Recruited by the Gold Team

This year at the annual Arizona State Men’s Gymnastics Intra Squad competition there were 3 teams again – Maroon, Gold, and Black.  I was planning on being with the black team again since my jersey is black but when I showed up Colton (the team captain for the Gold team) asked if I would be on the gold team because they had the least amount of people.  He also wanted my scores to count for their team. 🙂

The gold team started on Floor but I don’t have a routine together yet so I got to cheer on my teammates.  Then we went to Pommel Horse where I was eager to show off 2 new skills – a half savado mount and a handstand dismount.  The mount I had learned last year but wasn’t ready to put it into a routine until this year.  The dismount I’ve been working on for a few years now and finally did it for the first time a week before the competition.  Since the alternative was just a loop off the end which doesn’t even count as a dismount anymore (it did when I was in college which is why I never learned a handstand dismount back then) I decided to go for it.

I performed 2 new skills on pommel horse this year

After pommel horse we moved on to Rings which turned out very well for me.  I did not add any new skills this year but I’ve been working on my handstands recently which paid off as I improved my execution score and placed 7th overall with a 12.6.  

I placed 7th with this routine within the current 50+ member ASU team

Next we did vault.  While we were warming up one of my alumni friends came over dressed in a uniform and asked what event we were on.  Daniel Bronnenberg warmed up a bit with us but waited for the next rotation to compete on the vault.  It’s always good to see other alumni competing.  For my vault I tried using a “waterfall” start which I learned from one of my kids’ running coaches recently.  However my steps were off so I was just happy to do the vault safely.

Tried a new ‘waterfall’ start but I’m still working out the right distance

The last event (for me, I’m not ready for hi bar yet) was parallel bars.  I’ve been training a double pike dismount for about 6 months but I hadn’t done it on a hard surface yet (since college) so I opted for a layout to be safe.  

This was my ‘safe’ routine while I gain confidence with new skills

Overall I had a great time competing with the ASU team again and look forward to next year when I hope to place in the top 3 on at least one event.

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The bar has been raised in ASU Men’s Gymnastics!

I had a great time competing with the Arizona State University Men’s Gymnastics team in the 2017 Maroon and Gold Intrasquad. That was the original name for decades, but the last couple years it has really been Maroon, Gold, and Black because there were too many guys for just 2 teams.

My jersey is black so I chose to be on the black team again this year. The team score was driven in large part by one of the new members, Kiwan Watts (he placed 14th in the all around at the USA Summer Nationals in August), who won 5 events and the all around. But there were one or two events where the top 3 scorers were all from the black team. It always feels good to be on the winning team.

It’s been over 9 years since I bought a mushroom and Scott Barclay suggested I compete at the Rocky Mountain Open. After going there a couple times I decided I would focus on the ASU pre-season competition (M&G) until I could be competitive at that level (where Oklahoma brings their A team and the Olympic Training Center usually sends a few guys from the national team since it is close to the training center).

Now I can tell I won’t need to go to Rocky Mountain Open for awhile, as the level of competition at ASU is going up every year. With around 50 guys on the team now, sending 2 teams at a time to different competitions during the season, and someone at the level of Kiwan who is not able to win every event, things are looking better than ever for ASU Men’s Gymnastics!

See below for the videos from my routines at the meet. I’m excited to get back in the gym and try new things now that I’m in “off season”. 🙂

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40 is just another 20

For the past year or so I’ve been trying to decide on something meaningful to do on my 40th birthday. I know people who do backflips for every year they are old, but I wanted to do something different. Last year I started out focusing on a manna so I was hoping that would be it, but I pushed too hard in the spring and had to back off from that.

I had several other ideas like 40 circles on my floor mushroom, 40 circles with a moore after every 5 on the pommel horse, 40 handstand pushup hop half turns on floor, or a 40 second handstand on rings without using the straps. But when I dislocated my thumb last month at the ASU Maroon & Gold meet I had to shelve all those ideas for later.

On Friday (1/20/17) I got back into the gym for the first time since the competition in December. It was a lot of fun, and I even got to see the Illinois team practice as guests at Aspire while I was there. While warming up with the ASU team I realized I just about had my splits. Although I had been going through the front split stretch series weekly for nearly a year, regular splits are actually not one of the exercises in that series so I didn’t know how close I was.

For those of you who might say “he’s a gymnast, of course he can do the splits” it’s not that simple. All of the US men’s Olympic team last year did not have their splits (I know because I watched some of their training videos on youtube). Less than 10% of the current ASU men’s gymnastics team can do the splits. When I was in college there were usually one or two guys who could do the splits (I was not one of them).

There were brief periods in my life so far when I could do the splits, but I never had such a systematic approach to achieving or maintaining them so those periods were short lived. Following the gymnastic bodies program I am rebuilding my temple brick by brick. Without the pressure of frequent competitions (like college athletes have) I am able to take the time I need to build a foundation that will keep me safe when I play in the gym. Stay tuned, I’m just getting started. 🙂

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Within striking distance of gold

I was honored to compete again at the 2016 maroon and gold intersquad at Aspire on December 9th. Last year Scott Barclay came up with a scoring scheme for alumni where we were to be given an extra .2 points times the number of years since we graduated on each event. I did not hit any event last year so even with the extra points I was not close to winning.

In the summer my family and I moved back to the Phoenix area and I’ve spent 1-2 hours in the gym almost once a week for the past few months. I’ve also been more disciplined about my conditioning at home, keeping a written log to stay on track.

This year I was planning to win at least pommel horse with a three-point handicap (0.2 points * 15 years since graduation). I showed my hand a bit early, however, when I posted a video of my pommel horse routine on Facebook last month (last year I had 4 falls on that event, but not anymore).

After I saw my first score I realized that I was not given a blanket 3 extra points (probably because I would have taken away some of the validity of the competition with pumped up scores). I appreciate that because I only want to win if I am scored just like everyone else. On each event I was about a point from third place and 2 points from winning. That gives me hope for next year. 🙂

Last year I had major falls on every event, so this year I spent a good amount of time focusing on landings, handstands, and endurance. I will continue that focus, as well as modify my routines as needed to meet all the special requirements. That means a new dismount on pommel horse and rings and another skill or two on pommel horse and parallel bars.

Also I will be focusing on leg conditioning in the next few weeks since I sprained my right thumb after my parallel bar routine. I made the rookie mistake of putting my hands back to catch myself when I fell. I had to quickly put my thumb back into it’s socket and I’m still barely using it so I will be spending more time on landings this year for safety reasons as well as to improve my scores. I hope to compete Floor next year, so the focus on legs will be good for me.

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When Stretching is Detrimental

A year ago I would not even imagine writing about such a topic, but life lessons have a way of changing even the most ingrained beliefs. I am writing this story down so hopefully I will not forget the lessons I’ve learned from it. When I wrote the key to flexibility is untimed stretching seven years ago I was firmly convinced that it wasn’t really possible to stretch too much.

However, in January of 2015 I learned of Gymnastic Bodies and was inspired to learn all I could from the creator of that program Coach Christopher Summer. I purchased the foundation courses and progressed quite rapidly through the first dozen or so levels in each area until I found a point where I was challenged and did my best to stay focused on that path.

In May of 2015 I ran the 2 mile ‘fun run’ portion of the Whiskey Row Marathon (in Prescott, AZ) in order to make sure my son who has seizures would be able to complete it successfully. Even though we stopped a few times and I made him slow down a bit, my hip flexors were very sore afterwards (I do not run normally) and I felt powerless to make them feel better. I tried stretching a bit, but mostly just tried to avoid doing things which caused pain.

The next month I attended a gymnastic bodies seminar in Denver at Awaken Adult Gymnastics, which is basically a 2 day workout for about 8 hours a day, interspersed with lectures from Coach Sommer about the program and how it works. I had not fully recovered from the run, and my hip flexors were sore again especially after doing leg lifts on the wall bars near the end of the second day.

I spoke to Cory Fair at the seminar about how to deal with the issues I was having and he suggested I try switching to bent leg lifts for awhile. So I did that and over the next few months the pain subsided and I felt I was getting stronger. In the fall I was back to doing straight leg lifts again with no discomfort.

Then in December I was inspired to make it my goal for 2016 to build up to a Manna, which I had never been able to do before. I decided I would try to follow the path that Coach Sommer laid out in his blog at Manna – An advanced static strength element, and my starting point would be step 4 in his list, the elevated middle split hold.

I quickly realized that doing the elevated middle split hold caused me pain in my hip flexors, so after a few weeks I decided to do it only once a week instead of daily. Then I decided to focus on some other ways to build up my hip flexors so I added leg lifts (on my pull up bar) and lunge stretches (with and without holding my foot up in the back) to my daily routine in place of the elevated split hold. Later I discovered that if I did an elevated split hold with my legs bent I could focus on pushing my hips forward without stressing my hip flexors so much.

This past week I listened to the interview between Coach Sommer and Tim Ferris and decided I need to stretch more (one of the topics discussed was how elite athletes stretch in order to get stronger), so I started doing side splits as well as lunges with and without holding my leg up in the back for 30 seconds each twice a day. I was only able to do this for a couple days before my left hip flexor (the weaker one) began to hurt so bad I had trouble sleeping at night.

One of the first things I learned from Coach Sommer last year was that connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, even cartilage) takes much longer to heal than muscle because it is avascular (ie no blood). That is why he structured his training program to go a full 12 weeks before advancing to a different exercise level (though within the 12 weeks there are changes in sets and reps). He talks about using an “adaptive load” over time to build up connective tissue, which to me means do conditioning which is less that what would hurt (ie no popping or cracking of joints and no pain) over a few months before increasing the load.

He talked a lot about the brachialis tendon in your arm since people can hurt that going from a bent arm cross to a straight arm cross too quickly. I actually experienced pain in my brachialis after going down in a cross while focusing on straight arms one day, but was able to recover within a couple days of not stressing it.

However for some reason I never thought doing the splits or lunges could cause any problems. I was wrong. The hip flexors (and other connective tissue in that area) are not muscles and should not be treated as such. When muscles are sore stretching them and massaging them helps increase blood flow and reduces recovery time, but connective tissue requires a different approach. When it stops hurting to walk up and down the stairs and get in and out of the car I will likely start some bent leg raises again (as long as it doesn’t hurt – striving for an adaptive load).

When the pain is not present for all everyday activities I will start doing the side split stretch series again once a week (not twice a day in my weakest areas like I did last week). My chiropractor just told me this morning to try laying on my back in bed and gently moving my leg off the side in order to allow gravity to create a gentle stretch (for a couple minutes at a time 2-3 times per day), so I may do that for awhile before any other more active stretching or strengthening.

In summary, there is a big difference between pain and muscle soreness, and when connective tissue feels sore it is really pain and should be treated with kid gloves. I will take this seriously now. 🙂

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