Technical Convergence

by Matt Schifferle on January 20, 2015

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Al Kavadlo Push-up

Like many modern fitness enthusiasts, I first approached fitness in a very fragmented way. I used many exercises and different pieces of equipment to work on each separate muscle group with an individual focus. I also had a fragmented approach to conditioning. I had exercises for strength, exercises for endurance, exercises for flexibility, exercises for balance, exercises for rehab, and for muscle activation. I even had the same approach to my diet–individual supplements for protein, fats, carbs, vitamins and minerals.

This approach was like taking a chain and trying to bend each single link at a time.

Matt Shifferle Chain MetaphorAs you can imagine, this approach has some serious disadvantages. While it is possible to emphasize a few choice links, the amount of actual workload you can place on those links is very limited. Compare this with pulling on the whole chain with your entire body, and placing far more total tension on each link.

Matt Schifferle Pulling Diagram

The fragmented approach also uses up a lot of time and energy when starting at one end of the chain and pulling on each link for 5 minutes before progressing. It took a lot of time and energy to work down the entire chain. But, when I started pulling on the entire chain, I got much better results even though my total workout time and personal investment was substantially reduced. If I pulled the whole chain for just 15 minutes, the workout might be shorter but the total time and tension on each link was far greater.

Matt Schifferle Chain Diagram 1

The other disadvantage to my segmented approach was that it caused imbalances to crop up over time. Like many eager young bucks in the gym, I started off wanting to grow bigger and stronger in some areas, like my arms and chest while other muscles like my hips and shoulders were neglected. This also went for certain aspects of my training where I was more interested in things like strength and power but not very interested in balance or flexibility. As a result, I had large imbalances due to less emphasis on certain links in my chain and an over emphasis on others.

Matt Schifferle Chain Diagram 2

These imbalances caused many injuries and progress in my training became almost impossible. I didn’t know it then, but Mother Nature herself was holding me back. Over the years, I’ve learned that Mother Nature doesn’t care if someone is strong, fast and ripped or fat, slow and weak. Her priority is to keep the body in a state of balance or homeostasis. As I strengthened certain links Mother Nature would force me back into homeostasis by causing pain and fatigue. She weakened those strong links to balance them with the weaker ones. Even though this would weaken my entire body, nature’s priority was balance.

Matt Schifferle Chain Diagram 3

When I started with bodyweight training I was suddenly focusing on a more holistic approach that required me to develop all of my links at once. The results were simply astonishing! Pain evaporated like a puddle in the desert. Strength and speed came in waves and sports performance hit all time highs. Because I was pulling on entire chains, my weaker links finally started to get stronger. Now the powerful law of Homeostasis was helping me rather than holding me back. As those weak links became stronger they fell in line with the stronger links and reached that state of balance. Now I was balanced by making weak links stronger instead of forcing strong links to get weaker.

My training was also only taking a fraction of the time and energy compared to my previous approach.

Matt Schifferle Chain Diagram 4

Looking back, I recognize just how technically divergent my training was. Sometimes, I was even trying to limit the involvement of those weaker links! I used various supports and wraps to ensure my weak links were not holding me back. If I was trying to work my biceps, I isolated them and made sure not to use my back and shoulders. I used to think this meant I was really focusing on my goals, but now I realize I was just creating more imbalance and the potential for injury. I was also holding back my stronger links.

Short term sacrifice for long term gain

Using the entire chain is sometimes frustrating for people who are new to Progressive Calisthenics. Most of the time this frustration comes from folks who have built up some links to be stronger than others through fragmented training.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so when many people start to pull on the entire chain they often get feedback from the weaker links. I hear this a lot when someone tells me that we’re doing “triceps push ups.” Or if I coach them to a narrow-stance squat, and they tell me it’s not a leg strengthening exercise but rather a balance exercise.

To a large degree, these individuals are correct because it is a triceps push up or it is a balance exercise because for that individual those are the weak links within their chain. However if they have the discipline to pursue the training long enough they will find that those links become stronger and then the next links will become the priority in their training. When this happens the triceps push up suddenly becomes a shoulder push up and the squat is no longer about balance but maybe more about flexibility or perhaps strength in the the muscles in the front of the shin.

The trick is sticking with the training long enough for the weaker links to catch up. It can take a lot of self control because someone might be focused on feeling their pecs get a pump, or their quads burning that they abandon the full chain exercises for a fragmented approach that easily satisfies the sensation of pumping up those target muscles. The down side is that while pulling on a single link may feel more focused, the long term potential of developing that link is limited.

Here’s a quick example:

Two guys want to get ripped for next summer’s beach vacation. Mr. Push Up can’t get to a gym so he’s stuck doing push ups in his basement. His buddy, Mr. Pec Fly, gets a membership to Bob’s Emporium of Pecs and Biceps and heads straight to the Chest-o-matic 9000 pec machine.

Al and Danny Kavadlo

At first it seems like Mr. Pec Fly has made the right choice. Every week he keeps adding weight to his machine and his chest is looking strong and pumped. Meanwhile, Mr. Push up is still struggling to build his shoulder stability and his triceps seem to be getting more of pump than his chest. However as beach season approaches, Mr. Pec Fly starts to wake up each morning with nagging aches in his right shoulder and can’t lift quite as much weight on the pec fly machine. He starts losing his motivation to train and his results back slide. Meanwhile Mr. Push Up has finally strengthened his weaker links, and now his push ups are pumping up his chest like crazy. Not only that, but his shoulders and triceps are also looking great and he’s sporting a hint of a 4-pack. Mr. Pec Fly wishes he could work his triceps but his sore shoulder won’t let him use any of the push-down machines and he usually skips his abs because he doesn’t have the time and energy at the end of a long workout to do a bunch of core exercises.

By mid-summer Mr. Pec Fly has quit the gym and keeps wearing loose fitting T-shirts while Mr. Push Up keeps looking for excuses to take his shirt off. He not only looks great, but feels great because all of his links are strong and healthy. While Mr. Pec Fly feels like his body is fighting him on every rep, Mr. Push Up senses that his body wants to keep getting stronger. He’s even come to expect progression with every workout! He’s working with his body, not against it.

While the push up is often used as a strength exercise for the chest and arms, it demands the strength of the core, hips and hands. It also requires flexibility in the wrists, stability in the shoulders, plus endurance, breathing, coordination and even awareness of where you are in space. As you progress in your training, you will not only develop more strength and muscle, but the advanced techniques also demand more of these other aspects of your conditioning. Technical convergence is the idea that the level of resistance you can place on a muscle is also directly in proportion to other aspects of your fitness required for you to perform a particular technique.

The technical convergence of progressive calisthenics requires every link to be strong. If any links are weak, they will be strengthened thus enhancing the stress the rest of the links in the chain can endure.

Al Kavadlo Chain Weighted Dips

People often tell me that the great thing about weight lifting is that you can increase resistance simply by placing more weight on the bar or moving a pin on a stack. I used to believe that adjusting the resistance with such ease was great, but my tune has changed. I spent so many years focusing on adding weight to the bar that I couldn’t tell that my technique was actually getting worse. I was technically divergent! Now I think “Yes, you can increase the resistance but you don’t have to improve anything other than your strength.” With bodyweight exercise, you have to earn that resistance, which is a built in safeguard to ensure you can control and use it in the most productive way.

Don’t avoid your weak links, seek them out and give them the love they deserve with the Big Six. They work every tiny link from one end to the other.

Right now, it’s -5 here in Denver but I promise you beach season is right around the corner and your weak links aren’t going to get strong on their own. The clock is ticking!

Tick tock………..

****

Matt Schifferle a.k.a. The Fit Rebel made a switch to calisthenics training 5 years ago in an effort to rehab his weight lifting injuries. Since then he’s been on a personal quest to discover and teach the immense benefits of advanced body weight training. You can find some of his unique bodyweight training methods at RedDeltaProject.com.

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  • FattyWhale

    Fantastic post!

    I don’t know what more I can say, this is one of the best, most accurate articles I’ve ever read. I’ve experienced these exact same problems, and I’ve come to the same conclusions as well. You managed to write all the things that I’m always saying. So… thank you!

    • Matt Schifferle

      Thank you for reading! You’re rock’n the house for learning this stuff on your own. It takes a lot of personal introspection.

  • “I spent so many years focusing on adding weight to the bar that I couldn’t tell that my technique was actually getting worse.”

    I really like that paragraph. I ‘ve never though of it that way.

    Great insights Matt!

    • Matt Schifferle

      Thanks Nick! That technical divergence can be a sneaky thing, just hiding under the radar until it spring up in the form of injury.

  • Charlie Lattimore

    Hi guys I love the articles you write up but I would love to be able to download then as pdf to re-read

    • xgeryx

      You can print it with a pdf writer easily, that’s what I do 😉

    • Hey Charlie, here is what you can do to quickly save any website as pdf:
      1. Get Evernote

      2. Use Evernote Web Clipper or, better, for Chrome use Evernote Clearly

      3. Save the note in Evernote

      4. Either read it as a note or print it to pdf/paper

  • Aaqib

    “When this happens the triceps push up suddenly becomes a shoulder push up and the squat is no longer about balance but maybe more about flexibility or perhaps strength in the the muscles in the front of the shin.”- This is such a great insight, Matt. Had both of these things happen to me on both of these exercises.
    Love reading your stuff. 🙂
    Cheers!

    • Matt Schifferle

      Danka and doomo very much Aaqib! It seems to be more and more of a common occurrence the more I share it with other’s. I wonder what other moves have a similar take. I know the bridges have certainly had various focuses through the years.

  • xgeryx

    Hi Matt, as always awesome article! One question though so what does this new approach leave the TMR with? If I’m right with that you get only three chains worked (push, pull and leg). Thanks a lot for sharing your opinion on this.

    • Matt Schifferle

      Yes you’re right. The T.M.R was designed to be a base program to place a lot of the major mass building muscles under tension for a long time. Adding in things like bridges and planks can help to strengthen up the other links.
      You can also modify some of the moves to involve the other chains as well. Doing pull ups with the knees lifted will also include the anterior chain. It’s even more involved with an L shape pull up with the legs out in front. Prisoner lunges with the hands behind the head and the elbows pulled back are a great way to involve the upper half of the posterior chain as the lunge can take care of the lower half as you pull the front foot under you as your step through in the lunge. Also twisting the upper body at the bottom of a lunge can both work and stretch out the lateral chain to a degree.
      With a little modification you can involve pretty much all of the chains with the pull up, dip and lunge, but don’t feel you have to limit yourself to just those moves. They are meant to be a meat & potatoes type of training and just something to focus on without getting distracted with 101 different exercises.

      • xgeryx

        Thank you Matt for your reply. Indeed TMR is meat & potatoes program but still I love it. Last session I did TMR coupled up with Diesel 20+Joe Hartigen methods, as in Strength exercise first 5,4,3,2,1 reps with 1 min rest in between followed by one or two sets of pumping (lower progression with higher reps) exercise with minimal rest. I’m still sore from Sunday session! Anyways, you’re right, the other chains can be easily involved with TMR, just have to keep it simple don’t complicate things. Although I might start to work on the big 6 again, just not always have the energy and time to do that that’s why I favor TMR nowadays.

  • Angus Tobey

    I really enjoyed that article.

    I started working the Big Six around six months ago, as a way to rehab a wrist injury, I have found that it has not only helped me strengthen my wrist so that I can use it again, but also has worked muscles that I never knew existed. I am still in the very early days, step 2/3 in most exrcises, but every workout I gain something.

    Can’t wait till summer!

    • Matt Schifferle

      That’s the secret Angus! Every workout just a little better than the one before. Step by step those links will become strong and unbreakable!

  • Jakub

    Great article Matt!! After more than half a year I added to my workouts shoulder excercises (headstands/crow and pike pushups) and bridge excercises since I following CC program, but my shoulders start hurt. From what I learned from this article I probably should wait with shoulder and bridge excercises or make excercises easier and decrease volume and start focusing on better form in other excercises Im doing, like pushups and pullups (Im always focusing on form, but maybe I can improve a little here and there) since they strenghtening shoulders too. Shoulder pain is really bothering me a lot lately so I would like to hear your opinion on my thoughts or you can give me some tips, thanks.

    • Matt Schifferle

      Great to hear from ya Jakub and thanks for your question.

      Shoulder pain can come from a number of issues and if you shoot me a vid of your push ups and such I’ll be more than happy to look at it. Just send it to reddeltaproject@gmail.com. Look forward to checking it out!

    • Anonymous

      Probably shoulder impingement, definitely sounds that way.

  • Asatar Bair

    A lot of times the mark of a great insight is that when you read about it, you say, “it’s so obvious.” Nice post, Matt.

    • Matt Schifferle

      Thank you very much for that wonderful insight Asatar 🙂

  • A wonderful article from one of the true calisthenics masters teaching in the world today! The Fit Rebel himself.

    Thanks so much for this, Matt. Next-level thinking, what we have always come to expect from you.

    • Matt Schifferle

      Thank you so much Coach! There is always another level above for those who are willing to look for it. 🙂

  • What a great article mate. This is a must read for anyone who wants to know the benefits of calisthenics vs weightlifting / machine training!

  • dude

    I think this concepts should be trademarked, seriously. I’ve read stuff from you that I haven’t even read from anyone else, even though I’ve spent several hours reading about fitness from very different authors. Stuff like ‘technical erosion’, or ‘adding more external weight is just a way to test your technique’ are things I’ve never forgotten since you explained them the first time. I think all this ‘new vocabulary’ with its inherent concepts should be incorporated in every fitness book and every calisthenic enthusiast vocabulary, rather than craps like ‘no pain no gain’ or ‘pain is weakness leaving the body’ that has become so popular these days and has caused as many injuries.

    Thank you for the fitness revolution, Matt!

    • xgeryx

      or sweat is fat crying? 😀 shiiit

      • Matt Schifferle

        Chuck Noris made fat cry once……..

    • Calisthenics Beast

      Yeah, weighted dips and pullups are amazing exercises, but why do people do them if their form suffers? You see them struggling with their weight, and this could lead to injuries. Your weighted form should look identical to your unweighted, otherwise you are just sacrificing your technique and not getting as string as you could and opening the door to injury.

      • Matt Schifferle

        I know! so well said! It’s funny when I see guys do weighted dips and pull ups and their range of motion is 1/2 of their unweighted version.

    • Matt Schifferle

      Thats so much Dude! I’m looking into publishing my thoughts and ideas at some point, hopefully soon. At this point, I have 3 volumes outlined and one in the finally stages. I’ll keep ya posted!

  • Thanks for this great post, Matt!
    Convergence and the holistic view of fitness is the movement of the human consciousness heading for the future, as we are overcoming a disintegrated and analytic view of the world. I love the way you unite the metaphor of the chain with the connection to mother Nature. You can transfer the amazing things you say to every aspect of life. The right understanding of the convergence in progressive Calisthenics can serve as a fantastic inspiration in order to achieve every goal in life. We, the readers of this article are witnessing at this very place the evolution of exercise!
    Thank you for these enlightening lines, Matt!

    • Matt Schifferle

      Thanks for reading Norman! btw I’m a huge fan of your German culture. My family has a lot of roots in Leonberg and I love it there. Nothing like German beer and brats!

      • …and I´m a huge fan of your American culture! 🙂 You live in Denver, right? Then a big shout out to Colorado from the snowy and cold german hills!

        • Matt Schifferle

          Yep I live right in the foot hills outside of Denver, although today it was 75f so it was more like summer today. We’ll have snow by this weekend though..

  • Antoinette Vo

    Great post, Matt! Intelligent, interesting and educational. Looking forward to more posts like this.

    • Matt Schifferle

      Thank so much Antoinette. Writing this post has sparked a ton of posts and videos I’m going to be making. This idea has spiraled into a whole new way of training. More to come!

  • dannykavadlo

    Matt,
    This article is REALLY. FRIGGIN’. GOOD.
    Seriously, man, I think you outdid yourself with this one. I love it!
    Keep Keepin’ It My Brother,
    -DK

    • Matt Schifferle

      Much appreciated coach!

  • Les Gross

    Phenomenal article, Matt. I hold no bias towards calisthenics over weight training, as I firmly believe maximum strength is achieved using both, and they both have advantages and disadvantages (it may be worth noting that about 75% of my training is calisthenics, however). I do have a bias toward what type of weight training is best, and I believe that sandbag/pea gravel bag is the best and it meshes perfectly with the technical convergence concept. In order to press the bag overhead, I first have to pull it up off the floor and get it up to my chest. It also works well integrating it into calisthenics, such as carrying it on your shoulder while doing walking lunges. It definitely builds the entire chain from the first link to the last.

  • Nick297

    Hey there.

    Really good article, Matt. Makes a lot of sense.

    I like your youtube channel too. You’ve got some unusual and interesting opinions on fitness. You deserve more subscribers there.

  • Paramesvara Dasa

    Great article, Matt. I’ve read a few of your articles, and your writing is really inspiring. I related to what you were saying about strengthening the weak links, because in my own journey through the big six, as I’ve been getting deeply inside horizontal pulls the last couple of months, I’ve found that more of the work is being done by my shoulder blades and upper back than ever before; it’s like the resistance is being transmitted through my upper body more, not just my arms.

    • Matt Schifferle

      Yea, isn’t it crazy how the tension can transfer around the muscles with the same technique? That rowing motion was the same thing I used to finally turn on my rear lets for pull ups. It’s a fantastic way to really hone in on that mind-muscle connection for more advanced pulling calisthenics. Keep on hang’n tight!

  • Paul Bruce

    I’ve been a follower of Matt for a while, and have never been disappointed. This concept of technical converge is brilliant in theory, but you don’t understand its eloquence until you see it actualized in your own training.

  • BrunoU.

    Wow what a great article !!! Encore encore encore !!!

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