‘Building the Gymnastic Body’ by Christopher Sommer – a review

Discussion in 'Health and Fitness' started by Frodocious, Dec 14, 2008.

  1. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

    ‘Building the Gymnastic Body’ by Christopher Sommer – a review


    Well after several years (and I do mean years!) of waiting for this book, it has finally arrived. Was it worth the wait, well, yes and no…

    For those of you who don’t know Coach Sommer, he is a well respected US gymnastic coach. His students have won numerous State, Regional and National championships and he has been writing bodyweight training articles for Dragondoor (http://www.dragondoor.com/) for several years. He recently launched his own website (http://www.gymnasticbodies.com/) and this book has been promised for a good few years now. The book is along the same lines as the Dragondoor articles; in that it covers the basic progressions needed to build up a gymnastics based strength routine. The book is one of a proposed five part series covering a variety of gymnastic training concepts.

    The 5 volumes in the series will be:
    ‘Building the Gymnastic Body’ – beginner to intermediate basic strength.
    ‘All Muscle, No Iron’ – advanced ring strength.
    ‘Liquid Steel’ – joint preparation/active flexibility.
    ‘The Handstand Chronicles’ – handstand work.
    ‘The Dynamic Physique’ – dynamic strength.

    ‘Building the Gymnastic Body’ covers static strength (inc. l-sit, planche, front and back levers), upper body pressing (inc. pushups, dips, handstand pushups and multi-plane pressing exercises), upper body pulling (inc. rows, pullups, ring curls and multi-plane pulling exercises), combined pull and press (inc. muscle-ups), core work (inc. v-ups, hanging leg raises, lower back and obliques) and legs (inc. deck squats, single leg squats and hamstring exercises). Each exercise has a progression from an easy variation, e.g. push-ups, to an advanced variation, that may take years to perfect - planche pushups. Also included in the book are sections on basic equipment and program design. The latter is split into program creation for static strength, basic strength and integrated programs.

    The exercise descriptions and progression are excellent, allowing everybody who buys the book a place to start, regardless of current strength levels. I found the program design chapter a little confusing at first glance, however with further reading it became clearer. I would have liked it to have included a sample workout, but it is easy enough to create your own with the information available. Coach Sommer’s website will (hopefully) be listing ‘Workouts of the Day’ in the near future.

    The exercises listed do require you to have access to some gymnastic equipment or be able to improvise things. At the very least, you will need a set of gymnastics rings. Other useful items would include a pullup bar, a set of parallettes (or pushup bars) and a dip station (can be improvised with 2 chairs). If you’re really lucky, a set of parallel bars, a pommel horse (or some kind of high bench – for doing the back exercises) and a set of wall bars would solve all your equipment needs.

    It should be noted that this book is purely a strength training book and does not cover conditioning or stretching. There will be a volume on joint preparation, ‘Liquid Steel’, but I have no idea when this will be coming out. What this book is not however, is a structured analysis of the scientific principles of gymnastics training There is very little theory in the book, so if you’re expecting something along the lines of Thomas Kurz’s ‘Stretching Scientifically’, or even Ross Enamait’s work, you will be disappointed. However, if you want a comprehensive list of gymnastic techniques for building basic strength and a brief description of how to implement this training this is the book for you.

    I would advise anybody thinking of buying ‘Building the Gymnastic Body’ to invest in the accompanying 5 DVDs. These are split into the same categories as the book chapters (legs, upper body pressing and pulling, core and static strength) and provide an invaluable visual reference to the exercises listed. The DVDs are well produced, but suffer due a lack of ease of accessibility of the exercises. It is not possible to ‘play all’ on them and therefore each exercise must be selected and played separately, which makes watching the progressions all the way through a pain in the neck. I have heard some complaints from people who would like to leave the DVDs running in their gyms and, because of this feature, can’t. However, for a home user I feel this lack of ‘play all’ will become less of an issue after the first viewing, as the DVDs will probably be used as reference point when tackling a new exercise progression and so only that exercise will need to be accessed. The DVDs do not contain any descriptions or theory, only short clips of each exercise in the book.

    There is another issue that any prospective buyer should be aware of and that is on some of the DVDs, although certain exercises can be accessed and watched, there is no visual text on the menu to let you know they are present. However if the on screen curser disappears between the last named exercise and the ‘back’ arrow, then there is another exercise on the menu and the viewer only has to select ‘play’ and it will come up.

    My main criticism of the book is that the author makes constant references to the unpublished volumes in the series, which makes it very frustrating. Hence my noncommittal ‘Was it worth the wait, well, yes and no…’ at the start of this article. Hopefully, once the other volumes are released, it will have been!

    I would recommend this book (and DVDs) without hesitation to anybody interested in bodyweight training. I believe that all martial artists can benefit from the exercises covered, but it is particularly relevant to the more acrobatic styles, such as Capoeira, Wu Shu and XMA.
  2. blanker

    blanker Valued Member

    good i have been waiting for aboutv 4 years or so for this book to come out.
  3. Ad McG

    Ad McG Troll-killer Supporter

    It's finally out! This has been a LONG time in the making. It really annoys me though when something takes so long to come out yet still has obvious faults. Still sounds good though. Madness that it doesn't appear to be on amazon.
  4. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

    Tell me about it. I can't believe how long it took for them to release this book! That's why I find the constant references to the other books in the series really frustrating. In particular, the fact that Coach Sommer states something along the lines that 'joint preparation work should begin from day 1', but the book 'Liquid Steel' has no release date yet. :bang:

    I don't know whether the book will be on general release to Amazon. I think it was a special order/limited print run. I had to buy my copy from his website.

    It is a really good book though - despite a few faults.
  5. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

  6. kombatmaster777

    kombatmaster777 Valued Member

    Lovedd the book but I still have questions on the program design.

    Coach said he will release liquid steel and the handstand cronicles simmultaneously.
    It's probably a bussiness thing that he didn't release hs cronicles and liquid steel tho.
  7. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

    From what he says on his website, I think that he is still doing the photography for 'Liquid Steel'. I'm really hoping it doesn't take as long to come out as 'Building the Gymnastic Body'!

    I thought I had sussed out the program design but looking at the workouts that are being published, I'm confused again! :(
  8. kombatmaster777

    kombatmaster777 Valued Member

    I'm confused too frodicious.
    I actually have no idea of what the purpose is for the WODs.

    Is.it suspose to apply to beginners?
    R they random workouts or do they eventually lead to something?
    Everyone seems so excited about them, but I still really don't understand the WODs.
  9. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

    I find Coach Sommer and his information really frustrating at times. :bang: He gives one set of instructions in his books and then different workouts on his website. :bang:

    The WODs seem to be aimed at slightly more advanced athletes with access to more equipment than is listed in the books. I have figured out most of what I need to create my own program. The only thing I'm still a little confused over is how to include the static sets in the workout.

    I'm not going to bother with the WODs at the moment!
  10. kombatmaster777

    kombatmaster777 Valued Member


    I know how you feel man. The WOD's make no sense to me (a total beginner) and some of the exercises he puts in the WOD's aren't even in the book just random stuff that already been posted being put together.

    The thing that threw me off was when he started to say giant sets...I was like WTF that wasn't in the book.

    The way I see the static sets (from what I've gathered with asking many questions) is that it should be performed before any FBE's. After you are done with you statics a 45-60 second break is acceptable.
    But no one on that site seems to know how to answer my questions on the somewhat vague Programming chapter in Coach Sommer's book.

    Idk if you can answer this but Coach Sommer (in his book) said to pick 4 FBEs from each of the 4 categories (leg, press, ect) and stick with it throughout the whole cycle without changing the exercises, but now I am getting people telling me that each day I should do different leg, core, press, pull exercises each day. Doesn't that screw up the whole constant idea of the SSC?
  11. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

    The thing that confuses me about the static exercises is how many sets to do. I've placed them in my workout before the FBEs but I'm wondering if I just do 1 set of holds (totalling 60secs) and then do 3x5 of the FBE or, if I'm doing 3x5 of the FBE, do I do 3 sets of static holds as well and if so, do I do 3 sets of 60 secs or split them into say 3 sets of up to 20 secs? :bang:

    From the book I worked out that each day you do a different push, pull, leg and core exercise

    So for example, if doing a 3 day cycle for leg exercises you would do one day each of deck squats, 1 leg squats and glute ham raises but you would stick with these variations for 8-12 weeks then change exercises to the next progression. The same with pushing, each day do 1 of pushups, dips or ring rows.

    I'll dig my plan out when I get home and post it up for you to take a look. I'm going to be doing a 3 day a week gymnastics session and 1 day conventional lifting.
  12. kombatmaster777

    kombatmaster777 Valued Member

    Wow, thanks Frodicious that really clears things up for me.

    My schedule will be 4 days a week because a lot of ppl don't know why, but it seems like the magic number coach sommer likes using and plus I have extra time in the week to do it.

    Not sure if I can help with your question but I'll try.

    If you are wondering about how many sets to do all you do is, for example:

    Lets say your max hold for a planche tuck is 12 seconds. You would divide that by half (6 seconds) and then divide the quocient (6) into 60 and you would get 10 sets of 6 seconds for that particular static hold.
    From looking at ur schedule you would do your 10 sets each training day before you do your FBE sets.

    The amount of sets in your static holds is totally dependent on your maximum hold time. Thats for sure.

    I got this info. from the book and GB members that were nice enough to answer my questions, but they to were also unsure about some programming things left unexplained in the book.

    Will doing 1 day of lifting screw up your SSC or did you find a way to keep the lifting aspect of your program from being detrimental to your FBE and FSE?
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2008
  13. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

    I figured that much out from the book. My main query is whether to do 1 set of static holds (60 secs in total) before the FBEs or whether to split the statics into 3 sets and do one before each set of FBEs. So far, I'm planning to do 1 set of 60 secs total, then rest, then do the relevant FBE exercise at 3 x 5.

    I'm planning on doing a 3 day gymnastic/1 day conventional lifting program because I enjoy deadlifting etc and want to keep progressing with the lifts. I decided to drop the gymnastic multiplane day from my routine and replace it with conventional lifts because the multiplane exercises are too advanced for me at the moment. I haven't yet figured out the order in which I'm going to do the 4 day cycle. It will depend on what other training (MA) I'm going to be doing.
  14. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

    OK, this is the workout plan I have come up with:

    Day 1:

    Press: Planche variation (Frog Stand), Pushup variation (ring push up)
    Pull: Back lever (lower to tuck back lever), Ring Row (feet on ground)
    Legs: Front Lever variation (tuck front lever), Deck Squat
    Core: L-sit variation (tuck L-sit), v-ups, russian twist, good mornings

    Day 2:

    Press: Planche variation (Frog Stand), Dip variation (dips)
    Pull: Back lever (lower to tuck back lever), Curl variation (inverted ring curl)
    Legs: Front Lever variation (tuck front lever), Glute Ham raise
    Core: L-sit variation (tuck L-sit), hanging leg lifts, Windshield wipers, arch ups

    Day 3:

    Press: Planche variation (Frog Stand), Handstand Pushup variation (Box HSPU)
    Pull: Back lever (lower to tuck back lever), Pullup variation (jumping)
    Legs: Front Lever variation (tuck front lever), 1 leg squat negatives
    Core: L-sit variation (tuck L-sit), side to side arch ups, v-ups

    Plus 1 day of conventional lifting: deadlifts, squats, benching, overhead pressing, rowing.

    Coach Sommer also suggests combining pushing and pulling sets and core and leg sets. So you'd do the press set and go straight to the pull set and repeat for the total number of sets required, then do the leg set and go straight to the core set and repeat for the number of sets required.

    I may end up doing 4 days a week or, possibly, 2 days a week and using a 2 week cycle. I'll see how things go and what else I'm doing.

    Hope this helps!
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2008
  15. kombatmaster777

    kombatmaster777 Valued Member

    Nice routine frodicious the only thing that confuses me is that in ur last post u say you are doing one set of 60 seconds total. R u saying that you can hold a particular static position for 60 seconds? If so y don't you just nov on to a harder variation?

    I'm also confused about the Same thing you are confused about.

    Idk but I was under the impression that u had to do one static hold a training day and could only Per two per training cycle.
  16. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

    Nope my static holds total 60secs, but that 60secs is made up of several shorter sets.

    I didn't read it that way, but I'll go back and check.
  17. kombatmaster777

    kombatmaster777 Valued Member

    Ok total 60 seconds my bad.

    Yea, 4 static holds a day plus FBE's seem very strenuous for people that do other sports and martial arts as well, but maybe coach intended the integrated sets to be an adequate workout for the average fitness enthusiast who has nothing else on his plate.

    My main question now is probably your question as well which is:

    "My main query is whether to do 1 set of static holds (60 secs in total) before the FBEs or whether to split the statics into 3 sets and do one before each set of FBEs. So far, I'm planning to do 1 set of 60 secs total, then rest, then do the relevant FBE exercise at 3 x 5."
  18. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

    I checked on the Gymnastic bodies website, and folk there don't seem to have a problem doing 3 or 4 static holds per session. I guess it depends on what you want to accomplish and what else you're doing. I'll be starting my routine at the end of January and once I've done it for a couple of weeks I'll make a decision on whether to keep it as above or modify it.
  19. kombatmaster777

    kombatmaster777 Valued Member

    Good luck with that man, tell me how it goes and I will do the same.


  20. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

    Will do!

    Oh, and it's 'woman' not 'man'! :D

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