Culmination exercise: Build your workout to a crescendo

An idea I learned in yoga: building your workout to a Culmination Exercise

Neda Honarvar introduced me to the idea of a culmination exerciseEvery Saturday I can, I head over to Tough Love Yoga and take a class, usually from my most favorite of all yoga teachers I’ve ever taken from, Neda Draupadi Honarvar.

It’s not just the fact that we listen to awesome metal music during class. The classes themselves are very different from classes I’ve taken anywhere else or from anyone else. The classes at Tough Love are more free form than most places I’ve been. I’ve never taken anywhere near the same class twice. But what about that style that excited and interested me,  I couldn’t really put my finger on it until recently.

I realized the difference when another teacher was subbing for Neda when she was away. The teachers plan the classes to develop towards a culmination exercise, the one big daddy of the class. We might work towards Tittibhasana or Pincha Mayurasana (which I recently succeeded in achieving without support!) but there is always one exercise which everything is leading towards.

So I started to think “Hey, how else could I apply this idea?”

In the realm of weight training, for an exercise to really be “big” enough to be a culmination exercise, the motion would have to be both compound (a movement across multiple joints) and complex (multiple motions). For example, a bench press wouldn’t qualify as it’s not complex and doesn’t really qualify as compound either. A turkish get up definitely qualifies as it is both compound and complex and works through multiple planes of motion.

In fact, the first idea that came to me is using kettlebells. A kettlebell complex is a great example of a culmination exercise. For example, check out this complex:

There are many ways you could build a workout towards this complex. After a normal warm up, you could do the following sequence to develop toward this culmination:

  1. 2 arm swings – 16 reps – 2 rounds – 24 kg bell
  2. Alternating side lunges with the bells in rack position – 16 lunges – 2 rounds – (2) 16 kg bells
  3. Swing snatches – 12 reps per side – 2 rounds – 20 kg bell
  4. The complex shown in the video

As you can see, I’m not just doing the parts of the complex broken down, then putting it together. I’m choosing to be more creative and to make my body work in more ways than that. All the motions are related, there is applicability, but before I get to the complex, I’m asking my body to move in other ways. The total work load will be great and I won’t exhaust just a few muscle groups.

GYROTONIC® is another system where a culmination exercise can be used.

This section will only make sense if you’re already a GYROTONIC® instructor or intermediate to advanced student. GYROTONIC® lends itself to the idea of a culmination exercise very easily. Because nearly every GYROTONIC® exericse both compound and complex, the only limit is your imagination and the number of exercises you’ve learned.

One of the best ways to end on a high note in GYROTONIC is to use a super arch series. My preferred exercise group is Iguana. You’d start and progress your workout in the standard way, moving through the 7 primary families: Handle series, Hamstring series, Upper body Series, Seated legwork, Abdominals and Upper body opening. But instead of cooling down with the Unwinding series, you’d do another group of Handle series exercises but in the Iguana position. This is just a natural flow from foundation to advanced within a single workout.

As a recommendation, since you’re going to be in a super arch for an extended duration, for your abdominal series, use full Jackknife.

For a weight training culmination exercise, break out the battle ropes!

I was having a tough time trying to figure out a great culmination exercise for weight training. Then when casually looking up something to spice up my own workout, I found this awesome video.

Battle ropes work the entire body and REALLY get your heart rate up. This 8 exercise sequence is described by Funk Roberts as a “finisher”, which pretty much equates to a culmination exercise.

You could work through the main portion of your workout in the NASM proscribed way: warm up, core, total body, chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps and legs. Then finish up with this heart galloping finisher.

Have you tried putting a massive culmination exercise in your workout?

Let me know how it felt in the comments below. Was it fun? Did it whip your ass? (cause it should do both!)

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