It takes a lot of hard work and time to achieve difficult bodyweight movement skills, such as the muscle-up, human flag, and planche. These and other skills requiring higher levels of strength and coordination, take a lot more than simply following steps 1, 2, and 3.
There are, of course, logical progressions leading up to those skills and it’d be silly not to do them at all, but progress in training and real life is anything but linear.
In this post we’ll take a look at:
- why the straightforward way of viewing progress is unrealistic, and
- some alternate ways of approaching difficult (or any level) skills.
How People Think Progressions Work (and Why They Really Don’t Work That Way)
It’s very natural to think of progress as one step in front of the other until you get to where you want to go.
And, in many ways that image is correct, but it’s only part of the whole picture. There’s actually quite a lot that goes on between each step ahead, and there are many reasons some parts of the journey are simpler and quicker, while others seem to take forever before you get any forward motion.
Progress is a curvy, zig-zaggy, road with lots of switchbacks and detours.
It can appear to be straight in short time frames but over the course of our training lives, it is much less clear cut. The real, day-to-day variations in performance can be frustrating and, if not accounted for, can cause you to quit a program altogether.
What also doesn’t help are plans and trainers that don’t recognize this reality. Instead, they force their clients into an unyielding and strict program where they are told they must absolutely follow a certain progression order and hit their required numbers before moving on.
That simply makes no sense at all. How could it?
Why It’s Totally Nuts to Think Progress is Linear
Yes, everyone should be consistent and work hard and not just give up after a few sessions – that’s not in question.
- But what about when you have consistently put in the effort and time?
- What if that “perfect” plan of progressions is just not appropriate for you?
The answer is much more complex than being told to simply keep going. It’s not that everyone is different and needs a specific individual program. I’m not saying that at all.
What I am saying is that there are varying individual responses to training, and that set-in-stone expectations are flat out wrong.
For example, the gap between progressive exercises may be too difficult to bridge, and while there may be no magic in-between progression to do, there are likely various supplemental exercises that will address the weaknesses that are holding you back.
Also, and I’ve seen it happen, individual differences may mean one level of progression is more difficult than the one “above” it. And if the person were discouraged from even trying it, then they’d be held back for no good reason.
A Better Way to Make Progress: What We’ve Learned From Teaching Thousands of Students Over the Years
Rather than having a specific series of progressions as the only method of working on a skill, I’ve always preferred an organized plan composed of several elements that work together toward your particular goals.
It seems like a straightforward idea, but you may be surprised at how many programs and routines aren’t designed this way.
Here are a couple of examples of what I mean.
In a previous post, I shared some strategies for working toward the Front and Back Levers.
While there were examples of my planned progressions for the front levers and Daniel Vadnal’s progressions for the back levers, these would only be part of the plan given to achieve this skills, because the reality is that using these exercises in isolation will not be as effective as having a comprehensive plan of attack.
For the front lever we can see that the movement requires components of strength, primarily in the lats, abdominals, and posterior shoulder girdle muscles.
So then, good complementary exercises would include the hollow body hold, pull-ups, and others depending upon the areas you would need to shore up. And rather than just saying “do 3 sets of 20 for everything,” a good plan gives a range, and reasoning for when to do more or less as you progress.
In the Rings Two program I developed, I share a plan that includes main progressions toward the levers, front rolls and kips, iron cross, and handstands, along with the appropriate supplementary conditioning work. The program and exercises are arranged to complement each other and work toward the various moves as a whole, rather than as separate skills grouped together randomly.
The cumulative impact of this format, along with reasonable adaptability, is much more effective than simply performing the varying progressions by themselves.
Good plans have a solid foundation that can work for everyone, but can still account for individual needs and idiosyncrasies.
Discovering What Works Best For You For Making Progress
If you look back at the plans that worked best for you, I’m sure you’ll discover some common patterns:
- It matched your temperament.
- It gave you some leeway to make changes as needed.
- It allowed you to be as consistent for a long time.
With this in mind, you can understand why I’m against rigid step-by-step progressions being held up as the only way to achieve skills. The best coaches and trainers recognize the need for both a proven structure and the ability to adapt and change that structure as needed.
In this post, I’ve shared my thinking on how best to develop bodyweight movement skills in a way that causes less frustration and more understanding of how to look at your training routines.
Take a moment to analyze what you are doing now to make sure it fits your needs well and will really help you get where you want to be.
Now that you know why some progressions don’t work, this next article has some specific suggestions for continuing to make progress, even when things aren’t going so well.
Got a question or comment in this post?
Image Credit: 1