It’s important to have a strong grasp of the basics and fundamentals. Everyone says so. But, often it’s unclear what the specific basics of a movement or exercise actually are.
If you ask many people what “the basics” of training are, you’ll likely get a list of exercises and standards that are touted as fundamentals. And they are probably a fine group of exercises, but the true basics are more fundamental than even the simplest exercise.
In this post, we’ll be talking about what the basics are, why you should spend your time on them, and how to work on them effectively.
“The Basics” Are Made Up of These Three Things
Most people think the basics means beginners exercises. When we talk about the basics, though, we’re referring to having appropriate amounts of these three elements:
- Motor Control
And what is deemed appropriate for these elements will depend upon what you need to work on to improve whatever skills you’ve chosen to pursue.
Starting with the root of the word basic, you’ll notice that it is “base.”
That’s what it’s all about. Everything we end up doing and working on has to come out of that base and foundation.
At its simplest, working on your basics, then, is what what you need to do to build a strong platform upon which you can build everything else. If it isn’t strong, then anything on top of it will cause it to crumble and give way.
And who wants that to happen?
With this in mind, you can figure out what the basics are for any movement or goal.
3 Mindset Steps to Mastering the Basics
- Think of the movement itself and what you need to do to simply get into the starting position.
- Think about what you would to need to be able to do, in order to move into the position with control.
- Think about what elements you need in order to complete the movement.
Example: The Push-Up as an Illustration of Mastering the Basics
Let’s use a fundamental bodyweight exercise in itself as an example.
The push-up is about as straightforward as it gets, as it doesn’t really get more basic than pushing yourself up off the ground. But even though the exercise seems – and can be – very simple, it can be broken down even further.
- Step One in this case would include strong and flexible wrists to hold yourself steady, and an appropriately strong core to keep your back straight.
- Step Two, your triceps, shoulders, stomach, back, legs and hips need to be strong enough and coordinated to allow you to move into the start of the push-up with control.
- Step Three of completing the push-up requires all of the above plus the addition of controlling it all in motion.
Though it is a simple up and down movement, there are a multitude of other ways you could be moving.
The basics are fundamentals which comprise a platform from which you can push off and explore.
An appropriate amount of strength, flexibility, and motor control has to be developed before even starting on the exercise itself, as those are the basics for the movement. When those are achieved the full push-up is then a basic exercise for further exercise performance. A fine distinction, but a crucial one if you find yourself unable to perform a “basic” exercise.
The goal of push-ups as an exercise is not to do more push-ups, but to be able to do enough push-ups with good form to prepare your body for further skills. You could just keep doing more and more push-ups, if that’s what you want. But we are looking beyond that.
Why Minimums Aren’t as Useful as Basics
It’s really important to understand that basics are not a fundamentally agreed-upon thing.
Basics require a qualifier.
What they are depends upon what you’re doing and what you need to improve upon. Anything else is arbitrary.
Why a 60 Second Handstand Isn’t All That
Let’s look at the handstand as an example. A lot of groups say a one- to two-minute hold as a fundamental requirement for “mastering” handstands. But that really is quite arbitrary. Do you really need to get that before doing anything else?
Now there are a lot of great reasons that training to do a handstand for 60-odd seconds would be beneficial for most people. But it’s an irrational thing to say that this is a basic standard that everyone needs.
A one-minute handstand hold can’t really be called a “basic” because the handstand itself is built upon other components. Working on your wrists, opening your shoulders, and strengthening your core and hips are the true basics of the handstand hold – not the hold itself and not a number pulled out of thin air.
Going Deeper: Further Explanation of the 3 Basics of Body Control
We choose our fundamental areas of training as strength, flexibility and motor control. This requires a bit of awareness of the structure of your chosen goals, but we’ll outline the process for you below.
Basic Elements of Strength
Again, the fundamentals aren’t a specific exercise or even a way of training, but they are specific to what you need for the exercises and skills you’d like to perform.
For us at GMB, the basics of strength involve proper form and controlled movement. There is nothing wrong with a focus on strength and getting as strong as possible, but after a certain point you will have built enough strength to focus on the skills themselves and move forward from there.
In general the best way to begin building the basic components of strength is by starting with the weakest link of the movement. Build up that weakest link, then move on the next weakest until you strong all the way through.
For our movement example, we’ll be discussing the Frogger, and how it is the basic fundamental movement for moving into the handstand.
Strength-wise, the basics for the handstand are the appropriate amount of strength in the wrists, shoulders, arms, and trunk to move into and hold the position.
The Frogger is perfect for this, as it allows you to progressively bear more weight through your hands and slowly condition your wrists and hands, which is commonly the weakest link in the chain. The Frogger gives you the opportunity to develop strength in your hands and wrists, while allowing you to adjust the weight as needed so as not to strain your wrists.
Basic Elements of Flexibility
No, being able to do the splits is not a basic flexibility requirement.
The most fundamental component of flexibility is the ability to move into the position of best form and technique for the activities you want to do.
In Focused Flexibility, I present the concept of the Basic Assessment Positions (BAPs) which I put forth as the basic postures we should be able to get into to simply move through our daily lives well.
The Basic Assessment Positions (BAPs) are:
- Crosslegged Sitting
- Supine Hip/Knee Flexion
- Hooklying Crossleg Hip Rotation
- Shoulder Combined Motions
- Prone Backbending
- Neck Motions
Each position represents a certain level of flexibility that makes our normal activities a bit easier to do. They are meant as a general representation of your overall functional mobility minimums. Some people will need to work on their stretching to achieve these, and some will soon pass these quickly and need to set other goals.
And perhaps splits and full back bend bridges will be their benchmarks. The basics won’t change, however, as the fundamentals of how to stretch for further positions are already there. You’ll simply have to do more and go further.
Back to our example of the Frogger, as you practice and perform the movement you’ll be engaging active and dynamic flexibility of the wrists, shoulders, and hips with each repetition.
The movement also serves as an assessment check for you, and is an example of a specific BAP. If you have trouble getting into the positions of a proper Frogger, then you are clued in to what areas of flexibility need work. Those are then your personal basics.
Basic Elements of Motor Control
The smooth performance of a skill means steady and obvious control though every inch of your movement. This is what we mean with the GMB mantra of “Make it Pretty.” It’s not about how you look at the beach, but how graceful and strong you are in your movement skills. You simply look good and everyone can tell.
The basics, then, include the fundamental strength and flexibility for the movement, and add on to that the coordination and balance to be graceful and controlled through the various iterations of the skill.
This means that you can enter and exit the movement in different ways and still have control.
There are some general fundamentals here, including basic balance skills like standing on one leg with your eyes closed for at least 10 seconds without falling over. Or coordination and body awareness training such as moving your arms and legs in different patterns smoothly or various hand/foot and eye coordination patterns.
But beyond these general dexterity concerns, your primary training for body control will relate specifically to what you are most interested in performing. In our example of the Frogger, your body control basics are being able to control entering the move from different directions, tempos, and intentions.
Can you do it slowly, fast, from the side, in reverse, and look pretty at the same time? That’s good body control.
Figuring Out What Your Basics Are
It’d be easy to list out a series of exercises, with a number of repetitions or set times to hold, and call those the GMB Fundamentals. It’s comforting to have a specific list that you can just put a check next to and move on.
But that’s not what we are going for.
We encourage critical thinking and understanding of what you are doing so you can make good choices in your own program, and can adjust as needed for your personal situation. Are you just going to go ahead and walk around on your hands and knees without thinking, or are you going to be able to gain maximum benefit from that 15 minutes that you’re doing it?
If not then you might as well be on a treadmill watching TV, right?
Know what your basics are for what you’re trying to do. The real basics are always the underlying structure that tie together the movements you perform, and the way you do them in order to achieve your goals.
No one can tell you what your basics are. Get to know your strengths and weaknesses, and work on the basics that you need to.
Our introductory program, Elements, is all about assessing your needs and working on the basics, in order to move freely with physical autonomy. You’ll work on strength, flexibility, and control in a logical, manageable, and enjoyable manner.
Build Your Basics
With Elements, you’ll build strength, flexibility, and body control through locomotive exercises and targeted mobility work, in just 7 weeks.
When you’ve built a foundation of the basics for whatever you’re working towards, you can move on to more advanced skills. But don’t forget to always come back to the basics – that’s what will keep you moving forward at a steady and safe pace.