Monday, September 29, 2014

Setting Fitness Goals

Setting goals in fitness is fundamental to continued success.  Imagine packing up the car for a family vacation with no destination in mind.  You have no idea if what you've packed is adequate for where you will end up and without a planned destination, a disappointment is inevitable.

We're often told to dream big.  Shoot for the moon.  Aim for the stars.  And lofty goals are important to have but if we aim too high, we may very well miss celebrating the smaller ones we've accomplished along the way.  It may seem counterproductive to set more reachable goals, but pulling back on the reins a bit means we can enjoy the success of meeting our goals sooner.  And whenever we meet a goal it's time to set another.

Consider Your Goal - sometimes even the simplest of things can set us on the path to a desired goal.  It might be a magazine article or an overheard conversation or it might be that we've witnessed someone else achieving their goal and now we're inspired.  But before we jump in headfirst, it's important to take some time to consider what we really want and what it will take to get there.  I like to think about what's involved first.  It's important to count the cost.  Every goal we set has a price.  It might be paid in time spent, or perhaps you will need to make food sacrifices.  Your goal might require other expenditures in equipment, workout gear, or gadgets, too.  Consider all of that fully before making the commitment.

Make Sure the Goal is Specific - if a goal is too general, then it's easy to get off track or change direction.  Instead, make it super specific.  Which of the following goals is more specific?
  • I am going to spend more time at the gym this week
  • I will go to the gym 4 days this week
  • I am going to go to the gym Monday/Tuesday/Thursday/Friday.
Make Sure the Goal is Measurable - the more defined you make the goal, the easier it is to know when you have met it.  Without some gauge as to what it takes to meet the goal, the more apt you are to fall off the path.
  • Instead of "Butterfly Pullups"
  • Try "5 Butterfly Pullups"
Write the Goal Down - A written goal represents a real commitment.  And one that is written for others to see sets it even deeper.  And having those that know your abilities seeing your commitment can be there to motivate, inspire and celebrate with you once you've achieved what you set out to do.

Work with a Coach to Develop a Plan - the desire alone for a Ring Muscle Up is not as effective as that desire mixed with a definite road map to that goal.  Working with a trainer is the best way to success.  If you are already working under their supervision, they know your current limitations as well as your strengths.  Grab them after class, ask them for their guidance on how to achieve your goal then follow that plan.

Work Outside the Gym - if you attend group instruction classes, it is not always feasible to get class time to work on your goals.  If getting that Ring Muscle Up is on your goal board but not on the whiteboard this week, it might be time to grab some equipment for home use.  Some gyms have open gym time one day a week or more.  If you can take advantage of that, do it.

Remember that there is absolutely no shame in scaling back fitness goals to meet your current ability.  Very few athletes will see a professional team locker room yet that shouldn't stop us from keeping after it.  At the end of the day you want to set goals that are reachable and realistic.  And as you meet them, keep setting the bar higher.  Keep within yourself and your abilities and celebrate your smaller victories one at a time.

Look Back on Your Progress - my last word of advice on setting fitness goals is to record goals and progress where you can look back on it.  Go buy that $2 notebook and take just a few minutes out of each day to record some specifics about what you've done.  It does not have to be elaborate or lengthy.  Just write something down.  Take a photo.  And please put a date next to it.  Or better yet, jump on to Google Blogger and start your own fitness blog.  No one has to see it but you.  But write 10-15 sentences on what you did.  Then after you've met your goal, go back to the beginning to see where you started from.  It's a serious motivator.

Thanks to +CrossFit Lawless in Estero, FL for setting a great example with their Goal Board!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Opening a CrossFit® Gym - Frequently Asked Questions on Equipment

In the early stages of opening a CrossFit® Gym, planning what equipment to outfit with can sometime feel like playing the roulette wheel.  You never really know who will walk through that door at any particular class time.  And that can present a serious challenge when it comes to an equipment purchase for those that are just starting out.

Even studying the demographics will only give us an average snapshot across the US for ages, gender, income ranges and other data that might not really be that helpful for the particular area you are trying to establish.  And even if you've got a fistful of data to analyze, it's not a guarantee.

Generally speaking, whoever you are marketing for will be the clients you will gain.  And word of mouth advertising can skyrocket your membership levels with like-minded and similar demographic individuals.  Your "thirty and forty-something" clients with kids will talk about CrossFit® to their friends at the basketball or soccer games.  And those working professionals are your ideal members for a host of reasons.

But even knowing what type of client you are aiming for still won't provide you with all the info you need to have exactly the right mix of equipment on hand.  Does that mean that you need to over-buy?  Not at all.  We've got some strategies and insight that can help you make the most of your equipment on hand and how to best prepare for those first few months.

Easily Scalable Equipment

Here come the bread winners.  Whatever equipment provides you with the most versatility and scalability will pay for itself over and over.  Equipment that is easily scalable will allow you to change movements on the fly no matter the athletic ability or level of your client.  It's scalable pieces like these that the majority of your equipment budget should be spent on.

Got rings?
Gymnastics Rings - we've said it time and again that Gymnastic Rings might be the number one scalable tool in your grab bag.  And showing your clients that this seemingly 'unreachable' tool can be used by any level athlete will give them a confidence they never knew they had.  Ring Rows and Ring Pushups are two great exercises - one for push and one for pull.  And you can program either of those movements on Day One with any level athlete.  

And what's more?  Gymnastic rings are super affordable.  If it were up to us, there would be a set of rings for every athlete in your class.

Bars - another scalable tool that every gym will own is the barbell.  The biggest question you'll have to answer is what is the proper mix of Mens and Womens Bars to stock the gym with.  Before you get out the calculator for the high math, don't forget the Training Bar.  It can be one of the most underutilized pieces of equipment in your gym yet it is a huge problem solver for the new gym owner.  

The Hammerhead Training Bar has a 28MM Aluminum Shaft, no center knurl and has the same high quality alloy bushings as our Mens and Womens Bars.  We designed it that way so any athlete could grab it and not feel that it was an inferior product.  

Designed to handle loads of up to 150lbs, our training bar will be your life saver.  What is most important is that your athletes use the load you've prescribed up on the whiteboard.  So if it's 75lb Overhead Squats, does it really matter that they used a Training Bar?  Not when they've grabbed a quality one.  We suggest every gym have 2-3 of these on hand for overflow.

Gear Tip - The Training Bar will also play a huge role in saving your 10lb and 15lb bumpers.  Anytime you program loads of 45lb, 55lb, or 65lb, get the training bars out.  Weighing in at 15lbs means your athletes are forced to use at least two bumpers on each side to load the bar at those weights.  And having a pair of bumpers on each side always equals longer lasting equipment.  To help encourage your athletes to use the training bars for those lower weights, use colored ink on the whiteboard for the lower weights.  We've even seen some gym owners use colored tape on their bars to make them easily identifiable.  That's smart stuff.

Steel Weight Plates - Sometimes overlooked but always a huge help when everyone is scrambling to get their bars loaded with a challenging weight, small steel weight plates are critical.  We suggest only 5lb and 2.5lb plates though, just to keep an athlete from loading a bar only with steel.  Even with a stack of 10 or more of each plate in your gym, you'll find these little babies never collect dust.  And that means money was well spent.

Rowers - We don't normally encourage the startup gym owner to get outfitted with rowers off the bat.  We can't deny that they are amazing tools, but their single use comes at a hefty price tag.  For the cost of one rower, you can buy enough equipment to outfit one more athlete per class with ease.  But, one characteristic of rowers that can make them attractive to any gym is their scalability.  From beginner to advanced, nearly anyone can get on a rower and put forth effort.  If startup capital is not a problem, rowers are a great tool that everyone can use.

Non-Scalable Equipment

Ok - here's where the toughest challenge in outfitting your gym comes in.  Pieces like Kettlebells and Medicine Balls are super important because of their adaptability to many different types of movements but buying too many can leave you cash strapped.  Here's some ideas to keep your costs down.

Dealer's Choice - never forget that you or your trainers ultimately hold the trump card.  If the class is full and one or more of your athletes is forced to use a weight lighter or heavier than they would like, you can scale the movement up or down right then and there for them.  Increased or decreased reps is an easy way to change the level of difficulty so the workout isn't compromised and they feel challenged but not overwhelmed.

Just how much is on that bar?? :0
Ladies First - it's one of those rules that you should not need to remind your gentlemen clients but just in case you find them pushing in front of the line when it comes time to grab equipment, just write it up on the whiteboard under the WOD.  Or stick it up on the wall as part of your gym rules. [You have gym rules, don't you?]  And it's not about who is stronger or weaker.  If  you've written 35lb/55lb up on the board for kettlebell swings, you might have some gents not ready for RX'd grabbing the 35lb bell before the RX ladies have a chance.  Nuff said.

Circuit Training - this is a great way to keep everyone moving and to maximize your equipment.  Whatever you've got up on the board, create two to three stations for each exercise.  If it's Box Jumps, set up a few plyo boxes at varying heights.  For kettlebell swings, set out a few of each weight kettlebell in their own area.  For Ring Rows or pushups, set up a few stations at varying heights.  Start the clock with a few athletes at each station then have them rotate to the left every minute for 10 minutes.  At each station, your clients will have a wide variety of choices in equipment size/weight and won't have to compromise.

Staggered Start - these types of workouts work great for overloaded classes.  As in circuit training, set up several stations and start half the class immediately and half at minute two or three.  That two to three minute start will get the first wave of athletes comfortably ahead so that the second wave won't bump into them.  And put your fire breathers in the first wave too.  The staggered start is especially well suited for long chipper workouts like the Filthy 50.

Most often, just staying creative will get you through any class overloads.  And rather than show any frustration, instead remember that class overfill is a good thing.  That means word is getting out and your gym is growing.  Before long, you'll need to add equipment to keep up.  And when that happens, we're just a phone call or email away.

If starting a gym is in your future, or when it comes time to expand, visit us at Hammerhead Strength Equipment.  Our mission is to see you succeed because when you win, we both do.  Contact us here for more info.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Opening a CrossFit® Affiliate

Thinking about opening your own CrossFit® Affiliate?  Congrats!  For many, it is a very fulfilling career.  We've been outfitting gyms across the US and beyond with quality equipment since 2010.  In that time, we talked to many successful gym owners as well as those that were considering starting their own facilities.  As you begin to consider if the life of owning a gym is something you'll want to pursue, here are 5 Easy to Remember Tips to Start Your Gym Right.  

Start Small - unless funding capital is no issue, starting small is always a smart decision.  Getting in deeper than you are comfortable with can cause added stress and worry.  Starting your own gym is supposed to be fun and rewarding.  Keep it small to start and have options for expansion when the time comes.  We've been in and worked with boxes across the US that open with 1200 Square Feet or less!  And many are back to us in under 6 months for more equipment for their expanding client list.  The inventive coach can program challenging workouts in smaller spaces and having a running trail nearby is always a plus.  

On average, an athlete needs about 70-80 square feet of space to move safely and to keep all movement options open.  If they have a bar in hand or are cycling through box jumps or double unders or even burpees, you've got to give them enough space to stay safe.  An area of about 8 feet wide by 9 feet long is the ideal.  And more than ever, we're seeing some even open their gyms in their own garage.  Granted, it is not as ideal.  Parking and noise can be an issue but it's a smart start if you can make all of that work.  As you'll read below, if you plan to grow outside the garage gym, picking up commercial quality equipment from the start is the way to go.  It can travel with you as you move into a larger space.

Map It Out - once you've found the general area that you'd like to start your gym, don't be surprised if finding a warehouse space takes more time than you'd expect.  We've talked with many who find that getting their location finalized and lease signed was the longest part of their plan.

When you do find a few spaces to look at, ask the realtor to hand over a layout drawing of the space or if you need to, map it out on graph paper while you are there.  Be sure to bring a tape measure and a camera [take lots of photos, especially of any damage or potential need-to-fixes before you move too far foreword].  While at home, cut out some to-scale pieces of the equipment you want to put in the gym and play around with placements.  Don't forget to cut out some 8x9 pieces for each athlete, too.

And planning out your gym on paper before you move equipment in will help you make the most of your space by trying different combinations and storage areas.  It's far easier to try new pull-up rack placements on a scale drawing that to move it after it's installed.

Here's a few quick tips when looking at a potential space:

  • The new space doesn't have to be frilly, but it does need to be clean.  Many prefer the industrial look to a gym so long as it's neat.  And it's amazing what a few coats of paint can do to a space.  
  • While you are looking around, check out the parking area too.  Will you have to share?  Are there other spaces in the complex that aren't rented and how will parking work if that happens.  And ask about lighting outside.  Most often you will be looking at spaces when it's daylight but your early morning and late evening clients will want a parking area that is well lit and safe.
  • If you are in an area that gets snow, ask about snow removal and if they salt sidewalks too.  And how early will they get out to do it?  If their maintenance department or independent contractor doesn't show until 8AM, you will have already had two classes by then.
  • Take photos of the space and the surrounding area.  And before you sign the lease, do a walkthrough with the realtor and take photos of anything that is damaged on the outside or inside the space.  Ask that those photos get included in the lease docs.

Gear Tip:  The vast majority of startup gyms begin with the Wall Mounted Pull Up Rig rather than Free Standing.  The Wall Mount Rig can mount to any wall - concrete or stud [ask us how] and is especially well suited to longer, narrow spaces.  Not only that, they are a smaller investment too.  And, should you need to add to it or change it over to a Free Standing Rig in the future, it's easy.

Remember the Golden Rule - this one is big in our book because we like to see everyone succeed!  And here it is: If you can't think of at least five ways to use a piece of equipment in your gym, then you are better off waiting to purchase it.  Yes, there are some single use equipment pieces that are important but to get the most out of your investment dollars, put your money towards bars, bumpers, rings and kettlebells rather than the heavy hitters like rowers and GHDs.  At least right off the bat.

With equipment like medicine balls and gymnastics rings, you can easily keep your programming varied and scalable for all levels of athletes.  That versatility will make you job as a coach much easier and the lower cost keeps the business owner side of you happy, too.

Gear Tip:  For the price of one Rower you can outfit one athlete with: A barbell, a medicine ball, an abmat, a set of rings, a plyo box, a stack of bumpers, a kettlebell and a plyo box.  Just sayin'.

Hi Temp Bumpers are definitely the way to go
Buy Quality - buying equipment for a commercial CrossFit® facility is very different than purchasing for a home gym.  Do your homework and remember that cheapest price is almost always the wrong decision, especially with unknown brands.  It's a bit self-serving for us to say that but we've been there.  If the price is too good to be true, it normally is.  One of our very good friends has owned a CrossFit® gym since 2005 and he has the same Dynamax Medicine Balls today that were in his gym on day one.  And the only bumper plates he buys are Hi Temp.  There is a lot to learn from that.  With the explosion of CrossFit® come more suppliers than we can count and many carry off brand equipment that hasn't passed the test of time in a commercial setting.  Buy quality equipment with a proven track record that you know lasts.  It's better than trying to recoup costs on equipment that fails after a year [or less].

Start a Founding Member Club - CrossFit Motivus out in Spartanburg, SC got their gym off to a tremendous start by starting a founding member club.  Brilliant.  They offered a 20% discount on monthly dues for life to the first 30 members that signed up.  Once the offer was posted on Facebook, they told us they sold out in less than 24 hours.  

And here's another tip:  Resist the temptation for offering Lifetime Memberships up front.  It's great for getting startup cash but long term it's not that great of a deal for the gym owner.

Thinking about starting your own gym?  We've been working with the professionals at Rigquipment Finance and these guys are top notch.  Not only will they provide multiple financing options, they also provide business planning services to show you exactly where you need to be at months 1-6, 7-12 and beyond.  Feel free to have a look though our pre-built equipment packages or contact us for a custom quote.  Once we iron out what you are looking for to start your gym, we can get you in touch with Rigquipment Finance to make your gym a reality.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Medicine Ball Workouts - Moving Beyond the Wall Ball

If you are only grabbing that Med Ball for Wall Balls, read on
If your medicine ball workouts always seem to revolve around the wall ball, it's time to change things up and think outside the box.

Throwing the ball at a target on the wall is certainly a great exercise, but if you are finding that your medicine ball is sitting in the corner unless this exercise comes up, we will show you a few ways to use one of the most adaptable tools in the market today.

No piece of equipment that sits idle, collecting dust is one that belongs in your gym.  Our golden rule has always been:
If you can't use a piece of equipment at least five ways, it isn't the best piece to start your gym
Equipment that you can use every day whether for warmups, skill work or strength and conditioning is money well spent.  Single use equipment, when it is stellar and well priced can be worth your investment too but sometimes it's all about getting some inspiration on how to use the tools that can do the most.  Being creative in your workouts keeps you challenged and interested.  Those two parts when mixed every day will keep you in the gym and making gains.

To keep you grabbing for the medicine ball each time you walk in the gym, remember that for nearly any movement in which your hands are free, medicine balls are a perfect addition.  Here's 10 Exercises with the Medicine Ball that can easily slide into any workout or warmup:

The Overhead Squat - The wall ball may have met it's match.  Squatting while holding the ball overhead is a perfect change up to the wall ball.  And for those that aren't ready for a barbell, the medicine ball is a nice intermediate step.

The Kayak - While holding the top of the situp position, touch the medicine ball from side to side by twisting the torso.  To make this exercise even more challenging, keep your knees flexed and your feet off the ground.

The Catapult Situp - Coming in again as a great core exerciser, the medicine ball proves itself again here.  While performing sit-ups in front of a wall, hold the ball overhead from the bottom position and as you curl your body upward, throw the ball to the wall.  Catch it before returning to the starting position.

Knees to Elbows - Adding intensity to this type of movement is normally done by curling the body further and touching toes to the bar or gymnastics rings.  The medicine ball is that tool that could normally sit in the corner but when pinched between the shins, it can bring a serious level of intensity to this movement while keeping range of motion lower.

Sit to Stand or Atomic Situp - With the medicine ball held over the head in the bottom of the situp position, curl the body ford bringing the ball forward.  Once the ball passes over or between the knees, explode through the heels to standing.  Return to start or to add intensity, perform an overhead squat first, then return.

Partner Toss - Excellent as a warm up, grab a partner and throw back and forth like a basketball pass. An excellent class warmup when you've got a class full is to get everyone with backs against the wall spaced about 1 foot from each other.  Start the ball at one end and pass down to the other, then back up.

Pull Ups and Dips - The medicine ball is a great tool for adding light weight to these exercises without the need for a dip belt.  Pinch it between the knees or ankles and off you go.  And easy for use on a static pull up bar or dip bar but also easy to incorporate with gymnastics rings.

Medicine Ball Pass Overs - Start from the standing position with the medicine ball held overhead with both hands.  Rotate to the left and reach down with the medicine ball and touch the ground.  Return to starting position and now rotate to the right.

Medicine Ball Rotational Lunge - Step out in a traditional lunge while holding the medicine ball with both hands out in front of you.  When at the bottom of the lunge rotate from left to right and back to center before returning to the standing position.  Alternate:  Stay in the lunge position for reps.  To add intensity, keep the low knee just off the ground and make sure the front knee does not turn in nor should it ever be in front of the toes.

The V-Up Pass - V-Ups are super challenging by themselves but for those looking for a further challenge, try this use for the medicine ball.  While lying flat on your back, hold a lightweight medicine ball between your ankles, bring the legs and arms up together to meet over the hips [elbows and knees stay unflexed].  When the medicine ball is within reach, grab it with the hands and lower it over head to the starting position.  Repeat.  To add intensity be sure to not let the feet hit the ground.

The medicine ball is also a great tool for active rest, especially in Partner workouts.  When you would normally program one person working at all times, instead of the 2nd partner fully resting, have them hold a medicine ball in the bottom of a squat while their partner works.

If you are working with heavy weight more than a few times a week, stringing together a few of these exercises on your recovery days can be a great way to work the lactic acid out of your body.  Who, when they are sore, doesn't feel better by getting back into the gym and moving?  A lighter weight medicine ball circuit will get you loosened up and mobile while still giving you a great workout.

The medicine ball is one of those pieces of equipment you should be reaching for every day.  There are more than just a few manufacturers out there for you to choose from before you outfit your garage gym or commercial facility, but before you do, Dynamax never ceases to impress us and our clients.  We've been outfitting commercial gyms and garage gyms all over the US and beyond with what we think is the premier ball in the market.  Some gyms we have worked with have been operating for well over 5 years and they are still using the same Dynamax Medicine Balls that they've had since day one.  That's something to make note of.  Can all manufacturers make that same claim?  No way.

Dynamax has been making the same great 100% Made in USA Medicine Ball for years and this same great design holds up to heavy use day after day, month after month and year after year.  Add one or more to your gym to keep your grab bag of exercises full.

See our lineup of medicine balls right here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

CrossFit® at Home - Pursuing Your Passion

The CrossFit® catch phrase of "Our specialty is not specializing" is part of what draws many to it's cause.  That "constantly varied" and easily scalable training keeps the appeal open to the widest range of fitness levels and athletes.  And that variation in training has proven over and over to be effective at producing some amazing levels of fitness in the home athlete.

With all of the movements and tools currently in the grab bag, most any CrossFit® Gym still isn't afraid to try the next new thing.  If someone has built a better mouse trap or found a new way to test strength and conditioning in a foundational way, most won't step away from the challenge.  It's never about gimmicky or quick fix equipment that promises results without effort, but rather it's about seeing a new challenge in a functional movement that is out of the mainstream.

For many, the appeal of trying new techniques and tools keeps interest and curiosity levels high.  We all like to learn new skills and when we can move a skill from unlearned to learned or even into mastery, the sense of accomplishment keeps us coming back for more.  But with all of the different movements and skills to learn, it can be a challenge to master any particular tool without practicing some of those CrossFit® movements at home, away from class time.

Many athletes can develop a passion for a particular piece of equipment or exercise and that's a good thing.  That desire to learn a certain skill can come from simply seeing it up on the whiteboard, seeing someone else's success at it, or maybe it is a common competition movement that just isn't in their wheelhouse.  But even for those that are consistent members at a local CrossFit® Affiliate, the skills they wish to pursue further might not frequent the whiteboard often enough to develop enough familiarity for mastery.  Depending on how often they attend, it may be a week or more until they see a movement repeated.  For those that want to improve their skill at a particular movement, this presents one of the challenges of the varied programming.

Fortunately, much of the equipment in use at a CrossFit® facility is affordable for the home athlete and when equipped with even a few of those tools, garage gyms can be great spaces to supplement skill training.  But even though many CrossFit® gym athletes can outfit their own small Garage Gym, many of the skill sets required for complex movements need to come from a qualified instructor.  No matter the movement, proper instruction always gets us to the end faster and more safely.

And many Affiliate owners and coaches, seeing the demand for more specialized training on tools like gymnastic rings and with movements such as the snatch and clean and jerk, are offering more services outside of normal class times.  To answer those requests, many hold clinics and seminars on Olympic Barbell Movements, Gymnastics Training and Kettlebell movements to further their athletes' knowledge and skill.

Those that respect the complexity of some of these movements realize that the more proficient they become at learning and practicing these skills at the gym and at home, the faster results will come with fewer resultant injuries.  And in a dedicated classroom setting, athletes can now concentrate on quality of movement rather than speed.  The relaxed environment allows gym owners and coaches to spend more time answering questions, slowing down movements and demonstrating technique without necessarily putting their athletes through a workout.

And what we've seen happening too are at home athletes who are not normally members at the local gym are getting in on these seminars to fill that need they have to improve technique on some of CrossFit's® more challenging movements.  Getting those athletes out to the local affiliates for instruction also gives the gym owners the opportunity to get them on board for regular classes.

Will this specialized training pull athletes and gyms away from the 'constantly varied' aspect which gives CrossFit® it's allure?  Not at all.  Most can appreciate that in order to achieve high levels of fitness, we have to do the things that make us uncomfortable.  Today it might be Thrusters and Pull Ups for time and tomorrow Push Ups, Kettlebell Swings and Wall Balls.  And this method of fast and intense training is a necessary part of fitness.

But when the met cons are over at the end of the class, many athletes want to walk away with not only high levels of fitness, but also having complex skill sets as well.  And if you are one of those that wants to learn what skills go beyond the ring muscle up or need more dedicated learning time on barbell snatches or cleans, ask your Affiliate Owner or coach if they would consider hosting an educational seminar outside of class.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Gymnastic Rings Exercises - Get Built Like a Gymnast

Gymnastics rings are becoming increasingly popular for use in the home gym.  It's easy to believe that the use of rings are beyond mere mortals when you've watched professional gymnasts use them in their routines.  And even though there certainly are some movements that many of us won't achieve, even those professional level athletes began their training with certain exercises on gymnastics rings that we all can do.

The simplicity of the rings makes them one of the most inexpensive, yet amazingly effective tools in the industry.  And the instability that is inherent in their design and function will develop strength and stability like no other piece of equipment can.

When most of us think about building strength and muscle mass, barbells and heavy weights normally come to mind.  Yet, when we look at those collegiate and olympic level gymnasts, their chiseled physiques impress on us that heavy weights are not the only solution.

We're not going to fool you into thinking that training with gymnastics rings is easy.  It's not.  It does take commitment and consistency to achieve the results you are after.  But one remarkable characteristic of the design is that by raising or lowering the height of the rings in most cases we can adjust the scale and difficulty of the exercise to match any athletes current ability.

And unlike a barbell, kettlebell or dumbbell that can cease to challenge you as your strength increases, that same set of gymnastics rings hanging in your gym can challenge you every single day without having to purchase more or heavier weights.  


When watching a professional gymnast's routine on the rings, one of the first things you will notice is that their feet never touch the ground.  As a beginner, the majority of our time is going to be spent with our feet on the ground until we build the strength necessary to stay supported above the rings.

Even if you are no stranger to the gym, much of the gym equipment that is used to develop pulling and pushing strength is static in nature.  A static pull up bar or selectorized machines are perfect examples of this type of equipment.  Gymnastic Rings are completely different in that in addition to mustering the pulling or pushing force, you also have to stabilize the rings.  They will naturally want to float away from your body and you will need to fight that every step of the way.  That's a good thing.  But fighting that instability is a characteristic that is not normally trained in many common workout programs and you'll need to build that strength.


To get us most familiar with the types of exercises and benefit gymnastic rings training can bring, we will focus on four basic foundational movements in the beginning rings program.

The PULL - generally whenever we move our body from below the rings to a point closer to them is considered a pull.  That pull can look many different ways with varying degrees of difficulty depending on our body position.  Keeping our feet on the ground during pulling movements makes them easier while lifting our entire body up to the rings is more difficult.

The PUSH - once our body is on the same plane as the gymnastic rings, moving further away from the floor transitions into a push as in the ring dip.  As in the pulling movements, the more of our body weight we push above the rings, the more difficult the exercise.

STABILIZING - one of the least commonly practiced exercises for the new gymnastic rings owner deals with stability holds.  Getting our body into a certain position on the rings then holding it there for time is of tremendous benefit.  We don't always need to be moving though an exercise to be working.  Ring stability holds should be part of everyone's programming.

The CORE - whenever we move our feet from the ground toward the rings or even overhead, we give our core an amazing workout.  This fourth aspect of training with rings just can't be duplicated with any other tool the way it can with this piece of equipment.  And no matter if we are moving through a pull, push or a stabilizing movement, our core is always involved to some degree.

Below we will outline four basic exercises to get you familiar with using gymnastics rings.  All of them can be scaled up or down depending on your strength level.  Before you increase the difficulty, be sure that you can perform 3 sets of 8 with 1-2 minutes rest in between.  For the stability holds, start by holding for a total duration of 1 minute over 5-6 sets.  Once you can hold that position for one minute without a break, increase the difficulty.


Pull, Push & Core - 3 sets of 8 with 1 minute rest in-between

Stability Holds - total hold duration 1 minute


Ring Row - to help us to begin to develop that pulling strength, we start with the ring row.  As in most exercises, raising or lowering the height of the rings varies the difficulty.  Start with the rings at shoulder height with your feet planted firmly beneath.  Grab and hold the rings with your palms facing each other.  Now, while keeping a solid plank body position, extend your arms and drop your body backward.  The only joints that should be flexing are ankles and elbows.  Once your arms are fully extended, return to the starting position.  

For this exercise, start with your feet anchored next to a wall or with a stack of bumper plates.  When the ring straps hit about 45 degrees at the bottom of your movement, it's time to reposition your feet away from just under the rings to keep the exercise most comfortable.  

When your feet have moved so far from the rings that you are flat on your back in the bottom position, to increase difficulty, now raise the height of your feet by placing them on a bench or plyo box.  Once this is mastered, you can add weight to your chest.


Plank Push Up - any time we move our upper body above the rings, we now use a different set of muscles.  Transitioning above the rings is now becomes a pushing movement.  The plank pushup is one of the most fundamental movements but even if you are comfortable pushing out a set of 20 standard plank pushups, once you add the instability of the rings, the movement becomes much more difficult and effective.

There are a few beginning variations.  Start with the pushup position on the knees and the rings just above the level of the ground or raise the height of rings and keep that solid plank position.  You can also play with the position of the rings during this movement as well and it is best to mix it up throughout the sets.  The rings can be held with palms facing each other or with palms facing your feet.  Both are excellent.  With palms facing in, concentrate on keeping the elbows in tight to the body.  With palms facing your feet, elbows naturally flare out to the sides.

Gear Tip - one really great exercise for those long for an extra challenge here is called the Ring Turn Out [sometimes referred to as RTO].  This is an especially challenging movement where you turn the rings from palms facing each other to palms facing out.  This does take some time to develop the strength and flexibility, but at the top of the plank pushup position is a great time to practice.  The lesser amount of weight you are holding up makes this movement easier.  When you've got it mastered, try it during ring supported position [see below]


Knees to Chest - nearly every exercise that you will perform with gymnastic rings will involve your core to some level.  To accentuate your mid section, hang the rings high enough so that when you are hanging from them, your feet are just off the ground.  Keeping the knees together, bring the knees up so that your thighs are parallel with the ground.  Lower your feet to the ground and repeat.  Once you've mastered 3 sets of 8 here, you can increase difficulty by allowing the knees to separate but curl the body so that the knees now come up to just under the arm.


Stabilization Holds - it's not often that we walk into the gym to see someone in a stabilization hold. But it does provide great benefit and is surprisingly difficult.  When training with gymnastics rings, stabilization is everything and incorporating holds into your routine is critical for success.

Some movements require a hold or hang from beneath the rings and although stabilization holds here are effective, it is much more beneficial to work on holds above the rings.  To begin, hang the rings high enough so that when you hold them at your sides, your legs hang comfortably off the ground.  

For some, it can be a bit of a challenge to hold for more than a few seconds in this supported position but to build strength we will attack it a bit differently.  Instead of holding for prescribed sets, instead work on holding this position for a total of one minute in as few sets as possible.  Every time you come down off the rings, the clock stops.  Rings should be held palms facing in with shoulders normally positioned.  Once you've worked to a static hold for a total of one minute straight, now work on holding this same position in Rings Turned Out [RTO] position.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Assisted Pull Up - Three Great Tools to Help You Get There

For many, getting that first unassisted pull up is cause for celebration.  And it should be.  It's a skill that is so often programmed in CrossFit® that a week doesn't go by when we haven't seen it on the whiteboard at least once.  And having pull-ups in your wheelhouse can make you feel like you are arriving at that level of fitness you've always wanted.

If pulling your chin over that bar unassisted is out of reach, here are a few exercises to develop that pulling strength necessary for success.

Assisted Pull Ups with Resistance Bands - here's the method that is one of the most common substitutions for the strict or kipping pull-up.  Many tie the band on the bar with the lark's head knot then step into the open loop.  And although this method works, getting into position in the middle of the WOD can be a bit cumbersome.  And if the resistance band is hanging too high off the ground, sometimes athletes can move bumper plates or boxes under their station to help them get their foot into the loop easier.  Those things can be tripping hazards or expensive step stools that take equipment out of play.

We've found that using the resistance band as pictured can be a better way.  By stretching the band between J-Cups, it's a bit easier to step into and out of and with both feet on the band, the assistance is more even.  And reaching over to unhook one end after you're done is easy and keeps the area under the pull up rig open.

Gymnastic Ring Rows - Gymnastic rings are a great tool for developing pulling strength and they are so scalable that anyone can use them.  The closer to parallel your position is, the more difficult the pull.  We've even added weight to the chest during ring rows at CrossFit Victor to increase difficulty.  To make them easier, raise the height of the rings.  As your starting position moves higher and higher, the difficulty decreases.

Jumping Pull Ups - Another use for Gymnastics Rings to increase your pulling strength is with the jumping pull-up.  The idea behind this movement is to bring the height of the overhead hanging rings to just below your wrist.  When you grab the rings at this height your knees and hips have room to flex and push off the floor to assist getting you skyward.  Although the static Pull Up can be used for jumping pull ups as well, the height adjustment capability of gymnastics rings makes them the better choice.

Climbing Rope Pulls - Using a climbing rope to develop pulling strength is another great option.  And we've seen a great way to scale the rope climb down while still providing great benefit.  With rope in hand, instead of climbing up the rope, instead, keep your feet planted and use the rope to slowly lower yourself to the ground while keeping your body in a good plank position.  Once on the ground, pull yourself back up to standing.

Rope Climbs - If the scaled rope climb doesn't present enough of a challenge, full on rope climbs will get 'er done.  With your foot position correct, the majority of your body weight is lifted by your legs but since the pull is done one hand at a time this movement a perfect supplement to the pull-up.

Any of these three great tools will help bring the serious overhead pulling strength needed for movements like the pull-up, chest to bar pull-up and even the muscle up.  So even if you aren't on the pull-up bar today, training these other movements will bring that unassisted pull-up closer and closer to in the bank.

Ready to add any of these great tools to your gym?  Click on any of the images above or visit us at for more great equipment for CrossFit® and more.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Kettlebell - Moving Beyond the Swing

Variation in training is what keeps us motivated and improving.  With some tools, finding the inspiration to put them to use in different ways can be tough.  Take the jump rope for instance - stellar at what it does but it doesn't offer much beyond it's obvious use.

One of the training tools that we've found on the completely opposite end of the spectrum is the kettlebell.  Before you make your way to the gym you can literally think of 10 ways to use it.  A garage gym with a few of these ingeniously simple yet devastatingly effective tools is well equipped.

The ever popular two-handed kettlebell swing can dominate programming and although the movement is an excellent training exercise, we can be reaching for this fantastic tool much more often if we think outside the box.

Five Exercises to Keep Your Kettlebell Training Varied

The Goblet Squat - to add an intensity to the squat that may catch you off guard, hold the kettlebell cradled closely to the chest with two hands and squat as usual.  Want to crank up the intensity a few notches?  Grab another kettlebell and hold both of them in the front rack position while executing the squat.

Static Kettlebell Holds - There are many variations but here's a few to try.  Static holds can be done overhead, in the front rack position or at your sides.  Add intensity by increasing weight or by adding a second kettlebell.  Holds are a great idea too for those partner WODs.  While one partner is working, the other is in active rest by holding a kettlebell in a static hold.  Or, use them during EMOMs when the work set is done to add intensity to the rest periods.

The Seated Shoulder Press - We are all guilty of bouncing a bit at the bottom of a challenging shoulder press to get the weight overhead.  And it's also easy to move up on our toes during the movement.  When the weight is super challenging, we can move entirely out of a safe body position just to get that weight locked out overhead.  To greatly reduce the amount we can 'cheat' and to keep the body in a much less compromised position, perform kettlebell shoulder presses while seated.  If you don't have a bench handy, sit on the floor with your legs forming a "V" or straight ahead.  With your button the floor, bouncing at the bottom of the press is virtually eliminated.

The Kettlebell Lunge - Barbell Lunges either in front rack or behind the neck work you like noting else.  Run through a 21-15-9 WOD with barbell lunges and 400M runs and see how well you take the stairs later in the day.  Swapping out that barbell with one or two kettlebells held in the front rack does a great job with this movement as well.  To add intensity and variation, hold one or two of the kettlebells overhead.  To lessen the difficulty, hold two kettlebells at your sides.

The Turkish Getup - Move the kettlebell from the floor to overhead then back down with your starting position flat on your back.  With a challenging weight, stringing together even five or more of these together can leave you gassed.

So, if the standard two handed kettlebell swing has been the mainstay of your training, the next time you set foot in the gym use your kettlebell in a way that you haven't before.  That change in routine will keep you motivated.

Pick up a few kettlebells for your gym and keep your training varied.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Outfitting Your CrossFit® Gym - Do You Stand Out?

As a current or aspiring gym owner, there are more than a few balls you've got to keep up in the air - but all of them revolve around getting people walking through your doors and staying as lifelong members.  The best education, and the best location are great starting points for success, but only two pieces of the bigger puzzle.

The elephant in the room is that your potential clients are getting more and more opportunities to make other choices when it comes to joining a gym.  The CrossFit® Affiliate is blasting out of the 'underground' and is becoming more mainstream.  With this explosion of popularity and the number of facilities popping up, you've got to be even more on your A-Game to increase the appeal of your facility and training.

First impressions are going to play a major role in getting clients.  And we can help you make that golden first impression to those that will consider your facility.

In many respects, your business model aligns with ours.  All things being equal, we are both promoting three main points to set us apart from the competition - our Quality,  our Experience, and our Results.

Quality in Your Facility - You don't want potential clients shopping solely for price when it comes to where they will train.  Neither do we.  Making decisions based upon price alone usually favors the lower price.  And with lower price normally comes lower quality.  So how do you promote your quality?  Provide your clients with personal attention and have top notch, serviceable equipment in your gym.  The facilities that we've seen have the most success are those that are clean and that look well put together.

Experience - Most everyone is willing to give you a chance when it comes to a month-to-month membership.  And when you continue to provide them a great experience, they stay.  Passing on knowledge of movement techniques is expected.  It's when you go above and beyond that you set yourself apart.  We talk to gym owners all the time and one conversation that recently came up was regarding nutrition.  What your clients are eating plays a huge role in the level of success they can achieve.  And class time is usually devoted to movement.  Can you separate yourself from the crowd here?  Sure.  Write weekly blog posts with recipes or nutrition topics.  We blog almost every day on our equipment.  We might write about what new products we are developing or on what we've seen one of our clients do that really inspires us.  And if we run short on ideas, more topics come from gym owners and athletes that have called or written in with a question.  If someone asks you a question, chances are someone else has it too.  Write a blog post about it.  Give your athletes that great experience that's above and beyond the next guy.

Results - Everyone wants to see results.  That's why they are knocking on your door.  And here's two things you can do together to really set you apart and motivate your athletes.  The first one isn't new, but I've seen CrossFit Headway use it very well.  The PR Bell.  This is a brilliant idea and I'm sure you can see where to go with it.  Go buy one.  Put it up in the gym and take some pictures of your athletes ringing it.  And here's the second idea - hang up a whiteboard that your athletes can use to keep track of their progress on certain benchmark WODs and strength movements.  When they see their improvement, just like you, they will get motivated to continue to train and will love to share the great news with all their friends.  Remember when you got that first Ring Muscle Up?  I do.  And I couldn't find enough people to tell about it.  That's the good stuff.

When we really sit back and think about both of our business models, they are really quite similar.  You want to stand out and so do we and with quality, experience and results we can.

Gear Tip - One great question to ask anyone that comes through your door is - "What Brings You In Today?"  If you aren't asking this question, try it.  The great part about the response you get is that you will know exactly what advertising or marketing process of yours led them to you.  And if this question doesn't get you a response on how they found out about you, ask them directly.  Maybe they saw a t-shirt or maybe one of your members referred them to you.  All that info is super important to remember.  Go get a notebook with those two questions on the front cover and record the responses you get each time.  When you begin to see a trend, increase your efforts in the one that drives the most traffic through your door and stop spending money on the one that isn't working.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Starting Your Gym - How Best to Take Advantage of a Small Space

It happens.  You just may have found the perfect spot for your new gym.  It's located right next to great mix of commercial and residential area or perhaps it's across the street from that university or professional office complex.  Brilliant.  But, you'd like to start a bit more cautiously and go for the smaller spot and grow into a larger space when your membership grows.  The trade off is that the price is right but just how can you maximize on that smaller than ideal space and give yourself potential for growth?

Making the most out of the space in any gym is important and we're big fans of starting small and being smart about what equipment earns a spot in your gym.  We met with the owners of a new gym recently and as they showed us their new space, they asked what equipment and layout would make the most sense to help them maximize their smaller space.

The gang at Platte Valley Fitness have done a great job of maximizing their space.

Here's the bottom line up front.  Having a smaller space isn't all bad.  If you outfit it smartly, you can still keep your programming options open, comfortably and safely fit your athletes, but lessen your out of pocket rent each month.  But before we can plan for how best to equip that smaller space, we'll need to consider how much space each athlete needs.

Each athlete will require enough area to work with a bar and perform movements like box jumps and double unders or push ups and burpees.  And if an athlete is on the ground for a burpee or similar movement, they'll need a minimum area of about 6 feet by 8 feet.  Add in a bar and that space grows to about 8 feet by 9 feet.  Other movements like kettlebell swings, air squats, tuck jumps and the like can also be performed in that space without danger of colliding with or running into other athletes.

So no matter how big or small your space, if your goal is to train 10 athletes per class you will need at a minimum 700-800 square feet of open gym floor for training area.  That doesn't include space for equipment, storage, office space, bathroom[s] or dressing/coat change areas.

Here's a few tips to maximize the potential of any small space:
  1. Plan, Plan, Plan - It's time to get out your pencil, paper and tape measure.  Most real estate agents will have a to-scale plan of the space they are leasing.  Ask them for a copy.  If they don't have one available, sketch it up while you are there, then buy some graph paper and map it out to scale when you get home.  As you think about what type of equipment you'll want to put in the gym, draw small rectangles to scale of the various pieces of equipment and of your athletes [8 feet by 9 feet rectangles are a good rule of thumb] and lay them out in the space to see how everything fits.  
    Plan the small space on paper first
    Gear Tip:  Making changes on paper is far easier than moving bars, bumpers and pull up racks around.  Plan it on paper first.  It'll save you a lot of sweat.  Save that for training days.
  2. Stay Away From Single Use Equipment - although popular and effective, some single use or limited use equipment such as rowers and Glute Ham Developers can take up the same amount of space as one athlete in your space.  By putting equipment like this in your smaller space, you immediately lessen the class size limit.  And having larger equipment can be difficult to incorporate into a group class without one for every athlete.  Resist the urge to start off with equipment that stunts your growth in the smaller space.  As your gym membership grows, you can grow your space as well and make room for the big stuff later.  Plenty of people get incredibly fit without those two pieces [and it will save you a bunch of startup costs with them too]
  3. Follow Our Golden Rule - If you can't use a piece of equipment at least five different ways, it might not be the best piece to start your gym with.  Equipment pieces like Medicine Balls, Kettlebells and Gymnastics Rings have more than a handful of uses each.  With the wide variety of movements available with all these tools, that means you can bring them out on the floor for use every day.  A piece of equipment that is in your athletes hands every day is one that is earning it's keep.  And when it's out on the floor, you don't have to worry about finding a place to store it out of the way.  If something you bought is gathering dust in the corner, no one wins.  Outfit your gym with varied use equipment.
  4. Go With the Wall Mounted Pull Up Rack - for more than a handful of reasons, the wall mounted pull up rack is the way to go in the smaller space.  Any piece of gear you put in the middle of a room makes the whole space smaller and can impede your vision of your athletes.  Our 4 Pole Wall Mounted Rig is wildly popular for startup gyms and only takes up 84 square feet.  Two rowers side by side take up the same amount of space, yet the 4 Pole Rig has room for up to 8-10 athletes at once doing pull-ups, toes to bar or ring dips, etc.  Those rowers will only work two athletes.
  5. Store Vertically -
    Whenever possible store your equipment vertically.  This will take up the least amount of space.  Wall Mounted Racks for storing bars have been popular, but even storing one bar on the wall takes a 7 foot wide space out of service.  Storing bars in a vertical bar holder can put as many as 12 bars safely tucked away in under 2 square feet of floor space.  And that means walls stay open for handstand pushups and wall balls and even whiteboards.  And stacking bumpers vertically on moveable dolleys is a smart way to keep as much floor space open as possible.  Especially if you've got to shift around some equipment on the fly.
If a new gym is something you've been thinking about, let our gym professionals help you make the best decisions on outfitting your space.  Have a look at our pre-built equipment packages here or get in touch with us for a custom quote.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How To Climb a Rope

Very few tools help you increase raw overhead pulling strength and a strong core like the climbing rope.  Hanging from the rafters, the climbing rope can be intimidating since many of us haven't touched one since High School PE.  But, armed with a few simple techniques, we'll get you in the know and turn this untrained skill into a strength.

A few safety considerations first...

Gear Up Correctly.  Natural Manilla Fiber has a rough texture.  It's that texture that helps us hold our position on the climbing rope but it also demands some respect.  If you are working more than a few reps into your workout, it's best to wear some shin protection.  For many, the hands are naturally callused enough to handle the rougher surface, but to the skin on our shins that rope fiber will feel like sandpaper.  Get some long knee socks or other shin protection.

Make sure the climbing rope is attached securely overhead.  Roof trusses, when exposed make an excellent, stable choice for mounting climbing ropes.  If you've got a drywall ceiling overhead, our gymnastics ring hanger with climbing rope attachment is inexpensive, super-strong, and will keep you safe.  And they serve double duty since you can hang gymnastics rings from them too.

Climb the rope only to a manageable height at first.  If you've got 25 foot ceilings and minimal rope climbing experience, start out by marking a height of 12-15 foot on the rope with colored tape.  Climb to that point only at first, then as your strength and confidence improve, raise the level of the tape.  The part of climbing a rope that can cause the most injury is the descent.  So start slow until your technique is mastered.

Rope Climbing Tips

Buy a climbing rope long enough that 18"-24" is left lying on the floor when mounted.  This extra slack makes it much easier to get into a good starting position with your feet.  They play a major role in a successful climb so nailing that technique is key.

The secret to a great rope climb is how well you can use your lower body and your core to help get you moving up the rope.  The position of your feet on the rope has the single greatest impact on how much of your upper body strength will be needed to make the climb up.  Notice Glenn's feet in the picture above?  The rope is securely locked between the feet.  That is the foot position you are after.  An incorrect foot hold [rope between the feet, eg] won't be secure and will force your upper body to do all of the work.  You foot position should be so strong and supportive that you should be able to let go of the rope with one hand and easily support your weight.

Ever practiced knees to elbows or toes to bar?  The second part of the rope climb involves curling your lower body and bringing your knees toward your chest.  While the feet are brought up toward the hands, the rope is allowed to fall through the foot grab.  The closer you can bring your knees to your chest, the further up the rope you are moving that foot hold and therefor the quicker you can get to the top.

A strong core makes for a much easier rope climb.  That curl of the body is a motion that is nearly identical to the knees to elbows or toes to bar movements most commonly done on a pull up bar.  If you are good at those movements, then this second part of the rope climb will come easily.  But beware of losing the foot hold during the body curl.  If that happens, the rope climb becomes much more difficult and your climbing time can easily double.

Stand all the way up.  You've worked hard to bring your knees all the way to your elbows and you have maintained that perfect foot position on the rope.  Now stand all the way up while pulling with your arms hand over hand.  Your lower body should play a major part in moving your body up the rope.  That proper foot pinch will keep the rope in place while you use your legs.

And that's the three major parts of the rope climb.  Getting to the top of a climbing rope about 15 feet long should take about three good reps.  If it takes more than that you may not be bringing your knees all the way to your elbows or you may not be extending all the way during the stand up.  Once you're at the top, let go with one hand and slap the top.  Awesome!

Now that you are at the top here's a fair warning.  It's at this point that the majority of injuries occur.  Even equipped with a crash pad at the bottom, it's never a good idea to bail off the rope at any point during the descent.  It's easy to think that at the top of the climb the work is done but there's still a little left to do.

Keep your foot position strong and descend hand over hand down the rope.  Here's where you've got to be careful.  A quicker than expected descent will run the rope through your hands and along your shins super fast and will peel skin quickly.  The single fastest way to injury is to loosen your grip on the rope with hands and feet simultaneously.  Instead, keep both hands tightly gripped and loosen the grip with the feet first.  While hanging on tightly with the bottom hand, move the top hand to your navel and grip the rope hard.  Now let go with the top hand and let the rope slide through your feet.

Your free hand moves to your navel as your gripping hand moves overhead.  When the overhead hand limits your descent, let go and grab the rope again around your navel as you descend.

Ready to add rope climbing skills to your arsenal?  Get a great US Made Climbing Rope right here. We've got free shipping for a limited time!