For sports expert Carl Paoli, there are many things fitness can teach us about the basic ways humans move. Whether lifting weight or trying to walk, Poly is determined to help athletes from all over the world start a better sport.
American-born Poly grew up in Spain, where he has been an elite gymnast for more than 15 years. After training as an environmental scientist, Poly moved back to the United States to begin gymnastics and fitness coaching in San Francisco. But until CrossFit was discovered around 2006, Paoli’s work began to have real global reach. For the past seven years he helped CrossFitters, the best in the world, improve their mode of exercise not only in gymnastics but also in practically all the sun’s motor skills.
Poly is also performing on the road and holds seminars around the world on improving sports and the human body. He also runs gymnastic WOD, a site that offers free daily workouts at all skill levels. Recently, he even dipped his toes in the world of parkour and break dance. We sat down with San Francisco CrossFit coaches and Naka Athletics founders to talk about sports, competitions, and why sports education had the most impact.
How do you participate in gymnastics?
I grew up doing gymnastics; my father is a gymnast, this is what I am attracted to sports. At the age of 18, I decided to leave the sport, so I went from a gymnast to a snowboard and a traveler. At the same time I was studying marine biology, which led to more water sports.
When I moved to the United States, I did not have the chance to skate, so I switched to a coaching gym and started learning trampoline, all circus arts, and other things. Seven years ago I entered CrossFit and kept growing my interest in weightlifting. Now I really want to jump aside, which is a great basis for me.
What gymnastics lessons can everyone use in their daily lives?
The first lesson is consistency. It does not matter if you feel bad; you just need to keep going. A little work day is the key to success and learning new skills.
I always tell people, whether it is sports, the pursuit of quality rather than quantity – this will give you the best spending. The last lesson I learned as a gymnast was about positive psychology. When you train for any exercise, you can say that the sun does not always shine. You just need to pass the power, which is not always easy, but the road to success can be very simple.
Do people misunderstand gymnasts and gymnasts?
When you look at high-level gymnastics at the Olympics, it is easy to say, “Well, those are freaks and you have to have a certain size to do that, and that’s all about genetics.” The fact is you’re in the Olympics I saw only the tip of the iceberg. What really makes Rhythmic Gymnastics work is a solid foundation, a very basic human form that can move from one of these shapes to another. People need to start listening to gymnastics on this basis.
In the fitness industry, we have always regarded gymnastics as an important model, and the greatest basis for fitness in reality lies in the female part of rhythmic gymnastics. I think people need to start to divert their eyes and see more about what the girls are doing because they have some very special things that allow them to apply these tricks to more when their gymnastics ends.
How has your role in the CrossFit community changed over the past few years?
My start at CrossFit was simple – I like its fitness aspect. Then I found out that CrossFit is a sport, and I know I have some training on the part, which is part of the gym. So I put it there, people quickly catch up. They said: “This man understands gymnastics, let’s see what he has to say.” Obviously, this is valid, people love it and begin tilting it.
Then, I really started to show what I was concerned about, which is creating the movement and changing how people think about the movement. This is to help people understand why we do something and how we do it. For example, why should we teach Burpee from scratch like we did? My current goal is to be able to explain the differences between the standards of an elite CrossFit athlete and a more basic person. This is a continuous process, and the only way we want to understand is to incorporate the foundations of human movement into every aspect of what we do.
What is your first move to improve their sporting foundation?
I see a lot of great athletes, they are crazy to escape. But you’ve experienced simple things like standing, walking and even running, and they’ve never had any formal training. They have never been taught how to walk!
This is the first thing a gymnast learns: how do you get to the floor, how do you get off the floor? If you land somehow, how do you get out of this landing? How do you correct yourself? This is the basic material that traditional sports (especially team sports) do not have to teach. The most basic behavior humans should have is not the basis of many top athletes.
How do you think CrossFit relates to gymnastics?
The way things are going, we’ll see the muscles standing upside down. We will see handstands moving into some form of launch. We will see more types of events for the obstacle course. I can imagine an obstacle of course carrying weight or objects. Athletes will have to start looking for how parkour artists drive these things.
What is the next step in your coaching career?
I think many people think I am a gymnastics coach, I do not value myself so much. I teach exercise. At the end of the day, I like to teach, but I’ve been thinking of the next step. And now I am concerned about why the products we use in our daily lives are developed as they are now. Like your coffee cup or your steering wheel – they all evolve according to our actions. So how do we move affects the development of all these products, and I am interested in applying the concept of motion to product development. I am happy to participate in the design of bicycles or skateboards based on our actions.
Physics is the most basic form of communication that helps us to define and reveal relationships. So sports can allow us to communicate and leave behind a greater legacy than us. Whenever you get a kid moving, they get excited and they have an emotional reaction. You can teach all the subjects from the body, I hope people can enjoy the fitness community, see it is not just training and growth. I always say “smart body, strong mind,” and that’s it all. Developing a body that moves and communicates in space will give you a powerful mind and keep you growing.