Calisthenics meets Mobility
As flexible as a little monkey, as strong as a gorilla
Monique König and Leon Staege’s aim is to make everyday athletes and CrossFitters alike strong, mobile and pain-free.
They’ll describe the symbiosis of power and mobility and explain what trainers should consider.
The three fundamental aspects of the symbiosis of power and mobility are isolation, integration and improvisation. If the training is built on these three aspects, the probability of an injury decreases and performance improves – as does mobility and the calisthenics movements.
What do we mean by calisthenics?
“Calisthenics” can be described as modern-day gymnastics. Coming from the Bronx and considered an urban sport, calisthenics is often understood to be a “street sport”. The sport involves nothing more than strength training with one’s own body weight against gravity using the natural levers (arms and legs). Modifying the use of the arms and legs lets us vary the level of difficulty of the exercises. Calisthenics thus combines static and dynamic gymnastics exercises, including pull-ups, push-ups, dips, handstands, back lever/front lever exercises and muscle-ups.
Why, then, is the symbiosis of calisthenics and mobility so well suited both for experienced CrossFitters and for those re-entering the sport?
It’s very simple: exercises can be adjusted easily for any performance level; the technique and controlled execution of the exercise play a big role. Another focus is on mobility – all steps that lead to a healthy body.
Step 1: Isolation
Isolation forms the basis for the “Calisthenics meets Mobility” training approach. In a mobility context, this is understood to mean the ability to control the joints in isolation (without evasive movements of neighbouring joints). The most important joints are the ankle; knee; hip; lumbar, thoracic and cervical spine; elbow; wrist; and shoulder. If a joint can’t be activated, the muscular system will, sooner or later, restrict the joint’s range of motion because the nervous system doesn’t have enough information about the mobility of this joint in motion, which leads to the movements being classified as unsafe for the time being. The non-use of the full ROM can even lead to the calcification of the joint in old age. A movement like a pull-up is also made up of many components. In terms of isolation, this refers to the ability to activate the musculature that determines the movement (latissimus dorsi muscle, rotator cuff, rhomboid muscle, etc.). Plus, partial exercise requirements, such as boosting pulling force in general, are trained in isolation. An elementary component in this regard are exercises such as rowing in the rings that should also be a part of any CrossFit workout, before they’re integrated into the partial movements, specifically the sequence of movements of a complete pull-up. Furthermore, the isolation component – in calisthenics, the sticking points (= weaknesses of the movement pattern) – has to be perfected, and weaknesses in the shoulder girdle, in grip strength or in the core have to be specifically targeted.
Concept for joint control
What does isolated joint activation look like? What are some peculiarities? This is where the concept of “Controlled Articular Rotations” (CARs) comes into play. The most complete movement a joint can make is basically a 360° circle. Take the neck, for example. From a purely anatomical point of view, the neck, i.e. the cervical spine, consists of the intervertebral joints of the cervical vertebrae: the facet joints. They’re also referred to as a gliding joint. Functionally, this joint can only complete one rotation (looking left and looking right) and one side tilt (moving the ear toward the shoulder). Pure circular movement is reserved exclusively for the shoulder joint (articulatio humeri), which is a ball joint.
This anatomical viewpoint is used for lots of movements. The good news is that each joint position is trainable. With regular mobility training and isolated joint activation, movements are internalised, and the nervous system gets the security it needs to control the amount of movement.
Putting the spine and shoulder right
With many customers, the cause of the lack of sensitivity of the spine is a daily life dominated by long-term sitting. The permanent pressure and lack of activation of the structures lead to a loss of control, which, in turn, inhibits mobility. That said, strength can also be significantly reduced. Among other things, the still relatively little-studied arthrokinetic reflex describes a loss of strength due to excessively compressed joints. The solution for a compressed spine, besides activation, is relatively simple: hang, hang, hang! Two to five times a day, if you can. Hanging from a bar is like a free chiropractic treatment. Plus, hanging is very good for the shoulder. Trainers should be aware that shoulder movements usually result from the mixed movements of the upper arm and the shoulder blade. For isolation training, that means that two different exercises should be performed for the shoulder: one exercise that’s primarily focussed on the arm, and one exercise that primarily moves through the shoulder blade positions (elevation, depression, protraction and retraction).
Step 2: Integration of the joints
Once the foundation is laid, it’s time to move on to integration, which comprises all mobility exercises that require more than two joints at the same time. The goal is to become resistant to various movements that are repetitively executed in everyday life and in sport. Integrative mobility exercises specifically target weak spots or can be used as a warm-up. Breathing should be consciously integrated here, as well. One example of an integrative mobility exercise is the “World’s Greatest Stretch”.
Step 3: Improvisation
A lot of people think that mobility training can get you mobile quickly, the same way one builds muscle or strength. This (alas) is a fallacy; it isn’t so. The muscles’ ability to regenerate through good blood circulation is significantly higher than that of tendons or joint structures. That’s why a lot of patience is needed. By contrast, the adaptations of the nervous system to a new range of motion take place very quickly – the connective tissue, in turn, takes longer to get used to a ROM. The whole concept of “being pain-free” is similar. If one expects that pain will vanish into thin air thanks to just one exercise, one might be hoping for a long time – although it’s definitely possible! Pain, after all, is often a symptom that’s caused by a long chain of processes. That’s why integration means being able to perform each exercise and every movement without restriction of the tissue (initially through the nervous system) and to train in different movement levels and variations, including, for example, archer pull-ups, one-arm pull-ups, muscle-ups and skills such as a handstand.
As mobile as a little monkey, as strong as a gorilla
Combined, calisthenics and mobility are a perfect “movement” for getting experienced athletes and beginners into overall great shape, pain-free, flexible and strong. The upshot of the positive effects of resistance training and the active mobilisation of your joints using your own body weight: an improved body awareness and more strength in the ultimate range of motion. One thing to emphasise once more here: if you don’t have the necessary foundation of isolation and integration, you’ll massively increase your risk of injury.