CrossFit Speciality Course - Gymnastics

IMG_0157Why does someone attend a CrossFit Specialty course? Personally, I was hoping to 1) learn how to better coach gymnastics and 2) improve my own CrossFit gymnastics. As an older athlete with no gymnastics background, these are massive opportunities for me. 

How old am I? I attended the seminar while I was vacationing at my condo in a 55 & over development in Naples, FL. That's old for a CrossFit dude. 

While the course was hosted by North Naples CrossFit, the instructors were Chuck and Vanessa Bennington from CrossFit Seaward in Sarasota, FL. 

Just as the pre-reading suggested, the training covered such CrossFit gymnastics staples as:

  • Hollow and arch positions
  • Pull-ups
  • Toes-to-bar
  • Pass through
  • Front & back lever
  • Ring supports
  • Ring dips
  • Muscle-ups
  • Pistols
  • Handstands, handstand push-ups and handstanswalks
  • Headstands
  • Parallettes 

I left the two-day seminar tired, sore and with a head full of concepts to apply when I returned home. 

Below are some of the highlights from the course, including lots of Chuck Bennington's quotes (which I tried to capture as accurately as possible in my notebook): 

  • Chuck does not believe in sitting or standing with crossed arms. Offenders were reminded throughout the weekend.
  • The goal of traditional gymnastics is scoring while CrossFit gymnastics is focused on fitness.
  • Reasons for pursuing CrossFit gymnastics include:
    • "Doing the common uncommonly well."
    • "Looking good naked and quality of life."
    • "Exploring the limits of our capacity."
    • "We need to get athletes to understand the deeper meaning of gymnastics to get them to focus on this hard thing."
  •  Gymnastics focuses on 5 of the 10 skills less involved in weightlifting (while also having a positive impact on lifting):
    • Flexibility
    • Coordination
    • Agility
    • Accuracy
    • Balance
  • The importance of nutrition? "Who might just be too fat. Overly fat and gymnastics will never happen."
  • "Begin by teaching them how to move."
  • "Every Open WOD will probably have a body weight component."
  • Gymnastics included in 50% of Games/Regionals WODs, 100% of Open WODs and about 75% of class CrossFit WODs.
  • "Go back to failing at something."
  • 7 of the top 10 women at the Games have gymnastics backgrounds. 
  • "Have fun and save lives."
  • "Don't lose sight of the magic."
  • "Changing the world through health and fitness."
  • "The only community some people have." 
  • "An incredible thing that saves and heals people."
  • "When was the last time you went into the box and worked on gymnastics for an hour?"
  • "You've spent hours working on lifts but not playing with gymnastics."
  • "It's like taking a bar exam every day to pass the test.  It's not happening."
  • Watch gymnastics on Instagram and YouTube like you do HookGrip.
  • Never using bands for pull-up progression. Uses bar strapped into J-hooks as a progression.
  • "How often do you break off in pairs to practice gymnastics?"
  • "Do less, better."
  • Film gymnastics like you do lifts.
  • Program gymnastics for yourself to allow yourself to learn.
  • Don't compete every day - need to understand the 'material' - competing should be an occasional thing.
  • Synergy of putting things together including gymnastics (e.g., alternating EMOMs - thrusters and pull-ups, strict pull-ups plus cleans - smokes shoulders to kill early pull).


CrossFit Butler

CrossFit BrickYard is very proud of DJ, Joshua and Ricky for qualifying to compete at Wodapalooza on January 13th to January 15th in Miami!

Below is a video we created to support fundraising for our athletes.

The last Wodapalooza featured athletes from 25 countries, 36 states and was viewed by 26,000 spectators. Among the athletes competing were Rich Froning, Noah Olsen, Ben Smith, Brooke Wells, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, Lauren Fisher and many more. Our Brickyard Revolution crew is going to be on the same stage with many of the world's most elite CrossFit competitors.


CrossFit Strongman Experience

It's always a learning opportunity when you visit another box. One of CrossFit's charms is that each affiliate has the opportunity design a unique experience. Unlike the conformity of a franchise, the lack of  conformity allows for positive and negative variance but also for allows from innovation and continuous improvement. 

Yesterday's CrossFit Strongman Course at Hybrid Athletics in Bridgeport, CT was a great experience. Why? 

  1. I came away appreciating how Strongman movements can boost athletic performance.
  2. I'd done things like Atlas stone lifts and tire flips before but now know the proper technique and how these movements translate to improving other CrossFit movements. 
  3. I got a great, full-body workout. 
  4. It's cool to lift beer kegs.
  5. The box has some unique features and best practices to learn from. 
  6. The instructors, led by Rob Orlando, were great hosts. 

First of all, the lead instructor Rob Orlando is a Strongman expert, well-spoken and continually engaging. Below is a video of Rob doing Grace at 300 pounds. I won't be testing this anytime soon. Well, never actually. 


Below are some photos from the host box, Hybrid Athletics:


The box has an intimate size and a definite cool factor. Throw in a few couches and it would pass for a trendy coffee shop. 


The set-up is well-considered and very much different than a typical box. 


Including this badass motorcycle attached to the box wall. 


One of the side rooms is a well-stocked kitchen and another room is filled with their clothing merchandise. 


Their clothing isn't just a logo. It has attitude. 


The amount of strongman equipment is like no other box that I've visited. 


The tires are used to form a sitting area around the whiteboard.


The whiteboard includes a membership count and target. This location opened a year ago. 


The whiteboard outlines the box rules...


Including critical rule #7. 


Students have a laminated profile on the box wall. 


And there's a deli/bakery across the street. 

The course was focused on Strongman but Rob also took the time for an extended Q&A. Below are the highlights of what I scribbled in my notebook. I did my best to capture the thoughts and quotes but cannot claim 100% accuracy:

  • "When we think of strongman, we think of 400 pound guys named Magnus."
  • Strongman movements and equipment have great ROI. 
  • Flipping a tire is something a new athlete can share with their friends. 
  • "How can you differentiate? Your box should be fun. It should have a buzz. Boxes are too often run by complete assholes."
  • Protecting your biceps is a key consideration of strongman movements: "Use the big muscles to do a big job."
  • "Every strongman rep is a true test."
  • "Atlas stones are just a lot cooler than a rower. Stones are also cheap and the variety of movements is unlimited." 
  • Suggests testing GTOH with an odd object (e.g., a water-filled keg)  and then retesting your Grace time. Many significant time improvements have been seen using this method. 
  • Consider mixing strongman movements into a WOD. For example: 10 rounds of 10 squats, 50 foot Farmer's carry and 5 burpees. 
  • "We don't need to learn Strongman movements. We just need to remember them." 
  • Rob programs for himself. He does the same workout as everyone else. 
  • WODs have no Rx weight. The weight used is customized for each athlete based on 1) what they can move safely, 2) how they're feeling that day and 3) what will allow them to meet the intent/timeframe of the WOD. Per Rob, "This allows people to think bigger." 
  • Rob programs one day at a time: "How will I know how I'll feel on day 15? How are the members feeling?" He programs based on how he feels and by getting feedback from the community. 
  • They do not write scores on the whiteboard or use an online tracker. Per Rob, "Leaderboards can turn into cheater boards. We care about participation and not competition." 
  • Strives to have the simplest workouts. The fewest words for the hardest workout. They often use WODs. No calculations should be required. 
  • He sometimes sees WODs programmed by other boxes and thinks, "What the fuck are you doing?"
  • Strongman movements should be programmed the same as any other CrossFit movement. 
  • How does one stay strong? "Feed the recovery. Eat three times as much and lose the motor." 
  • "We need to get back to the roots of CrossFit as an exercise program versus an athletic endeavor." 
  • Be patient versus shooting for the short-term jumps: "Strength takes a lifetime to acquire."
  • They rarely program snatches and never OHS. Snatches provide the least results: "Just stop snatching and focus on deadlifts, back squats and clean and jerks." 
  • Before the CrossFit Games, he changed his eating and used MetPro for nutrition and spent $800 a week on food: "I never was sore at the Games." 
  • "Every time I do a workout, I question my life choices." 
  • Strongman movements should be slowly introduced to your community: "Start with a little sprinkle of rhabdo."
  • "Why should you lift a log? Because it's not a barbell, that's why. Constantly varied, remember?"
  • "All athletic endeavors start with violent hips."

Thanks again to the CrossFit Strongman crew and Hybrid Athletics. 


Better Nutrition = Better CrossFit Results

A few weeks ago, I spent two days at CrossFit Level 1 Certificate training. During one of the seminars, the instructor spoke about the responsibility of the athlete. This included:

  1. Dedication - getting to the box to train on a regular basis
  2. Movements - learning proper techniques for both safety and effectiveness
  3. Intensity - performing the daily programming with a focus on intensity

When it came to CrossFit, I was certainly dedicated. I regularly trained six days a week. Even on vacations. For example, when I traveled to Bermuda, this included a morning scooter ride to CrossFit BDA before a day laying on the beach and swimming in the ocean. When it came to movement and intensity, there was room for improvement but I'd certainly made substantial progress since beginning in 2013. I'd also seen steady results along the way as I regularly inched forward with new PRs. 

In 2015, I'd switched CrossFit boxes. My main reason was that I felt I was putting a lot into my training and was looking for an affiliate that was as dedicated to their athletes as I was to CrossFit. 

This year, as I was about to turn 57, I considered what I needed to do progress further. What became clear was that I'd been ignoring a crucial consideration.


With the advice to a diet experts associated with CrossFit BrickYard, I dove into addressing this. At 5' 7 1/2", I weighed about 215 pounds in mid-June. I've now dropped 25 pounds and tip the scales around 190. 

While the weight loss has earned me a few compliments, I'm most excited by my workout results. I'm not just seeing PRs but big leaps forward. Some recent examples include:


  • December 2015 - 27:02
  • September 2016 - 24:24


  • April 2016 - 13 rounds plus 3 reps
  • October 2016 - 17 rounds plus 2 reps

Death by Wall Balls

  • February 2016 - 16 rounds plus 13 reps
  • October 2016 - 19 rounds plus 11 reps


  • October 2015 - 8:56
  • September 2016 - 6:27


  • February 2016 - 11:40
  • August 2016 - 10:27


  • April 2016 - 39:36
  • October 2016 - 34:45


  • March 2016 - 22:06
  • July 2016 - 18:26

These are just a fraction of the PRs that have come as I've begun to lose weight. What's been most astounding is that many of the PRs haven't been a few reps or seconds but multiple rounds and minutes. While much of this is due to simply having a lot of room to improve, I'd never seen these huge improvements until making nutrition just as important as putting in all the hard work. 

In retrospect, it makes little sense to be dedicated and hard-working if you're going to marginalize your efforts with a poor or sub-par diet.

It only took me more than half a century to come to that realization. 


How Many Sports Have You Played?

P1232652During the past two-plus years, my focus has been CrossFit. While I’d recommend CrossFit to anyone and everyone, I don’t feel it’s necessary to suggest that it’s the best or only way. Everyone has their own passion and that’s what’s most important.

In fact, my own interests have continued to evolve over the years. When I started CrossFit, I’d been doing jujitsu for years. Before that, I loved basketball. Prior to that, I trained for marathon running.

Looking back, I began to think about all the different sports I’d tried. I wondered, ‘How many sports had I played?’. While some had become passions and others quickly abandoned, I smiled at the memory of playing each game.

Note: My definition and application for qualifying something as a ‘sport’ is purely for entertainment purposes.

Sports that I’ve played:

  • Basketball
  • Nerf basketball - In my experience, it can be more physical than the standard version and includes bank shots off the ceiling
  • Pool basketball - Includes attempted drowning of your opponent as a standard strategy
  • Horse
  • Baseball
  • Slow-pitch softball
  • Fast-pitch - In this variation, standing in the batter’s box is scarier than you might think
  • Wiffleball - One of my all-time favorites - I have a good screwball
  • Parachuting - Death defying and awesome
  • Jarts - Just death defying and now illegal
  • Horseshoes
  • Cornhole - Clearly the ‘sport’ with the worst name
  • Yoga
  • Hot yoga
  • Step-up - Yes, I tried it
  • Spinning
  • Badminton - Although the ‘birdie’ always got stuck in the racquet
  • Tennis
  • Racquetball - With far too much running and diving in my version
  • Handball - I always felt like I’d left my racquet at home
  • Ping pong - Played in a basement near a blazing wood stove for added danger and complexity
  • Football
  • Touch football - A hugely underrated sport
  • Flag football
  • Volleyball - I played a bit too intensely at Friday night beer matches
  • Billiards
  • Darts
  • Arm wrestling
  • Wrestling
  • Frisbee
  • Hacky-sack - With Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and old school Aerosmith
  • Jiu-jitsu - I was continually choked
  • Jujitsu - I earned a black belt
  • Judo - My injuries included a broken big toe and a separated shoulder
  • Running - Including a couple marathons
  • Jogging - believe me, it’s different than running
  • Biking
  • Hiking - Most often with a faithful dog along for the trek
  • Soccer
  • Indoor soccer - Different from soccer due to the boards and ricochets
  • Swimming
  • Diving
  • Body surfing - With a few sand/face collisions
  • Kayaking - Mostly on lakes an salt ponds)
  • Canoeing - Almost drown doing this
  • Tubing
  • Twister - Sort of like free-form yoga
  • Tag, hide & seek, snowball fights, cooties, giant steps, hopscotch, marbles and other youthful competitions
  • Musical chairs - Which I played again only a few weeks ago
  • Ten-Pin bowling
  • Duckpin bowling
  • Candle-Pin bowling - Were you can really fling the smaller ball
  • Lawn bowling
  • Jump rope
  • Roller skating
  • Roller derby - The street version
  • Skating board
  • Shuffleboard
  • Bocce
  • Ice skating
  • Hockey
  • Street Hockey
  • Dodgeball - The reason for my concussion history
  • Skiing
  • Sledding
  • Tobogganing - Including a broken wrist from hitting a tree
  • Snow boarding - Although I spent most of the time falling on my butt
  • Rock climbing
  • Horse riding - Considering this a sport since I was hanging on for dear life most of the time
  • Golf
  • Miniature golf - Easily more fun than regular golf
  • Go-cart racing
  • Kickball  - My favorite sport until, in the fifth grade,  I learned about girls