2014 GST work: reflections on training (part 5)

In the previous post, I discussed the barbell training I did in 2014 and early 2015 as part of my series (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) of reflections on my training. In this post, I’ll cover my bodyweight work, with a particular focus on my use of the Foundation 1 (F1) and Handstand 1 (H1) programs from Christopher Sommer at Gymnastic Bodies.

I did a few different phases of bodyweight(-esque) training in 2014 and early 2015:

  • Accessory work phase: in this phase (which was intermittent throughout most of my 2014 training until I started the F1/H1 programming), I used bodyweight training as a way to augment by lifting.
  • First progression attempts: in this phase, I actually tried to make some progress in gymnastic strength training (GST) skills.
  • F1/H1 phase: I started using the Foundation 1 and Handstand 1 programming from Gymnastic Bodies.

In my accessory work phase, I focused primarily on muscle-ups, weighted and unweighted pull-ups, press-to-handstand” (more of a bastardized hollow back press) and weighted and unweighted ring dips. I briefly branched into push-ups, though not for long. I often incorporated these exercises into my daily warm-up as a first-thing-in-the-morning way to start off the day. I saw relatively little improvement in these unless I really integrated them seriously, but I was fairly successful in maintaining as long as I kept these in the program.

One recommendation: I had some success integrating what I refer to as “gymnast pull-ups”, which is essentially a set of pull-ups done with several grips without coming off the bar. For those who want to use this, pick a work set number of pull-ups you can quadruple or quintuple (let’s say 4). Start with 4 wide-grip pull-ups, then 4 hands-together chin-ups, then 4 regular grip pull-ups, then 4 regular grip chin-ups. (Bear in mind that pull-ups are overhand/pronated grip; chin-ups are underhand/supinated grip.) One does a total of 16 pull-ups and chin-ups without coming off the bar. The grip-switching substantially increases the difficulty, and also reduces the amount one can bounce off the bottom of the ROM. Do these a couple times a day, a few times per week, and your pull-ups will improve. (If you can do 50 pull-ups, you should probably be doing 10×4 rather than 4×4 like I suggested. If you can do 10 pull-ups, you should probably be doing 1-2×4. Scale to your abilities.)

During my first progression attempts, I used Christopher Sommer’s famous Building an Olympic Body Though Bodyweight Conditioning article on Dragondoor to work on a straddle planche and a front lever. I was able to make it through frog stand (worked up to 60 sec) with little difficulty, but my inflexible wrists started killing me during tuck planche and I stopped trying. During tuck front lever, I never achieved 60 sec of unbroken time on the bar. I kept a 20 sec tuck front lever in my daily warm-up for months, however. It felt beneficial for my shoulder health but I can’t point to any particular ways that it helped me.

I had heard Christopher Sommer on Robb Wolf’s podcast a couple of times (1, 2, 3) and been very interested in his training priorities: developing connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, etc) before muscle, on the idea that muscle will follow quickly. As I mentioned in part 3 of this series, I was particularly interested with his claims that (1) his athletes did very well at barbell training when they started it, due to their very strong connective tissue and mobility, and (2) many lifters develop joint pain because the connective tissue cannot develop as quickly as the muscle, and thus they end up injured trying to move the heaviest loads their muscles can move. Since I’d had to stop weightlifting due to wrist pain and I had long stopped bench pressing due to elbow pain (which has also been a problem for my climbing), this was very promising. I learned from Kelly Starrett that the ability to sit at the bottom of a pistol (single leg squat, SLS) shows adequate ankle dorsiflexion for a safe, flat-back back squat. When I learned that Sommer’s F1 program would help develop the strength and mobility for the SLS, I decided to pull the trigger and take a shot at the F1 program. F1 is aimed at developing seven different “fundamental elements” of gymnastic strength: front lever, side lever, straddle planche, hollow back press, rope climb, SLS, and manna. I decided that it would be fun to do these sorts of party tricks, that it would help develop my mobility and durability, that I would develop a more powerful trunk, and that it would also help my climbing by improving bodily control.  I learned that he also had a program (H1) which develops a two-minute freestanding handstand. I decided that this would be fun to work on as well.

At this point, I’ve been running F1 and H1 for about six months (since the first week of August 2014). Generally, I have been very pleased with my progress — especially given that I am disobedient to Sommer’s prescription and also doing all the 5/3/1 barbell training mentioned in part 4. I’ve got better compression and hamstring ROM, improvement in ankle mobility, greater shoulder mobility, and noticeably more durable wrists. I’ve also been able to move through some of the progressions at the rate Sommer prescribes. Each level of the progression is a paired strength/conditioning element and mobility element. In several progressions, the limiting factor has been my mobility. Extra mobility work is definitely helpful to get through the programs: unless you’re already fairly mobile and fit, I would not anticipate getting through everything on the first try. The good thing is that Sommer continues to revise F1 on the basis of user feedback.

Next steps with GST: I intend to stay on the F1/H1 pony while I start working at GSLP. Hopefully I will be able to make some serious progress. If not, I will probably put my GST into maintenance for a few cycles while I focus on GSLP. We shall see how it all plays out.