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Gymnastics and bodyweight S&C - supperior to weight lifting

162 posts in this topic

Coach Sommer recently posted this about the bench press:

Yes, this is absolutely correct. Regardless of how strong your bench may be, if the proper straight arm strength progressions have not been adhered to and meticulously followed, the super strong bench presser will be no closer to a planche than your average joe who struggles with bodyweight.



I think the point cannot be overemphesized. The simple truth is that high quality bodyweight training, gymnastics oriented strength and ring work is usualy supperior to free weights. (motor unit recruitement)
I know that there are a lot of people here who like to combine the methods (crossfitters, Girvoys and old school strongmen fans) but especialy under the limited work capacity and recovery ability most people present I would not suggest to do that. Not if you are truly after some serious results.
Not that it cannot be done. It is being done daily by many people, but the results are far from optimal. This is the reason you do not see many youtube clips of real straddle planche holds, true front levers, crosses and quality one arm pull ups. People are doing a lot of stuff and they are sending their bodies mixed signals with this kind of aproach. The result? What I'd like to call 'all over the place adapatation'.
Body weight and gymanstics oriented strength and conditioning is comprehensive as it is. Focus your efforts if this is the kind of strength you are after. Dominating your body in space and under gravity is no simple task. It will take years of concentrated efforts to do so. While improving this ability you will also get a very good dominance of external loads, but not vise-versa.
The reason? body weight training is much harder and recruits more motor units in comparison to most free weights exercises and of course to machines and other useless training modalities as well.
Take a look at this data from Charles Poliquin:

Compound vs. Isolation Exercises

(Neuromuscular Activity — NMA)

Level 1

Isolation exercise on variable resistance machine, i.e. leg extension on cam type machine: Cybex leg extension, DAVID leg curl

Level 2

Complex exercise on variable resistance machine, i.e. leg press on Nautilus machine, LifeFitness incline press machine

Level 3

Isolation exercise with constant resistance machine, i.e. Scott pulley curls, triceps pressdown on pulley machine

Level 4

Complex exercise with constant resistance machine, i.e. leg press on standard machine

Level 5

Isolation exercise with free weights, i.e. Scott barbell curls, lying flyes

Level 6

Complex exercise with free weights, i.e. snatch pulls, power cleans

Level 7

Complex exercise with free weights, i.e. power snatch, dips on rings, rope climbing, split jerks


Very few exercises using free weights can be considered level 7. The power snatch does, due to a low enough external load that allows a very high speed and optimal power output.
A lot of bodyweight and gymnastics oriented strength exercises do belong to level 7, though. Notice the dips on rings and rope climbing are mentioned - two very basic bodyweight training exercises. If only they (researchers) had more knowledge about some more advanced variations of this kind of training....

To sum things up:
I know many people like to sell this 'more balanced aproach to training' - using the best of both worlds and enjoying better results, but...
That is not the truth.
The truth is, two years down the line you can have either one of those scenerios:
A.Train the bench press 1-3 times a week and achieve a double bodyweight bench press but no improved ability to control your body in space. (planche, upper body pushing plyometric ability, balance, control and more)
B. Concentrate on gymnastics and bodyweight strength for the upper body and achieve a 5 sec straddle planch, enhanced plyometric ability, flexibility, balance, control and better dominance of your body in space AND a 1.75X bodyweight bench press.

Crossfit people likes to say: 'We do what you do almost as good as you, but you cannot do what we do at all', is there a better way to describe a gymnast??

What do you prefer?
Again, I am not impressed with all those heavy benches, dips and pull ups with 200lbs extra and other traditional feats of strength. To tell you the truth, this stuff is easy in comparison, and I can still perform it without touching those exercises for years. Also, the net is full of such video clips, showing it is not that unique and hard to achieve.
I am impressed by this guy for example, obviously not a gymnast, but someone who made his choice to train without weights and achieved great results. Do you think this guy cannot bench above 300, perform pull ups with extra 100, etc? of course he can. For me, that is optimal use of his training time. Period.


How about his ability to manipulate external load?


Gymnastics and bodyweight strength and conditioning is jack of all trades already. Dont over do it with unneeded concentration on external loads.

Ido Portal.
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Let me just say that I recently started gymnastic conditioning. Before, I only lifted weights. When I started with the gymnastic training I thought I would keep on lifting weights to supplement it. Boy was I wrong. I am much more exhausted after a gymnastic workout. I need all the rest time I can get before my next gymnastic workout. I believe...at least for me...that any weight training at this point in time would be more detrimental than beneficial to my health, recovery, and progress. Nice post.

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do you feel deadlifts and barbell squats have any carryover effect to bodyweight exercises, if done once a week

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Ido, I think you are right. Although, there's a main reason on why a bench presser can't planche. Sure, you need a good chest, but more important are the shoulders. Bench press doesn't work front deltoid in the same ROM. Although, I saw your purpose in that statement.

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This reminds me of me benching an all time PR of 90kg after 5 benching sessions, without having benched in the last 10 months before AND having been injured from 6 months before until 2 months before i did this. so for the last 2 months before the PR i pretty much only did bw and then thought it would be funny to go for a 90kg bench and it took me only 5 unserious (as in doing crazy dropsets and all kinds of bodybuilding style lifting, almost no neural focus on the lifting) sessions. And bw was around 70kg when I did this because i gained a bit of fat during my injury time.

hope you understood this explanation :lol:

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As for the DL, SQ and the Olifts:

I believe they will be determinal for optimal development of bodyweight skills, due to many factors - overtaxing the CNS, excessive hypertrophy of the lower body, (will not be avoided even with 1-3 reps per set as one can see in Olifters legs) and time management issues.

But...

If you are not a gymnast/acrobat or your interest in bodyweight skills is only one part of your world, you may still be interested in using some weighted lower body work, especialy since I feel its effect cannot be duplicated with only bodyweight exercises. (I am not just presenting a bodyweight aproach because I am a fanatic, but with sound reasoning behind it)

If one is interested in optimal development of such traits as lower body explosiveness - sprints, jumps, etc.. there is no better way to do it than to use these exercises.

It does not mean you cannot develop these abilities at all with bodyweight work, as ive demonstrated in my training facility in the past, but it is far from optimal. Gymnasts rely more on rebounding and elastic ability and this is why they can get away with it, as I have mentioned before. (gymnast's vjumps are nothing to write home about for example)

As for upper body development, for the most complete one, bodyweight skills are essential. Here you cannot duplicate the effects of gymnastics s&c with traditional weighted work. Some have tried, for example the blurry aproach that was demonstrated by Adam Archuleta's ex-coach Jay Schroeder and the writings of a controversial and perheps fictive figure Ditrich Bochenholz. The training methods described by them were, for me, a try to copy gymnastics effect on the gymnast but in the weight room.

To conclude:

If you are interested in dominating your body in space (I use this pure aproach when training dancers, acrobats, common people, bboys, capoeiristas, some martial artists, etc) concentrate on building your aproach to training with the many methods using bodyweight training and gymanstics oriented s&c.

If you are interested in optimal development of lower body explosiveness - build your aproach from SQ, DL and/or Olifting. (both have been shown to work)

If you are interested in both - first be aware the process will not yeild optimal results in both fields, and then you can choose these directions:

Upper body - gymnastics and bodyweight work & lower body - weighted work

Trying to combine more weighted work (even over relience on weighted gymnastics exercises) for the upper body is shooting yourself in the leg, IMHO. Make sure you do not overtax your limited recovery ability with these non optimal exercises. (for upper body development that is) One can use a limited amount of isolation weighted work to solve strutural balance issues and perform joint prehab.

Another aproach I have discussed with coach sommer before that *may* work is a combination of a very limited volume of DLifts with the pure gymnastics aproach, something like Barry Ross's work with sprinters. This can be the best trade off, but depending on your genetics you may still one to avoid even this limited DL work.

Ido Portal.

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Yeah, I've been digging the Barry Ross approach to sprinters for gymnasts possibly.

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I would like to hear more on this topic. Mainly because my goals are purely gymnastic for the upperbody and sprinting/jumping for lower body.

As a result of trying to fit everything in I am always playing around with how to organize my routines. What I have tried: A.three gymnastic sessions with 1 lower body movement at the end with static strength moves done on off days (this occasionaly leads to shoulder tendonitis) B. same routine but static moves are done before the workout with gpp on off days - no speed work is done during this split. C. 2 gymnastic sessions with static moves at the beginning of the workout, 1 lower body day with weights, and one speed day (basically sprinting), and gpp done on off days.

Just interested if anyone has any other ideas? or how their experiences were with their routines.

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I have to agree, for the most part. The only reason I've been using so many weightlifting upper body exercises recently is that until my shoulder and elbows fully heal I can't push myself hard enough to maintain strength with the straight arms.

For the lower body, sled sprints, car pushes, DL, squats, O-lifts and of course hip lifts/back lifts are really unparalleled in their ability to generate explosiveness. I personally like to mix those with the GHR, Shrimps, SLS, and jumping exercises, as I am seeing better results that way than with anything else. For the weighted work, splitting between heavy sets and heavy partial end-ROM sets is ideal in my opinion, as you really can't support more than two heavy weighted workouts a week unless you're juicing. The end-ROM builds the tendons and ligaments, and the full ROM does more for muscular development, though of course those effects cross over to some degree. Even so, without training the shrimps, SLS, GHR, etc, the extreme mobility and agility that COULD be developed won't be, even if the strength is there. I am finding that it takes far less in the way of sets, reps, and workout sessions to achieve high levels of strength and power than many people think.

As for the upper body, I'm seeing better results with the HSPU than I ever have with shoulder press. I AM doing some odd lifts like bent press and kettlebell work one day a week, and they seem to be helping, but for the most part the bodyweight stuff is much harder than most of the weighted work. I am finding that fewer workout days with more sessions per workout day is superior to more workout days with a single session. Anyone who aspires to perform planches, levers, and really any of the higher level gymnastic exercises is absolutely going to benefit from most of their time being spent on the bodyweight progressions directly. I don't know that this is quite a disagreement, but I do personally think that spending one session on one workout day per week with heavy partial movements for the upper body is highly beneficial. The last few inches of the military press, bench, top of the deadlift, and bent over row are good places to perform these. This approach seems to be raising my hormone levels significantly. For example, I am having to shower twice a day now, because if I don't my skin will start breaking out. Not TERRIBLE, but much more than normal. I feel like I am constantly on a moderate caffeine high. I also have noticeably elevated mood. So, for both hormonal and tendon strengthening reasons, I do think the heavy partials have a relatively small but very important place in the training cycle.

As a side note, I have found that placing my rings 4-5 feet apart and doing a close support hold is absolute murder! I can't even hold it for 10 seconds. My chest got more sore than it's been... I don't know, in years, I think. Things like this make me realize how much we can really do with BW. Try that, and try placing your rings maybe 5-6 feet apart and doing a push-up support hold. Indescribably difficult. I'm curious to see what people's opinions of these variants are, I just started doing these on my last workout. It hit me that wider rings would be really hard, so I tried them. Opinions/experiences upon trying this?

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Awesome discussion.

What if instead of doing DL and squat, since they stress the back, you stuck with single leg variations? Less back stress but lots of leg stress. The romanian split squat can be done for low reps. Bilaterally, hip belt squats are a great option.

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Thank you for your opinion, but recommending car pulls, hips lifts and heavy partial upper body weighted work is not really agreeing... Dont piss on my leg and tell me its raining.

I can recommend a lot of useful stuff also: strongman training, unconventional object lifting, olifting, pinch grip training, rope climbing, breathing squats, sandbag training and club swinging for example. Throwing any exercise and system together into a mix is not so hard, but does it produces optimal results? should we recommend this to the people reading this forum? Is this a smart and useful aproach or just a layout of many (maybe) individualy successful aproaches but a far from optimal combined system?

I do not see the avarege reader of this forum benefiting from such recommendations, I have to say.

Ido Portal.

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Trianglechoke - who said stressing the back is a problem? On the contrary, I believe that without proper loading of the posterior chain together as a unit, one will only produce quad dominant athletes who are more prone to injury and produce far from optimal power generation in the lower body.

Single leg squats, pistols, split sq, bulgarian sp-sq, shrimps, step ups etc, are good but they will not produce the results heavy sq, dl and olifting will in terms of power generation.

The problem lies not in the back stress but in other factors I have described in my prior posts. Go over it again.

Ido.

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We used to set the ring straps wide apart when we hung the rings and the straps were short to makeup for the lack of instablity. Especially on dips or IC work.

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Ido, can you give other references about the higher rates of motor unit recruitment besides Poliquin?

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I've been doing limited weighted exercises and they have specific places in my training: rehab, weak link training, to simple movements (that complement complex ones) and posterior chain.

I keep my rehab work light, usually bungee, and I don't think any one will argue it an issue being detrimental to my body weight work.

We've discussed weak link training to some extent in my workout blog. Weak link training is viable if a body weight exercise is not suitable. My biceps and elbows are my weak link in malteses, so I'll supplement my maltese work with weighted movements as close to it as possible. Though if I had a spotter or a means to keep load on my bicep and elbows without drastically altering the balance point, then I probably wouldn't bother with the weights.

Instead of a complex body weight exercise all the time, I'll add weight to a more simple movement. I'll train straddle front lever oblique twists one day and then weighted front lever pulls later in the week. I'll do korean dips that descend to a back lever one day and then weighted bulgarian dips another day of the week. I opt for the harder bodyweight exercise rather than a comparably easier ones, but when I do not train the harder one I'll add weight to the easier variation.

I've started doing some lifts occasionally. Mainly deadlifts and squats, squats to a lesser extent. Reps never exceed 25 per day so I doubt any hypertrophy will be terribly unwieldy. I've noticed increased power in tumbling and jumping just yesterday even though I haven't trained tumbling or jumping in a very long time. I have not noted any slowed progress in upper body exercises. I may have been able to achieve this with pistols and GHR etc, but this serves as compelling evidence to me that it is not detrimental to my training.

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Ido, my thinking was that decreasing the back stress would also decrease the CNS fatigue (would it?), but still sufficiently load the legs.

I know that some have advanced the idea that weighted single leg exercises are better for developing lower body strength and power (most notably Mike Boyle). The whole "death of squatting thing." Do you have any opinion on that?

Thanks

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I used to do loads weights.... got tonnes of injuries (Tendonitis in 5 separate joints at one point). Starting doing the bodyweight static strength work.... they went away. Simple as.

Trianglechoke, does it make any difference that SLS's dont have as much lower back activation when back levers and planches are the ultimate lower back exercises....

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Yes, trianglechoke I do on Mike Boyle. He is pretty much a fool. There was a thread on CF and Rip's forum on that nonsense.

Some weeks ago, for fun, I relatively no problems doing 15 lunges with each leg with 146lbs. It was nowhere as tough as 290 but it was metabolic. It was nowhere as tough as 225x5 either in a BS.

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As a sprinter I thought I would add that I don't deadlift (traditional, I do use variations like rdl) or squat. I would also like to add that lunges and other single leg work (not pistols though) with rdls, ghrs, and hip thrusts has done way more for my sprinting then squating or deadlifting. Not saying those are bad exercises on the contra-re I felt very let down that two of my favorite exercises had to be put on the back burner to get better at sprinting.

PS Mike Boyle is one of the most successful strength coaches in the industry, I dont agree with him on some stuff but to say that the guy doesn't know what he is talking about would be like saying Coach Sommer can't tell you how to get to an iron cross. Also more and more athletes these days are utilizing more and more single leg work for sports then bilateral versions. For general strength and size in my opinion the deadlift and squat are at the top. However for athletes looking to improve sprinting/jumping (what athlete doesn't want either or both) a more tactical approach is required then just saying squat and deadlift.

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I agree that bodyweight is superior to weights for the upper body. Been saying this for years to anyone who would listen, haha.

I like Barry Ross' DL + one or two upper body + core work for sprinting. I know a couple people on the program with very good results.. much better than anything else it seems. Get strong, and let the sprinting work take care of the rest basically.

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I've read and wasted far too much of my time on Mike Boyle and always leave unimpressed. Sorry, I still think he's a tool. Something like a short necked screwdriver. Just about useless for practical applications. Have you seen video of his athletes training?

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doing 9 yes NINE reps of heavy squats 2-3 times a week is enough to make my legs hypertrophy without eating for a bulk or anything. just thought i'd throw it out there to confirm that in my case low reps is not enough to keep hypertrophy away.

EDIT: the 9 reps are done in 3 sets of 3 so its not one set of 9!

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Thank you for your opinion, but recommending car pulls, hips lifts and heavy partial upper body weighted work is not really agreeing... Dont piss on my leg and tell me its raining.

I can recommend a lot of useful stuff also: strongman training, unconventional object lifting, olifting, pinch grip training, rope climbing, breathing squats, sandbag training and club swinging for example. Throwing any exercise and system together into a mix is not so hard, but does it produces optimal results? should we recommend this to the people reading this forum? Is this a smart and useful aproach or just a layout of many (maybe) individualy successful aproaches but a far from optimal combined system?

I do not see the avarege reader of this forum benefiting from such recommendations, I have to say.

Ido Portal.

HAHAHAHAHA!!! Sorry about your leg :lol:

I am currently doing an experiment on myself to see if some of the more esoteric exercises I made are directly applicable to the gymnastics, so currently I can't actually say that the readers will benefit. In two months the results will be in for at least short term gains. As far as the hip lifts and heavy partials, anything that strengthens the muscles in the end range of motion, which is where almost all interaction with tumbling surfaces takes place, probably WILL produce increases in tumbling explosiveness.

I think the average reader in most forums won't benefit from what I say too much, but the ones who intend to achieve superior results will. I don't know how many of each we have. A lot of what I recommend pertains to the strength building phase anyhow. Once sufficient maximal strength is achieved for gymnastic goals, it's all about training the movements with just enough other stuff to maintain strength and joint integrity, along with pre-hab and stretching. I am well aware that what I am doing is quite counter to the general gymnastics culture, though I freely admit that the upper body does benefit far more from the gymnastic work than from weights as a general rule. I won't be able to say for sure how well my approach is working until we see how long it takes for me to achieve full planche, HS presses, etc. Front lever I basically already have. Many of the readers in this forum have athletic goals outside of gymnastics, and for them my post does have far more relevance than for the pure gymnasts.

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Ido, my thinking was that decreasing the back stress would also decrease the CNS fatigue (would it?), but still sufficiently load the legs.

I know that some have advanced the idea that weighted single leg exercises are better for developing lower body strength and power (most notably Mike Boyle). The whole "death of squatting thing." Do you have any opinion on that?

Thanks

Here's the deal on that, in my opinion. No matter how much leg power you have, it's useless if you cannot transfer it cleanly and efficiently through the upper body to the arms. You can SLS yourself into the ground for years and even if you can do SLS 100 times, you haven't built the back strength and stability to use that force. Unless you are pushing or tumbling on your hips alone, you need your upper body. The greatest thing about weighted squats is that you are moving a load with the legs while stabilizing that load with the spine. Gymnastics has few areas where this is 100% relevant, but in the sports world it is paramount. In any sport that you contact an opponent, you are not going to be able to use your superior leg strength against your opponent successfully if you can't transfer that power THROUGH the upper body and into your opponent. Whether it's a shove on the football line, pushing and shoving in soccer or basketball, plowing through people as you run the ball in any of those sports, etc etc, your legs mean nothing without an upper body capable of transferring the force. That requires spinal loading. The squat will never die.

As a side note, squats are second only to deadlifts in testosterone stimulation. There are no exercises that equal these two in terms of how much testosterone they cause your body to produce. Testosterone is one of the athlete's best friends. Single leg exercises have their place, but they cannot do what squats do, and for that reason squatting is always a good idea.

Razz: Dude, if you're squatting 3 times a week of course your legs are going to grow lol!!!

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As a sprinter I thought I would add that I don't deadlift (traditional, I do use variations like rdl) or squat. I would also like to add that lunges and other single leg work (not pistols though) with rdls, ghrs, and hip thrusts has done way more for my sprinting then squating or deadlifting. Not saying those are bad exercises on the contra-re I felt very let down that two of my favorite exercises had to be put on the back burner to get better at sprinting.

PS Mike Boyle is one of the most successful strength coaches in the industry, I dont agree with him on some stuff but to say that the guy doesn't know what he is talking about would be like saying Coach Sommers can't tell you how to get to an iron cross. Also more and more athletes these days are utilizing more and more single leg work for sports then bilateral versions. For general strength and size in my opinion the deadlift and squat are at the top. However for athletes looking to improve sprinting/jumping (what athlete doesn't want either or both) a more tactical approach is required then just saying squat and deadlift.

Agreed. You will find that heavy end ROM squats greatly enhance your sprinting. One set once a week with the heaviest weight you can handle for the top 4-6 inches of the ROM, lifted in a moderately explosive manner, will VASTLY improve your ability. Why? You are working only the functional ROM. Everything else is important too, but one of the keys to athletic success is being strong in the ranges of motion you perform in during your event. As a sprinter, your legs are never bent all that much during contact with the ground. Sure, they bend with the leg raise after a stride, but during the time they are contacting the track and propelling you forward, you are in a very small range of motion. If you analyze your stride, look at the leg angle relative to the hip during your stride's contact with the ground, and work that ROM very heavy for one set(with a few warm ups) you will see a big increase in power, which will translate into better times on your sprints. The same concept can be applied to your single leg movements if you don't overdo the volume :) I don't know what Mike Boyle recommends, I've never read his stuff. I never even heard the name until I saw it here, to be honest. I think you will enjoy the results you get :) And I"m not surprised that your DL isn't doing anything for your sprints :P It does suck to put a favorite exercise on the back burner, sorry about that :)

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