In 2012, the name Gabby Douglas became a shout of victory in the U.S. as the young woman won two gold medals at the Olympics.
Although your Box probably isn’t full of flying acrobats as graceful and flexible as Douglas, CrossFit and gymnastics go together like Gabby and gold.
“I think that for a long time, at least at the beginning of the CrossFit career or the CrossFit movement, there was a big emphasis placed on not only moving fast and [with] intensity, but introducing the barbell,” said Dusty Hyland, co-owner and head gymnastics Coach at DogTown CrossFit in Culver City, California. “We’ve seen over the last couple of years the emergence of gymnastics as an important component — maybe the most important component — to longevity in fitness.”
DogTown offers a weekly hour-long class focused on gymnastics, teaching progressions that help athletes with movements such as handstands and muscle-ups. Hyland has an extensive background in gymnastics, including a time when he trained with the U.S. Olympic Team as well as his present position as lead Coach at CrossFit Gymnastics. However, he said having such experience in gymnastics is a double-sided coin:
On one hand, it gave him expertise and rules for movements. On the other, he said it limited his thinking as a young Coach.
So the challenge, said Hyland, is how do you take your crafted background and apply it to each individual athlete, making the appropriate adjustments for them?
Perhaps that’s where a gymnastics certification comes in.
Sean Chua, Coach at Old City CrossFit in Washington D.C., also has a background in gymnastics and is the co-founder of the gymnastics program at the Box. He pointed out that when he got his gymnastics certification, there were a couple of key aspects he took away from it. “The biggest thing they harped on at the gymnastics cert is definitely safety. For every movement we learned, we learned how to spot for that movement, even for something like a pull-up,” said Chua. “The progressions and safety are the two biggest things I got out of the gymnastics cert.”
Using the progression method, the gymnastics program at Old City is more of an open gym style. Chua explained one hour every week is dedicated to members who want to learn a specific skill and are taught its progression. However, for those with the unlimited membership package, Chua can set up a personalized progression plan for them so they can finally get a muscle up, handstand walk, etc.
It all goes back to the growing importance of gymnastics in CrossFit.
“What we realized [is that the] vast majority of people that are coming to our gym are fairly weak in the gymnastics body weight stuff. That’s what most people don’t do their whole lives,” said Sean Emery, co-owner of Old City CrossFit. “We wanted to create an opportunity for people to have a structured, focused ability to work on their weaknesses.”
It seemed to make sense to Hyland as well. He explained educating your members in gymnastics allows them to learn the limitations of their bodies and move more efficiently in a CrossFit class. By association, it’s essential for a Coach to have this sort of education as well. “You have to find a knowledgeable Coach, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be a gymnast,” said Hyland. “But it’s definitely helpful to find somebody with that background that has a passion for CrossFit. The right Coach is important, but you can go get enough knowledge to teach it.”
Emery sees Old City’s gymnastics program as an active rest day, getting people in and using the Box without “leaving broken like after a CrossFit workout.” However, having a program solely focused on gymnastics isn’t about undervaluing CrossFit’s importance. “The gymnastics program exists to supplement and improve your ability in CrossFit,” said Emery. “They’re not two separate and equal programs. It’s CrossFit, which has this gymnastics arm or branch that will facilitate improvement in that area.”
Ultimately, he said, for him the focus on gymnastics to benefit CrossFit goes back to a single question: What is fitness?
Photo by Paul O’Sullivan