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Inside the Freestyle Connection Seminar with Carl Paoli

Continuing education is a critical component to any coach’s journey. As a coach inside the world of CrossFit, you’ll never run out of things to learn. Carl’s seminar has specifically been a huge priority of mine for years. Finally the stars aligned.

Given the volumes that I write for a living, I don’t think I’ve felt the need to “nail it” more than right now. The challenge of describing the essence of the Freestyle Connection will be my biggest to date.

Part of what originally attracted me to Coach Paoli’s work was the scope of his conversation. After all, if we have an opportunity to grow, shouldn’t we? Considering the potential to influence, leaving Coach Paoli’s message at CrossFit Open workout prep videos would be a failure, in my opinion. The hollow rock and the handstand push-up, for Carl, are just specific details to a conversation that is much bigger than CrossFit, and even exercise in general.

Similarly, the Freestyle Connection seminar may be about four key bodyweight movements (the pistol, HSPU, muscle-up, and burpee) when it comes to the nitty-gritty details, but to call it a Pistol-HSPU-Muscle-Up-Burpee seminar would completely miss the point. The seminar, rather, provides a lens from which to view, practice, and even learn new movement.

For years Coach Paoli has captivated, specifically the CrossFit community, with his short, simple YouTube progressions that have helped athletes seemingly crack the code on troublesome movements. If you asked him, however, I think he’d say that to not recognize what’s happening in his work beyond things like “Pistol Progression Pt. 1” would miss the forest for the trees.

What’s the real message?

Coach Paoli outlines it in the first hour of the seminar. Most literally, the biggest gift of the Freestyle Connection movement is a language that, arguably for the first time, addresses human movement in the most fundamental ways in order to extend beyond all boarders of training, sport and expression. CrossFit just so happens, in my opinion, to be a captivated audience that is benefiting directly from this conversation, but so are dancers, action sports athletes and traditional gymnasts alike.

The details of this language connect body position with movement and purpose. Undoubtedly, our movement ought to be guided by purpose. While other rigid perspectives of human movement (often borrowed from sport application) use blanket rules and progressions, Coach Paoli allows room to consider purpose where others can get trapped trying to apply progressions from say artistic gymnastics to an application with an entirely different purpose like CrossFit. Similarly, one would agree that cuing every squat like one would cue a powerlifter’s squat may confuse purpose, as well.

Consider Coach Paoli’s language the liaison between schools of thought. The Freestyle Connection, then, is the ultimate mediator.

Inside of human movement, Coach Paoli begins to build bridges from specific domains like weightlifting and gymnastics by tearing down walls often blunted by unique language. The most specific way we see this in the Freestyle Connection is by considering functional movement at both the local and global levels.

Local movement, then, would refer to joint strength, for example. One’s ability to move is an essential foundation for global movement, which is one’s ability to apply movement. Global movement addresses the gold mine of skill.

Within skill, Coach Paoli begins to paint a picture of skills as a foundation of specific techniques. For the sake of explanation, let’s pick skills like strength, speed, balance, timing and power to form the base of a pyramid of which the top of the pyramid represents a specific technique like “jumping and landing.” The space between the base of foundational skills and the specific technique (jumping and landing) will be what we call “skill transfer.”

Jumping and landing, then, can serve as one of many foundational skills in the base of a technique like the clean, for example. All of the sudden, you begin to see endless connection, much like the Matrix, and one’s eyes begin to open to the scope of The Freestyle Connection.

The disclaimer I need to mention is that Carl’s work won me over long before I ever stepped foot in his seminar. That being said, this seminar cannot be replicated by watching YouTube videos. I encourage you, as athletes and coaches, to resist the tendency to forget the beauty of an open source concept like CrossFit with a close-minded reality. Attending The Freestyle Connection seminar is one way to get on the fast track to an open mind when it comes to human movement.

Thanks, Coach!

Logan Gelbrich