Have you ever wondered how professional athletes can train almost daily for SEVERAL hours per day? Well, according to this correlation, it is possible only in one case: they are so strong and conditioned that their sport training is not that intense for them anymore. It is skill work for them rather than strength.
[NOTE: The higher your training frequency and volume, the lower your training intensity should be. Otherwise, you will overtrain]
So, what if you could take this idea and somehow implement it in your own training for more results and fun? Check out what I came up with.
Strength or Skill?
“But strength IS a skill, isn’t it?” Well, yes, smartass. However, although strength training is definitely a skill, it requires much higher intensity than playing a guitar, and thus you recuperate from it way longer. Let’s not focus our attention on semantics here because that’s not the point of this article (and simply because I don’t give a fuck about them at the moment).
So, have you been in a situation when you missed a repetition (or fell out of a hold) in a bodyweight exercise (like freestanding handstand push-ups or planche push-ups) not because of muscle fatigue, but because you made a slightly wrong move due to lack of a skill? If you are past beginner progression steps in calisthenics, then I bet you experienced such a bummer at least once. Such missed repetitions in addition to what you have read in the intro to this article got me thinking. What if you can successfully train these exercises more often? If your muscles are strong enough in a given movement pattern and the matter is in balance and skill, then you should be able to do this, right? Right. Experience and experiments show that you can train these bad boys more often than once a week and, importantly, progress.
Additionally, my recent training discoveries revealed that very skill-dependent exercises are sub-optimal for developing muscle and general strength if you use conventional programming. For example, weighted dips in this case would be superior to planche push-ups at developing the upper body. You will experience far quicker results with simpler, more progressive exercises rather than with complex ones. Do I mean that complex exercises that require serious skill are useless? No, not at all. You are the one who’s in charge of what your body is capable of. My question is what if you can have both?
So, I came up with an idea to separate strength and skill work and to achieve the best of both worlds. Why limit your skill-dependent exercises to ‘heavy once a week’ and stagnate in gaining strength if you can train them more frequently and let the simpler movement pattern exercises take care of strength? The answer is obvious for me.
How to Implement This?
My idea is to split training into two parts: “strength” and “skill” obviously.
Strength part will be low-rep (3-6 repetitions per set) and low-volume (3-5 sets). Something conventional like Starting Strength will do. The goal of this section is to develop general strength with compound moves like squats, presses and rows. Additionally, you can put skill-specific exercises here. You know, the ones that develop specific strength for certain skills. For example, muscle-up transitions. Skill-specific drills should be trained in “strength” mode too.
How often should you train in this mode? 3 times a week should be perfect.
What exercises to choose? It all depends on skills you want to achieve. If you want to develop a good planche, then you should concentrate on strengthening your shoulders, back, traps, and biceps. My personal choices would be weighted dips, weighted chin-ups and deadlifts. Let me emphasize that although these exercises can speed up your progress in developing a skill through strengthening the proper muscle groups, they can’t replace the actual skill training. In other words, strong weighted dips won’t grant you a planche; only planche training will bring you closer to the skill.
Finally, if you plan to use this method, I want you to make your strength program well-rounded. This will not only facilitate the progress, but will be a right decision in a long run health-wise. Muscular imbalances developed due to poor programming can lead to injuries.
Skill part will be way higher in volume. You can practice literally any time you feel like it. The amount of repetitions per set depends on your strength levels and the exercise you picked. The most important rule is skill work should not be high in intensity and should not be performed to failure. Use 50% of effort. If you feel that the exercise you picked for skill work is too heavy, then do not hesitate to scale down to an easier drill. Skill work is designed to polish up your technique through practice, not to tire you.
What exercises to choose? I’m assuming here that acquiring bodyweight skills is the highest priority for you. Nevertheless, you can use this method for any other strength-related or endurance-related skills. Answering the question, pick any skills you are interested in. However, I wouldn’t concentrate on more than 3 skills at a time.
Putting It All Together
So, let’s say you want to achieve free-standing handstand push-ups, pistols and the one-arm chin-up. Your program can look something like this:
A) Military Presses – 3 sets of 4-6
B) Weighted Chin-Ups – 3 sets of 4-6
Lower body skill work
A) Squats – 3 sets of 4-6
B) Double Kettlebell Snatches – 3 sets of 3-5
Upper body skill work
A) Wall-Assisted Handstand Push-Ups – 3 sets of maximum
B) Pulley-Assisted One-Arm Chin-Ups – 3 sets of 3
“Skill work” will contain any progression steps leading to the picked skills. In this case, skill sessions can be comprised of handstands, partial free-standing handstand push-ups, archer chin-ups, one-arm chin-up negatives, finger-assisted chin-ups, assisted pistols. You should scale everything to your current levels of strength of course.
Additionally, there is no point in limiting yourself to calisthenics skills only. For example, I use skateboarding for the lower body skill work and handbalancing for the upper body. You can use anything else you like: karate, parkour, bmx, tumbling, etc. Just use the principle of progressive overload and you will be good.
So, there you have it. Develop your strength, practice your skills, and be awesome. Do not overcomplicate things and you will have a chance to become a supehuman. Finally, never idealize one training tool over the others. Be open-minded. Combine implements and experience the synergistic effect.
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Do you have any thoughts? Let’s chat in comments.
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