athlete to be well versed in natural movement/progressions to find flow and coordination.

Quote of the Week vol. 92

"If your movement quality degrades to the point where it is no longer helping your purpose, then there is little value in challenging the movement...

"Even knowing that the fastest route between points A and B is a straight line, you may not be able to take that route if you don't have the ability to traverse the terrain you would encounter along the way."

- Carl Paoli. Part 3 (Application) of his book free+style.

Quote of the Week/Day Care Diary vol. 3

“Language is situational”

– Dr. Donda West, Chicago State University English professor and late mother of Kanye West.

In the last Day Care Diary post, I talked briefly about informal and formal movement. I think I’d like to explore this a little more.

Let’s look at it from a language perspective. In school I was taught English in a very formal manner. First, I learned how to combine different letters into words with the help of Mr. M with the “munchy mouth”. Then I learned what those words meant, how they clustered together, and how those clusters were organized into things like dialogues or paragraphs. This education gave me a base foundation for communicating using the English language.

Now here’s the useful part: I take that fundamental knowledge of our language and improvise based on the demographic or audience. So in other words, I use English differently depending on if I am talking to my parents, my neighbors Jesse and Jay, the kids from Marygrove, the preschoolers I teach, my cousins from California, or my heroes Troy Landry and Bruce Mitchell hunting gators in the bowels of Louisiana. The foundation is the same, the expression is different.

But the funny thing is, our first words were not learned through formal teaching. They were learned through interacting with our environment and mimicking what we hear. Movement happens in the same way.

In the previous post, I used the push-up, kettlebell swing, clean, and kipping muscle-up as examples of movements we teach in the weight room. But those are all just formal ways of teaching throwing, jumping, running, and climbing – things every kid in the preschool does without being coached. Sometimes we get so used to structure, we forget how to “freestyle.”

For example, what would happen to someone who went to the hood in Detroit and tried to talk to the kids there in “proper” English? Best case scenario, he gets made fun of and embarrassed. Worst case… well. What good is being good at English if you can’t use it in different places?

What good is being good at push-ups, kettlebell swings, cleans, and kipping muscle-ups if we can’t express them in different avenues?

This brings up the idea of whether formal or informal is the best method of teaching. As I mentioned in vol. 2, I think informal is the way to go at the younger level. Then the older we get, the more it balances out. In high school, the weight room is almost all formal and the informal stuff comes through sports. With most adults, they are even further removed from their childhood mentality, so it’s the same idea, only their “freestyle” activities might be pickup basketball, picking up bags of woodchips, or picking up their grand kids. Or dodgeball.

On a micro level, we retest the workouts to see how to progress our formal training. But the true measuring stick is the informal stuff we do outside of the weight room. If those things have improved, our formal training is doing its job.

You are a good mover if you move good without being coached.

Freestyle Connection and Movement Faults

Remember that the ultimate goal for our training is not just to have a perfect push-up, or an immaculate squat, or a PR on "Helen." The goal is for you to improve your movement and be able to transfer that movement to the real world. We hope that the positions you practice in a controlled workout environment will eventually become your default positions when you're free to move however you need to. One of the ways we can test to see if your movement ability is transferring is to put you in this scenario and see what happens. In other words, we let you play.

What positions do you see Sabal, Jennifer, Emma, and Erika adopting as they play dodgeball? Notice what happens to Erika's back leg and her arm as she prepares to throw, and compare that to Jennifer's positions. They look very different, even though when we train a lunge position or a press, we know their positions will look almost identical. Part of the reason for these deviations is freestyle, or the ability to adapt movement patterns you've learned formally to a new experience. But another part of the deviations is that in this high-speed environment, movement faults become more and more noticeable. 

If you think about the stable positions the shoulder can adopt, you see that Jennifer has both of her shoulders back in a pretty good position whereas Erika is internally rotated in her non-throwing shoulder and her other elbow is pointed way out. What other things can you see? If you can see the connection between the things you practice in the gym and the things you have to do in your sport, it will help you train smarter and become a more technically sound athlete. This will directly improve your performance, as we see when Jennifer dominates the dodgeball court over her older sisters.