Strength VS Skill Training

Handstand in the WoodsHave 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:

Day 1

AM

A) Military Presses – 3 sets of 4-6

B) Weighted Chin-Ups – 3 sets of 4-6

PM

Lower body skill work

Day 2

Skill work

Day 3

AM

A) Squats – 3 sets of 4-6

B) Double Kettlebell Snatches – 3 sets of 3-5

PM

Upper body skill work

Day 4

Skill work

Day 5

A) Wall-Assisted Handstand Push-Ups – 3 sets of maximum

B) Pulley-Assisted One-Arm Chin-Ups – 3 sets of 3

Day 6

Skill work

Day 7

Off

For “strength” section, use any training tools you enjoy. Kettlebells, sandbags, barbells, dumbbells, etc. will do; the simpler – the better.

“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.

Closing Thoughts

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.

Play rough!

Alex

Every time you don’t like and share this article, you upset a kitten somewhere.

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17 thoughts on “Strength VS Skill Training

  1. Pingback: How Can You Benefit from Doing Less Strength Training

  2. Par

    Does skill works inhabit my fullbody weight training three times a week?
    Cheers mate

    Reply
      1. Par

        My skill work is like
        5-8 attempts to muscle up (with at least 2mins rest in between)
        5-8 attempts to humanflag

        Reply
  3. Pumpasaurus

    First off, great post, this distinction is something all bodyweight people need to learn to work with at some point.

    But, I’m having trouble seeing any type of meaningfully intense one arm chin work as skill work that would be cool to do almost daily.

    Surely there’s a skill component to it, but it strikes me as one of the least skill-dependent and most brutal strength-dependent of all the higher level calisthenic skills, the one most likely to fuck you up if you get greedy. Nobody is issuing tendinitis warnings about weighted chins.

    Am I missing something fundamental? Are you talking about doing easier reps for 1AC progressions? Are we talking about doing regressions once you already can do a full 1AC? Because you seem knowledgeable enough that I think it’s unlikely you flat out underestimated the skill.

    Thanks dude

    Reply
    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      Yes, you are correct. If you train the OAC progression close to your 1-rep max in the “Skill” section, you will most definitely get tendinitis or any other fucked-up overuse injury. Skill work is meant to be practice, not strength training. However, “one of the least skill-dependent” tag is far from truth here. OAC is highly dependent on strength AND skill.

      – Alex

      Reply
      1. Pumpasaurus

        Of course there is a skill component. However, compared to almost any other non-beginner calisthenic movement, the OAC is one of the least skill-dependent and most strength-dependent. It’s not even skill-dependent in the true sense, because it can be and frequently is achieved with no specific skill training. Let’s compare the OAC to handstand-based movements, where actually losing balance and falling over due to loss of concentration or lack of skill is possible, even when you might have plenty of strength. The OAC is not like that at all – it’s very much on the strength end of the spectrum. It’s very unlikely that someone actually strong enough to pull it off would be unable to due to lack of skill.

        The technique involved in a OAC lies entirely in the muscular coordination and control of rotation necessary while pulling with one arm. There’s no easier regression that can be done that actually trains this technique, because any amount of help from the other arm, whether it be a pulley, band, or finger assist, will eliminate the need to control rotation or coordinate muscular contraction in one arm alone. These regressions are not skill work, they’re just progressive strength work that make one arm work more and more than the other. Until a trainee has enough strength to start working on the full OAC, there is no point worrying about technique yet, because their job is to get stronger.

        Reply
        1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

          I see you point. Of course, it goes without saying that to have any meaningful results from the OAC skill work, an athlete has to develop some substantial pulling strength. However, in my experience, the higher the bodyweight of the athlete, the more skill component is prominent. Of course, 50 and 60 kg dudes may not need OAC skill work, but if you weigh 80, 90, 100 kg or more, you will have to learn the optimal movement pattern because otherwise, performing the skill will be close to impossible. Additionally, you probably haven’t tried the proper pulley system because it involves no help from the other arm.

          – Alex

          Reply
  4. Abhishek Jakhmola

    Sir I want to do parkour and plyometrics but I think my intense alternative days’ strength work out is killing my performance.What should I do?

    Reply
  5. Abby

    Hey im currently aiming for straddle planche. What kind of routine should I stick with . Cheers mann

    Reply

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