Conditioning is key but competition still requires practice

Last weekend I had the opportunity to compete with several other alumni from Arizona State (8 of us in total) at the annual Maroon and Gold competition at Aspire in Chandler, AZ. It was a lot of fun to be there, and I felt like an honored guest.

This year I learned about Gymnastic Bodies through a handstand contest and got excited about shoring up weaknesses through extensive progressions. I went to a seminar in Denver and had a great time, learning more about coach Sommer and the program he built for adults to get in shape (no matter what their background is).

The leg exercises I learned from the gymnastic bodies program enabled me to try vaulting again (first time competing on a table instead of a horse!) and I’ve been doing basic tumbling for a few months now. I also have several progressions planned for adding more difficult (and valuable) strength moves on rings.

I developed a daily routine for conditioning this year which I do at home every morning, but one piece I haven’t really included yet is endurance. It showed in my Rings routine, where I was going strong until right before the dismount I fell out of a handstand. To help with endurance I will increase my repetitions of circles on pommel horse when I get to do that at the gym and make sure I don’t miss handstand holds (for at least a minute, building to 2 minutes) in my morning exercises.

The key takeaway for me at the competition is that I need to practice full routines more. On Pommel Horse I had trouble with the transition between the initial forward travel and the rest of the routine because I haven’t practiced it altogether, only in parts.

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Underweight to Overweight

For much of my life (especially after college when I stopped working out 15-20 hours per week) I have had trouble keeping weight on my body. I remember during a physical exam for a life insurance application years ago that I was told being less than 135 pounds (at my height of 5’6″) was a health risk and raised my premium rates. During college I was somewhere between 140-145 pounds with 3-5% body fat, but within 6 months after graduating I had lost 10 pounds, and a couple years later I was only 128.

Due to this background I always made sure I ate enough food, and if it was evening and I was even mildly hungry I would eat more, so I wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night starving. Over the past few years since I began working out again more regularly I’ve been able to stay closer to 135, but in the last couple months my habits changed a bit.

We recently purchased a home near a gym where I now coach boys three nights a week from 5-8pm. This means I’ve had to eat something before and afterwards because I miss dinner. Our new home is also very close to a Culvers hamburger and ice cream fast food restaurant, which is new in town and hence has many specials to entice customers. This led to eating a Culvers deluxe double sandwich between 8:30 and 9pm at least once or twice a week for a few weeks, in addition to eating 3 meals and a couple snacks during the day before practice.

I didn’t think much of it until I stepped on the scale a couple days ago and saw I was 139.6 pounds. I have been working out recently but not enough to believe that was all muscle. Then yesterday while unpacking boxes my wife found a couple pictures of me with my shirt off which were my “before pictures” for the body for life challenge we started in the fall of 2000. I compared myself now to then and realized that I’ve put on some additional weight that is not useful except for keeping me warm.

After considering the situation for a little while I came up with the following plan:

  • After practice I will not stop and eat anywhere, but only have some fruit and light snacks to make sure I can sleep. My main dinner will be before practice around 4-4:30. Eating too close to bedtime doesn’t give your body time to digest and utilize the energy so it just stores it as fat.
  • I will make a point of not finishing food the kids have left on their plates unless I acknowledge that as part of my meal or snack. Conscious, intentional eating is good for me.
  • I will stop eating when I feel full, there is no prize for having a clean plate. Being overstuffed makes it hard to digest food, which causes all sorts of trouble.
  • I will make sure Willow (he’s almost 2) gets into his crib and out of our bed every night so I can sleep. I always eat more when I don’t sleep well.
  • I will continue to increase my activity at the gym when I coach, at a sustainable pace.

I know it will take some time to get back to a healthy balance, but I was pleased to see progress even in one day (I lost a pound the first day). As for how I’ll be able to tell when I’m in balance, I should be able to see my stomach muscles (ie 6 pack) without flexing, regardless of how much I weigh. 🙂

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When it’s useful to have a coach

After a couple years off from competing due to the birth of our 6th child, I was invited to compete with a group of alumni from Arizona State at the 2014 NAIGC Nationals in Chattanooga, TN. It had been so long since I competed on pommel horse that when I fell off I asked the judge where I should get back on. That’s the point in the video above when Scott and Riley come over and everyone laughed. The judge had a very surprised look on his face too. 🙂

The alumni team I was a part of (ASU Team C in the roster at the meet) made it to team finals so I got to compete twice on each event. I did much better in the finals on Rings and Parallel bars, and I was happy that my PBar routine counted for the team score (top 3 scores on each event count toward the team score) in finals.

During the march in ceremony I felt a little famous when someone called my name as he passed by. It turns out I had given him pointers about his mushroom circles when he was in high school a couple years ago, but I hadn’t met him in person before.

I had a great time and I’m hoping there will be another ASU alumni team competing next year I can be a part of. Since my daughter will be working out 3-4 days a week starting this summer I’ll have more time in the gym, so I hope to win a medal next year.

The team finals detailed results are posted at, team preliminary results for our session are posted at, and the rest of my routines are below (2 more in the prelims and 3 in the finals).

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How I learned Free Standing Handstand Pushups

I always thought it would be great to be able to do handstand pushups without needing a wall for support, but since it wasn’t a skill I could get credit for in a routine I never took the time to learn it. However, since I’ve returned to gymnastics with a much different perspective about time (I’m not restricted to a school competition schedule, and I don’t expect to be ever done with gymnastics anymore) I decided to focus on it.

The first step was to be able to hold a handstand for as long as I wanted, which for me required a great deal of wrist flexibility and of course practice. Then when I was ready to start working on handstand pushups I decided to change my head position so they would be straighter handstands. This caused a delay because it was a whole new body position for me to get used to.

Once I had a straight handstand hold for at least 10-20 seconds, I began trying handstand pushups. I soon figured out that I had to learn how to move between two balance points – one is the handstand and one is a bent arm handstand (almost a headstand but with my head off the ground) – while keeping my balance. This is similar to walking, where you lean your center of gravity from one foot onto the other, and each side is a balance point.

I felt a great sense of accomplishment when I was able to do 10 in a row without falling down one way or another, and the video above includes a demonstration in my backyard. Now I try to make sure I do at least 10 in my daily exercise routine. As the saying goes, “use it or lose it”.

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The Power of Belief

One of the most common topics I field questions about at is how to overcome mental blocks, asked by the gymnasts or the parents who are exasperated as they watch their child dealing with irrational fears (either conscious or unconscious fears).

There are many ways to address the issue, but it really all boils down to changing beliefs. These beliefs are really just thoughts that have been pondered often, usually with some strong emotions to reinforce them. For example, a child who is afraid of doing a back-handspring after their round-off may have had a scary experience while doing it that then associates the feeling of being frightened with that skill.

Once a thought becomes a belief it is like a filter through which we see the world. People are said to see the world through rose colored glasses if they always see the best in everything. It’s really because they believe the world is a great place that they act this way, and no amount of rain can change their belief or ruin their day.

I was amazed a few weeks ago after doing circles on the pommel horse at the Prescott YMCA when a young coach walked over and said “You don’t understand how jealous I am that I can’t do those anymore.” He was probably 15 years younger than me, so I said he could do them again. He told me didn’t have the pain tolerance in his shins to do them again.

This young man had developed a belief that in order to do circles you have to go through the pain of hitting the horse with your legs over and over until you can make it around all the way. But a week later I spoke to him again and I mentioned that he could work circles on the mushroom, then put the mushroom on the floor, and by the time he is able to do circles on the floor it would be easy to do on the pommel horse. A light went off in his head as he realized that would get around the whole kicking the pommel horse phase, and he said he would try it later (he was coaching at the time).

Yes beliefs are powerful (consider all the wars that are fought over religious beliefs), but they can change as you are willing to think differently. Free your mind, and the rest will follow. 🙂

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