Calisthenics workshop review

Is it the done thing to review a series of workshops that you taught yourself? I’m not really sure, but Ima do it anyway…

This summer, I led a series of bodyweight workshops in association with Strength Ambassadors. Actually “series” isn’t quite the right word – maybe “several” would be more apt, since they were standalone events, each delivering new material and focussing on different areas and skills. It’s fair to say they were a big success and I thought I’d do a little post on them since we’ve just announced dates for the next lot, and it can be a nice little lead-in for a marketing push for them…

Attendees ranged from a cyclist wanting to develop some upper body strength, martial artists looking to add some extra punch to their, er, punches, obstacle course runners who wanted to get stronger, and a couple of out-and-out beasts, looking to extend their already impressive grasp of the elusive science that is Badassery.

The one thing that I was, and remain, very clear on is that the core focus for my teaching is the idea of progressions. For any technique, once you find the right level for someone to start, show them the steps they can follow and advise when the next step up should be taken, all that remains is setting a realistic timescale in which they can see (and measure) the fruits of their labour. If those criteria are fulfilled, it really doesn’t matter where someone is along that scale, they will benefit regardless. It also makes it much easier to teach a group of people with mixed abilities, since everyone will always be seeing things to benefit from (let’s face it – even the most advanced practitioner can learn from taking it back to basics once in a while!).

A lot of initial instruction was aimed at getting people to establish where they were. In the case of pull ups, this meant using elastic resistance bands and having people establish how many reps they could do using a certain coloured band. As I’ve said in a previous post, I’m not a fan of using them to develop the strength to do pull ups, but they do however have some use in teaching since they allow people to experience a full range-of-motion (ROM) pull up in order that they can get a feel for the movement and focus on some of the subtleties required in performing the full technique (scapular positioning, abdominal tension etc. etc.). In case everyone found that too easy, I threw in a few sets of negatives too, something that will be featuring more next time!

Other techniques taught over the three workshops included static holds such as L-sits, front and back lever (don’t be put off by the fact they are very advanced – there is a lot to be gained from practising every progression), push ups and the many variations, dips, and lower body conditioning work like squats, pistol squats and of course burpees – everyone’s favourite. Each session finished with a game, my favourite, unsurprisingly, being an obstacle course along the length of the gym.

It’s always awesome meeting people who are into training, whatever they do, and Rosie, below, who attended all three workshops, did a great write up of two of them here and here. Rosie is the epitome of someone who will become strong and skilled at calisthenics: fiercely determined and endlessly optimistic! I was also surprised to see someone in a Mudstacle t-shirt, and it turns out the Patrick does more OCR’s than I do and knows some of the same people as me – cool coincidence.

It was the first time that I’ve taught in a formal set up – normally I give one-to-one sessions to people I already know, or run through progressions and tips with small groups – and although I wasn’t nervous, I did wonder how having a group with a wide range of strength and ability would work, but my focus on progressions meant it wasn’t a problem at all. This was confirmed for me at the end of the first workshop when Hassan, clearly the most experienced person there (already sporting his first case of tendonitis!) said “I’ve learnt more in these three hours than in six months of watching YouTube videos” – result! As someone who has also learnt a lot (and made many mistakes) as a result of basing their training from can be summarised as “watching people do cool shit on the internet”, this was high praise indeed!

I’ll be posting about the next dates shortly, but in the meantime check out this video which Sally made of the workshops:

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