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

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

  1. Still Rings back roll cross, pull out to plance, lower to back lever pop cross. Lower from handstand through to front lever pop to olympic cross.

    Strength tricks in 1978 NCAA nationals.

  2. would love to hear/know the mindset of gymnasts–stoic, no fear/nonsense, discipline//focus/concentration, which areas of the brain are activated(somewhere online a coach or someone else said researchers said something like gymnastics activates 13+regions of the brain that other sports do not which makes sense upper/middle,core/lower body strength and if that results in neurogenesis, how their central nervous system compares to other athletes, how their reaction/visual speed vs other athletes(youtube has videos of gymnasts recalling random sets of numbers flashed for fractions of a second), difference/similarities bet gymnasts vs yoga//navy seal mindset/mentality

  3. This is a great podcast and I really enjoyed it. My question is “What program on gymnastics bodies has the knee routine you mentioned in the podcast?” I have signed up already signed up for the foundation core, splits and thoracic. Love the foundation program. Very well done.

  4. Oustanding Podcast and very inspiring. My question is a bit different. Ironically enough, I also encountered a very similar wrist injury as Tim described. I was wondering 1) if Tim’s wrist is back up to 100% or if not, how is it doing and 2) did he do anything beyond the heat therapy recommended by Coach Sommer. My injury which I suspect to be ligament or tendon is taking forever to heal.

  5. Hey does anyone remember the specific link the coach mentions during the interview. And was there a coupon code mentioned? I listened a couple of days ago, and can’t quite remember what part of the interview did coach share these!

  6. The Jefferson Curl is definitely controversial. Many professionals say that since most people are subject to excessive spinal flexion already, the lift is a redundancy. For athletes that need tons of flexion like gymnasts, there may be no way around it.

  7. 1) Would be more valuable if you edited this 3 hour cast – not every second was infinitely valuable

    2) Chris implies that gymnasts have better outcomes in middle and old age. I’ve never seen an old gymnast. What evidence is there that GST improves outcome in later years any more than any other exercise?

    3) Are you still keeping up the regimen, following the fundamentals programme and where are you at with it if so?

  8. Loved ep 158 but finding the resources mentioned for small exercises I can start working on is challenging. After listening, all I want to do is go get focused on the basic mobility exercises I can start doing, but the link takes me to a video of the jefferson curl and another takes me to the podcast itself. Easier more organized access to tools would be helpful. Now I feel like my only way to progress after listening is to go join a gymnastics gym because there’s not enough clear info on these basic exercises here.

  9. Hi Tim,

    Have been re listening to certain podcasts after reading Tools of Titans. A question if i may… How do you decipher opposing views from two world class performers/authorities on a subject? In particlar (I hope it was Chris Sommer!) could have been Charles Poliquin, mention on the podcast they are against the KB swing and reference increase in back injuries in the US whereas Pavel is very pro KB swings based on his experience? Thanks!

  10. We are right around 3 years since this podcast; and this is one that I have re-listened to at least 4 times (probably more). There is just so much practical, useable advice for a middle age guy like me. However, I’ve been following the podcast for quite some time; but I don’t recall seeing a long-term follow up of Tim’s perspective on GST. Would love to get a 3 year update on this, if applicable.