Power Monkey Fitness | Level Up Your Gymnastics Skills w/ David Durante
“It can’t be stated enough how important body awareness is to truly appreciate what your body is supposed to be doing within the movement. There’s normally an enormous disconnect between what someone thinks is happening versus what it actually looks like.” - David Durante
In this episode, we talk about:
Gaining the ability to move your body at will through the movement as opposed to the movement moving you.
Breaking down movements into finer components using the four phases of movement
Should prep, wrist, and elbow health
And most importantly I think Dave brings a passionate perspective to gymnastics for CrossFitters. I’m sure you will walk away with a whole new appreciation for the way your body moves.
Background in gymnastics (1:50)
Tapping into the CrossFit world (3:33)
Origins and evolution of Power Monkey Fitness (5:00)
What is the “Ring Thing” aka the Dream Machine? (6:35)
Breaking down movements into finer components (7:50)
Preferred scaling options for HSPU in a daily class setting (9:37)
Leveling up progressions to push advanced athletes (12:35)
Hierarchy of movement: Four Phases (13:45)
Challenging advanced athletes in areas they don’t see in CF workouts (15:15)
Approaching flexibility w/ consistency (15:55)
Core work beginning with two vital positions (17:17)
Role of eccentric and isometric strength in gymnastics for CF (18:10)
The missing link of body awareness (19:12)
Why using video for gymnastics is extremely valuable (20:00)
General time frame it takes to see improvement (21:55)
General Physical Preparedness for gymnastics (23:45)
What does the transfer look like in Oly lifts, Power lifts, and metcons? (26:00)
Most common injuries in gymnastics vs gymnastics in CF (27:45)
Should health, prep, warm-up (29:18)
Wrist & elbow pain from gymnastics (31:41)
Biggest influences (34:00)
Summer camp for adults (37:47)
Something Dave doesn’t get asked enough (42:10)
15-minute routine to help your body be more capable for anything you will require of it (44:00)
Coach Greg Glassman
Resources we may have talked about:
Core Work videos
Theraband Shoulder Warm-Up Sequence
Theraband Resistance Bands
15-minute routine (Core, Flexibility, Handstands)
How you can connect with Dave:
Hey guys, this is Dave Duranti and you're listening to the airborne mind show.
Hey guys, Misbah Haque, here today, be
Talking with David Duranti of Howler monkey fitness. He is currently running the power monkey camp in Tennessee, which I'm sure you've heard a lot about if not, he's going to dive into a little bit about that in this episode, but we're also going to be talking about how you can level up your gymnastic skills. So whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced athlete, we're going to be talking about breaking down movements into finer components using Dave's four phases of movement and how that applies to each of those levels. We're going to be talking about gaining the ability to move your body at will through the movement, as opposed to the movement moving you. We're also going to chat about shoulder prep, wrist, and elbow health to prevent injuries. And most importantly, I think Dave brings a very passionate perspective to gymnastics for CrossFitters. I'm sure you're going to walk away with a whole new appreciation about the way your body moves. So before we get started head over to the airborne mind.com to sign up for your weekly athlete digest, we also chat a lot about certain videos that we might be referencing that is at power monkey, fitness.com, but I've also taken that and link them up in the show notes, which you can check out at the airborne mine.com as well. So with that being said, please enjoy Dave. Welcome to the show, man.
Thanks, man. I appreciate you having me on. Yeah. So
For those who may not know, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in gymnastics.
Sure, sure. I'll try to keep it brief. I grew up in New Jersey on the East coast. Grew up doing a ton of different sports. Gymnastics is the one that kind of stuck. I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to Stanford university out on the West coast in California. I moved from the East to the West. I went to Stanford for, I was on the team for four years. I stuck around for a fifth year while I continued to train. I just missed out on the Athens Olympic team. And from there move to the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs. I lived there for four and a half years from 2004 through to 2008. And during that time I was a national champion a few times and all around and a couple of different events. I was on a few world championship teams was part of the Olympic team in 2000, 2008, then went over to Beijing.
I was the alternate for that team. And then after I retired after Beijing, I moved back to Stanford and hope coach, a team to a national championship in 2009, which was the first one in 14 years. And after that I moved to Italy. I moved to Europe, I'm Italian citizen, and I moved to Italy for a couple of years where I coached a little bit at some local gyms in Rome and then moved back and I've held a position with USA gymnastics where I'm the athlete representative and a member of the USA Gymnastics board of directors, as well as with the us Olympic committee. I am a, the athlete representative for both the men's and the women's team with USA gymnastics I'm with the Olympic committee. And I am also on the selection committee for the Olympic team and for world championship teams with USA gymnastics men's team. So I stay pretty active on the gymnastics even afterward.
Yeah. What a journey, man. That's awesome. So how did you kind of get into CrossFit or working with CrossFitters and just kind of tap into that world?
Sure. So after I retired I moved back to Sanford. Like I mentioned, it was coaching team and I was just trying to stay in shape, figure out what I wanted to do next after retiring. And I started doing my own circuit training similar to what we would do in a regular gymnastics world. And I kind of got a little bit bored with the same routine I was doing over and over into in the gym, waiting for the guys to come in and train. And I kind of went online and I found CrossFit and I was like, you know, this is what I want to be doing. This is kind of right up my alley. And fortunately one of my buddies had just opened up a garage gym and he was kind of training people out of his garage and was still kind of in the early days across it, this is the end of 2008 and kind of picked up from there and slowly snowballed into me saying, Hey, you know what, there's some information out there that I think I have that people would kind of would be useful for other people.
So I and Chad Vaughn started doing dual weightlifting and gymnastics seminars. I don't know how much you know about Chad, but Chad was pretty active in the CrossFit world as well on two-time Olympian in the Olympic weightlifting world. And and then me and Chad started doing those for a couple of years and it kind of snowballed into something bigger and bigger CrossFit called up and asked if I wanted to kind of help out with some of their media stuff and break down some technique for them. So I went out to Santa Cruz and shot some videos for them and help to guide some of their higher-level athletes through some movements. And then yeah, it got bigger and bigger. And then I moved into the power monkey stuff. Yeah.
Cool. Well so tell us a little bit more about power monkey and kind of how that came about and what you guys are up to now. There's lots of stuff going on, you're doing clinics, camps, programming, all that good stuff.
Yeah. Was a lot of stuff. So just again, I'll try and keep it brief. It is a lot of info, but caramel Keith was an existing company out of Florida, kind of a mom-and-pop shop that were making equipment. They were making kind of rigs and some other things. And my partner Shane and I asked Shane was a high level gymnast himself. And it's now stuntmen in Hollywood and much of TV shows out here in New York. And we had an idea for a ring training device. It's a, it's a device that we kind of use in the gymnastics world quite a bit, but normally you just go to kind of a hardware store, put a bunch of crap together and you know, try to use it as a training tool. And we wanted to make one that was a little bit more high-end that was more appropriate for what we were seeing in the CrossFit world.
And we shot the idea around a bunch of different manufacturers and power monkey was the one that showed the most interest. And that was our ring thing. And a ring thing is kind of our biggest item that we sell on the product side. And so it became more involved with power monkey from there, and they liked our ideas and they brought us on as partners. And then about two years ago, Shane and I bought them out and we became sole owners of the company and kind of moved it into a more gymnastics and you know, general body awareness, body fitness type, type of a company. And from there, we kind of broke it into three pillars, the equipment side, the events side, and the education side.
Very cool. Tell me a little bit more about the rank thing.
Yeah. The ring thing is a so in the gymnastics world, if you go around any especially male gymnasts, you'd probably hear them calling a dream machine. Dream machine is kind of what we call it in our world. And it basically allows you to do things you'd only be able to do in your dreams. But it works through a pulley system. It's a harness around your waist and works through a police system. So when you pull down on the rings, it lifts your body off the ground. So basically it takes away 50% of the body weight from the equation from doing any type of movement. And so it's kind of a self spot. So you can work on technique. You can work on slowing things down to really understand how movement is supposed to be done through some really technical movements. And then as you get stronger and stronger, you add additional body weight to start making it more and more challenging. We use it a lot in the gymnastics worlds for higher-level movements, things like multi-six and in verdict crosses and crosses and things like that to get prepared to do them on the actual rings. But we found a lot of value in using it for people learning rings for the first time and things like pull-ups dips, muscle-ups, and some other of the, you know, things that are considered basic in the gymnastics world, but are still very challenged to do if you didn't come from that back.
That's awesome. And I'll, I'll link a video. I'll look for a video and link that up in the show notes so people can check that out. So now when you're trying to build like sufficient strength, right? For, let's say handstand, pushups, pull-ups or whatever movements, it might be what's like, what's the approach that you're taking? Like what types of drills and exercises are you using to help build that prerequisite strength?
Well, firstly, it depends on the movement. Are you talking about, you know, a handstand pushup, you're talking about a specific skill. You want to break it down to its finer components. So it's really not rocket science. And I think people kind of overanalyze a lot of things. What we want to do is first understand what the basic movement is supposed to look like from a movement pattern perspective. And from there building exercises and as many progressions as you possibly can to allow that person to start mechanically, understanding how their body should be moving. And from there, you can start increasing the difficulty. What we see most people doing is jumping to the final version or jumping to the most difficult progression prior to understanding the 10 previous versions and understanding how to implement them correctly. And that's where we start to see a deficit happen at the final application of it.
So really no matter what movement you're trying to, it comes back to understanding what it's supposed to look like from a foundational standpoint, what are the progressions to get to that final step and checking those off along the way, saying, okay, I can do this one proficiently, I'm ready to move on to the next. I can do that officially and move on. So I think that's, that's one of the keys that we're trying to establish is giving people the tools to say, okay, these are the progressions that you need to be understanding and doing correctly before you expect to be able to do a strict handstand pushup or a ring handstand pushup for a deficit and sand pushup. It's not going to happen on the day and the first day you try it. And I think people are again, are, are anticipating or expecting that to happen without having a prerequisite. Right
Now, let's say in a daily class setting you know, the workout of the day, let's say there are handstand pushups. What would be your preferred scaling options for these?
Well, I think the first thing that you're going to see is a lot of people thinking has them pushups and automatically going to a kipping handstand pushup. And I would generally stay away from that right off the bat. Keeping us in pushup is really for the purposes more for competition than it is really a building strength. And I think that's one of the things that kind of gets caught in the way. A lot of times for people progressing properly is this idea that they're all going to the CrossFit games and you really have to have a separation between your client and your member who is there for the quality of life versus the person who is there to go to compete in the open regionals and games. And really the approach to those two is significantly different. And if you're having somebody that can barely do 10 pushups, some barely hold themselves up against the wall in a handstand position and saying, you're having 10 rounds of 10 ASN pushups today.
We'll Kip through them just so you get through the workout and you can put a score up on the board. It's really defeating the purpose of really understanding how they're going to get better at these movements, how they're going to get stronger. And that should be the objective. So what you're always going to do in my case, if I was ever teaching a class and that came up, I would be putting them something where they can move through the pattern correctly and something where they're going to be doing a district. So for me, moving through and trying to put the fastest time up on the board, it's less of a concern than getting through the movements with the correct technique. So I'm with a handstand pushup. I kind of go through a bunch of different variations. The first one, would it be kind of a pike handstand pushup, or a downward dog version where their, the feet are still on the ground, hands were on the ground.
And the objective is to create a good tripod shape. So a good handstand pushup, one that's correct from a technical standpoint is activating the base of the tricep much more than you would normally anticipate when you're doing it inefficiently up against the wall. So it's creating a good tripod where your head is out in front of your hands, equal distance from your hands being apart from each other. So you're creating basically an equinus and triangle. And I think that's a missing piece for most people, they're doing his pushups up against the wall and their head is in line with their hands because they can get away with it because feet are being spotted by the wall, which doesn't happen when you try to move that handstand pushup away from the wall, which is what I hope every one's goal eventually is to move towards the highest level version of these movements. So building the pie pattern of that tricep, if that means doing it from a downward dog, that's where you're starting or from your knees, and then moving towards a box where your hips are a little bit more in the inverted position. And then from there building towards being able to do it with with the wall itself. But for most people, I think they'd be much better served doing some of the scaling options, both better technique as opposed to blessing through, up against the wall with giving.
Right. Okay. Now how does this kind of level up for the more advanced athlete? Let's say they can bang out Tosta bar. No problem. They can do butterfly pull-ups. Maybe they even have a few muscle-ups. What are you using at this point to kind of push their skills and push their limits?
Well, again, a lot of it has to do in it's individual-based and that's where it becomes a little bit of a challenge is that you have to assess each person according to what their strengths and weaknesses are. We see a lot of people that came from backgrounds where strength was a big base of the sport that they were doing from before, but maybe their flexibility is horrendous. Maybe they're not able to get into the correct positions. That's going to require that there'll be required to allow them to move to higher-level versions or higher level movements. So we'd normally do kind of an overall assessment say, okay, what are your strength levels? What is your core level, your core strength levels and all of these various movements? And then what are your flexibility within all of these movements? And then from there, we can kind of build a better picture as to how to attack potential deficiencies and how to ramp up in areas where, you know, we're going to push the limits and start working on some higher-level movements.
I don't know if you've ever seen it before, but I've mentioned it before in some other interviews that I've done, but I kind of have a hierarchy of gymnastics movement in terms of how I think people should learn gymnastics skills. It's kind of four different phases. Phase one is about the creation of body shapes. And what that means is broken down into two different things. The first part is core strengthen, incorporating more core centric movement into your training. A strong core leads a strong movement. Most people don't spend enough time specifically on their core though their work on abs because that's what they can see in the mirror, but they neglect it flex there's oblique, supposed to your chain, glutes, hamstrings, lower back. Everything that really encompasses that midline along with the core-centric movement is flexibility. Being able to put your body in the positions that we're going to require of it.
And if you don't have that flexibility, you're going to end up compensating. And that compensation leads to unnecessary stress, which leads to injury in a lot of areas. So if you don't have those two key components, core strength and flexibility, you're limiting your ability to move to higher-level movements. So once those are in place, then you move on to phase two, which is static and control holds three dynamic action. And four is the completion of it all which is creation of sequences, complexes, and routines. But I don't know if I'm going off on a tangent here answering your question, but I think it's important to note that those things are all needed to be, they all need to be incorporated into someone's training. If they want to achieve higher level movement, you know, someone who's a regional or games level competitor. What I try to do with those types of athletes is keep things very for them, which is very important because there are so many movements and so many things that they're working on in the CrossFit world that it's very hard to target specific movements because they're, they're doing 20 different things on a daily basis.
So I keep things fairly varied and I'm touching on a lot of different movements regularly throughout their week's training. And I always try to challenge them in areas that they normally wouldn't get in a regular CrossFit workout. So I throw exercises and movements at them that they don't see on a regular basis quite often all within their realm of capability, but definitely challenging the new ways.
Very cool. Now speaking of flexibility, what's your approach for helping somebody, you know, get the appropriate flexibility needed to be able to perform some of these movements.
So flexibility just like strengthening, it's all about consistency and it needs to be a part of your regular training if you want to actually see improvement. And I think that's one of the areas that we see a lot of lacking for most people is incorporating these things on a regular basis. I tell people that you should be doing core flexibility in some type of handstand exercises every day. And my recommendation with flexibility specifically is some it's something that you should be doing at the end of your workouts. And we're seeing a lot of people kind of stretch and, and, and do a lot of flexibility work prior as part of their warmups, which I think can sometimes be a detriment if they're, they're doing it incorrectly. Prior to a workout, it's more about warming up and just getting the core temperature of the body prepared for that day's workout, as opposed to at the end of the workout is where you're really pushing the barrier and pushing past the point of just maintaining your flexibility. So at the end of a workout, when your body is warmed up and your muscle fibers are prepared to be elongated, that's when you can get the most out of your flexibility work, where you're sitting in positions for a little bit longer, you're working on different stretching, active stretching, passive stretching, PNF. You can work on different options in different methods, but I prefer to see that the end of the workout, as opposed to in the beginning of the workout. Okay.
And for core work, what are some of the staples that you would like to see people working on
Endless there are endless amounts? There's the P the two positions that we try to get people to understand the most in terms of foundational for gymnastics is the hollow position in the arch position. And those are kind of movements and exercises associated with just those two positions can be broken down endlessly. So they're really, the variety is can kind of go to and nauseum, but it's more about doing it regularly than, than anything else. And you know, on our video database, on our power monkey website, we have over a thousand videos spread up into a lot of different categories, but the amount that we have in the core section will probably give you a good kind of a idea as to some of the exercise that we'd like to incorporate. Now we throw out our clients pretty often.
Very cool, and I'll get that linked up as well. Okay. Now how much of a role does ecentric and isometric strength play for gymnastics and CrossFit
In the gymnastics world, it's hugely important. It's incredibly important. And that's actually that phase two and my hierarchy of gymnastics movement, phase two is static hold and controlled movement, which is essentially what you're talking about. East-centric, movement, isometric holds. I think it's one of those things that gets glossed over a lot in the CrossFit world, because we're so fascinated with sexy movement and what I call phase three at dynamic auction that we know normally gloss over phase two. And that's where you actually build stability within the movement. That's the phase. Those are the movements where you actually gain control, where you gain the ability to move your body at will through the movement, as opposed to movement moving you, if that makes any sense. So the objective should always be being in control of your body, being able to place your body where you want to, as opposed to the movement dictating your body positions.
Okay. Now how important is like just body awareness for you? Because there's one thing I feel like to be able to get into the shape of like a hollow position or an arch position. But there's another to know exactly how to turn tension on and keep it on. And I feel like that gets glossed over a little bit too.
I think it gets glossed over and I think that's one of the missing links for most people. I, it can't be stated enough how important body awareness is to truly appreciate what your body is supposed to be doing within the movement. There's normally an enormous disconnect between what someone thinks is happening versus what it actually looks like. And so that disconnect, what we try to do as coaches is to try to bridge that gap is to help you understand through progressions through tools, through consistent training, to be able to say, okay, this is what I think is happening. This is what's actually happening. How can I start to bring those two points together? And a couple of the tools that we use, one of the things that I, I stress endlessly is videotaping yourselves more. And I see people doing it in the CrossFit world and just in the gym in general with Olympic weightlifting lifts all the time, they'll set up their phone, they'll set up their iPad and they'll, they'll analyze every single inch of a specific lift to really see where the inefficiencies are being created.
But very, very few of those people are doing the same thing for the gymnastics movements. And I'm not quite sure why that's happening. And it could be that people don't really know what to look for when they're looking or analyzing gymnastics movement. You know, it might be a little bit too complex for them and they just look a handstand and say, okay, I'm upside down. It looks good to me. Right. But we need people to be able to start analyzing more so that they can start seeing the differences between correct and incorrect. And the other thing that we stress quite a bit and something we use a ton in the gymnastics world is working with partners and learning how to spot each other, because what that does, it allows your partner to be your eyes within the movement when you're in a handstand and where you're in a position where you don't know what your body's supposed to be doing, someone from the outside can start to manipulate your body into the position that you're supposed to be in and say, this is where you're supposed to be, feel what that's like.
And that's what we do in the gymnastics world to help someone understand positions and understand how to learn things correctly, whenever I'm spotting someone. And I do the movement for them, you know, and I kind of helped them through the position. They always kind of get like, well, yeah, I made it because you did it for me. It was like, that's exactly what's supposed to happen. That's how you learn something in the gymnastics world. I'm there as a spotter, I'm putting you through the position so you can understand how it all happens. And then slowly I'll ease off. You do more and more on your own. And then eventually you kind of take off it's like training wheels. And I think sometimes people look at it as too much of a crutch or too much of a handicap, but that's exactly how the learning process works. So you kind of got to get over that, that phase of thinking that you're doing it incorrectly or doing with a spot is somehow beneath you and start to see the value in it.
Right. Okay. Now of course, this is going to be, you know, different for every individual, but I'm curious, you've gotten to work with such a diverse range of athletes. Have you noticed that there's a kind of like a general time period where you start to see these adaptations and improvements kind of transfer over to you know, the daily wads, for example, like can cause a lot of this stuff, if people aren't already doing it, when they start doing it, they may notice progress fairly quickly? So I'm just curious if you, if you have found a certain timeframe, like, you know, four or five weeks where you're like, wow, I can really start to feel a difference at this point.
Yeah. That's a good question. I think a lot of it, again comes down to the idea of consistency. I think people are sometimes shocked when, you know, they've been working on a movement one day a week for six months and they haven't seen much progress and it's not going to happen that way. You need to be doing it fairly regularly throughout each week to be able to really see the improvements with our monkey method, with our online programming, we split it up into either four-week blocks or five week blocks. And we think that that's a sufficient amount of time to start seeing some improvement. It will be kind of a snowballing effect that gymnastics is about incremental gains, that small baby steps. So you will start seeing some improvement a month, two months in, but only if you're doing it on a very regular basis. And that doesn't mean that you have to be doing it every single day. I do think, as I mentioned previously, that if you spend 15 minutes on a daily basis doing core work flexibility and some handstand, that's going to be a good overall kind of just body awareness strengthening series that you can do regularly. But if you're doing it three, four a week in the beginning, then you're going to be able to start seeing some improvement within a month to two months.
Very cool. Now how do, how do these four-week five-week blocks work in the sense that are we aiming to improve certain movements or like what's the structure look like for that? So if somebody comes to you and they're like, Oh, I want to get you know, strict handstand pushups. And then somebody else is like, okay, I want to be able to do strict. Pull-Ups like, how do they choose like what are your options for that pretty much.
So it might seem a little complicated if you go on the website. So I'll try to simplify it as much as possible. The options that we have up there right now is just our monkey method. Gymnastics. We have our lifting plans too, which are written by Chad Vaughn and Mike service, one of our other Olympic weightlifting coaches. But on the weight, on the gymnastics side, the program that we have up there right now is more of a GPP for gymnastics. So general physical preparedness for gymnastics specific skills. So it's not skill-specific. So you, if you want to learn a handstand pushup, if you want to learn a muscle, that's not really the intention of the program. It's more about creating body awareness. It's about creating flexibility. It's about creating overall strength. And that's really the approach that we take with the program. That's up right now, we are in the process of creating skill-specific plans, and there'll be coming out in the next couple of months, but the one that's up there right now is more general overall body awareness, kind of an approach.
It's broken down into blocks. And I mentioned that the, each block is five weeks of programming where you'll be doing four weeks straight. And then the fifth week will be a, an assessment or a retest week. Will you be going through and seeing how you improved on all the movements you worked on for that previous month? There's three levels. There's a beginner and intermediate and advanced beginner and intermediate are three days a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, you can split it up however you want. And then the advanced is six days a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday are the harder days. Tuesday, Thursday are more based around core enhancement and work. And then Saturdays are conditioning days. Now, along with that, we also broke, broke them up into three block chunks that fall along that same hierarchy that I mentioned earlier. So blocks one through three are basically around the idea of creation of body shapes and flexibility blocks. Four through six are static holds and controlled movement blocks seven through nine or more dynamic actions, swinging techniques, understanding the idea of just kipping and then blocks 10 through 12. We'll be encompassing all of the creation of the other of sequences, complexes, and routines. I hope that wasn't too much information, but that's basically how it all breaks down.
It's perfect. Now I'm curious, like, what have you noticed? What does the transfer look like from doing all this GPP work for gymnastics into, you know, Olympic lifts, power lifts and just the daily wads?
So our, our mentality, and I think it's what you hear from most gymnastics coaches and even a lot of CrossFitters that have been around for a while. Gymnastics, be the basis for all, all of your other movements. If you can't control your body with any external loads, there's no way that you can anticipate or expect to be able to do it with a barbell overhead or a kettlebell or any other external load. So the idea is that if you can get your body and you can get more capable with moving just your body, you're going to be much more capable once you encounter some of these other more complex movements in the CrossFit world. So we look at gymnastics as the foundational portion of your movement. If gymnastics is the foundational basis of your movement, you are going to move better through everything else. So we look at us having great transferability to all the other movements and other skills that you're going to be seeing in the CrossFit world.
Yeah. I mean, I can totally see that. And I, that's why I feel like a lot of gymnast's or people who have a background in gymnastics when they tap into CrossFit, they seem to catch on so much faster.
Absolutely. I hear coaches all the time. We're doing these clinics so often these days and I owe the coaches and the owners always mentioned to me, they're like, we love when, when a gymnast comes in, you know, we can just see them right off the bat. They might not be the strongest. They might not be able to move a barbell the way in an Olympic weightlifter, but they just have the ability to move their body more efficiently because they have the years and years of training of understanding how to move their body in specific ways that end up translating into them