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.

Flexibility v’s Mobility

How often have you watched an instagram video of some insane gymnast and said, “Wow, I wish I had her flexibility!” Or how many times have you felt some movement is just out of reach and said, “I’m so inflexible!” We use flexibility and mobility as interchangeable words that mean the same thing. In reality, while they are related, they’re not the same.

Flexibility is defined as the ability of a muscle or muscle group to be passively lengthened through a range of motion. Mobility on the other hand is the ability of a joint to actively move through that range.  Put into real terms, you can stretch for hours to achieve a nice flat forward fold but if you can’t actively get into that position, then your forward fold is only temporary and will be ineffective when applied to movement.

While we can have good flexibility without mobility, we can’t have good mobility without flexibility. Back to our nice deep forward fold on the floor, but now apply that position to a hanging toe to bar. You may have the hamstring flexibility to maintain that position when you get there but if you can’t raise your legs past your hips in the hang then you lack the strength in the opposing muscles to actively pull you into that position.

Achieving full active range of motion of the joint takes into consideration a number of things; restrictive muscle tissue, joint and joint capsule health, motor control and soft tissue health. Actively strengthening our end range combined with a variety of stretching techniques will lengthen, strengthen and stabilise our muscles, improving our overall mobility.

Consistency is key in mobility training. You might feel like you’re making little or no progress at all but over time, all those little victories add up to big changes. Initially it will be something you feel rather than see. Do a little each day as part of your warm up or cool down to your strength training, or in between reps as part of your active rest. Before you know it those leg raises will feel a little easier instead of feeling like lifting elephants.

When we apply increased mobility to our strength training, our muscles and joints will be better balanced and aligned, as will our posture as our range of motion increases. Better alignment means being able to complete exercises to their maximum, pushing further and harder. The central nervous system (CNS) will fire up more muscle fibres and more rapidly with continued mobility drills helping to build speed, power and endurance. 

Having active control over the positions we move through keeps us pain free, reduces injury risk, corrects imbalances, keeps our joints healthy and allows us to move in a way that looks effortless.

Ruth Woodside

Ruth is our Co-founder and General Manager and coaches Mobility on Thursday evenings at 6.30pm

Recovery is Key

We can’t believe it’s already been 2 months since Move Hackney opened its doors! We know what it means to love training and to be in the gym every day, we also know how easy it is to over train and end up plateauing. It’s fine to move every day, but training hard day in and day out will impair our body’s ability to restore energy levels. We would like to take a moment to give some basic advice to help you make the most of your training so that the gains can keep coming and you all can stay injury-free…