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Skill Acquisition Vs Skill Maintenance In Calisthenics?

Barcelona JUN 2019 Handstand backdrop

What’s harder, getting a handstand or keeping it? Logically speaking you’d say getting it and you’d be correct but try saying that when you’ve just got your first back lever, your first handstand or your first muscle up!

So often you will get your first muscle up or lever, or handstand and want to keep hammering it in the hopes of it ‘not getting worse’. It makes sense, you’ve worked your ball sack off for this and there’s no fucking way you’re letting it slip now! So the training frequency doesn’t change and in some cases it actually increases……

Barcelona JUN 2019 Ring support

But is this increase justified; do you need to do all this work?

No. And I’ll illustrate why with my own experience first. This year saw the biggest improvement in my handstand as I dedicated 2019 to sorting it out once and for all, as it’d always been a weakness of mine. 3 months into 2019 I saw great results, I could hold it on cue and for decent time frames – and with an ever improving line. All I did to get this was a diligent but regular as clockwork 10 mins per day, everyday.

Come June I was having issues with my right wrist as a result of high volume handstand work and most probably sub-par entry technique (over-kicking). I eradicated this by having my form rebuilt courtesy of UlrikOnHands at his and Tom Merrick’s awesome handbalancing & bodyweight strength workshop in July this year. However, I banged my wrist right at the beginning of November and as far as I know I had a light fracture, which made bearing any weight on it as good as impossible.

As a result, handstands were out for a month plus! Currently the wrist is finally getting back to decent standards and I’ve recently returned to handstand holds thinking I’d have lost my skill altogether………but no, they’re actually just like they were! Granted, they feel a touch rusty but I can still balance in the same line as before with a WHOLE MONTH of ZERO training/practice.

All of this goes to show the body isn’t as fickle as you fear. Once a skill is hard wired and deeply ingrained, it takes a while to be forgotten – especially if you’re training the body as a unit in other ways. And it shows a maintenance dose doesn’t need to be anywhere near as high as you’d think. Obviously if you were looking to improve something beyond your current level then you’d need a higher frequency but even then the deciding factor is the effectiveness of the practice/training.

Even in the case of muscle ups, back lever or other calisthenic skills the same rings true. I never train back lever directly at all now and it’s still available whenever I want it. Steven Low reiterates these sentiments in the epic book, Overcoming Gravity 2, suggesting a good maintenance strategy as working a move either into the end of the warm up or at the beginning of a workout, once to thrice weekly but for low volume.

Barcelona JUN 2019 BACK LEVER

So this is true for EVERY skill?

Obviously the higher the difficulty of the skill, the more work will be needed to keep it. Take the front lever for example, that’s a notoriously hard hold to keep without ever working on it. Guys like Lee Turner and Sven Kohl of Cali-Move have attested to this, too. You’ll find the more strength demanding the skill, the more maintenance needed to retain it. Hence why moves like one-arm chin ups and full planche tend to go missing at points during a training career when not greased regularly.

But those are more advanced skills. Intermediate skills such as handstands, muscle ups, back lever and other ring skills are definitely easier maintained than the monkey mind will have you believe.

The tricky thing about frequency is it’s very individual and therefore hard to give simple yes/no answers on. Generally speaking though, less always tends to be more. There are a multitude of high regarded coaches that have been forced into this line of thinking, purely due to the results they’ve seen anecdotally with their clientele. The likes of Dominik Sky & Jason Ferruggia come to mind – both are strong proponents of reducing your current workload and making better gains long term. 

The world of calisthenics & bodyweight strength training is a marathon not a sprint. It’s all heavily dependent on tissue quality, tendon strength/conditioning, neural sequencing and individual response rate. These facts alone should have you playing a more patient game but fear not, your handstand won’t go too far south if you leave it alone for a few weeks.

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.

4 thoughts on “Skill Acquisition Vs Skill Maintenance In Calisthenics? Leave a comment

  1. > So often you will get your first muscle up or lever, or handstand and want to keep hammering it in the hopes of it ‘not getting worse’. It makes sense, you’ve worked your ball sack off for this and there’s no fucking way you’re letting it slip now!

    Truth. I’m wrestling with this right now… just got the felge and forward roll on rings, two of my major goals for 2019, and now all I want to do is keep hammering those moves to prove to myself that I got them. Monkey brain for sure, and ultimately counterproductive. Especially with new movement patterns I’ve found it’s more effective to give the body extra time between training sessions to adapt to stress and forces it isn’t used to yet. Stacking volume on top of that is just going to increase the risk of injury.

    Really been enjoying your posts btw. Keep em coming! I’m working my way through the Calimoves mobility program and seeing how much progress you made has kept me motivated to stick with it.

    • Hey Kurt! How are you man? Long time no see/hear!

      Congrats on the Felge and forward roll, 2 tough skills when done strict and very impressive looking! Wise words on the injury/volume connection. MASSIVE lesson for me this year, way too few deloads, way too many complex movements pushed right to the wall.

      Glad you like the content, Kurt, thanks man. Trying to niche it a bit more as of late – more down the calisthenics route 😀 didn’t know you were on the CaliMove program too? Gunning for splits etc? It’s a great program but the real work starts when you’re working directly on the ‘big moves’.

      • Hey JR! Definitely support the calisthenics focus 🙂 I’m attending one of those 2-day Gymnastics Course sessions next month hoping to get a better sense of how calisthenics/GST is taught to adults. I’ve been programming my own workouts since I transitioned from powerlifting to calisthenics about 5 years ago. It’s been a little choppy but ultimately rewarding. Longer term I’m hoping to get out of the tech grind and get into coaching calisthenics/GST for adults. I suspect a lot more people would be into this style of training if they knew how to scale and program the movements. It would be awesome to hear your perspective on that sometime — like, how much you’re able to incorporate calisthenics into programming for your clients, and how many people have the interest and dedication needed to achieve more advanced moves. Do you see an upward trend in awareness/interest — i.e., do you think calisthenics coaching is a viable business model now or in the future?

        Re: Calimoves — I’m not tackling the splits yet. I had a hellish disc injury about 18 months ago and after a long recovery, I’m just trying to improve my all-around mobility so that never happens again. After the first couple months of the program I felt noticeably more fluid. I’d love to be able to hit a flat pike and pancake but that’s going to take a while longer. When I was injured my PT told me I’d likely never be able to get a full pike again so that’s motivated me to prioritize mobility and prove her wrong 🙂

      • Well you’re in luck as I fully intend to keep the calisthenics info & content coming! 😀

        That’s wicked, I’m a big fan of attending seminars and to be honest, I don’t do that enough myself. I think every 6 months we should attend an event of some kind like that. Self programming is very tricky in my opinion. Like most things in life it’s tricky to see reality when you’re so involved. I’ve never been coached but have ran plenty of other programs although I know many people who have a personal coach, and they thrive as the coach points out everything specific to THEM. You’re totally correct on the ‘grey area’ of progression info available to the masses. I think it will gradually become wider and wider spread as we’re in the age of information sharing right now; there’s YouTube vids on everything and many people are self taught in so many different endeavours/disciplines.

        I do think it’s a viable business model but I think it’s one of those ‘later rewards’ type situations. I think this line of work takes time to establish a name/reputation but maybe the speed of ‘success’ comes down to your ability to market? Above all though, it’s always the results you get people that determine your worth as a coach.

        Ah of course, I remember you mentioning it! Is it better overall now, as in able to take more load etc? I guess that lumbar spinal flexion will always be a fragile area for you now? But that would make the most epic story! I love seeing people defy concrete predictions…… inspiring! And the pike/pancake will act as a great springboard for splits training, I reckon!

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