Summer of 2013, I attended my first ‘Gymnastic Strength Training’ workshop in London, taught by Christopher Sommers. I’d known for a long time the benefits of training with your bodyweight, but didn’t fully grasp the potential until listening to Chris tell stories of his athletes. Some of his student’s never having touched a barbell before, deadlifting three times bodyweight on their first attempt! Incredible.
How was this possible? Why is it these gymnasts could pull off strength feats respected amongst the traditional strength training communities, but regular strength athletes wouldn’t be able to perform anywhere near the same level quality bodyweight movements as the gymnasts? Well over the years I’ve realised it comes down to a few factors:
- Varying ranges of motion
GST will cover many ranges of the hips and shoulder girdle. The increased use of these ranges means the joints become more stable. And as we know, the more stable a joint the more power and strength it can express. Very few sports will need you to be strong in both shoulder flexion (arms above your head) AND shoulder extension (arms behind your back). But in GST we’re using these ranges all the time (plus more).
- Increased movement complexity
When increasing the difficulty of a bodyweight movement, we need to change the movement itself. Adding extra weight to the movement will only take us so far until we plataeu hard. But by changing the levers, or planes of movement, we can keep increasing the difficulty. So not only do we get stronger, but we also learn new skills and patterns. This is important, because as we learn new skills we also become better at learning new skills (so if we wanted to start a new hobby, or try a new activity, we’d adapt to it quicker than the average person). So for example, picking up a barbell with good form would be easier for our brain to handle. And because we’re already strong in the joints, we can then express that easier by loading that barbell up. There are lots of neurological benefits to learning new skills, and expressing strength easier is one of them!
- Open Kinetic Chain vs Closed Kinetic Chain
A lot of our GST involves moving our own bodies around an object, this is an example of a closed kinetic chain movement. So for example, holding onto a fixed bar and pulling yourself up. The opposite of that would be the Lat Pulldown in your conventional gym, sitting on a seat and pulling a bar to your chest (Open Kinetic Chain). Now the main differences include the number of joints being used and the levels of co-contraction required (multiple muscles working together). Closed Kinetic Chain exercises are a lot more demanding on the muscles and the body working as one unit, in a co-ordinated fasion, so it also stimulates your proprioceptive system!
So fundamentally speaking, this is why I love GST as a form of strength training. It provides us with a good base to perform other activities, meaning we have more physical freedom wherever we decide to go. And it has all the physiological benefits as weight lifting does plus more!
Erdi is our Co-Founder and Head Coach and coaches GST on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.