Monday, July 9, 2012

Static Holds for Increased Strength

Front Lever (flat back)

Tuck Planche (back curved)
As you can see from the above pictures my brain is about to explode. What is also evident is that I am holding specific positions for an extended period of time. Static holds work by making you contract multiple muscles in given conditions over an extended period of time. This translates into strength. But what is strength? The simplest definition of strength is "generating force under specific conditions." Gymnasts are able to develop superhuman strength by utilizing these techniques. Doing any general movement on gymnastic rings will also develop strength due to the core strength that is required e.g. ring dips, ring pushups etc. I have seen bodybuilders and meat heads do 200+ lbs on the lat pulldown machine and yet can't even do a set of 10 pullups much less even get into the front lever position. What good is strength if you can't even use it? Movements such as these require TRUE strength not just mindlessly throwing weight around for a predetermined amount of reps or sets.

The static hold I am performing in the first picture is called a front lever. A front lever is executed by holding yourself parallel to the ground contracting both your back muscles as well as locking out your arms by flexing your triceps. Ironically enough this is the specific function of the tricep; however, the contraction here is much more intense than skull crushers or dips. Arms must be locked or the hold isn't legitimate. The way to do this hold is to think of pushing your hands down toward your waist while pulling with your back muscles to maintain parallel to the floor.

The second static hold I am performing is called a tuck planche. This requires great upper body strength as I have to bring my hips up toward my shoulders while maintaining my balance and also trying to keep my arms straight throughout the hold. Here my arms aren't completely locked out so it looks like I have some work to do. The next hold I will advance to will be a planche like the one in the picture, but with my back completely flat. This greatly increases the contraction of the muscles used and requires a bit more balance as well.

Using bodyweight exercises to develop strength is known as progressive bodyweight conditioning. But how do we increase the difficulty of bodyweight exercises when all we can use is our own weight against us? The answer is decreasing the amount of leverage we have available to us. Just like with having your legs raised during a pushup does this not make it more difficult? Yes, since we now have to push up a greater percentage of our bodyweight. The legs make an excellent counter weight when it comes to doing bodyweight exercises. Try doing a regular pullup versus one with your legs extended. Much more difficult. Same goes with static holds. A planche with your legs straight out is immensely more demanding than a tuck planche or a front lever vs. a straddle front lever.

The key to progressing with static holds is achieving 60 seconds of work per hold. At first you may only be able to do 5 seconds which would equate to 12 sets of 5 seconds. The important thing is a total of 60 seconds in as many or as little sets as it takes. Once you become proficient at your holds you may be able to do 30 seconds=2X30 second holds=60 seconds total. The ultimate goal is being able to maintain a static hold for 60 seconds consecutively. Trust me it won't be easy, but once you get the hang of it your maximum time for a single hold will increase it just takes practice. Also, take as much rest as you need between sets your muscles won't be used to maintaining this level of tension. As far as how often to do these holds I would recommend no more than 3 times a week i.e. MWF or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday etc.

Take your time! And don't get frustrated gymnasts are able to develop this sort of strength through YEARS of bodyweight conditioning not days or even weeks. I have been doing static holds for 6 months and have finally achieved a 60 second hold in the front lever. I also do lots of other strength and conditioning exercises such as kettlebells and CrossFit which can carry over into other such movements. Give these static holds a try and they will help you become strong in ways you never even imagined.

P.S. If you are really intent on learning these exercises look up an author named Christopher Sommer. He has a book that goes into great depth and detail about the benefits of progressive bodyweight conditioning.

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