Based on past experience, I must say a positive review of this book was almost guaranteed even before I read it. I’ve read it cover to cover, however, and I’ve got plenty to share with you. Carl’s view isn’t just informative and technical; it’s also necessary and approachable. This book is big in every way. It’s big in impact, it asks huge questions, and it has massive importance for athletes and coaches.
Free+Style was a tandem effort between two incredible minds. Carl Paoli and Anthony Sherbondy exude a certain greatness individually, and their work together on this text is incredible.
As a coach, Carl’s ideas are big and probably the most inclusive I’ve ever seen. Tony is a brilliant mind, as well, and to be honest, it says a great deal about his bandwidth to capture the scope of these ideas.
This book is for everyone. On the surface, Free+Style is a practical guide to improving movement for men and women of all fitness and athletic levels with four basic movements. Yet I think that to just leave it at that would be a crime. It almost pained me to write that sentence.
You see, Carl’s idea seems to be that to talk exclusively about gymnastics or even fitness would be a mistake. With his capacity of both knowledge and an ability to communicate, it’d be a mistake in duty. For people outside of the dedicated core of athletes and trainers to never hear about Free+Style, it’d be a mistake in opportunity.
The Freestyle Connection is a concept that makes sense in strength and conditioning, CrossFit and gymnastics. Yet Carl’s taken a view from the balcony, which is a leadership concept coined by Jennifer Garvey Berger, that allows for perspective. Free+Style’s perspective extends as far as the eye can see beyond CrossFit beyond the gym. Free+Style’s only concern is movement, and movement is everything.
The book starts with Carl’s story, which is important. In fact, it could be argued that his perspective is critical to his message. Carl was an elite gymnast in Spain with Olympic dreams. This legitimacy is important because Carl was able to stand nose to nose with the “rules” of performance at the highest level. Now he has the experience and clout to break them.
The book then establishes a language that I’d predict will permeate coaches’ vocabularies for decades to come. Without the ability to speak across disciplines about movement, there’s a glass ceiling on growth inside specific domains like weightlifting, gymnastics and running. With the language that Carl is presenting in Free+Style, triathlon coaches can discuss position with powerlifters with ultimate empathy.
The irony is that with a text with goals as broad as this, the “four basic movements” that make up the “Free+Style Four” include three of what would be commonly regarded as the most difficult bodyweight movements. His idea is that squatting, pushing, pulling and getting up off the ground are the most basic and essential movements in the human arsenal. Then with the formal experience of a gymnast and the open mind of an innovator, Carl’s chosen the pistol (one-legged squat), handstand push-up, muscle-up and burpee as the ultimate expression of squatting, pushing, pulling and getting up off the ground, respectively.
Each subsequent section weaves a beautiful progress through the how’s and the why’s of each movement. It’s key to note that each progress starts as basic as any beginner would need and advances as difficult as any expert would want.
His message is impactful because of the idea of skill transfer. Skill transfer links an evolution of movement together to both progress from simpler, modified versions of each movement to more advanced, full expressions of each movement, but it’s also the glue that begins to stick all movement together. With this view, even pushing and pulling aren’t so different. Hell, there are even basic concepts at shoulder and hip level that make squatting and handstand push-ups not too dissimilar after all.
I’m so grateful to have come across this message and only hope more and more students of the game come across it. I’ve heard Carl say that once the book is out there, it’s up to its readers to use it, morph it, break it and make it their own. Coach, I’m afraid you’ve built a beautiful monster, and I can’t wait to see its wrath on the way we view human movement for years to come.
If you haven’t yet picked up a copy, it’s a must-read. Read it front to back, use it as a reference book and move your body!