In Gymnastics/Tumbling, Videos

April 16, 2010

Video Article

Leif Edmundson and Hollis Molloy from CrossFit Santa Cruz looked at the cost of new gymnastics parallel bars (approximately $2,500 plus shipping) and decided to make their own. Less than $500 and a couple of days later, the gym had functional P-bars.

Tony Budding talks with Leif at the end of the first day of a Coaches Prep Course. Leif gives a brief overview of how he and Hollis made the bars and how they’re used at the gym. Tony then grabs two of the participants, both of whom were gymnasts as teens but had never played on the P-bars. He takes them through some very basic moves that are manageable but not as easy as they look.

In its most basic function, gymnastics is the art of controlling your own body in three-dimensional space. Supports, swings and inversions on the P-bars test that control in ways standard CrossFit movements can’t.

Tony has no formal training in gymnastics and isn’t trying to create gymnasts. Instead, these videos show that anyone can (and should) benefit from playing with basic gymnastics movements.

Part 1: 9min 43sec
Part 2: 10min 52sec

Additional reading: Gymnastics & Tumbling by Greg Glassman, a review and reprint of the gymnastics manual originally published by the U.S. Navy in 1944.



13 Comments on “Playing on the Parallel Bars”


wrote …

The links are not working for me, although my internet has been doing strange things lately so it could be a problem on my end...


wrote …

Hi, Matt.

I just confirmed that the links are good on our end.

Good luck!

CrossFit Journal


wrote …

Hey Matt and Mike,

I found the links were working. I just viewed both videos.


wrote …

While parallel bar swing to HS isn't always a staple in preparing girls to swing or cast to HS on bars, it is used by some coaches as is dipping and traversing the parallel bars forward and backward.

One coach once told me his rule of thumb before introducing beginning swings on PB was a 10s support hold. Longer of course is better.

While learning to swing with a straight body is important, all types of gymnastics swing involve changing from a tight arch to hollow to generate momentum (position change). It is similar toward the arch>hollow swing in the CF kipping pullup.

As for spotting swing to HS, it's much easier to control it from the side by holding on to the upper arm on the tricep.

- you need to be close enough to the gymnast to spot the hips. However, they probably don't want your crotch in their face nor do you want to get kicked in the privates.


wrote …

As an ex-competitive gymnast and coach, I love seeing CrossFit trying to incorporate parts of the sport into training. I really believe gymnastics has one of the greatest carryover effects to CrossFit and that practicing the basic elements can be truly beneficial to everyone. But gymnastics requires more coordination than almost any other physical endeavor and is therefore complex both to learn and to teach. We really need a subject matter expert in this case.

Both girls pretty much had the right idea when they first jumped on the apparatus. Slight hollow in the front, very small arch through the bottom, and then hollow again in the back. There should not be any piking, but a completely straight and rigid body is inefficient and unnecessary.

However, the front of the swing should definitely not be arched as the girl was instructed to do in the second part of the video. The back of the swing needs to be slightly hollow as well; the feet should certainly not lead the movement. You have no control in this position, and if you actually get to handstand it is very unlikely you will be able to hold it. She was obviously confused when told to imagine doing a front handspring and then immediately after that she was arching too much. These are completely contradictory ideas. The fact is that emulating a front handspring was the exact opposite of what she needed to do. On the floor exercise, that move requires a very tight arch and violently driving through the heels to generate power for the next move. That is why she corrected him saying it was "like a handspring on the vault" which is a warm-up where you can maintain a hollow position because of the extra height.

I don't know what the dipping during the swings was about. I have never seen anyone consciously shrug their shoulders when performing swings in my 10 years in competition. That is not where one generates power and looks pretty awkward to me. Some of the other drills like walking forward and backward and the upside-down stuff looked good though. I am just glad they wizened up halfway through and put a mat down. It's pretty common for inexperienced people to fall backward in the front of a high swing, and the coaches were providing no spot whatsoever during this movement.

It was a good attempt and the intentions were great, but next time let's get someone experienced like Tucker out there before we spread some misinformed and potentially dangerous information to the masses.


wrote …

Great article. Intrigued by the p-bars. What type of clamps are they holding the bars to the wood? Where can they be purchased and what is their name? Any info would greatly appreciated. Thnx John


wrote …

John, the clamps we used are made by a company called Kee Klamp and are made for holding handrails, but there are many similar options out there. Most good hardware/lumber stores have some kind of option for handrail fittings. We also used a few Simpson Strong Tie's to reinforce the frame. Good Luck.


replied to comment from Kevin Simons

Your points are well taken. My gymnastics instruction is far from refined and ideal. But I think you have misunderstood the purpose and core intent of the video. If everyone had a great gymnastics coach around, we'd all be stoked. Same with a great swimming coach, or Oly coach. But CrossFitters need to play with basic gymnastics movements (and swimming, biking, sports, Oly lifting etc) even if they don't have a great coach around. There is so much to be gained from just trying different things.

Here are three more arguments in opposition:
"But gymnastics is dangerous and you could hurt yourself if you don't do it right."
"But if you start with bad habits, you'll have to spend twice the effort to undo them."
"If you don't get the basics right, you can't progress to the more complex gymnastics movements."

All of these are right and completely wrong at the same time. If you have access to great instruction, take it! If you don't, still keep playing.

We'll get more and higher quality instruction put in the Journal for sure. But please, please, please, keep trying out these basic movements. Use common sense, but don't set the bar so high that you never start.


wrote …

Kevin, there is an old article in the CFJ by Roger Harrell, covering Parallel Bar swing and another covering other types of apparatus swing.

I do not teach the shrug, active as part of the swing. Notice how it tampered with the natural rhythm of the gymnasts that they had figured out in the swing. It's there but we don't really need to talk about it. Then again I deal with kids, so it's not worth talking about versus showing.

I teach the front of the swing as a slight hollow that swings through the shoulders. However, I have seen some high level coaches advocating on a tight arch from the front to back or vice versa pushing the hips forward. It is more of a cue that gets the athlete to have stretched hips.

To create acceleration in the backward phase of the swing, there has to have the heels driving back but the body will snap to a hollow at the peak of the swing. This is important when swinging to HS so you don't over-rotate. Eventually in advanced PB swing, the body is basically straight but we need to teach beginning gymnasts how to develop swing in a Gross Motor Movement manner before refining it over time.

As well in front toss and such, the heels will accelerate through the back swing.


wrote …

Hey Tony, thanks for responding to my comment. I am a huge fan of what you and HQ are doing for the fitness community. Years ago before CrossFit was so ubiquitous, I remember trying to find a pair of rings for my garage. It was just about impossible. Now there are tons of vendors and rings are almost commonplace. Things are definitely moving in the right direction!

I totally agree with the take home message that people should play around with the basic gymnastic elements. Most adults haven't even been upside-down since the playground days. It's really sad that so many have forgotten that element of play, and I commend you for reintroducing it into so many people's lives. But just like the Oly lifts are a lot more fun when we learn the proper technique and start putting more weight on the bar, gymnastics play is even better when we can do harder moves. And that takes a bit of proper instruction.

The Journal has been a great resource of information in a lot of areas. I am really looking forward to future updates in the gymnastics section as well. Thanks again!



replied to comment from Leif Edmundson

Thank you for sharing your design. Could you please tell me what size and type of pipe that you used?

Thank you kindly,


replied to comment from ken brown

Ken, for the bars we used an inch and a half galvanized pipe.


wrote …

I'm curious to know the angle you cut the top/inside of the wood post.

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