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Reflections From Our SECOND Calisthenics Workshop!

january 19th workshop group pic

January the 19th saw the second edition of me and Ollie Brown of Redevelop Movement‘s Calisthenics & Bodyweight Strength Training Workshop.

Once again we were hosted by the largest CrossFit gym in the UK, GAIN Fitness in Norwich.

15 enthusiastic people spent their Saturday afternoon going through our workshop material where we touched on everything from warm ups for the body and brain, handstand prep, handstand drills themselves, shoulder mobility, muscle ups, pull ups, dips, push ups and false grip work, straight arm strength exercises, front and back levers, toes to bar work, pistol squat drills, Nordic hamstring curls, hamstring flexibility as well as a fun competition to round things out……

And breathe…….

This time we didn’t see as varied an age range as in November but nevertheless there was a nice mix of male and female participants. One of the misconceptions we seem to get about our workshops is the need for a high level already in order to come along and it be worth while. I want to state once and for all: you can be at any level (even where dips and chin ups aren’t possible) and still gain plenty of knowledge and practicality from the experience. 

Yet again we were blessed to have another engaging bunch of people that weren’t frightened to question us if things didn’t make sense or they wanted further elaboration. One of the best feelings as a coach is knowing your audience is receptive and yearning to apply what you teach. Seeing our workbooks being written all over across the afternoon kept a smile on me and Ollie’s face.

stf & redevelop movement workbook shot (january 19th)

Like last time, I’ll share with you some observations we made and what you and I can learn from them. Also, if you’re someone who hasn’t yet made it to either of the workshops we’ve done so far, then this can be a nice taster for you! What’s even better is the reflections this time are almost completely different to last time.

Girls Are Strong!

I was impressed with the strength of the women on our last workshop but this time round really pushed the bar even higher. To put it into perspective, the winning time across both genders last time on our all out hanging challenge was 3:42 by a MALE. This time we saw 3:47 by a FEMALE. Yep, FEMALE.

Now you might say that’s just one super strong lady but I’d reply by saying there were more women in the group considered strong enough to work directly on ring muscle ups than in the group that focused on basics, such as chin ups and dips etc…

Another lady even showed me a perfect form ‘Toes 2 Bar’/Hanging Leg Raise(s). She even had no swing and fully locked legs/arms! This just shows that you don’t need to be superwoman to do these moves; you simply need to train consistently, be enthusiastic and open to trying new things.

Nobody is more stoked than me to see so many girls getting into this amazing style of exercise.

Handstands Are Incredibly Mental

The handstand is always the segment of the workshop that is most sought after. The handstand appeals to yogis, gymnasts, calisthenic enthusiasts and even just anyone looking to get into more explorative movement.

Something I found was a distinct lack of confidence in people’s handstand practice and even a lack of belief that they’ll ever achieve a ‘solid’ handstand. Whether it’s not being able to balance or simply getting over the fear of being inverted, it seemed obvious to me how much the handstand seems to strike fear in the minds of us.

januray 2019 workshop handstand pic

People seem to think there’s a secret to making it stick. They ask what they’re doing wrong or what they need to do more of. I simply ask how regularly they practice and nearly always find it’s an infrequent amount. If you wanted to get better at juggling you would juggle daily, maybe multiple times per day. The handstand is no different once you’ve got the basic strength to hold one against the wall.

Skills need to be practised and the handstand is very much a SKILL. For more on developing a better handstand, READ THIS.

The Front Lever Is Waaaayyyyy Harder Than The Back Lever

Anyone who has any experience with front and back lever training will probably already know this but this was further reiterated on Saturday’s workshop. As I’ve written before, the front lever looks simpler than the back lever but actually takes much more strength.

norwich january 19 workshop back lever

We had the guys trying skin the cat and tucked front/back levers and I noticed a real sticking point in the front lever phase of the move. The arms would bend but the back lever portion was fine – with many people easily holding a tucked back lever as well as some even nailing a FULL back lever!

The fix is simply becoming stronger at pulling exercises, both with straight arms and bent arms. Holding a front lever requires serious pulling strength and people are often disheartened when I tell them they could well be looking at 2 years before getting the full hold.

Chest To Bar Pull/Chin Ups Are Next Level

When it comes to muscle up training me and Ollie don’t believe in starting unless you’ve got a solid base of strength under your belt. One of our markers is the chest to bar pull up (for bar muscle ups) and the chest to bar chin up (for ring muscle ups). Again, we had plenty of people comfortable with standard pull ups and chin ups but finding that extra range was a real challenge. And it’s usually down to a lack of exposure.

In my opinion, chest to bar pulling is one of the greatest vertical pulling exercises known to man – and one that sets the men from the boys like no other. The guys on our workshop went away with a new appreciation for just how far you can advance ‘basic’ unweighted pull/chin ups.

The Best Warm Ups Warm Up The Body AND The Brain

Conventional wisdom teaches you to elevate the core temperature, loosen all relevant joints and activate any necessary muscles, as well as rehearse movement patterns you’re going to do in your session. Now we agree with this philosophy but also like to put our own spin on it…….

january workshop 2019 crawling pic

Nobody looks forward to their warm up unless they’re either freezing cold and desperate just to feel warmer or they’re a little weird. One thing we like to do is make warm ups fun. And believe me, it’s possible. You just need a little knowledge and creativity. Each workshop we throw a different ‘game’ in that also works as a coordination drill and something to get the cognition going. What this also does is serve as a nice distraction and leaves you forgetting you’re even warming up in the first place!

What’s Next?

As winter finally leaves us for another year we’re pleased to announce many more workshops for 2019, starting with 3 events in April……

  • North London (April 6th)
  • Bristol (April 13th)
  • Manchester (April 27th)

There’s also going to be many more specific workshops and classes in the South East throughout the year, where we’ll break down moves in real detail – we’ll look at the muscle up, handstand, front and back levers and much much more!

To stay up to speed, follow along via email or find me on Instagram (@straight_talking_fitness).

If you would like us to host an event at your gym or CrossFit box, shoot me an email


JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

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