Jim Performs a Clapping Freestand Handstand Push-up

2011 CrossFit Games

Jim Bathurst on CrossFit and Skill Development

Get Some Beast Skills

At the 2010 CrossFit Games, many otherwise formidable athletes struggled with the higher skill events. Most dramatically, Rich Froning Jr. fell behind Graham Holmberg in the final event because he did not know how to use his feet on rope climbs. In addition, the ring muscle-ups and parallette handstand push-ups in 2009, as well as the ring handstand push-ups in 2010 caused competitors to stumble. With preparation for the 2011 Games already in full swing, those CrossFit athletes who lack experience in gymnastics may benefit from developing more advanced bodyweight movements. Enter Jim Bathurst, of beastskills.com.

Jim has over a decade of experience with practicing and teaching high skill movements. In contrast with most other gymnasts and gymnastics coaches, Jim learned gymnastics as an adult, and has competed in powerlifting, olympic lifting, and unsanctioned CrossFit competitions as well. He has deadlifted 500 lbs., pressed 220 lbs., and repped out one arm pull-ups and freestanding parallette handstand push-ups. Jim was also the first to complete one of the original CrossFit.com challenges, 15 consecutive ring handstand push-ups without climbing the straps with his feet. Jim regularly gives gymnastics seminars at CrossFit gyms, in which he has helped many a CrossFitter get their first muscle-up.

CrossFit promotes gymnastics as an invaluable component to fitness training. In Jim's opinion though, many CrossFitters shortchange their fitness by not fully developing their gymnastics skills. While wall handstand push-ups and kipping muscle-ups are invaluable movements, for advanced CrossFitters they train conditioning more than strength and skill. Furthermore, remaining at this relatively basic level of gymnastics allows athletes to get away with less efficient movement patterns that more complex movements would uncover. While the concept of building strength through basic barbell lifts is well understood in the CrossFit community, many CrossFitters are not fully taking advantage of gymnastics' potential for strength building. 

Jim speaks of a continuum of skill and strength development. For example, a beginning athlete who would like to develop handstand push-ups may start with basic floor push-ups to build strength, then progress to tiger push-ups, then pike push-ups, and then wall-supported handstand push-ups. This is the point in the handstand push-up continuum is where many CrossFitters stop, but there are many more options to move onto from here. You can increase the range of motion with ring handstand push-ups and parallette handstand push-ups, and increase the demand for balance with freestanding handstand-pushups. Beyond there, an athlete can move onto developing freestanding parallette handstand push-ups. For comparison, Jim can do multiple freestanding parallette handstand push-ups while giving a lecture, and is working towards a one arm handstand push-up.

The implications of stunted gymnastics development are obvious in CrossFit competition. The Games force athletes to move outside their comfort zone. An athlete who can knock out wall handstand push-ups will often struggle mightily to knock out just a few full range of motion parallette or ring handstand-push-ups. To prevent such weakness in more advanced gymnastics movements, Jim recommends that once athletes have moved beyond 5 reps in a particular bodyweight exercise, they start training a more advanced movement in that series, in addition to using the lower skill and strength exercises in conditioning circuits. 

To continue with the handstand push-up example, an athlete may train 5 sets of 3 repetitions in the parallette handstand push-up for strength development, while using wall handstand push-ups for higher volume metcon workouts such as Diane and Nate. When programming for CrossFitters, the precise movement to be used depends upon an individual athletes ability, as well as the intent of the movement with a given training program. One athlete may train wall handstand push-ups for strength, while the other may use them in a conditioning circuit.

Jim also points out that training more difficult gymnastics exercises will keep athletes honest with their technique. While many CrossFitters flare their elbows outwards on wall handstand push-ups, putting great stress on their shoulder joints, they quickly find with parallette handstand push-ups that they are forced to keep their elbows more tucked in. In the short run, this adjustment can be a humbling experience for an athlete, but in the long run they benefit from developing stronger and safer technique.

To see Jim's tutorials on gymnastics exercises, check out his site Beastskills.com. You can also see his rope climb tutorial video on youtube, which demonstrates several different leg wrapping techniques. For athletes who are relatively weak at bodyweight movements, it's a great resource.

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8 comments on this entry

1. Mike McGoldrick wrote...

Great Article! Can't wait to implement some of this in my programming.

2. Vic wrote...

I've taken 2 workshops with beastskills Jim. He's the real deal. Not only is he extremely skilled, but he's incredible at breaking down skills and teaching the most efficient way to execute them.

The dude can do a freestanding one armed handstand, and a one armed muscle up but yet is totally humble and down to earth.

3. Josh Courage wrote...

Have known and trained with Jim for many years now and have to admit, I have never found more in-depth and insightful information on how to progress through these gymnastics moves. I learned my first handstand, muscle up and HSPU with his help and hope to utilize his coaching more, not only for myself, but for all my athletes as well. If you ever have the chance to take one of his seminars, do so. Go out of your way to do so for gods sake!

Great article for sure!

4. Tom Arend wrote...

Jim's the real deal awesome athlete and coach.

5. Jason Morstein wrote...

I have known Jim for a couple years and he has always given me good advice and perspective. He is an amazing athlete and fun to watch even if he only weighs 185#. When he talks, you should listen. He is also really cute.

6. KE wrote...

Sounds like JIm is great! But I truly hope Crossfit is not going to turn into too much of a circus event - with all due respect.

7. Chad Edwards wrote...

Good stuff Jim! I can't wait to have you teach at CrossFit Local in May.

8. Brian PCF wrote...

Jim is very solid.


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