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Fitness Questions From Instagram (June 2020)

The methodology behind programming for calisthenics skills, getting started delivering your own calisthenics/gymnastics strength based classes & how to close the last little gap in your front splits………

Human Flag Bareclona 2019

What’s the thought process behind programming for eventual goals within calisthenics, say for moves such as the human flag, planche, front lever etc? Do you have routes in mind already even when someone is at a beginner level or do you not even concern yourself with that until they’re stronger? 

Interesting question! Generally speaking, I like to break things down into movement patterns (horizontal/vertical pull/push) then add in accessories to support posture, structural balance and any common areas of weakness. Usually this will be work for the rear delts, external rotators, biceps and triceps as if these are weak, performance will be hindered in the big moves.

Past that it depends on the ultimate goals of the individual and their current level. If they’ve got a rock solid base and are gunning for a certain move – say the handstand push up – then we may use a focused block centered heavily around that move. If they haven’t got a solid base yet, I’ll aim to strengthen the basics up as much as I can while incorporating gradual exposure to the more ‘skillsy’ elements. Things like planche leans, psuedo planche push ups, scapula pulls, front lever work, false grip etc etc…….

But there is always a futuristic vision in mind, yes.

Once this lockdown stuff is over and the gyms reopen I’m thinking of setting up a bodyweight/gymnastic strength based class. As you’ve dabbled in this I was wondering what you think the best way of running it is? I’m thinking of running blocks of training and working something specific in each time as that would be good for results but I’m not sure if that would be enjoyable to attend? Do you have any recommendations that have worked well for you?

So I’ve ran calisthenics specific workshops, handstand classes and workshops as well as running my regular calisthenics weekly class at the gym I work at. What works well in terms of classes is breaking it down into sections. So I’ll start with 15-20 mins on the handstand but I’m careful not to go overboard with the conditioning drills, as I find they tend to bore people much quicker than just playing around trying to find balance. Now obviously I’ll still drill the wall facing handstand and stress all the finer points, with the addition of some fun drills like tuck slides or different wall shapes to emphasise control of the lower body while upside down, but the bulk of time will be spent trying to create balance at the appropriate level – be it on the wall, with a spotter or freestanding.

Then I’ll work on the upper body strength side of things which can encompass skills as well as basics. It can be ring dominant or sometimes it will be even more fundamental like dips and chin/pull up work. Then as a finisher I’ll throw in a challenge or a burnout or even some underground core drills, it depends. I tend to keep note of what I do each week and then modify it every so often. So I’ll have like 3 or 4 templates that I tweak every so often and that rotation prevents boredom!

I get plenty of regulars week in week out with this set up so it definitely is tried and tested. Ultimately, if you’re passionate in your delivery and can trouble shoot on the spot, they’ll have confidence in you as a coach and eventually listen to anything you say. Obviously, like anything, this takes time.

Nice work on the touchdown on your front splits for the tighter side! How long did it take? Not long, right? And what was the approach?

Crazily enough it didn’t take long at all. Below is a pic of me on my ‘bad side’ from the 15th of April 2020 where you can see a clear 3/4 inch gap from touchdown. This was in a warm and pre stretched state as well.

April 15th front split bad side pic

Then as recent as May 6 2020 I managed to get touchdown on this side! So a mere 21 days later! What was even cooler was I captured it on camera in a video clip. It was an amazing moment for me as I’d wanted to get both sides flat since the first time I got flat on my good side, way back in August 2019. I actually penned a full blown article on my recent experiences with splits and mobility here: Front Splits Touchdown On BOTH SIDES! (Mobility Update MAY 2020)

Bad side front splits TOUCH DOWN May 2020

But generally speaking, I only hit the splits every 5th day to ensure absolute freshness and full recovery. I’d train the splits after a general leg day (weighted pistol squats, Nordic hamstring curls, single leg box jumps & calf raises), alongside other mobility moves – pancake, butterfly and the mighty middle split. So needless to say, we went heavy and hard. Hence the 5 day pattern.

In terms of drills themselves, I attacked the hip flexor/hip extension portion of the front split equation. The hamstring flexibility demand really isn’t high at all in the front split; it’s always the hip extension that trips people up………

I used two PNF/contract-relax drills. One with the knee flexed (heel drives to the bum) and the other with the knee extended (the infamous long lunge courtesy of Emmet Louis). The long lunge really seems to be the king of front split success as that allowed me to build up pretty quickly to holding an ACTIVE front split almost as low as I could a passive one! And as I’ve written before, once the Central Nervous System knows it’s strong and safe in the more extreme ranges, it will allow you to access them easier and more often.

Thanks for reading. If you want a question answered, leave a comment below, DM me on Instagram (@straight_talking_fitness) or email me (

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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