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Christopher Sommer - Building an Olympic Body Through Body Weight Conditioning

Christopher Sommer - Building an Olympic Body Through Body Weight Conditioning

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Building an Olympic Body through Bodyweight Conditioninghttp://www.dragondoor.com/cgi-bin/articles.pl?rm=mode3&articleid=2291 of 165/29/04 1:55 AM
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Building an Olympic Body through BodyweightConditioning
Christopher Sommer
We have all seen them on television during the Olympics; these powerfulmen performing amazing skills with ease and grace. Watching them performthe question inevitably arises - are they as powerful as they look? And theanswer is - yes. What will probably be even more surprising to you is thatthey build their strength and physiques almost entirely with variousbodyweight exercises.The list of requirements is long and can be rather daunting to prepare aworld class athlete: passive flexibility, active flexibility, joint preparation,static strength, dynamic strength etc. etc. and is probably only interesting indetail to those of us involved with the physical preparation of champions.There are of course some supplemental exercises where weight is added (i.e.weighted leg lifts), however the central premise remains; these amazingathletes have built the vast majority of their strength and power through theuse of bodyweight conditioning.
 
Building an Olympic Body through Bodyweight Conditioninghttp://www.dragondoor.com/cgi-bin/articles.pl?rm=mode3&articleid=2292 of 165/29/04 1:55 AM
Now another question that we should ask ourselves - is the bodyweighttraining of the Olympians also beneficial to the fitness enthusiast? And if so,is it possible to apply at least some of it to those without a professionalinstructor to guide them or tens of thousands of dollars of specializedgymnastics equipment? And the answers are once again - yes and yes. Thereare some of our specialized exercises that are relatively easy to learn andrequire little or no equipment beyond a chin-up bar and some floor space.In this article, I will cover the basic progressions needed to learn twoprimary gymnastics exercises: the planche and the front lever. This will beby no means a complete bodyweight training program, but rather anintroduction. These two movements were chosen for their novelty, thesimplicity of the movements and for the excellent strength gains that arepossible for those who are willing to commit the necessary sweat anddedication. The planche will be our pressing movement and the front leverwill be our pulling movement. At advanced levels, adding a pushup to theplanche and a pull-up to the front lever will effectively give a fairly intensefull upper body workout, including the abs and lower back.Now before continuing further into our training, let’s first regress andconsider the question of why to do bodyweight conditioning in the firstplace? A common misconception is that bodyweight exercises do not buildsubstantial strength but are rather more suited for building endurance. Formost people this conjures images of endless pushups, sit-ups or for the
 
Building an Olympic Body through Bodyweight Conditioninghttp://www.dragondoor.com/cgi-bin/articles.pl?rm=mode3&articleid=2293 of 165/29/04 1:55 AM
strong, perhaps pull-ups and dips. Great maybe for general fitness orendurance, but of little value in building real strength.First of all, exercise is exercise. Period. The name of the game is resistance.A muscle contracts against resistance and, with perseverance, over time,becomes stronger. For strength to increase, the amount of resistance or loadworked against must also increase over time. Hence the problem withbodyweight conditioning - as the resistance (weight of the body) is fixed,how to continue to increase strength? Surprisingly the answer is simple - bydecreasing the amount of leverage it is possible to exert on an exercise, theresistance of an exercise becomes increasingly greater. For example, ahanging straight leg lift is much harder than a tucked leg lift. In bothexercises the weight of your legs remains constant, however by reducingyour leverage (i.e. in this case straightening your legs) we are able to greatlyincrease the resistance. By straightening the legs we have effectivelydoubled the difficulty of the exercise even though the weight of the bodyhas remained constant.With experience and creativity it is possible to learn or design exercises that,done correctly and with the proper progressions, are so lacking in leveragethat even at bodyweight levels of resistance it is possible to build staggeringamounts of strength. In addition to strength, the athlete will also developexcellent balance, coordination, agility and exceptional core strength.Perhaps that is why spectacular film athletes like Jackie Chan and Mark Dacascos always include gymnastics training in their physical preparation.How well do the progressions that I am going to share with you work? Well,consider that fact that Mr. Mas Watanabe recently visited my men’sgymnastics program and was astounded by the levels of strength anddevelopment he saw. For those of you outside the gymnastics community,Mr. Watanabe has been for the past 30 plus years, one of our primaryleaders of men’s gymnastics here in the United States and has personallyworked with and evaluated every Olympian, World Championship,National, and Junior National Team member that our country has producedduring this time. After observing my current athletes completing their dailybodyweight conditioning program, Mr. Watanabe informed me that theywere the strongest most physically prepared group of athletes he had everseen. In fact he went so far as to state that he had never even seen anothergroup come close. Now the main point that I would like to emphasize here -is that their physical development was procured almost exclusively throughconsistent progressive bodyweight conditioning.How strong is it possible to become with bodyweight exercises? Amazinglystrong. In fact I would go so far as to say, done correctly, far stronger thansomeone who had trained for the same amount of time with free weights.

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