A Gymnast in The Climbing Gym: Cisco Gonzalez

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If you’ve been to Ironworks, chanches are you’ve seen climbers busting out pull-ups. A lot of the tougher rock jocks will attempt one armed pull-ups with marginal degrees of success. Catch Cisco at the gym though and you’ll see some impressive feats.

As a young kid in california, Cisco was no stranger to the monkey bars and rooftops, scrambling around buildings and dangling from the monkey bars. Since he was in pre-school, Cisco Gonzalez, a 32 year old gymnastic instructor from Berkeley, has been involved in gymnastics. In 6th grade he enrolled at Windmill Gymnastics in Richmond and later began coaching there. Cisco currently works at MEGA, Marin Elite Gymnastics Academy since early 2002 and has coached gymnastics for the past 17 years.

How long have you been doing the gymnastics style exercises?

Well, I definitely was doing a lot of body weight movements before I started training in 6th grade with a lot of climbing (trees, bars, buildings). When I was working out with team I was too young to do any weighted movements as well, not that gymnasts do much of those anyway.

When I was 11 I was taught to do squats, dips, push-ups, pull ups, V-ups, plyometric punches, and many static holds. These movements are especially useful in a sport like gymnastics where all your skills manipulate your body weight using your body awareness.

I’ve tried over the years to work with free weights and machines but I am not as comfortable and they, frankly, have always seemed kinda boring to me. Part of it is probably that you like the things you’re good at a lot better, and I am much better at body weight exercises.

Do you rock climb much?

Man, I used to. When I started climbing in 2002 I was so thrilled at finding another sport I was suited to, I threw myself at it fully. Me and Alex, another gymnast were putting in 12+ hours a week and learning everything from scratch. Now I climb with a rotating crew of about 8 people and I get maybe 3-6 hours a week.

I still try to work out 6+ hours a week which includes screwing around on the gym equipment and doing parkour, some arial work along with some skate and snowboarding when I can. There just aren’t enough hours in the day, or money, to do all the things I want to be good at. *sigh*

Does your strength transfer well?

Well, like most people I thought climbing was all about being able to do pull ups, but those first 6 months was a rude awakening. Unless you are a climber, I just don’t think you can come from another sport with the finger tendon strength or forearm strength and stamina necessary to be super awesome right away.

I did come in with a lot of pull strength, which is not what gymnasts are most known for. Most gymnastics is about push (pommel horse, vaulting, floor tumbling, parallel bars swings, and ring supports and holds).Even so, I had a really strong rope climb and that helped a little.

More than anything else, I think my flexibility (mine was not good for a gymnast) and my balance and body awareness was invaluable. You just don’t get through that amount of any sport, let alone gymnastics, without a pretty good sense of biomechanics.

What’s the best way to learn how to do one arm pull ups?

I don’t think there’s a great corollary between x amount of regular pullups = a one arm pullup or body weight plus y = a one arm pullup. I feel the best way to get them is to train them. Rope climbing and campusing lets you got through a wide range of the pullup especially campusing when you are moving laterally as well as vertically. There are also a variety of techniques like using a towel or a rope to hold on with your other arm, one arm pulldowns with a machine, but I personally never used those. Working slow one arm negatives seemed to help greatly, as did isometric holds and one arm “frenchies”. I went pretty quick from 1-5 one arms and then slowly up to 9 on my left and 11 on my right.

One more thing on the one arm pullup, it has very, very little to offer in improving your climbing. Good technique, and hand strength will always win over brute strength. I continue to work one arms for the personal challenge along with other body weight “feats” like the human flag, planche, one arm rope climb etc.

If anyone is seriously interested in trying let me know, non-climbers are welcome too!