All Muscle, No Iron

An Interview with Coach Christopher Sommer

T-Nation: Coach, let's get started by talking a little about who you are and what you do. So, who the heck are you and what the heck do you do?

T-Nation: Okay, every time the Olympics roll around, bodybuilders and fitness buffs go monkeynuts over the physiques of the male gymnasts. What's the biggest thing about their training that would surprise most gymrats?

T-Nation: Wait a sec, these guys with the killer biceps don't do barbell and dumbbell curls?


T-Nation: What do you mean exactly by straight-arm work?

Raj Bhavsar performing an iron cross in the 2004 USA Championships

T-Nation: That's impressive. I've heard stories that these athletes can lift a surprising amount of weight in the deadlift and other lifts, even though they never train these lifts. Is that true? And if it is, how's that possible?


T-Nation: Most of the top male gymnasts are fairly light aren't they? With all that muscle you'd think they'd weigh more. Can a hopeful gymnast get "too big" for the sport?


T-Nation: I've added a little gymnastics training into my personal program, but honestly, is there really any hope for an adult who wants to have a build similar to these guys? I mean, is it possible with normal genetics? And is it possible for someone who didn't start doing this stuff at age four?

Jack LaLanne in the 1940s
John Gill performing a one arm front lever in the 1960s

T-Nation: Let's say a person reading this wants to begin to do just a little of what these guys do. You say to start out with the "frog" exercise. What is that and why should we ironheads be doing it?

Josh West performing the frog stand

T-Nation: You mentioned the planche and you've also written about the front lever. Give us the scoop on those please.

Beginning the straddle planche push-up
Middle of the straddle planche push-up. Notice that only his hands are touching the ground.
Finishing the straddle planche push-up
Straddle front lever

As for their effectiveness, I've seen many gymnasts capable of planche push-ups do double bodyweight bench presses on their first attempts. Conversely, I've never seen a weightlifter capable of doing a double bodyweight bench press even come close to a planche push-up initially.

T-Nation: That's amazing. What's the secret of building substantial strength using these bodyweight exercises?


T-Nation: Interesting. You once wrote that for maximum improvements, training to failure isn't necessary, but maximum contraction is. Can you elaborate on that?


T-Nation: What kind of lower body work do these gymnasts do? Is leg work all that important?


T-Nation: What about targeted ab training?

T-Nation: These top athletes, obviously they train hard and have dedicated their lives to this sport, but it's hard to compete at the world class level without using performance enhancing drugs, at least in many sports. What's the drug scene like in men's gymnastics?

T-Nation: True, but it's possible to use steroids and other performance enhancing drugs and not get bulky. Plus, there's a big difference between someone testing clean and someone actually being clean. So you're saying that world class gymnasts don't use performance enhancing drugs?

T-Nation: Fair enough. I understand you have a book coming out on all of this. Plug away!


T-Nation: We look forward to seeing these. Stop back by T-Nation and let us know when they're available. Thanks for the chat today, Coach!