The Secrets of Gymnastic Strength Training (#158)

This is what a GST athlete looks like.
This is what a GST athlete looks like.

“If the best in the world are stretching their ass off in order to get strong, why aren’t you?” – Christopher Sommer

If you loved the Pavel, Poliquin, or Dom D’Agostino episodes, you’ll love this one.

My guest this episode is Christopher Sommer (GymnasticBodies on Instagram/Facebook), former US national team gymnastics coach. He is also the founder of GymnasticBodies, a training system that I’m currently testing (and have no affiliation with). As a world-renowned Olympic coach, Sommer is known for building his students into some of the strongest, most powerful athletes in the world.

During his extensive 40-year coaching career, Coach Sommer took meticulous notes on his training techniques—his wins and failures—so that he could translate the best elements into a superior exercise system for both high-level and beginner athletes. His four decades of careful observation led to the birth of Gymnastics Strength Training™ (or GST).

In this episode, we cover A TON, including:

  • The 3-5 exercises everyone should be doing (you’ve never heard of some of them)
  • His opinions of kipping exercises, such as the kipping pull-ups common in CrossFit
  • What bodyweight goals non-gymnasts should target
  • Which exercises to remove from the gym entirely, at least in the first 6-12 months of training
  • How to optimize biceps strength and mass with straight-arm work
  • And much, much more…

I also asked Coach Sommer to gather some interesting stuff (samples, videos, etc.) at, so take a gander. I don’t get any compensation for any of it; I just want people to consider more bodyweight training. I’ve found it revelatory and mind-expanding.

If you want some quick training tips, here are Coach Sommer’s mobility movements that will increase strength.


#158: The Secrets of Gymnastic Strength Training

Want to hear another podcast on fitness and training from a world-class coach? — Listen to my conversation with Pavel Tsatsouline. In this episode, we discuss the science of strength and the art of physical performance (stream below or right-click here to download):

Ep 55: The Science of Strength and Simplicity with Pavel Tsatsouline

This episode is brought to you by Headspace, the world’s most popular meditation app (more than 4,000,000 users).  It’s used in more than 150 countries, and many of my closest friends swear by it.  Try Headspace’s free Take10 program —  10 minutes of guided meditation a day for 10 days. It’s like a warm bath for your mind. Meditation doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive, and it’s had a huge impact on my life. Try Headspace for free for a few days and see what I mean.

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: Which of Coach Sommer’s tips or exercises would you like to learn more about? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

Show Notes

  • How to define Gymnastics Strength Training™ (GST) [7:54]
  • Types of strength that most non-gymnasts will not have [12:55]
  • Biggest mistakes made by those who self-teach handstands [16:30]
  • Top exercises for identifying weaknesses in strength and mobility [22:12]
  • The problem of focusing on muscular fatigue when training [35:07]
  • What is a pike pulse and why does it matter [44:26]
  • On kipping pull-ups [46:19]
  • Identifying solutions to pain [54:08]
  • The Jefferson curl [58:27]
  • Why weighted mobility work needs to be approached with a different level of intensity than conditioning work [1:03:31]
  • If someone is 35-years-old, a former athlete and never done gymnastics, what’s a good exercise and what should be avoided? [1:09:04]
  • 3-5 joint mobility exercises for getting strong [1:14:52]
  • Preferred way to work on shoulder extension [1:21:37]
  • A good goal for those seeking to improve mobility [1:27:30]
  • Yoga handstands vs gymnastics handstands (aesthetics vs. gold medals) [1:30:34]
  • Who are some of the coaches who have impressed you the most? [1:37:39]
  • The story of Dmitry Bilozerchev and Alexander Alexandrov [1:38:01]
  • Differentiating immature athletes and mature athletes [1:47:05]
  • Training for success [1:50:34]
  • Describing the systematic approach to gymnastics strength training [1:53:41]
  • What exercises to avoid for the first 6 months of GST [2:02:11]
  • Breaking down the muscle-up [2:05:34]
  • Understanding the purpose of using various grips [2:10:27]
  • How do you mentally prep your athletes for a big competition? [2:18:49]
  • What questions would Coach Sommer ask a gymnastic coach before sending his/her children off to train with them [2:29:38]
  • What questions would Coach Sommer ask a gymnastic coach who trains adults? [2:34:24]
  • Balancing stretching and training time [2:37:19]
  • When you think of the word successful, who is the first person to come to mind and why? [2:42:36]
  • Most gifted books [2:48:56]
  • Morning rituals [2:52:05]
  • What would you put on a billboard? [2:56:41]
  • An ask or a request for the audience [3:02:41]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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355 Replies to “The Secrets of Gymnastic Strength Training (#158)”

  1. Hey guys

    Thanks for the great podcast.

    What’s your opinion of coach Rippetoe’s Starting Strength linear program?

    By adding 5 pounds on the bar I went from 60kg squat to 105kg (sorry about kgs-I’m European). Could be better but I was very much a beginner when I started.


  2. Absolute gold. A must listen for anyone interested in training or physical preparedness. A plethora of translation to other domains as well. Please do a round two ASAP.

  3. Does anybody have a demonstration video or instructions for the pike pulse? Trying to use Tim’s description from the podcast but having trouble doing it. Thanks for any info.

  4. Tim,

    Coach Sommer mentioned a period where he had chronic heartburn from everything he ate, and that probiotics helped to cure him of that. Is there a probiotic supplement that you would recommend? I have had a similar issue for some time, and while general acidophilus seems to help some it has not shown permanence as a solution.

    1. Hi Tim,

      I had excellent results with a laboratory grade probiotic from Klaire Labs. Supplmented hard for approx the first 6 weeks (at each meal) and then gradually tapered off. Now I supplement only several times a week and still feel great.

  5. Thank you Mr. Ferriss.

    My question is for Coach Sommer.

    I am 41 and I’ve been dabbling in bodyweight fitness for quite some time. I have disc bulging in my L3/L4, L4/L5 and L5/S1 areas from years of Firefighting, but, need to stay in some type of physical shape and be able to perform. The pain is always there no matter how cautious I am. Are there any exercises I should be avoiding and which are the ones I should be doing? Where do you recommend I start?

    Best Regards,


    1. Hi Keith,

      Injury changes all the rules. First we would need to establish a baseline by examining what you have already been doing that has not been working for you.

      1. Hi Coach,

        Thanks for getting back to me.

        I do the basics: pushups, dips, upright rows, Bulgarian split squats w/ a kettlebell, chin ups, pullups, hanging leg raises, and prone cobras. Is there anything I should or should not be doing because of the disc issues? Are there any specific routines I could do?

        Best regards,


  6. Thank you Mr Ferriss and Coach Sommer.

    My questions is for Coach Sommer.

    I’m 41 and have been dabbling in bodyweight fitness for quite sometime, I have disc bulging in my L3/L4, L4/L5 and L5/S1 areas from years of being a Firefighter. I still need to be in some kind of physical condition and be able to perform. What do you suggest I avoid and what should I be doing. Not sure where to start over. Your guidance would be greatly appreciated.

    Best Regards,


  7. Firstly thanks heaps for an inspiring episode.

    I am a 42 wannabe mountain biker who occasionally does a pull-up or 2. I loved hearing the content and want to see if this is something that I can get involved in. I certainly could do with the increased flexibility.

    clicking on the link is great – but is there any way I can see what the investment actually gives me. Knowing myself – I am keen to see if this is in my ballpark before I outlay my Australian Dollars…

    Thanks again,

  8. Love the response to a full deep squat being heresy. It’s a sin to not train your body’s full range of motion. Leave 90 degree angles for high school algebra.

  9. Tim & Coach Sommers wow! incredible podcast and I have listen to it two times already. Incredible content and I cant believe the information that was put out. Thank you very much for the knowledge and I cant wait to to start on the foundation program. I was hurt in Iraq and my back and hips have never been the same. I think starting at a low level and building the connective tissue is just the thing and was my aha moment. Only wish I heard about Coach Sommers when I was going through physical rehab. Keep up the great work Tim and Coach Sommers your awesome! thanks for your knowledge!!!


  10. What a well designed landing page! I signed up, excited to start on the flexibility courses, I’ve been looking to improve my splits for years!

  11. Would you recommend going through this program for an absolute beginner? (Read overweight not athletic experience, but really want to work things right with his body)

    Thanks and great podcast!

  12. Would it be wise to intertwine this gymnastics training with strength training(weight lifting). I’m very interested in leveraging this type of training with my current routine. Or do I have to go cold turkey with the weight lifting when beginning gymnastics training for the first time?

    Thanks guys!

    1. Hi Travis,

      My personal preference is however to focus on one thing at a time; in this instance this almost certainly means correcting mobility deficits. You may of course combine it with lifting if you wish; however you may find it psychologically challenging to place your strength work on ‘maintainence mode’. That is not to say it can’t be done, just that you will need to be diligent.

  13. Really enjoyed the podcast guys and I’m inspired to get a coaching program through GST. 54, athletic and very interested to stay nimble and strong. Great wisdom in what you said about taking it step by step. The You Tube videos of some your students are really helpful.

  14. Incredible gift guys, 3 hours!? Damn.

    I’ve been sending this everywhere and I hope the TF effect brings a lot of people to GB’s way – such a great team.

    Tim, the point about blood work and getting thr car checked piqued my interest deeply. If you could point us to some of your past work that recommends what a semi healthy male aged 35 should be getting done in terms of blood work, I would appreciate it.



  15. ‘The Secrets of Gymnastic Strength Training’. This is the best podcast I’ve ever heard. I am a massage therapist and ex dancer/groupfitness trainer, I now have two beautiful sons, one into MMA, and the other into lifting. We have been sharing and talking about this for days. Love your work.

    Wendy Watkins

  16. Great podcast. I am 43 years old slightly overweight but quite fit and strong. I am one of the most unflexible persons out there. I can barely get my hands below the knee in a pike position and when I did the crab position I started to sweat. Lets see if Coach Sommer is going to make me a flexi dude.

  17. At about 41:00 you mentioned some knee stabilizing exercises that you would put in the show notes, but I don’t see any mention of them above. I need them.

  18. First thought, maybe EQ those consonants down. I think it’s 1.5Khz-4Khz, down 1Db or so. This isn’t the only show where the guest’s “s” and “t” sounds sharply cut through he car stereo like they are spitting at me.

    Second glaring thought what happened to 80/20? I’m most of the way through this three hour podcast and I really feel like the pertinent information could have been condensed. Coach likes tangents but as the interviewer, Tim, I think you have a little more responsibility to reign in the conversation here. There are some really good points but when asked for a list of 3-5 things we get one from coach, one from you and then it’s off into the woods.

    Finally I love the content but for accessibility I’m going back to Pilates. Functional movement and strength is the core of Pilates. Gymnastic strength training at its peak really takes things to a higher level, but for where most people will go Pilates is perfect. It’s the mobility and strength training you need to be healthy. Online content can be really helpful but in person training is always better. You can find Pilates instructors in every major city. Once you get that down, if you still want more sure, find a gymnastics trainer.

    I appreciate you bringing us the (slightly distracted) details of this training system and I hope it inspires people to move in some way or another. I’ll certainly be looking for the cliff’s notes to add to my personal exercises.

  19. LOVED this podcast! It’s one of my favorites so far!

    Tim or Coach Sommer, do you have a video link of the knee stabilization exercises mentioned in the podcast? I would like to try those out.

    Thanks to both of you for the great work you do! Can’t wait to see the videos of Tim’s progress.

  20. Have you spoken with @DeanKriellaars? Promotes physical literacy and works with Cirque Du Soleil Athletes.

  21. Tim,

    What was that shoulder exercise you two were talking about around 2:30 – 2:45 that you did with a kettlebell. Coach said his athletes used dumbbells.

  22. Great podcast, thank you to both of you. Haven’t quite got a handle on the shoulder warm up exercise described but I don’t see named toward the end of the show (about 30mins to go) Could you please post a vid, give a name or detailed description of it .


  23. Just an awesome episode Tim and Coach Sommers, thank you a lot for your great work guys!

    Keep it up.

    Best wishes


  24. Could any one point me in the direction of the QL walks?? Or do they go by a different name? I did a search on you tube that returned a nul point!

  25. Awesome podcast and really motivating. Has anyone come across a decent gymnastics training facility in London, UK that they would recommend?

    1. Hi Don,

      Not in London proper, but just outside of London in Stroud I have a very good GB Affiliate, Forma GST. They are excellent and you can find them on Facebook.

  26. Hi Tim

    I’m a 64-year-old yoga enthusiast and have been inspired by Coach Sommers approach to fitness. Does Coach think that his system would be appropriate for someone my age?

  27. Excellent podcast. I am hooked. I could not find the surname of the Bulgarian national coach from the 70-80s though. I think first name was Rumen. Coach Sommer seemed in owe of him.

      1. I wonder if there’s someone in Bulgaria, whom coach Rumen Lachkov has trained perhaps, who offers a similar coaching program for adults as coach Sommer. My experience with cross fit can be summarized in this way: lots of muscle pain, joint discomfort and an overall feeling I’m not treating my body right.

      2. Nope, wrong Rumen.

        I haven’t spoken with Rumen for a number of years, but some Bulgarian friends of mine are working on looking up Rumen’s last name for me.

    1. Nikolay i believe the coach you are referring to is either Ivan Abadjiev or Norair nurikyan since they were the national coaches in bulgaria during that time frame, the only rumen i know is rumen teodosiev which was a lifter during that time, however he never had much success because of constant injury

  28. As a dude currently on the slow carb program with the goal of loosing a hundred pounds, I am not very athletic. You all talked a lot about “beasts” who lost mobility due to massive muscle gain. I would like to know how coach Sommer would approach a fat dude who wants to gain benefits from GST, especially focused on mobility.

    1. Hi Joseph,

      First important to understand the conditioning and loosing bodyfat are two completely different endeavors. By this I mean that far too many people attempt to exercise their way to weight loss. This of course can be done, however the issue is that as soon as you stop exercising you essentially gain back all of the weight you lost. This is the equivalent of being permanently stuck on a treadmill and unable to get off.

      A far better approach and one that is sustainable for the long term is to separate these two components. Essentially we need to get our nutrition so dialed in that we maintain a healthy bodyweight whether we are exercising or not or lose weight consistently depending upon our individual goals.

      The great thing about mobility work is that it can be performed at anytime regardless of your physical condition. I have one student who has now lost over 200lbs. When he started he was so weak and out of shape that he couldn’t do even the simplest and easiest of exercises. But what he could do was the integrated mobility work from my Foundation One course. So he used the mobility assignments as his conditioning, thus increasing his mobility and his strength simultaneously.

  29. Tim, you amaze, empower and inspire me.

    Coach, signing up for foundation course. I have listened to this twice and there are so many nuggets to apply to all areas of life. Thank you.

  30. Hey Tim, This comment is more in response to your Freakonomics interview, ––which I really enjoyed– but relates to gymnastic training / balance / mindfulness / meditation as management tools for depression etc. You know what’s also really great? Swings. The simple kind with the chains and the sling-type seat… Amazing exercise, totally shifts the weight in your body as you go. The taller, the better, though the tall ones are hard to come by these days. Easy, fun and free.

  31. I’m looking for a little direction. I’d like to get started with GB. After listen to Tim and coach Sommer, I believe I should be patient and start at the beginning with Fundamentals. That being said, I already own rings and have been doing bar work for a couple years off and on. I can do windshield wipers, when I was a little lighter I was able to do a variation on back lever and front lever.

    My question is this: should I just invest in fundamentals or should I do a bundle? If a bundle, what’s the one that will make the most sense? Is there any advantage to getting a bundle now as opposed to after I complete the fundamentals?

    Any insights would be much appreciated.

    Also, it goes without saying that Tim continues to provide amazing value and treats us to the great wisdom of his world class guests, like coach Sommer.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Brad,

      My preference is always to start at the beginning. While this means that Fundamentals may not be as challenging for you strength wise, there are a great many mobility assessments, stretches, body positions, terminology and a daily limber routine to learn that will make your GST experience much smoother.

      1. Thanks coach! That’s what I figured. I signed up for Fundamentals and F1. Already enjoying mobility enhancements and challenges.

    1. Hi Shankardev,

      You are in luck! There are two full GB affiliates and one developmental GB affiliate in Sydney:

      Falsegrip GST

      Mr. Bodyweight Moustache

      LIFT Performance Center.

      You should be able to find all of them easily on facebook.

  32. The discussion about shoulder mobility comes, for me, at a perfect time. I started CrossFit in early April of this year and within two weeks I was nursing acute tendinitis in both shoulders; this was on the heels of a heavy clean and jerk workout. My brother, who is a chiropractor in Pennsylvania, told me that the issue might have to do with my shoulder mobility, specifically with the inability of the head of the upper arm to rotate properly when performing this exercise.

    I traveled from Montreal to go see what he could do to help relieve the pain, which was nauseating for the first couple of days. At his clinic, he uses a technique called Trigenics (along with his more standard chiropractic approaches). In short, he determined which muscles around the should were tight, and then he manually applied pressure (a lot of pressure) directly on the corresponding tendons. (Note: This is not the most scientific way to explain this.) In my specific case, my range of motion during should abduction was evident immediately, and the tendonitis dissipated within about 5 days (I also took NSAIDs).

    I’m back to CrossFit, and the olympic lifts are not causing pain anymore.

    I would be interested to learn if anyone else has had experience with this kind of therapy (especially Coach Sommer), and whether the benefits were long-lasting or not. I’m guessing that it’s probably not a smart approach if you have a partial tear in a tendon, but for my case it appears to have helped, and my shoulder (and neck) range of motion are great three weeks post-treatment.

  33. Great interview !

    Wish I knew about this when I was younger.. Which leads to my question… Coach I’m 61 yrs old with an above average fitness level for my demographic … Is this a program that would be appropriate for someone my age starting with the fundementals ? I’m interested in the flexibility aspects especially opening up my shoulders… Thx in advance for your comments.

    1. Hi Bob,

      Yes, I believe your situation is exactly what Fundamentals was designed for; someone with previously unsuspected mobility issues who would like to begin getting a handle on them.

  34. PLEASE make a round 2. I could listen to this man forever. Precise, accurate and highly knowledgeable, and funny and a badass at the same time… Thanks for that great interview, Tim!

  35. Thanks for this fantastic podcast. I went straight on line to find a GST gym in Sydney. I thought my chances would be pretty slim. Turns out there’s one ten minutes from my house. I’m five days in and loving it. Thanks Tim Ferriss and Chris Sommers.

  36. Loved the show – HOWEVER — as a now 4-year practitioner of Ashtanga yoga (VERY different from your regular yoga class, look it up) I understand about the objection to regular yoga poses given to beginner non-practiced students (liked handstands, advanced arm balances and backbends etc.) I want either or both of your to come to my home shala in Philly and see what we are about. We work every single day 6x a week at 50-70% – again so as to be able to work every day. But there is STRICT progression similar to what Coach Sommer discussed. We are simply not ALLOWED to do things our bodies aren’t ready for as set out in our practice. I feel the best I’ve ever felt because first and foremost my mobility and flexibility has increased and my strength has been built with muscle integrity. Our movements are designed to build with integrity. The movements Coach S. describes are very similar to our Primary Series which we learn a few moves at a time. shoulder and scapular rotation – wheel (bridge) is done every single day with the utmost of integrity to protect the low back (something I never see in regular yoga classes!!) and we don’t approach handstands until the 3rd series (there are 6). I urge you to check it out and I am absolutely going to check out the basic moved. I’d love to hear from you! Would be fascinating to have you evaluate our yogis “athletes.” All the best. Wicked podcast!

  37. Great Podcast! Super program. I have following the GymnasticBodies program for a while now and gaining great mobility and strength at 54!

  38. Trying to optimize my time – are there any tips for women in this one? Our bodies are very different… If so I will take the time to listen, if not, I’ll pass. Thanks!


  39. Great show guys. Really hoping for another round in the future as coach’s knowledge goes deep! Two questions:

    1. I get my car checked multiple times a year and have never had blood work done for anything other than a pre-insurance screen 8 years ago, yikes. Time to change that. I’m 33, in fair health (no major issues or suspected issues other than perhaps some insulin resistance and have had prolonged exposure to stress but I imagine this is fairly common). Could you expand a bit on blood work basics – which tests, frequency, other pre-test rituals to ensure data purity, what to look for, etc?

    2. Coach, I really enjoyed your explanation on “how the world works”. It reminded me of Poliquin’s episode where he could cite several examples of great practitioners or coaches doing things for results sometimes decades ahead of what research would support. I’d love to hear an episode with both of you at the table at the same time, could get really opinionated and full of gems! My question… based on how the world works, is there anything you see to be super effective in training, that you have no idea how it works, and would like to see more research done into the explanation?

    Tim enjoy the training, looking forward to the update. All the best and much love!


  40. Thanks Tim, another great podcast that makes my train commute beneficial! Have been hitting the gym for over 20 years now, age 38. Due to the state of UK gyms (no teaching of how to lift properly) everything i did was poor form and sitting at a desk has led to the usual problems. Have self treated an impinged shoulder from 3 years ago and it is 95% pain free. Since the impingement i have been doing a lot more body weight stuff and have accomplished some recent set goals – bar muscle ups last year and holding a handstand for 10 seconds 🙂 Despite this i knew i had been rushing into the good stuff and i have definitely cut corners. After listening to the podcast i hit the gym and tried out the supine shoulder extension, not great! Pain in bicep tendons and although hearing on the podcast you may feel some weird pain around my elbows – yep agony! Knew I had to dial it back and start from the beginning. Currently on 2nd day of the fundamentals, aside from some additional cardio will be just doing this course for the next month.

    Thoughts so far on the course are that it is well presented and easy to follow so far! Looking forward to hearing about your progress Tim, and thanks coach for putting me on a new track as i approach the 40’s! 🙂

  41. Excellent as usual. From a runner’s viewpoint, what are 3 must do exercises to prevent shin splints? Any other tips for applying to middle distance training?


  42. When properly performed, strength training can provide significant functional benefits and improvement in overall health and well-being, including increased bone, muscle, tendon and ligament strength and toughness, improved joint function, reduced potential for injury, increased bone density, increased metabolism, increased fitness, improved cardiac function, and improved lipo protein lipid profiles, including elevated HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Training commonly uses the technique of progressively increasing the force output of the muscle through incremental weight increases and uses a variety of exercises and types of equipment to target specific muscle groups. Strength training is primarily an anaerobic activity, although some proponents have adapted it to provide the benefits of aerobic exercise through circuit training.

    Sports where strength training is central are bodybuilding, weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman, Highland games, shotput, discus throw, and javelin throw. Many other sports use strength training as part of their training regimen, notably American football, wrestling, track and field, rowing, lacrosse, basketball, pole dancing, hockey, professional wrestling, rugby union, rugby league and soccer.

    Strength training also provides functional benefits. Stronger muscles improve posture, provide better support for joints, and reduce the risk of injury from everyday activities. Older people who take up weight training can prevent some of the loss of muscle tissue that normally accompanies aging—and even regain some functional strength—and by doing so become less frail. They may be able to avoid some types of physical disability. Weight-bearing exercise also helps to prevent osteoporosis and to improve bone strength in those with osteoporosis. The benefits of weight training for older people have been confirmed by studies of people who began engaging in it even in their 80s and 90s.

    Though strength training can stimulate the cardiovascular system, many exercise physiologists, based on their observation of maximal oxygen uptake, argue that aerobics training is a better cardiovascular stimulus. Central catheter monitoring during resistance training reveals increased cardiac output, suggesting that strength training shows potential for cardiovascular exercise. However, a 2007 meta-analysis found that, though aerobic training is an effective therapy for heart failure patients, combined aerobic and strength training is ineffective.

    Strength training may be important to metabolic and cardiovascular health. Recent evidence suggests that resistance training may reduce metabolic and cardiovascular disease risk. Overweight individuals with high strength fitness exhibit metabolic/cardiovascular risk profiles similar to normal-weight, fit individuals rather than overweight unfit individuals.

    For rehabilitation or to address an impairment

    For many people in rehabilitation or with an acquired disability, such as following stroke or orthopaedic surgery, strength training for weak muscles is a key factor to optimise recovery. For people with such a health condition, their strength training is likely to need to be designed by an appropriate health professional, such as a physiotherapist or an occupational therapist.

    The basic principles of strength training involve a manipulation of the number of repetitions (reps), sets, tempo, exercises and force to cause desired changes in strength, endurance or size by overloading of a group of muscles. The specific combinations of reps, sets, exercises, resistance and force depend on the purpose of the individual performing the exercise: to gain size and strength multiple (4+) sets with fewer reps must be performed using more force. A wide spectrum of regimens can be adopted to achieve different results, but the classic formula recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine reads as follows:

    8 to 12 repetitions of a resistance training exercise for each major muscle group at an intensity of 40% to 80% of a one-repetition max (RM) depending on the training level of the participant.

    Two to three minutes of rest is recommended between exercise sets to allow for proper recovery.

    Two to four sets are recommended for each muscle group

    Typically failure to use good form during a training set can result in injury or an inability to meet training goals – since the desired muscle group is not challenged sufficiently, the threshold of overload is never reached and the muscle does not gain in strength. There are cases when cheating is beneficial, as is the case where weaker groups become the weak link in the chain and the target muscles are never fully exercised as a result.

    The benefits of strength training include increased muscle, tendon and ligament strength, bone density, flexibility, tone, metabolic rate and postural support.

    For developing endurance, gradual increases in volume and gradual decreases in intensity is the most effective program. Sets of thirteen to twenty repetitions develop anaerobic endurance, with some increases to muscle size and limited impact on strength.

    It has been shown that for beginners, multiple-set training offers minimal benefits over single-set training with respect to either strength gain or muscle mass increase, but for the experienced athlete multiple-set systems are required for optimal progress. However, one study shows that for leg muscles, three sets are more effective than one set.

    Beginning weight-trainers are in the process of training the neurological aspects of strength,[citation needed] the ability of the brain to generate a rate of neuronal action potentials that will produce a muscular contraction that is close to the maximum of the muscle’s potential.

    In one common method, weight training uses the principle of progressive overload, in which the muscles are overloaded by attempting to lift at least as much weight as they are capable. They respond by growing larger and stronger. This procedure is repeated with progressively heavier weights as the practitioner gains strength and endurance.

    However, performing exercises at the absolute limit of one’s strength (known as one rep max lifts) is considered too risky for all but the most experienced practitioners. Moreover, most individuals wish to develop a combination of strength, endurance and muscle size. One repetition sets are not well suited to these aims. Practitioners therefore lift lighter (sub-maximal) weights, with more repetitions, to fatigue the muscle and all fibres within that muscle as required by the progressive overload principle.

    Commonly, each exercise is continued to the point of momentary muscular failure. Contrary to widespread belief, this is not the point at which the individual thinks they cannot complete any more repetitions, but rather the first repetition that fails due to inadequate muscular strength. Training to failure is a controversial topic with some advocating training to failure on all sets while others believe that this will lead to overtraining, and suggest training to failure only on the last set of an exercise. Some practitioners recommend finishing a set of repetitions just before the point of failure; e.g. if you can do a maximum of 12 reps with a given weight, perform only 11. Adrenaline and other hormones may promote additional intensity by stimulating the body to lift additional weight (as well as the neuro-muscular stimulations that happen when in “fight-or-flight” mode, as the body activates more muscle fibres), so getting “psyched up” before a workout can increase the maximum weight lifted.

    Weight training can be a very effective form of strength training because exercises can be chosen, and weights precisely adjusted, to safely exhaust each individual muscle group after the specific numbers of sets and repetitions that have been found to be the most effective for the individual. Other strength training exercises lack the flexibility and precision that weights offer.

    Split training

    Split training involves working no more than three muscle groups or body parts per day, instead spreading the training of specific body parts throughout a training cycle of several days. It is commonly used by more advanced practitioners due to the logistics involved in training all muscle groups maximally. Training all the muscles in the body individually through their full range of motion in a single day is generally not considered possible due to caloric and time constraints. Split training involves fully exhausting individual muscle groups during a workout, then allowing several days for the muscle to fully recover. Muscles are worked roughly twice per week and allowed roughly 72 hours to recover. Recovery of certain muscle groups is usually achieved on days while training other groups, i.e. a 7-day week can consist of a practitioner training trapezius, side shoulders and upper shoulders to exhaustion on one day, the following day the arms to exhaustion, the day after that the rear, front shoulders and back, the day after that the chest. In this way all mentioned muscle groups are allowed the necessary recovery.

    Intensity, volume, and frequency

    Three important variables of strength training are intensity, volume, and frequency. Intensity refers to the amount of work required to achieve the activity, and is proportional to the mass of the weights being lifted. Volume refers to the number of muscles worked, exercises, sets and reps during a single session. Frequency refers to how many training sessions are performed per week.

    These variables are important because they are all mutually conflicting, as the muscle only has so much strength and endurance, and takes time to recover due to microtrauma. Increasing one by any significant amount necessitates the decrease of the other two, e.g. increasing weight means a reduction of reps, and will require more recovery time and therefore fewer workouts per week. Trying to push too much intensity, volume and frequency will result in overtraining, and eventually lead to injury and other health issues such as chronic soreness and general lethargy, illness or even acute trauma such as avulsion fractures. A high-medium-low formula can be used to avoid overtraining, with either intensity, volume, or frequency being high, one of the others being medium, and the other being low.

  43. i am allllll over the concept of being strong and having smart posture, positioning, etc. but now’a’days, my only “sport” is long distance trail running. i need convincing that gymnastics bodies stuff would be good for that sport.

    1. Hi malofquist,

      You are in luck. One of my students Douglas Wadle trail runs 60+ miles a week thru the mountains of Montana. He just dropped me a note that for the first time ever he is not becoming chronically tight from his trail running. The reason? The GB Stretch courses. Feel free to drop Douglas a note on my forum ( and I’m sure that he would be happy to share additonal details.

  44. Thank you Tim, another fantastic podcast and this one specifically has come at the right time of my life as injuries are starting to catch up with me due to the way I trained. Wish I knew of coach Sommer 20 yrs ago. Looking into his programs and affiliates now. Please bring him on again.

    Your books, podcasts, blogs, 5 bullet Friday’s continue to have an incredible impact on my life and help me in creating the life I want to live.

  45. Okay Coach Sommer,

    You have me sold that I need to do gymnastics, now how does somebody like me who didn´t know anything about gymnastics other than listening to this podcast and who likes training with other people rather than alone go about finding the type of gym to start practicing this type of gymnastics strength training like Tim did? I am in Orange County, CA, online searches tend to show gyms oriented towards little girls team gymnastics. Thanks for the great podcast!

    1. Hi Scott,

      Be careful on what you get involved with. Gymnastics Bodies teaches ‘gymnastics strength training’, not competitive technical gymnastics which involves advanced acrobatics elements. Many gymnastic gyms offer adult classes, however these will be equipment oriented and not focused on progressive physical preparation.

      There are 16 GB affiliates around the world, but unfortunately none in the L.A. area.

  46. Fantastic!! Crazy useful episode… Life changing… I would like to hear a whole series with Coach Sommer. Cant wait for round 2. Thanks guys.

  47. Hi Tim! Thanks A LOT for this episode, it gave much food for thought as well as great ideas for self improvement.

    I wanted to comment on yoga handstands and on why it’s the only yoga posture that can really hurt your body. As a yoga teacher and a person who has a degree in Asian and African studies I guess I have a lot to say on the topic. But to cut the long story short… If you take classical texts on hatha yoga you are not gonna find any information on handstands. Instead only headstand (sirsasana) or a stand on your forearms (pincha mayurasana) were to be practiced. As for handstand, it was only introduced to hatha yoga in its Western versions many centuries later when it started to be “promoted” in the West. If possible please let the Coach know about my comment. It would be great if a marvelous professional like him could have no contradictions with the great system of yoga! Thanks in advance and have a good day!

  48. Tim,

    I know this is a little late, but just wanted to give a quick shout out to say thank you, I really enjoyed this podcast. I listened to it again immediately after finishing it the first time. As a newly certified personal trainer this made me really think to dial back my path that I have envisioned for the upcoming years. I have purchased the fundamentals training from Gymnasticsbodies, and I am super excited for the program. Thanks for the tremendous value you offer in your podcasts.


  49. This was a great episode. I listened to it twice in one week.

    I finally see a light at the end of the tunnel! As someone whose thrived under structured athletics and then floundered when I hit the desk job I am excited to start working mobility until I am strong enough to be an athlete again. Thank you for giving hope to the unprepared!

    Thank you coach, thank you Tim!

  50. Brand new entry in my Top 3 Ferriss podcasts – and I’ve listed since day 1 with a little break, so 90% of them. And jumped into the course purchase – I have no doubt that in time I’ll want to join a seminar and look forward to getting to know your community. Thank you Tim and Coach Sommer.

    Kevin Brennan

  51. When I first saw this podcast was 3 hours long I cringed and put it off, boy was I wrong! This and Pavel have been my favourite episodes so far-although they are almost all interesting and enjoyable these are the only two (so far) I want to listen to a second time and take notes. In fact this is my only problem with podcasts, you cannot highlight and I listen to them while driving. Keen to try out some of the foundation work you discuss. As a coach and PT there is just so much in this that will be useful to me. Thanks Tim and Coach Sommer!

  52. In the podcast, around the 36:00 mark Coach Sommer brings up dialing it back to build strength in the joint and connective tissue, for 200-210 days. How would one best go about putting a focus on building this connective tissue along with continuing to build muscular strength? If it is not possible to do both, then what is the best way to begin to work on building the needed muscular strength for the future? I saw that the courses offered on, foundation and fundamentals don’t seem to add up to this type of length either. Fundamentals is only 4 weeks.

    1. Hi Eric,

      The bottom line is you can’t focus on building connective tissue and muscular strength simultaneously as the rates of adaptation are so dissimilar. Especially for beginners.

      As such, beginners are best served by putting first things first. And that means dialing back the muscular intensity of their workouts to a moderate level for 6-7 months to give their joints a chance to adapt and get in shape.

  53. Hi Tim , did anyone out there transcribe the podcast for the GST coach Connor session please ? There was so much good info I would like to read it ,thanks Sijo Ian

  54. I purchased the Fundamentals Series. Day one is humbling, so I am excited to see what comes of it.

    I saw the knee series videos someone posted (Cossack Squat, Inside Squat, etc.)…I’ve been doing over a year of PT for a meniscus tear and am very interested in incorporating them. Would Tim, Coach or anyone else be able to share a protocol for those knee exercises (reps/sets/frequency)?

    Would be extremely obliged!

    1. I’m about ten days into the Fundamentals program. It may be too early to judge, but I can give you a quick overview.

      Each day you are presented with one series of exercises or positions. Some of them (based on the forum consensus), you will find challenging. Some are very simple, and you’re left scratching your head, “was that suppose to be a workout?” Many people on the site are confused because there is no guidance as to how many reps or sets and the forum moderators say to just follow along with each short video.

      I believe the entire point of this course is to make sure you are able to perform each of these exercises and positions at a certain level of comfort, or else you really should not be proceeding to the Foundations course. In that way, it if very self guiding. If you are struggling with something, you should do some extra work on it and get your body prepared.

      I think most people are discovering that they have more mobility issues than they realized. If, like me, your primary interest is avoiding injuries, then I think the Fundamentals course is a no-brainer. I’m excited to see the new exercises they unlock each day. They put a lot into the production, but since is it really prep work (and a feeder course) for the other courses, I think they should have priced it even lower.

  55. Thank you for this!! I just finished listening to this episode for the 3rd time. What you share resonates with my beliefs when it comes to training and you are such a pool of knowledge, I feel lucky to have come across your programmes. I’ve been doing the Fundamentals course for over a month and it’s great, thank you for such an amazing resource. I’m 30 now and have been training (martial arts mostly) and have stayed active most of my life. I’d like to think of myself as having average mobility and a good core strength. My flexibility was also good but began to suffer once I started doing Crossfit 2 years ago, because of the soreness and tiredness I often (not always thank god!) skipped the so important stretching. It was in the past month or so that I made it a point to stretch a lot more and started the GB Fundamentals. I thought I was doing great combining that and my version of Crossfit (olympic lifts and all but more focused on the gymnastics elements on ground, bar and rings). I strained a muscle (serratus or oblique now sure yet) last week doing a front lever progression and have been in pain since. This injury gives me time to think of what I might be doing wrong and what is it that I might be not seeing. I’d appreciate any of your thoughts on this. I’m considering booking the Stroud workshop and hopefully learn more there.

  56. Hi Tim/Coach,

    Have you ever trained athletes with a torn ACL? I recently had an MRI and found out my left ACL is torn, however I’m weirdly still able to play soccer and ice hockey with little to no pain. Have you had any athletes that were still able to compete without repairing the ACL and if so, what exercises/treatments did they do to continue strengthening muscle and tissue around the knee and prevent further injuries to the same knee or opposite knee?

  57. Champ you thought of talking to Pat McNamara. 14 years in the Unit.

    Away the lads

    ps half way through Fundamentals. The missing link in training. Already healed shoulder, neck and forearm issues ive had for 8 months. Pre hab /re hab magic.

  58. So I found out about Tim Ferriss podcast from his Freakonomics appearance and I am impressed. I started with a few and came across this podcast with Coach Sommer and now I am hooked. My question is: I am overweight and have started making changes in my nutrition as well as fitness. So far I am down 20 pounds (still obese though) and my focus is on cardio and stretching. Is it feasible for me to work through the Fundamentals course at my fitness level or do I need to get wait until my fitness level improves? Stretching and flexibility is important to me and I am looking to train smarter.

  59. I truly enjoyed this podcast.

    Not only has it given me some insight as to why I may not have seen the results I wanted in the past doing other programs, it has provided me with some motivation to get back into a routine. I am hoping this can help cure an issue I have been experiencing for several years with a weak and numb thumb and forefingers. Regaining true mobility is my primary goal, also looking forward to the strength and physique benefits that should come along with the work.

    I really appreciate Coach Sommer’s candid talk. He doesn’t mince his words and I respect him a lot for that. I am sold on the program and enrolling today.

    Watch out for my progress updates!!

  60. Tim/Coach – how far are you through the training experiment? When are we going to see/hear the results and the before/after rom and strength gains????


  61. Kind of cool to see that picture up there, Tim! It’s of a friend of mine, Eric Daye. The guy is completely committed to exploring the world of movement and is constantly experimenting with different techniques.

    1. Tim and Coach Sommer – really enjoyed the podcast. The GB Program seems to be helping many people achieve their fitness goals worldwide. I’m specifically interested in the Overload/Load/Underload principle and wondering what traction that will gain in the coming years. One of the best trainers at my gym, Nick, works with Coach Sommer and seems to be getting great results for his clients.

      I would like to suggest the Starting Strength Program for those who have not built an adequate strength base. Spending a few months on a basic barbell program before GB will help tremendously in terms of strength and injury prevention and of course long term success. Thanks again guys!

      Ryan Arnold – SSC

  62. thanks for this article and really impressive. can you please suggest us some home based tips because at present i am busy with my study and office so i have no much time to do this but wanted to do this.

  63. What is the difference between Mobility WOD Kelly Starretts to Gymnastics Bodies when it comes to mobility training?

  64. Outstanding interview. So good I listened twice. A sequel is a must. So many pearls of wisdom from a man who clearly knows his stuff, understands the human body’s capacity for training and learning and who has for several decades worked with the world’s elite.

  65. Tim – it might be too late but it would be great if you had a qualified 3rd party make objective tests both before and after this experiment. Not to discount self reporting completely but it can be influenced by what we expect of course. Feeling better counts but is relative and not necessarily long lasting.

  66. Hi Andreas ,the jane fonda thing is easy ,just sit on the floor with feet straight out in front,together to start ,body vertical or if that’s to much load lean back l,its a v sit ,sit up with straight legs and stationary upper body , really with variations to add load ,,,,start by leaning back to help Balance the lift,,then fold forward gradually,bit by bit , to add load hands back and to the side forming a tripod for the upper body ,moving your hands closer to your feet as you progress ,go slow in progression ,the more forward the body and hands the greater the load ,,lifting straight legs as high as you can in a lift or pulse ,it is also done hanging from a wall rack with both arms holding and hanging ,then curling the straight legs up to the overhead position ,hope the helps ,Sijo Ian Waite ,ps as a loading variation you can split the legs and twist on the lift ,that should keep you progressive for years to come lol

  67. You might consider interviewing Kyle Dake at some point. His mom was a college gymnast, and I believe he credits gymnastics as a factor in his ability to win 4 NCAA wrestling championships at four different weights…his warmups were fun to watch, full of tumbling. Dake also has some pretty cool ideas on journalling for motivation, doing away with the singlet and a professional freestyle league. As a fellow ivy league wrestler, you might dig speaking with him.

  68. What are those squats you do when stabilizing the knees. I heard you say that it has helped stabilize your knees and get the ACL more protected. Would love to do them.

  69. Hi Tim, At some point in the podcast Coach Sommer references taking Vitamin D3 and the fact that it reduced/prevented the incidence/frequency of him getting bronchitis (or he may have just said respiratory tract infections). I am prone to getting Bronchitis everytime I get a cold so my ears pricked up big time. Given that I actually had bronchitis I ran to the chemist and got a D3 mix (included Calcium and K2) and starting chugging this stuff down (2,000 IUs per day) and guess what? That stuff worked like magic. Instead of hanging around for 4 weeks or so (past history) it was gone inside 4 days! I could not believe it. I have kept on taking it and here I am in the middle of an Australian Winter (I know, its not like Chicago) and have not had the dreaded B return. A sample size of one but it seems to work on me. Anyone with a similar experience?

    There are nuggets of pure gold in every podcast. Thank you Sir!

  70. Thanks Chris and Tim, great podcast – love your work.

    I’ll be signing up to GB this week.

    I was also hoping that one of you (on your extensive travels) had encountered a good GST coach based in Shanghai willing to take on adult beginners.

    Any recommendations would be appreciated.

    Thanks again

  71. Hi Tim,

    What was the youtube -video you and Christopher told was a “must see”. The one with is 4000fps and you can see the density of the bones. Thanks for the reply! Appreciate your videos and everything you do! Greetings from Finland!

  72. I just listened to this podcast and although I am the farthest thing from a gymnast as you can get, I am interested in the training. Was there a discount code from the podcast?

  73. Tim is it possible to have a jump to button so a person can jump to the start of each section of the podcast? I was really looking for the discussion on crossfit but wasn’t able to listen to the whole 3 hours in one sitting therefore haven’t been able to find the crossfit discussion.

  74. Hey Tim, hi Coach,

    awesome interview, hit me just at the right time! I’m about 2 months into Fundamentals 1 now and would love to improve on stretching. Is there any full body stretching routine you would recommend me doing 2-3 time per week? Thanks!!

  75. I am Paralyzed from the waist down and have spinal structural issues which cause chronic pain. I get most of my relief from exercise and would love to learn more about your program. Coach Sommer, I left a message on your facebook. I will be purchasing your program you discounted for Tims listeners and do what I can to adapt to you program. Any advice will be appreciated however.

  76. Great episode. As a climber I can confirm that body weight exercises and flexibility are all you need to be a beast. The flexibility of my shoulders is where I could improve, and I was hoping to watch the videos to help with this.

    The link is not working. If you could, let me know when this is up. I would love to watch them.

  77. Hi Coach Sommers! Contrary to majority of the people out there, I am actually “hypermobile”, I have all 3 oversplits, long and narrow bridges and able to hold my ankles in bridges, arms can extend past my ears, full range skin the cats, etc. I have been trying to learn handstands for a few years now with no success, because my back and shoulders move around a lot whenever I try to balance, and tend to have an arch in my upper back no matter how hard I try to close my ribs and stay hollow. I know its just an issue of strengthening and learning to control them, because contortionists can handbalance really well despite their flexibility. I can do a straddle press to handstand but challenging to hold it once I get up. I don’t think it’s my core strength either because I can hold plank with good form for 5 minutes straight, hold hollow position for a minute or more, hold L sit for 45+sec. Its just that when I go upside down, everything is gone. I am considering doing handstand one, will it help at all, since there’s a lot of mobility work, and my priority is to strengthen and learn control? I have been through so much frustration and hours and hours of practice (including private lessons). Should I even bother anymore and find something else to do or is there going to be a chance of being able to control my handstand? I’m tired of kicking up and falling over, over and over and over again…

  78. Hi. I have read the Tools of Titans and I’m wanting to buy the Hitachi Magic Wand for hypertonic muscles, that is mentioned in the chapter with Christopher Sommer. Please let me know which supplier was used to buy the product, as I found many variations in price and naming of the product.

  79. Sooo excited to start this program. I am 46 and by the time I am 50 I would love to be more flexible, mobile, fit and toned feeling good! Moving to Colorado as well soon and will be about 1 hour North of Denver. Looking forward to learning and applying then sharing.

  80. Tim, love this episode! Purchased GST Fundementals immediately after. Some time has gone by since and I was curious how well you kept to your personalized routine? I have been struggling to implement daily due to pace, “classic type-A.” If you’ve kept with it, please let another type-A know the secret of your success.