The Gymnastics Life
Strength for gymnastics is often one the most overlooked and overanalyzed aspects of our sport.
We either neglect it all together (guilty), or over think so much that we're really not doing anything beneficial (guilty) i.e. doing too much or too many different things. In a 3-4 hour practice, it's of no ones benefit to be doing an hour of strength.
I started strength training shortly before I began spotting (just a young buck at 16). Prior to that it was push ups, pull ups, handstand push ups, etc. for wrestling.
I sought help and someone gave me a strength program that was your typical body building lower body/upper body split.
My journey didn't stop there. 7 years later I did Insanity in home workouts and then P90X.
And then I stumbled on CrossFit.
CrossFit changed my life (both in the way I view fitness and how my career path changed), but this post isn't about CrossFit (not entirely). The beauty of CrossFit is the way they define fitness and how to get there. Greg Glassman (CrossFit founder) says that a training plan should be marked by its "simplicity and efficacy."
There it is right there. Is it easy AND does it get the job done?
So here's my minimalist approach to strength for gymnastics (in no particular order):
Note: I reserve the right to add variations to each exercise. The core movement will always remain.
#1: Legless Rope Climb (Variations: L-Sit and Weighted)
#2: Handstand Push Up or Burpee (Variation: deficit handstand push up)
#3: Lunge Walk or Box Step Up (Variation: weighted)
Note: box step ups are performed at about knee height.
#4: Back Raise (Variation: back raise holds, weighted)
Note: we perform these with a partner, ideally we would use a glute ham developer but we won't have the space.
#5: V-Up (Variation: weighted)
Note: we perform these starting with a foam block over head laying flat then exchanged it to the feet and back to the hands each rep. Every rep is complete when the athlete is completely flat again.
And there it is, simple and effective!
How about you? What do you have in your top 5?
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out.
In a previous post I mentioned a series of emails I send out to our staff. I called them culture emails. Here's one of my most recent ones:
I'm part of a family of 6. I was the youngest and probably the least like the rest of my family. I'm most similar to my eldest brother, his name is Shane. We both like things clean and organized. You should see his apartment downtown: spotless. It should be in an ad catalogue for apartments or modern room decor.
Growing up I was very possessive of my things. I was a husky kid so my brother (other brother, Johnny) and I wore the same clothes and it drove me nuts when he would wear my stuff... I'm still salty about the Hurley hoodie he lost back in 2001.
I've always kept my room clean (unlike my sister, Heidi), made my bed, and hung all my clothes in my closet. Yes, I hang every piece of clothing I own, including T-shirts (I don't like creases).
I always kept my car clean and got routine maintenance. Owning a CrossFit gym, I always made sure everything was in order and things were put back to where they were supposed to be.
Owning Rev now, many times you will see me moving blocks, mats, or wedges when I get in or after I coach a rotation.
Aesthetics matter A LOT to me... you won't see me type in all caps often but thats how much the visual aspect of how things look matters to me. ALL CAPS and emphasized.
The same applies to how we visually look as we coach. Our customers stay and watch their kid(s) which is awesome. Our lobby is huge so it allows many parents to view classes.
They're always watching so, the way our gym looks and what we look while coaching is unbelievably important. Especially because they can't hear you coaching (unless you coach as loud as me HA HA).
So what should our appearance visually represent? Here's my top 5:
1. Be in the Universal Ready Position.
- This is the position of being ready to give a critique. Stand up straight with your shoulders back, hands on hips (jazz hands if you're feeling funky). You can't be ready if you're sitting down or holding a clipboard. If you're ever tempted to sit down do 10 squats and 10 burpees and I promise you will perk right up I'll even do it with you.
2. Be on the move and stay on the move.
- If I'm not spotting I'm moving and constantly giving corrections. This helps keep my energy up too.
3. Keep the kids in front you, always facing the customers.
- We want the customers to see our pretty faces engaging their kid. This also ensures you have eyes on all stations (unless you need to turn your back to the parents in order to be spotting a station on the correct side-- safety first!)
4. Be prepared.
- Know the lesson plan and the warm up (Flow Master-- this is on you to help set up). Making the warm up fun and getting the kids excited to do good gymnastics should always be a priority. Change it up each week and get creative. Heck use the ninja blocks if you want?
5. Use your 15 minutes between classes to get yourself jacked for the next class.
- First talk to customers for 2-5 minutes after class, then use 3-5 minutes to do whatever you need to get ready, maybe check facebook or post to your insta story . I like to slam some coffee and pop a fresh piece of gum in. Use the next 3-5 minutes to recheck rotations and set up a fun warmup then get in the lobby to take roll for your excited students!
I absolutely love Gym Owners Facebook Groups. I was in two when I owned my CrossFit gym, as well as the Gymnastics Owners and Managers group. I love it because it's a great place to seek answers and share Best Practices.
December 4th, 2018 marked 12 months in business. We had just made hire #30 (we started with 9). A lot had changed in one year. We were in no way the same business Day 1 as we were on Day 365.
I decided to take to the exercise of writing a series of emails about our gym. In this series of emails I would go over why we started, what we value, what kind of culture we want, why we make changes, why we work hard, why we do what we do, etc.
Currently I'm on my twenty-fourth email.
And you know what? Our staff loves it! I've heard on multiple occasions that it, "peels back the curtain on us as owners".
As much as you want to think not, your employees do see you in a different light. It doesn't matter how close, or how good of friends you are. You are still the owner and they are the employee. In a sense, your the wizard behind the curtain.
But the good news is, I think this bridges the gap. There's something about the medium of the written word that opens lines of communication that verbal can't always do.
Instead of having a several all staff meetings (usually someone always can't make it) or a meeting that goes for 2 hours. I write to my staff daily what's on my mind or things I would like to work on, etc.
These series of emails has created openness with our entire staff and has even helped address issues that we didn't even know existed.
So here's my challenge to you owners or a managers. Write to your staff daily for 20 days. That's Monday-Friday for 4 weeks and watch your culture change for the better.
About 7 years ago I resolved to save my former boss some cash and make our own spotting blocks. After all, it could not be that hard since its just styrofoam, foam, and vinyl. Here's how it went.
Locate styrofoam companies. I was able to find two in our area. The one I use is StyroTech. They can make any size block you could ever want. Example below.
Next Step is to cover the Styrofoam with a protective layer of foam. I've used scrap pieces of 1.5-2" trocellen foam as well well as an older 1/2-5/8" vault runway. Recently I had success asking an equipment company that we placed an order with to send as much extra 5/8" scrap foam as they had (they sent it at no charge). I was able to get enough to cover 4 of our larger spotting blocks.
You can glue the foam pieces on but I've opted to heavily duct tape them. It's not pretty but who cares once the covers on? It's faster, more secure, and will more than likely never need to be replaced.
The last step is to have the covers made. I order my vinyl from MyTarp (they sell it by the yard). You'll have to do some math to figure out how much you need. You'll then need to find someone to sew the covers. The first people we used charged $35 per cover and they did an OK job. They made the covers like a pillow case with velcro caps at the end, it wasn't aesthetically pleasing but I couldn't complain for $35.
Recently, I've used our local tailor and they do it for $59-$69 depending on the size. These covers have a zipper and look tenfold better. Example below.
I'm not exactly sure how much we have saved but I'm sure it's a lot. Just doing some quick math:
A 2' x 2' x 4' styrofoam costs $35-50 per piece. The scrap foam was free. Duct tape was about $10. Each cover was $59. So about $110-120ish per 2' x 2' x 4' block. Obviously the smaller the Styrofoam the costs goes down. There's also is volume discounts and the person who sews your covers may be cheaper.
Good luck. If you have any questions feel free to reach out.
When we first open our businesses we have enough energy to do every task imaginable. You can call this the "honeymoon phase".
That can last a year or maybe in even several years, but at some point, reality is going to set in that you can no longer do all this on your own.
There's a simple task that can get you moving in the right direction. My mentor had me do it, and his mentor had him do it. It's called "Roles and Tasks".
Get out a blank piece of paper.
On that paper you're going to go about your daily tasks and every time you do something, write that task down and put a line under it. Now, under that task you're going to write in detail everything that task involves (8-12 things) and how long it takes you. An easy example is how you open the gym, e.g.
The next process is putting a dollar amount on each role. For example, we clean our bar area every day. It took me 2.5-3 hours to vacuum, sweep, mop and put everything back. The role is 12-15 hours a week. I put a dollar value between $10-13 an hour. We now have the Role of "Bar Area Cleaner" with a detailed playbook on how to do it.
You can do this with every task in your gym. Leave no task undocumented. By doing this you have just created multiple Roles in your business and exactly how to do them. You can then begin hiring them out with the best candidate and you have a playbook for your entire operations.
Having the Roles and Tasks spelled out also helps with staff contracts and lets employees know they are doing their job correctly. Furthermore, this makes performance reviews clear cut.
If you have any questions, always feel free to reach out.
Owning and operating your own business can be the one of the most rewarding things out there. Watching your business go from an idea, to signing a lease, to serving your first customers is a whirlwind and a blur in the first few months. Looking back it is truly amazing and gratifying. It can also cause you to be 'chicken little' on a day by day basis in its infancy.
As owners we more than likely have to do everything at the beginning. Things like opening the gym, answering the phones, processing payments, writing the checks, coaching the classes, cleaning the mats, closing the gym. In short, we have bought ourselves a really expensive job.
There is no doubt this phase is exhausting but it's also a crucial step in making your business serve you. At some point you as the owner and operator have to stop being the most important person in your business. When people come to XYZ Gymnastics they should not come for you, they should come for your brand and the consistent delivery of your product from your entire team.
Your first step is writing down your daily tasks. From how you unlock the doors, how you answer the phone, to how you teach a class, to how you close down the gym night each night. Each step should be detailed so that it can be an easy repeatable process. Leave no task behind. Consistency across your business is crucial.
It's through this process that unlocks the door of freedom of owning a business that doesn't rely on you.
Chapter 3 has been the most helpful thus far. He explains the Golden Circle which you can learn more about here.
Most businesses communicate WHAT they do then HOW they do it and they maybe tell you WHY they do it but it's more than likely not communicated through their website or when selling. Here is how most gyms sell their service:
WHAT - We teach kids of all ages and all levels coordination, balance, strength, etc. through the sport of gymnastics. HOW - Through professionally designed programs that emphasize safety and fun.
That's pretty bland but thats the gist of it. You can see there's no WHY and its the WHY that industry leaders use to separate themselves. Here's a
WHY - We believe in helping children develop both physically and mentally. WHAT - We believe gymnastics to be the single greatest way to do this for kids of all ages and all levels. HOW - We do this through professionally designed programs that emphasize safety and having fun.
Way different, huh?
When most parents start their kid in gymnastics there going search google or ask a friend, and chances are they will go with what's convenient at first. Communicating your WHY is what will separate you from the gym across town (or another town away) and you'll find that you have numerous customers that will pass 3-4 gyms on the way to yours.
Your job is to find out WHY you do what you do AND communicate WHY you do what you do.
I just started reading the book "Start With Why" by Simon Sinek, and thought it would be beneficial to share my thoughts and how it applies to the business of gymnastics and coaching. I think all of us as business owners and coaches want to know how to inspire employees (and athletes) to take action.
Chapter 1 starts with this:
"On a cold January day, a forty-three-year-old man was sworn in as chief executive of his country. By his side stood his predecessor, a famous general who, fifteen years earlier, had commanded his nation's armed forces in a war that resulted in the defeat of Germany. The young leader was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. He spent the next five hours watching parades in his honor and stayed up celebrating until three o'clock in the morning." p. 11
Like me, you may have assumed he was describing John F. Kennedy. That is until you get the date, January 30, 1933, it was Adolf Hitler.
His point is, we make assumptions based off incomplete or false information. Our behavior is affected by assumptions. He uses the example of a flat earth. During this period there was little exploration. People then realized the earth was round and exploration has no limits. (p.11)
He then asks you to consider organizations; how they're formed? why decisions are made? why some are successful and others are not? And, do we just assume we know why? (p.12)
"No matter your definition of success-- how we go about achieving our success is very similar. Some of us just wing it, but most of us try to at least gather some data so we can make educated decisions." (p. 12)
He then illustrated a friend who invests stocks with his own money. When he does well, he claims it was because of his ability to pick the right stocks, if he didn't do well, it was the markets fault.
"Sometimes when things go right, we think we know why, but do we really?" p.13
"We read books, attend conferences, listen to podcasts and ask friends and colleagues -- all with the purpose of finding out more so we can figure out what to do or how to act. The problem is. we've all been in situations in which we have all the data and get lots of good advice but things still don't go quite right." p. 13
He continues that our decisions are based off data, and sometimes we ignore that data and make decisions off our gut feelings. He says, "the dance between gut and rational decision-making pretty much coves how we conduct business and even live our lives."
He ends the chapter with a story about two car manufacturers. One in America and one in Japan. The American company had a line worker at the very end that had a rubber mallet to tap the doors to make sure they fit perfectly, the Japanese did not. The confused American company asked how they made sure the doors fit perfectly the Japanese company responded, "We make sure it fits when we design it."
The Japanese company engineered the outcome from the beginning. They didn't need to employ someone to tap the doors nor to buy rubber mallets. What the Americans did with the rubber mallet is a metaphor for how many people organize and lead, we basically hammer around and place short term solutions that don't solve the situation.
As gym owners, managers, and head coaches we always make assumptions. Towards customers, staff, and athletes. Do you just assume that other gym businesses and teams are successful because of a,b,c and things are not going well with you because of x,y,z? Or a certain athlete can't get a skill because of this or that? If something goes wrong do you blame it on a certain staff member before assessing? Or maybe overlooking employees for particular rolls when you should have delegated?
Ask yourself, are you just chucking it or have you engineered the end from the beginning i.e. do you have systems in place for every roll and every task in the gym? Is it detailed enough that each staff member can flourish? Are you communicating with your team staff so you all have the same goal and are on the same page (yearly outline)? Are you talking with your athletes and their parents? Are expectations known and set? Are daily lessons made for your classes all the way to your highest team level?
I think if you looked under the hood you will see that most successful gyms and teams are doing this whether they know it or not.
Most Optional athletes train around 20 hours a week give or take, and I think I speak for most when I say that 20 hours (4 hours a day) isn't enough. There's 4 events to get to and that doesn't include warm up and strength.
Early in my coaching career I would come up with elaborate warm ups, complex's, and strength routines. It was like world domination except for gymnastics workouts. The only issue is, it left no time for the most important thing. Doing gymnastics.
Recently, I've went with the approach of keeping the main thing the main thing. If we're sticking with 4 hours per day, I would much rather do a generic warm up with basics (15 minutes) and spend 75 minutes on bars or extra air awareness than 45 minutes on a warm up with basics and 45 minutes on bars (the bar rotation still includes a warm up).
Keeping with this pattern, I've shortened bar warm ups to one turn (for sure with level 9-10, level 8 and under still do longer basic warm ups). There's always tinkering to do but in a perfect world I would love for first turn to be something like this: 3 kip handstand kips, 3 drop kips, squat on, giant, giant, giant, dismount (double if they can). As the athlete progresses I would then subtract certain skills and add difficulty e.g. swing 1/2, swing 1/2, giant 1/1, double, or add toe handstand, etc. During season all athletes get a one turn warm up. Second turn is full set.
If you're looking at a real world example, I currently have a second year level 10 that we're hoping to add a major release to her routine. When she gets to bars her first turn is similar to the example above and then she immediately gets her heel pads and gets in the belt for jaegers. In a 45 minute bar rotation, she's getting 40 full minutes of jaeger practice and probably flips 3 every 4-5 minutes. While she's waiting to get back in the belt she's also doing supplemental stations. The point is, I'll take 9 more flips than 10-15 minutes of a shaping or other complex.
This is not to say there isn't value in complex's but at the end of the day I'm going to spend my time on what is essential to making that athlete successful and motivated, that could include a complex of some sort but more often than note it's going to be skill practice.
My next experiment is trying this with twisting vaults. We haven't had a twisting vault in 3 years and I'm seeing red. My plan is simple: one turn warm up, uphill on one station, twisting to pit or low mat in pit on the other station, cody twisting on tramp between turns.... ALL. SUMMER. LONG.
I think I'm on to something but then again, I may just be on something.
I'd love to hear your thoughts.