Bodyweight Movements: an Argument for Skill Transfer

People have interesting relationships with bodyweight movements. Regarding push ups and pull ups – some people feel incapable, some feel what I would call false bravado, some feel a sense of mastery, and still others approach bodyweight movements from a student’s perspective. The final two can exist at the same time without incongruity.

My relationship with bodyweight movements like the pushups and the pullups was formally one of shame and helplessness. When training became important to me again after an adolescent heroin addiction, I could not do a single push up, let alone a pull up. This did not make me feel great about myself. Lack of ability causes many people to feel this way.

I did not understand it at the time, but I was able to unlock these movements and eventually gain a degree of virtuosity in them through the application of positions and modifications that transferred to the movements themselves.

For example, by applying slow eccentrics or negative reps, I achieved my first full range of motion pull up. For push ups, I applied both slow eccentrics and did push ups off a flight of stairs with my body in an elevated position. This allowed me to shorten the range of motion, while staying in an organized position.

Later, I stalled and plateaued when I was trying to progress to more advanced movements like muscle ups and handstand push ups. I was still experimenting with the same training techniques but stopped being successful because the positions I was moving in lacked stability and consistency.

I was unable to unlock these higher-level movements until I cleaned up my positions.

My progress resumed once I started moving in consistent positions that transferred to higher skills.

Many people get jammed up for the same reasons that I did; they are not moving in positions that transfer to their goals. The most common example of this is push ups. Doing a million push ups on your knees will most likely not transfer to a push up. It will most certainly not transfer to a great push up. This is because the foundational position of a push up, a gymnastics plank or hollow body, can not be obtained from the knees. A better option is performing reps on an elevated surface, like a racked barbell or box. This allows the athlete to develop proficiency in a shape that will lead to increased strength and transfer to more advanced movements.

Another common example is the muscle up. Everyone wants to practice muscle ups without practicing the foundations that will allow them to perform a muscle up safely and efficiently. Most often, athletes struggling to attain a muscle up lack an organized position, inability to create stability on the rings or bar, and especially strength and stability in the dip position. If they were to train the component parts and positions of the muscle up and develop movement from a position of mechanical advantage, they would have more success.

Gaining mastery of your body in space and time is extremely rewarding. It leads to increased autonomy, self-efficacy, and control over external objects. It’s also hard. However, practice becomes easier with adherence to principles. A simple way to assess if you’re training from a principle-based approach is to ask:

“Does the position I’m moving in now transfer to what I am training for?”

If you are interested in furthering your capacity to perform bodyweight movements well, DEUCE has three pertinent offerings:

  1. Our at-home 6-week Pull Up Program can help you unlock a Strict Pullup or hone your ability to do them well.
  2. Gymnastics at our Venice location meets at 6:30pm  on Tuesdays and is included with a membership.

Our General Physical Preparedness (GPP) classes provide exposure to a broad base of movements and modalities and are intelligently programmed to help you increase your overall movement literacy.

3/1/24 WOD

DEUCE Athletics GPP

Complete 4 rounds of the following:
8 1-Arm DB Floor Presess
10 Yates Row
:30 Hanging L-Sit Hold

5 Neutral Grip Pull Ups
10 Hand Release Push Ups
15 Jump Squats



Z-Press From Pins

Complete 3 rounds for quality of:
10 Seated DB Presses
8 Lateral DB Raises
6-8 Strict Hanging Leg Raises

Complete 5 rounds for time of:
4 Chest-to-Bar Pullups
8 Burpee Box Jump Overs
200m Run