Athletic Evolution

Workshop Review: School of Calisthenics

My attendance at the workshop was somewhat serendipitous. It was on my radar a while, but I hadn’t booked as I was waiting to hear if I was required to cover an U17 training camp in Spain, which would rule me out of attending. By the time I received confirmation I would be covering week 2 of the camp, meaning I was now available to attend the workshop, it was sold out and I was put on the waiting list. Little did I know it, but simultaneously Jared Deacon (the coach covering week 1 of the same camp) was in conversations with Tim about the application of the calisthenics within rugby and was planning to attend the workshop. As Jared was now unavailable, I was then offered his place at the very workshop I had originally been trying to attend in the first place!

Lately, I have been exploring the use of bodyweight management and spatial awareness more and more, as evidenced by the last 2 Athletic Evolution workshops – Animal Flow and Gymnastics. As such, Calisthenics had been an area I had wanted to delve into a bit deeper. I am pretty much finished the School of Calisthenics Free 8 Week Online Beginners Course (if you haven’t checked it out you really should!) and had found the content really useful, already applying it with my Scottish Rugby Academy Athletes, as well as forwarding it on to numerous other coaches.

Tim and Jacko from the School of Calisthenics have an enthusiasm for calisthenics which is infectious. After a quick intro on their backgrounds Tim (Former youth rugby player, turned Paralympic S&C Coach) and Jacko (Former professional rugby player turned Paralympic S&C coach) gave us an overview of their way of conceptualising training for calisthenics:

  • Movement preparation
  • Movement Patterning
  • Applied Strength
  • Capacity – Strength
  • Playtime

After this very brief bit of theory we got to work, completing an initial assessment of shoulder function. We were encouraged to focus on both the range of motion as well as the “feel” of each the following:

  1. Seated internal rotation overhead reach
  2. Standing neutral overhead reach against a wall
  3. Standing internal/external rotation against a wall
  4. Shoulder “dislocations” using a dowel

This was followed by 5-10 minutes of mobility work using a lacrosse ball for the posterior shoulder/tricep and anterior shoulder/anterior delts, as well as some active stretching of the chest and lats. Afterward we retested the initial shoulder assessment to see if there was an improvement in range or feel.

Throughout the workshop, both Tim/Jacko referred to the requirement for “strength through range” as well as high levels of muscle activation and stability in multiple planes. For me, it is these demands (that are often hard to replicate with traditional training) that make calisthenics an applicable tool to athletic performance, rather than just some fun circus trick.

Now that grizzly work was out the way, we got cracking with some movement work!

1.Handstand progressions

The first series of progressions looked at the pathway to work from a frogstand to a handstand. This involved both a “bottom up” approach (starting with a frogstand/crowstand) and “top down” approach working on handstand kick ups against a wall.

A number of “linking” exercises were then used to bridge the gap, such as removing one foot from the wall, then a “switch” of the feet, amongst other. Tim/Jacko also referenced the need to build “applied strength” by working on overhead strength using pike press up both on the floor and raised on a box to improve the ability to push maximally into the floor. Often when asked how to progress from one variation to another, the answer was You just need to get stronger” – this became a bit of a mantra for the day!

2. Ring/Bar Muscle Up progressions

We moved onto muscle up variations starting initially with the ring muscle up. This began with learning the “false grip” for holding the rings, before moving onto pullups in this grip with a pause at the chest. I have to admit, this grip was so foreign to me that it almost felt like learning a pullup all over again! We then practiced a couple of dips on the rings to get the feel for the stability requirement. Next we worked on the transition, utilizing a band fastened to the rings to support the bodyweight and help ease the requirement to work on the transition. I can happily say I managed to succeed at getting a muscle up with the band (albeit only 1 rep!), but the full ring muscle up eluded me!

The bar muscle up was prefaced by Tim as being “easier than the rings”, as you simply do/don’t have the strength requirement to complete a pull up. I’m not sure everyone agreed! We worked on some basic pullups before again working on the timing of the explosive pull  to the sternum/belly button, by using bands to support the bodyweight, before attempting the full muscle up.

3.Human Flag progressions

Finally, we worked on progressions to the human flag. Although a VERY challenging exercise requiring high levels of lateral trunk stability and the ability to simultaneously push and pull maximally on alternate arms, I found a lot of the regressions very logical and applicable to my work with youth athletes. Initially starting with active hanging from on arm, this was coupled a side plank on your hand, then adding a kettlebell in the free hand to challenge stability. This was followed up by some angled human flags, using a crossbar and upright strut.

Conclusion

Overall, I really enjoyed the workshop. More and more I am leaning towards preferring CPD which is heavily practical over the theoretical “chalk and talk” style of CPD. This is because you get to physically experience the concepts you are discussing, as well as seeing experienced coaches in action progressing and regressing the exercises. The workshop was really beneficial and I will continue to add to the repertoire of calisthenics in my work with youth athletes and my own training! I am even considering heading out to their 3 day in Marbella in May 2020!

Thanks again to Tim and Jacko for a fantastic workshop. You can learn more about their work with the School of Calisthenics here, register for their Free 8 week program here, or check out their future workshops here.

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