Why Gymnastic Strength Training?

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 Babili

Erdi is our Co-Founder and Head Coach and coaches GST on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.

Talent v’s Technique

A few years ago I spent some weeks at my brother's place in North London. The TV in the living room had Extreme Sports channel on, and different housemates would watch it on a pretty regular basis. Most of the stuff they showed was skateboarding and different disciplines of bmx.

In the beginning one could just not pass by the living room without feeling a force towards the screen. The awe and admiration at the different skills displayed there. The finest artistry and seemingly über-human performing qualities of most skateboarders, bmx-ers, etc was a reminder to us in that living room of the amazing potential of us as human beings.

After a while however, the same tricks didn't seem as entertaining. It didn't matter who did them, they all looked the same. They weren't as surprising or impressive anymore. Maybe because we had seen them already, or maybe seeing more people doing the same tricks made us feel that they were not so special after all. 

Yet, there were still a few times when a certain artist would blow everyone away.  I thought there were mainly two reasons for this: either he had plenty of tricks of his own that were therefore totally fresh, or somehow, his personality and style would shine through. Whatever it was he was different. And I knew it. I would remember his name and whenever he was on screen again I was sure he wouldn't disappoint. And he didn't.

I have now come to call this phenomenon 'Talent vs Technique' as I have come across it on many more occasions in my life. So many times in fact, that I just think it is a universal phenomenon in human artistic expression and creation.

I believe that in any art you need to have a minimum of technique to express yourself or otherwise you are at the mercy of your tools and you won't be able to truly shine through them. But I don't think they are totally related 1 to 1. In fact, if I had to choose between having talent but bad technique or good technique and lack of talent, I would probably choose the former. Of course if both are present then the result can be breathtaking!

Yet, 'talent' is personal, subjective. It is not as easily and objectively measurable as technique. It is not measurable in absolute terms. Even if you may feel that your expressivity as an artist/performer is improving or worsening, it is, ultimately, subjective.

So how do you train? Do you train talent or technique? Both? Separately? Together? Is that even possible? What do you think?

Guillermo Justel

Guillermo coaches Handbalancing on Monday evenings at 7.30pm