I thought some of you might be interested in a review I wrote for another forum. Hope it helps!
‘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.