Building the Gymnastic Body: The Science of Gymnastics Strength Training

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B U I L D I N G THE G Y M N A S T I C B O D Y D V D S The Companion DVDs to Building the Gymnastic Body

The Single Greatest Tool Ever Made for Building Upper Body Strength


Cover photo: Yang Wei at 2003 World Championships, ©Steve Lange


Christopher Sommer

Olympic Bodies, LLC

Published by Olympic Bodies, LLC 42140 N Mantle Way Anthem, Arizona 85206

Library of Congress Control Number: ISBN - 978-0-9821253-0-4

First Edition - September 2008 Printed and bound in Canada by Art Bookbindery

DISCLAIMER The author and publisher of this material are not responsible in any manner whatsoever for any injury that may occur through following the instructions contained in this material. The activities, physical and otherwise, described herein for informational purposes only, may be too strenuous or dangerous for some people and the reader(s) should consult a physician before engaging in them.

First a n d foremost to my family, w i t h o u t w h o m n o t h i n g else matters, a n d to all of my students - past, present a n d future, from w h o m I always learn so m u c h m o r e t h a n I m a n a g e to teach

Table of Contents INTRODUCTION CHAPTER ONE Gymnastics as Conditioning CHAPTER TWO General Information Tools of the Trade Basic Gymnastics Terminology The Selection of These Exercises H a n d s t a n d s & Press H a n d s t a n d s CHAPTER THREE Basic Strength CHAPTER FOUR Fundamental Static Positions L-sit Straddle L Manna Back Lever Front Lever Planche CHAPTER FIVE Upper Body Pressing F u n d a m e n t a l Bodyweight Exercises P u s h - u p Variations Dip Variations HSPU Variations Multi-plane Pressing Variations CHAPTER SIX Upper Body Pulling R o w Variations Pull-up Variations Curl Variations Multi-plane Pulling Variations CHAPTER SEVEN Combined Pull/Press Muscle-up Variations Other CPP Variations CHAPTER EIGHT Core V-up Variations HLL Variations

Lower Back Variations Oblique Variations Straight Body Variations

132 138 144

CHAPTER NINE Legs Deck Squat Variations Single Leg Squat Variations H a m s t r i n g Variations

155 156 159 165

CHAPTER TEN Program Design Options Static Strength Training Basic Strength Training Integrated Training M a n a g i n g Intensity G r o u p Training

171 175 178 179 182

APPENDIX A Tips for Increasing Pull-ups


APPENDIX B Static Strength Only Training Results


APPENDIX C 120 Muscle-ups in 15 minutes




A Special Thanks




e h a v e all seen t h e m on television d u r i n g the Olympics; these massive powerful m e n performing a m a z i n g skills w i t h ease a n d grace. Watching t h e m perform, the question inevitably arises - are they as powerful as they a p p e a r to be? A n d the answer quite simply is - yes. W h a t will probably be even m o r e surprising to y o u is that they build their strength a n d p h y s i q u e s almost entirely w i t h various b o d y w e i g h t exercises. There are of course some s u p p l e m e n t a l exercises w h e r e weights are utilized (i.e. w e i g h t e d leg lifts), h o w e v e r the central premise remains; these a m a z i n g athletes h a v e built the vast majority of their strength a n d p o w e r t h r o u g h the u s e of b o d y w e i g h t conditioning. The list of physical training requirements is long a n d can be rather d a u n t i n g to p r e p a r e a w o r l d class athlete: passive flexibility, active flexibility, joint preparation, static strength, d y n a m i c strength etc. etc. a n d in the past h a s only b e e n interesting in detail to those of us involved w i t h the physical p r e p a r a t i o n of champions. It a p p e a r s that times h a v e changed. This book a n d its c o m p a n i o n v o l u m e s are in response to the e n o r m o u s interest in the area of a d v a n c e d b o d y w e i g h t conditioning. Information, w h i c h in the past h a s only b e e n available to a few select elite, is n o w available to all. N o w another question that we should ask ourselves - is the b o d y w e i g h t training of the g y m n a s t also beneficial to the fitness enthusiast? A n d if so, is it possible to apply at least s o m e of it to those w i t h o u t a professional instructor to guide t h e m or tens of t h o u s a n d s of dollars of specialized gymnastics e q u i p m e n t ? A n d the a n s w e r s are once again - yes a n d yes. There are s o m e of o u r specialized exercises that are relatively easy to learn a n d require little or no e q u i p m e n t b e y o n d a chin-up bar, p u s h u p bars a n d some floor space. Other higher level elements will require m o r e of an investment in e q u i p m e n t . H o w e v e r y o u will almost certainly be m o r e muscular, powerful, agile a n d flexible t h a n ever before from successfully following this training.



Why bodyweight conditioning? N o w before continuing further into o u r training, let's first regress a n d consider the question of w h y to do gymnastics b o d y w e i g h t conditioning in the first place? A c o m m o n misconception is that b o d y w e i g h t exercises do not build substantial strength b u t are rather m o r e suited for b u i l d i n g e n d u r a n c e . For m o s t people this conjures images of endless p u s h u p s , sit-ups or for the strong, p e r h a p s pull-ups a n d dips; great m a y b e for general fitness or e n d u r a n c e , b u t of little value in b u i l d i n g real strength. First of all, exercise is exercise. Period. The n a m e of the g a m e is resistance. A muscle contracts against resistance and, w i t h perseverance, becomes stronger over time. For strength to increase, the a m o u n t of resistance or load w o r k e d against m u s t also increase over time. Hence the p r o b l e m w i t h b o d y w e i g h t conditioning - as the resistance (weight of the body) is fixed, is h o w to continue increasing strength? Surprisingly, the answer is simple - by decreasing the a m o u n t of leverage it is possible to exert on an exercise, the resistance of an exercise becomes increasingly greater. For example, a h a n g i n g straight leg lift is m u c h h a r d e r t h a n a tucked leg lift. In b o t h exercises the w e i g h t of y o u r legs remains constant; h o w e v e r by r e d u c i n g y o u r leverage (i.e. in this case straightening y o u r legs) we are able to greatly increase the resistance. By straightening the legs we h a v e effectively d o u b l e d the difficulty of the exercise even t h o u g h the weight of the b o d y h a s r e m a i n e d constant. W i t h experience a n d creativity it is possible to learn or design exercises that, d o n e correctly a n d w i t h the p r o p e r progressions, are so lacking in leverage that even at b o d y w e i g h t levels of resistance it is possible to build staggering a m o u n t s of strength. In addition to strength, the athlete will also develop excellent balance, coordination, agility a n d exceptional core strength. P e r h a p s that is w h y spectacular film athletes like Jackie C h a n a n d M a r k Dacascos always include gymnastics training in their physical preparation. H o w well do the progressions that I am going to share w i t h y o u work? Well, consider that fact that w h e n Mr. Mas W a t a n a b e visited my m e n ' s gymnastics p r o g r a m a n d he w a s a s t o u n d e d by the levels of strength a n d d e v e l o p m e n t he saw. For those of y o u outside the gymnastics c o m m u n i t y , Mr. W a t a n a b e h a s been, for the past 30 plus years, one of our p r i m a r y leaders of m e n ' s gymnastics here in the United States a n d h a s personally w o r k e d w i t h a n d evaluated every O l y m p i a n , World C h a m p i o n s h i p , National a n d Junior National Team m e m b e r w h i c h our country h a s p r o d u c e d d u r i n g this time. After observing my athletes completing their daily b o d y w e i g h t conditioning p r o g r a m , Mr. W a t a n a b e informed me that they w e r e the strongest m o s t physically p r e p a r e d g r o u p of athletes he h a d ever seen. In fact he w e n t so far as to state that he h a d never even seen another g r o u p come close. N o w the m a i n point that I w o u l d like to e m p h a s i z e here - is that their physical d e v e l o p m e n t w a s p r o c u r e d almost exclusively t h r o u g h consistent progressive b o d y w e i g h t conditioning.



H o w strong is it possible to become w i t h gymnastics exercises? Amazingly strong. In fact I w o u l d go so far as to say, d o n e correctly, far stronger than s o m e o n e w h o h a d trained for the same a m o u n t of time w i t h free weights. W a n t s o m e concrete examples? One of my former students, JJ Gregory (1993 Junior National C h a m p i o n on the Still Rings) developed such a h i g h degree of strength from my gymnastics conditioning p r o g r a m that on his first d a y in his h i g h school weightlifting class he d e a d lifted 400lbs, a n d this at the scale breaking w e i g h t of 135 lbs. a n d a height of 5'3".

JJ Gregory in a 'Maltese' on the Still Rings After this I w a s curious a n d w a n t e d to m e a s u r e JJ's one r e p m a x on w e i g h t e d pull-ups. We started fairly light w i t h 10 lbs. or so. I continued a d d i n g m o r e w e i g h t while JJ performed single rep after single rep. Unfortunately I d i d n ' t k n o w about chinning belts a n d chains at that time a n d the cheap leather belt we w e r e using b r o k e at 75 lbs. Once again, I repeat, at 75 lbs. a n d JJ h a d never performed a w e i g h t e d pull-up in his life. But he h a d performed years of my specialized...

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