Back to Basics: 6 Moves to Master Before Moving Forward

by Eric Buratty on November 4, 2014

Email this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter

Kavadlo Brothers Squat

Everybody wants to go straight to the advanced moves, but ain’t nobody want to make time for getting better at the basics!

Here at PCC, we get it. Your mind was just blown away from someone’s Facebook picture or YouTube video performing some sexy, ninja-like move that you want to try, too. This simply means you’ve been inspired to either try a calisthenics move (which is cool), or convert your training efforts exclusively toward calisthenics all together (even cooler).

But, like everything else people are good at in life, such graceful displays of strength, control and power require a considerable amount of time and practice to master. Not to mention the patience involved will humble anyone who might already have a strong fitness background from other disciplines (e.g., weight training, dancing and yoga).

That said, before moving on to some of the more advanced variations of calisthenics moves, EVERYONE needs to become proficient in the following basic positions.

1. Full-Depth Squat

Eric Buratty Squat

Also known as an “ass-to-grass” squat, this is a basic human resting position that involves maximal bending of your hips and knees. NO ONE has any business loading this movement pattern until they can achieve full range-of-motion with their own bodyweight, and still remain upright from a postural perspective.

Calisthenics Transition: Foundation for Progressing the Squat Chain (i.e., working up towards pistol and shrimp squat variations)
Recommended Practice: Sit in this position for 5-10 minutes daily. The more favorable times to do so are upon waking for the day, before bed, whenever on a rest day and before or after a tough workout. Feel free to shake up social conformity any time you have the opportunity to squat—especially when waiting in line or shopping out in public.

2. Supine Hollow Body

Eric Buratty Supine Hollow Position

The hollow body is the ultimate educator on the principle of whole body tension. A challenging core workout on its own, this position teaches you the principles of progression in all of calisthenics. More specifically, it allows you to feel the effect of lengthening or shortening the body as a lever for resistance, so you can adapt your training on a given day accordingly. Without understanding the principles of progression in calisthenics, you will only be setting yourself up for failure—and even injury.

Calisthenics Transition: Foundation for Precision and Control Required in Handstand, Front/Side/Back Levers
Recommended Practice: Maintain this position for a total of 2 minutes on training days involving handstands, front/back levers and human flags. Use as part of a warm-up, or superset with the aforementioned moves as active recovery during a workout (e.g., 8 sets of 15 seconds, 6 sets of 20 seconds, 4 sets of 30 seconds).

3. Hollow Body Leaning Push-Up Plank

EricBuratty Hollow Leaning Plank PushUp

By “leaning” into a standard push-up position, you’ll reach a higher level of total body tension that forces you to have greater balance and control over your body. The ability to achieve this position also serves as an excellent confidence booster for when you start experimenting with moves that involve less point(s)-of-contact with the ground.

Calisthenics Transition: Foundation for Progressing Midsection Floor Holds (e.g., N/L/V-Sits, Side Planks, Planche, Manna), Inversions and Elbow Levers
Recommended Practice: Use as part of a warm-up on workout days involving midsection floor holds, as a “finisher” on workout days involving push-ups or as active recovery on workout days involving vertical and horizontal pull-ups. Work up to holding this position for a solid 2 minutes without form breakdown.

4. Hollow Body Backbend

Eric Buratty Hollow Body Backbend

When it comes to improving overall mobility, look no further than backwards bending (AKA “bridging”). Insert “do you even backbend?” parody for “do you even lift?” here. Known for its extremely therapeutic benefits on the muscles and tendons of the entire body, you can further enhance the quality of this position by putting the lower body into as much extension as possible and concentrating on pushing the shoulders past the hands. What you’re left with is a more “hollowed” version in the basic family of bridging that opens new doors for achieving stronger three-limb holds, geckos, stand-to-stands, walkovers and eventually, arched “Mexican” handstands.

Calisthenics Transition: Foundation for Progressing Handstands
Recommended Practice: Work up to holding this position for at least a solid minute after every workout you do. Given the powerful stretch that occurs in common problem areas for Americans from performing this movement (i.e., spine, shoulders and hips), you might even want to start devoting an entire training session to bridging throughout the week.

5. Hollow Body Dead Bar Hang

Eric Buratty Dead Hang Hollow

Similar to the full-depth squat mentioned above, passive hanging is another type of human resting position. When you take the passive hang one step further and connect the scapular muscles with the rest of the body, you’re left with this active hang that’s visually appealing and graceful. This happens to be one of the best positions for activating the core, as it decompresses the entire spine and puts the shoulders into a healthy stretched position with straight arms. With consistent practice of this deceptively challenging hang, you might “accidentally” become stronger at pull-ups AND start revealing your Diamond-Cut Abs.

Calisthenics Transition: Foundation for Progressing Pull-Up Chain & Leg Raise Chain
Recommended Practice: Hang from any straight bar (or any freestanding object for that matter) that allows you to put your body into a fully extended, hollow position, and maintain the position for a total of 1-2 minutes daily. This can either be done before or after a workout to facilitate warm-ups and cool downs—or as a nice complement to an active recovery day away from your regular training.

6. Hollow Body Bar Support

Eric Buratty Hollow Bar Support

As with the other “hollow” positions above, you’re pretty much forced into a state of total body tension with the bar support—which will lead to stronger reps on any related movement you’re preparing to train. In this instance, the ability to support yourself over a bar in a straight arms, locked out, elbows forward position is definitely a good indicator that you’re ready to reach the top of the dipping chain and beyond. Who ELSE is ready to work towards their first straight-bar muscle-up?!

Calisthenics Transition: Foundation for Progressing Straight Bar Dips & Top of Dipping Chain (i.e., Muscle-Up)
Recommended Practice: Use as part of a warm-up on workout days involving the dipping chain—or as active recovery on workout days involving vertical and horizontal pull-ups. Work up to holding this position for a solid minute at a time without form breakdown.

In no particular order, there you have six positions to master before you get slammed in the face with a serious slice of humble pie.

Why do we want to emphasize these isometric positions before worrying about reps and transitions anyway?

Simply put, it’s so we know where our body is in free space and when its position changes. That way, when we reflect on those workout days where our bodies felt ginormously heavier, we might be able to identify which positions felt strong and which ones felt stronger, so we know where to improve on next time.

I’ll end with one of my favorite training-related quotes which comes from Gymnastics Coach Christopher Sommer: “Save the nonsense. Bad form simply means bad attitude. Plain and simple. It means that you did not care enough to do it right.”

To acknowledge this quote from a PCC standpoint, always focus on becoming stronger than yesterday but not as strong as tomorrow! 😉

***
Eric Buratty brings five years of experience to the DC Metro Area as a Certified Personal Trainer, Progressive Calisthenics Instructor, Nutrition Consultant and Sports Injury Specialist.
For more information about Eric, check out his website, EricBurattyFitness.com.

Print Friendly
  • jpujjayi

    excellent observations and ‘suggestions’… i think,, (true for me), the older we get the more fascinating these basic postures become… breath, alignment, and concentration will create form… on to the next.!! jim perry

    • Eric Buratty

      Jim,

      Your comment would make an excellent article idea in its own right–comparing the level of appreciation across generations for these foundation positions as it relates to breathing, alignment and concentration during a given workout. Always be in the moment. Continue embracing the subtleties that make you feel stronger than your last workout!

      Thanks for reading!!

  • Very informative!

    The hollow body is really the most important things someone can learn in regards to bodyweight training. This is the foundation of almost all skills. I hope I was aware of it when I started training.

    • Eric Buratty

      I couldn’t agree more, Nick!

      If you weren’t aware of it at the beginning, you most definitely are now!

      Glad you found this informative and keep following the hollow 🙂

  • Matt Schifferle

    Control control you must learn control! Says Master Yoda. These moves are great how they really tech that control. Back when I first started calisthenics I though my legs were strong yet that fUllman depth squat was almost impossible for me. Once I made it a staple so many of those aches and pains just disappeared. It trule is an essential part of moving the human body.

    Thanks for the post Eric. You da man!

    • Eric Buratty

      No, Matt, YOU da man. Owning a movement or position under ANY tempo is truly the gateway to owning that movement or position. Controlling the tempo builds the strong foundation we like to see someone display at PCC, then exploding with the tempo takes things to a whole new level.

      Thanks for reading and so glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Asatar Bair

    Great article. You have an amazing backbend, sir!

    • Eric Buratty

      Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words, Asatar!

  • Nice work, Eric – I’m a huge fan of the basics and you’ve really outlined why everyone should be as well! 🙂 POWERFUL stuff!

    • Eric Buratty

      Thank you, Adrienne. Agree . . . the value of basics can never be overlooked! 🙂

  • Will

    Great article. I have trouble with bridges and I haven’t found a comfortable progression to complete a full back bridge. What would you suggest is the best way to devote an entire training session for someone that doesn’t have that advanced flexibility? Thanks again for the article.

    • Eric Buratty

      Apologies, Will. I had a VERY nice reply typed up that didn’t go through for some reason.

      • Will

        Thanks for your reply Eric. That is extremely helpful!

    • Eric Buratty

      Not going to try and rewrite what I had now–but here’s the executive summary of what I recommended for an entire session:

      *I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a warm spine before even practicing any variation of the backbend.

      *For someone in your situation with limited spinal flexibility, I’d recommend they warm up through a series of crab walks (frontwards, backwards, sideways left/right) and crab reaches (see Mike Fitch demonstrate this in the link below).

      *Perform a superset of isometric table top bridges and a flow of crab reaches against a wall for your main workout (see my demonstration in second video below from the floor for example–except you’ll be doing this against a wall)

      *Finish your workout with some attempts at going into a full, arms locked out, back bridge when the time is right. Cool down with some diaphragmatic breathing.

      *Don’t forget to check out the progressions outlined in Paul Wade’s Convict Conditioning and Al Kavadlo’s Pushing the Limits if you haven’t yet–as these resources contain some helpful steps like pushing up into a bridge with your feet elevated on an object and wall crawls (see links to these Dragon Door book products throughout article).

      Crab Reach —> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKuKpDVQ-lY&t=2m22s

  • Mohammed

    Thank you for writing this article, Eric. I did not know of many of these holds before.

    One question: when you say hollow body, do you mean I pull in my stomach and forcefully exhale all the air in my lungs? So, in the case of, say, the dead bar hang, I’d get in the position, pull my stomach in using my transversus, exhale all the air in my lungs and then take shallow breaths while in the position. Is this correct?

    “Feel free to shake up social conformity any time you have the
    opportunity to squat—especially when waiting in line or shopping out in
    public.”
    I’m all for some occasional social inconformity! I just wish I had the guts/was less self conscious to do these things! One dream of mine: go into a posh restaurant and eat with my (freshly washed) hands. I doubt I’ll ever get to do this but hey, let’s keep the dream alive!

    Mohammed

    • Eric Buratty

      Thank YOU for taking some time to read through the article, and fully absorb the message I’m conveying.

      As for achieving the hollow body positioning, you’re essentially bracing your ENTIRE core and body. This includes the upper back muscles, lower back muscles, psoas muscle, and of course, your abdominal region. To feel what is required to achieve this position, I HIGHLY recommend performing this on the ground or floor first before going to the dead bar hang. There should be NO SPACE between your low back and the ground or floor beneath you if you are doing this effectively. Hope this makes sense.

      The sooner you realize that dream, the sooner other people can will realizing that they can stay healthy and fit when time and equipment restricted! 😉

      • Mohammed

        Thank you for your help, Eric!

        Mohammed

    • Eric Buratty

      Hey Mohammed,

      I replied below with the approach I’d take for someone in your situation. After reviewing Colin’s feedback above, I’d like to also suggest that you read through his observations from performing passive hanging.

      Cheers!

      –Eric

  • kiwikidaus

    Hi Eric,
    Thanks for the info and good article. I have been passive hanging every day for three weeks now as I was struggling with chin ups. It started out as I wanted to increase my grip strength, which was pathetic. I worked up from 5 reps of 30 second holds with a 1 min rest between to now 5 reps of 1 min hold with 1min 30 sec rest between. Threw in a 15 sec one arm hold at the end of the set this week. Most notable thing is flared lats, shoulders pulled back and raised (as i used to have drooped and rounded) chest pushed out, waist narrower, abs flatter, serratus now showing, more upright when walking. My grip strength has well and truly increased. The thing with passive hanging is you can actually fully stretch your body out while hanging there. I did this for 3 weeks and believe this is why i have physically developed so quickly. I concentrated on pushing the feet down and flattening the back,abs as much as possible. This week I started the hang by holding and letting the grip strength of hands transmit down through my arms and into my scapula, basically tensing and working the upper back. Holding this position gives you a good workout in that area. I am working on the theory that chin ups should exsclusively use the big lat muscles rather than the small biceps, which is what I have been doing and see so many other guys and girls using. I researched bats and apes and how they hold onto branches and pull themselves up, all grip strength and lat work.
    Thanks for the info on the other passive exercises too, I will be sure to start using them.
    Regards,
    Colin

    • Eric Buratty

      Hey Colin,

      Thanks for all your comments! It’s EXCELLENT that you’ve been able to remain so aware of your body, and simply be in the moment with your movement. There’s A LOT more going on than what appears to the naked eye for sure!!

      P.S. — I’m also going to reply back to Mohammed below, and suggest he read through your comments.

    • Matthew

      Hi Kiwikidaus and Eric. Excellent article and comments. Can I ask, when you do the dead bar hang, do you let your shoulders rise up to your ears or do you pull them down and back ( I believe they call it “packing the shoulders”)?

      • kiwikidaus

        Hi Matt, Im no expert on this as its all trial and error from my part but I figure thats how we learn best…In the beginning 3 weeks I just let the full weight of my body hang, so my shoulders were well up around my ears. I even tried to get them higher as this allowed for good neck relaxation and better positioning of the neck I found. This gave me time to concentrate primarily on my grip, which is what I set out to do. Also, this allowed me to stretch out. I really focused on imagining I was raising my hands/arms up, above and back from the bar while I pushed my feet down but with flat feet not pointed toes. Interestingly it made the grip/hold easier. After 3 weeks I started with a more tensed position, pulling the shoulders down using the lats. You can really feel it all the way down the lats, mid and lower back when you do this eh, as if I was starting a pull up (packing) as you say I guess but I focused on keeping the elbows locked and not using any arm power other than grip, which is hard if you have been primarily using biceps for pull ups like me. This week, 4, I started on handstands as a reverse exercise after doing the hanging, just to mix it up. Seems to work well too. Hope that answered your questioned??

        • Matthew

          Thanks so much! Really useful reply! Very interested in your posture improvements. That would be my main reason for doing the hangs. How long was it before you noticed an improvement?

          • kiwikidaus

            Hi Matt, Iv been doing this exercise everyday for 3 weeks and am into my 4th week. I have not been training anything else during that period, mainly due to time constraints. Im only spending 10 mins each day doing this. It really is a powerful exercise though. Just play around with it initially, you will quickly get a feel for what is working in your body.

    • Mohammed

      Thank you for sharing your experiences, Colin!

      Mohammed

  • Awesome post Eric! Some amazing techniques in here, man: you have a real interesting take on bodyweight: I for one would love to see more from you and I believe I speak for the PCC community when I say that. Also, that is one helluva bridge you built there, son.

    I wish you’d mentioned the hollow body position somewhere, but hey.

    • Eric Buratty

      Glad this content was up to par with your standards, Coach!
      I’m also happy to contribute more in the future.

      Last but not least, what’s a hollow body? You are too funny.

    • martymonster

      Totally agree on that Bridge posture! Seriously awesome, it’s inspirational. I’m still working on Closing Bridges, which is a nice way of saying I’m trying to fall over backwards onto a stack of aerobic step platforms. I’m not hitting them as hard as I used too! I’m planning to reduce the stack to two steps tonight and start hitting it hard again.

      • Eric Buratty

        Dropping back is one of my favorite ways to go into a bridge.
        Definitely a cool feeling when you get it . . . stay focused, and keep bringing those hips forward when falling back! Allowing the heels to come off the floor and slightly point your toes outward are also good cues.

        • martymonster

          I started bridging about two years ago. I had to start right back at short bridges and then work through all the stages. I’ve totally enjoyed the motion, its been a revelation. So thanks to Coach Wade and yourself for all the pointers.
          Also I was hitting the two steps hard last night, but by the end of third set I was just starting to feel the control come back. Another month or two!

  • Philip Ng

    Great Articles Eric.

    What is your advice
    for someone like me who has left knee meniscus removed and cannot execute full
    squat but WANT to be able to execute pistol

    • Eric Buratty

      Thanks for your positive feedback and question, Philip.

      In terms of being able to successfully execute a pistol, you’ll need to consider which stage of the recovery process you’re in from your meniscus procedure, as well as determine whether you sustained most of your meniscus damage in the peripheral or avascular region.

      There is no substitute for going through the progressions in the squat chain for anyone, but I can tell you that your journey to the pistol will be much smoother if sustained more peripheral meniscus damage–rather than avascular which leads to slower recovery.

      In any case, you can further facilitate a smoother recovery by having your A-Game on with your eating and sleeping habits. I know this will seem like common sense, but we must be honest with ourselves here in acknowledging the bigger picture. Stick to anti-inflammatory food choices–such as protein and fat sources rich in omega-3s and then lots of green veggies especially–hydrate well and get at least six hours of quality sleep per night.

      Finally, as far as getting lots of blood flow to your lower extremities during training, you’ll highly benefit from hinging, hip extension and core moves.
      More specifically, I’d suggest devoting some time toward single-leg deadlifts for reps or held isometrically, leg raises from the floor or hanging from a bar depending on your current abilities and various plank positions that involve elevating one limb at a time for an isometric work set.

      Stay patient and positive with your calisthenics practice. The full squat must come first = no short cuts.

      Hope this makes sense,

      Eric

  • Whoa this is a really cool article, Eric!

    I love how you give practical tips on how to implement those moves in a regular workout.

    I hope to hear more from you soon!

    • Eric Buratty

      Thanks for the positive feedback and support, Silvio.

      You will most definitely see more from me in the near future!

  • Dan Earthquake

    Basic is often mistaken by some to be left behind as soon as possible, which you’ve properly highlighted to be a mistake. Eric, I’d like to suggest some assistance with the basics which could help those who who are heavy, new or have injuries to consider. I am heavy & have had some injuries in the past & discovered there is a lot to be done in a swimming pool. I use the shallow water to do pistols – keep arms out of the water – & move as slowly as I can. Dips/pull ups on the side/corner can also be done slowly & the pool furniture – handrails & steps – are ideal for other basic isometric holds. It’s fun too. The injury I was rehabilitating is a long way behind now, but I still do a weekly set in the pool because I’ve found it to be a good variation.

Previous post:

Next post: