Hierarchy of Gymnastics Movement
by Dave Durante
If your goal is to truly gain mastery of movement there is a hierarchy to how gymnastics movements need to be learned. Without sticking to this process, it becomes virtually impossible to understand how to control and manipulate the body within positions. What is important to note about this hierarchy is that once an athlete graduates to the next level, it does not indicate that the previous level is never performed again. The previous levels are always worked on and improved upon. The next level becomes an added dimension to training.
Phase 1: Creation of Shapes and Body Awareness
This step is fundamental to all movement and is the building block for all future steps. This step revolves around two key components. The first is core-centric exercises which help to develop the understanding of what an athletes body is doing within space and time. When training the core it is critical to incorporate exercises that not only involve the abs, but also obliques, hip flexors, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.
The second piece is flexibility work. Consistent, daily, full body flexibility training is critical to allow for the creation of correct body shapes. Within this step, an athlete develops an understanding of how to connect the dots between what they think is happening with their body when attempting a particular position and what is happening in reality. Almost all the time, those two pieces are very different from each other, especially for beginners.
Phase 2: Controlled Action and Static Holds
Prior to appreciating movement that involves speed and/or momentum, an athlete must learn how to hold positions. This is the strength and stability building stage. By being able to control body movement through slow tempo and static holds, an athlete creates not only a higher level of understanding but also increases activation of key muscle groups that do not always fire properly during dynamic action. Slowing down will allow any athlete to eventually speed up more efficiently.
Phase 3: Dynamic Action
This is the phase most athletes jump to right away. Swinging/kipping action can be exciting and fun, but can also lead to giving an athlete a false sense of understanding movement. Completing a specific skill one time should never be the end goal. Without phases 1 and 2, an athlete can never fully grasp the full potential of dynamic action. If phases 1 and 2 are in place, the range of skills and drills an athlete can achieve increases exponentially. The process takes time, but anything worth achieving takes consistent training. This process is the great separator between the good athletes and the great. Take pride in the process. Appreciate that the incremental gains and the skills will not only come, but they will stay for the long term. One of the most frustrating things that can happen to an athlete is to learn a movement, have it perfect one day, then forget how to do it the next. Many times the reason why this happens is that steps one and two were skipped and an athlete made a skill more out of luck rather than true understanding. The goal is to achieve a skill and to make it stick for the long term.
Phase 4: Creation of Sequences/Complexes
This is the pinnacle of the gymnastics world. Combining the skills learned in phases 1, 2, and 3 performing them with ease. For a gymnast, this essentially equates to some form of a routine (sequences, 1/2 routines, full routines) that would be performed in competition. For the fitness world, this would equate to a complex where a variety of movements are combined.
In the gymnastics world, the goal is to make the near-impossible seem effortless. Gymnasts have to take aesthetics into account, but aside from making things look pretty, there is a function in working to make things look effortless. It allows for an athlete to create efficiency. This efficiency can be applied to complexes in the same way they are applied to gymnastics routines, which in turn allows for conservation of energy during long intensity based workouts. As the fitness world strives toward more intricate complexes, there is a greater need for appreciation and application of phases 1, 2, and 3. Skipping steps only leads to dead ends, so take the time to learn the body weight movement and gymnastics exercises in the proper order.