Please enjoy this transcript of my second interview with Coach Chris Sommer, the former US national team gymnastics coach and founder of GymnasticBodies. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Hello my savvy, sexy friends. This is Tim Ferris and welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferris Show, where it is my job to deconstruct world class performers from all different walks of life, industries, areas of specialty, to tease out the routines, habits, tools that you can use. This episode we have Christopher Sommer. And this is his second appearance but this is a standalone episode. He is the former U.S. National Team Gymnastics Coast. His last episode was one of the most popular that has ever been on the podcast.
He’s also the founder of Gymnastic Bodies, which is a training system I’m currently testing. I’ve been using it for a few months, now. I have no affiliation with it; I don’t get any kickbacks. As a world-renowned Olympic coach, Coach Sommer is known for building his students into some of the strongest, most powerful athletes in the world. We covered a lot the last time around, and this episode has many, many answers to a lot of your most common questions.
For instance, what home equipment should someone invest in first, for $100.00 or less? What are his thoughts on weighted stretches? If there’s a place for them in gymnastic strength training, GST, what are the best examples of how to use them; sample exercises? What does lower body GST look like for a 40-year-old former athlete, for instance? He brings up the best distinction between mobility and flexibility that I’ve ever heard, exercise progressions for bar muscle-ups; what might those look like. Or at the very least, tests that you can use to determine if it’s even safe for you to attempt training for such a thing.
Foam rolling or mobility tools, what does he think? And do you change gymnastic strength training, or how do you change it for tall people, say over 6 feet tall, or for women? So there you have it. And if you would like to test out Gymnastic Bodies, I again have no type of affiliation whatsoever but Coach will be putting up some sample videos that feature exercises mentioned in this episode and others on gymnasticbodies.com/tim.
It’s also a sales page. There are a couple of different discounts and whatnot for you guys if you want to try it out. But they should be adding – and probably have already added – videos at the very bottom or somewhere on that page for you to check out. And if for whatever reason they are not there, you can go to YouTube and look for Gymnastic Bodies and find all sorts of good stuff. So without further ado, please enjoy my second public conversation – we’ve had dozens – second public conversation with Coach Sommer.
Coach, welcome back to the show.
Coach Sommer: Thank you, Tim.
Tim Ferriss: It is very nice to be on the phone yet again. I thought we would start with what we were talking about very briefly before we hit record, and I said people might find this of interest.
So as context for folks, I’ve been doing some gymnastics rings work with some assistance of equipment that you helped to put together and set up, which includes the 50/50 – some people call a variation of the Dream Machine, which basically is a harness that allows you to decrease the weight you’re supporting on your hands, and then power levers which look like robocop gauntlets.
You can attach the rings on top of your forearm in different places with many different holes running from the wrists to close to the elbow, so that you can shorten the fulcrum, I guess, to improve your physics. In this way, you have progressive resistance with the rings, which is otherwise very difficult to achieve. So it’s very, very cool. I did something stupid while playing around with – or not playing around; actually I was taking it very seriously – iron cross work and hurt my right wrist.
I thought it was broken. I had MRIs and it appears to be a ligament strain. But here we are three weeks later, and I can’t hold a pushup without decent pain on the back of the right wrist. So I was asking you what I might do at this point to speed recovery, and I would love to restart your answer and go from there.
Coach Sommer: Alright, good deal. Before we go into the healing part, let’s review how the accident happened so that all the listeners don’t think I’m an asshole who destroyed you.
Tim Ferriss: Right, exactly. And also one thing that Coach asked me before we got started is he goes, “I thought you were smart.” To which I answered, “The older I get, the less sure of that I become.” I was subconsciously compensating, I think, to cheat a little bit in this movement.
So with the power levers, you don’t need to use a false grip and you have metal very close to the top of your wrist. As I was doing these eccentrics – well, I was doing positive but also lowering into an iron cross and then doing statics, I started rolling my hand into a false grip unnecessarily, where you’re basically supporting the rings across your palm and wrist as opposed to solely in your palm. That drove the top of my writs into the metal to such an extent that I sprained, or in other words…
Coach Sommer: And kept driving it in.
Tim Ferriss: I remember I was in –
Coach Sommer: Exercise after exercise.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So then I continued with maltese and vicks work because I was in Paris and I took me three weeks to find a place where I could set up all this equipment. So I was like, “God dammit, I’m going to get this workout done!” Coach, you’d be proud of this part.
You’d be ashamed of how stupid I behaved otherwise, but I took a separate suitcase with me overseas just full of equipment for training.
Coach Sommer: That’s the way we do it.
Tim Ferriss: I get an Uber and managed to get to the one gym in Paris that might let me set this stuff up. And then literally in the first two sets, acted like an idiot and hurt my wrists. I was just like: absolutely no fucking way; I am finishing this workout. So there you have it. So yes, I take full blame for that one. What should I do?
Coach Sommer: All right. Tim and I were talking just before we started to record, and that this is a connective tissue injury where the ligaments and that on the top of the wrist got mashed, got compressed up into the metal over and over and over. So basically they’re really, really bruised. And because the connective tissue heals so slowly, you remember from the first podcast, that connective tissue’s metabolic rate is 1/10th that of muscle tissue.
So basically once it’s hurt, there’s no way to get off the train; you have to ride this to the end and it’s going to be awhile. Now, what we can do to kind of finesse this, though, is understanding that metabolic rate, ice, then, for connective tissue work, we use ice initially to help reduce inflammation. But then after that, we will actually slow the metabolic rate because it doesn’t have its own capillary system and it gets its blood through diffusion.
So what we’ll do instead is use heat. I first came across this – wow – early 2000s. We had an athlete who had Sever’s. it usually happens to athletes when they’re growing, the strong athletes especially when they hit a growth spurt. Sever’s is irritation of the Achilles where it goes down into the heel. So when they’re tumbling, they’re running, they’re sprinting, that heel gets painful.
He’d been growing for awhile so on and off for the better part of a year, we had tried ice with no results; no results at all. In desperation, if you will, trying to find other answers, which is usually how good answers are found when the everyday stuff isn’t working, came across an ultra marathoning site. And against all convention, they said use heat. They had had wonderful responses with it.
So ours was super simple. We went and got a hot/cold pack, threw it in some boiling water. It takes a little practice figuring out how long to leave it in. I think we were two minutes, perhaps. You want it just warm enough that it’s right on the edge of being too hot for comfort. Then just leave it on and let it cool naturally.
In a week, we had better results from that heat a couple of times a day than we did from a year of ice.
Tim Ferriss: At what point would you make the switch? Let’s just say an anonymous idiot who goes to Paris and mashes their wrist into metal repeatedly, is it two weeks later, three weeks later, or how do you map the symptoms?
Coach Sommer: 24 hours to control inflammation, as far as ice is concerned, and then I’d jump into heat.
Tim Ferriss: Got it. So it’s a quick jump, then. With this particular athlete, did you use any type of contrast therapy, going from that hot to cold, hot to cold? Or did you keep it to the hot?
Coach Sommer: At that time, we’d never used any hot water; we used the hot packs. So we would just lay them on top. I think at that time, we weren’t combining but it could be very interesting.
The issue that you run into if you do contrast baths with a wrist, is that you have to soak the whole hand. It’s not like an ankle, the hands. Of course you’re pulling out the oil in your hands. It’s tough to get any work done. Where with an ankle going back and forth, no big deal. For those listening, a contrast bath is simply alternating between room temperature water and then ice water; two separate buckets. Set a timer. Go through a minute in the ice and then just set your phone to beep in a minute. What we’ll have athletes do is just throw a movie in. the protocol is keep alternating buckets back and forth as long as you can stand it without losing your mind.
Tim Ferriss: Why use room temperature water as opposed to hot water?
Coach Sommer: I first stumbled across this – I don’t remember the name of the trainer but it was the guy who was working with Michael Jordan back in his heyday.
Michael had had a game one evening and rolled his ankle. And he had a game the next night so it was an “oh shit” moment. Michael, like anybody who’s a high level performer, is dedicated. He’s obsessed with doing his best. So that evening he did the contrast bath protocol for two hours. He’d switch, switch, switch. The next night on an injured ankle, scored 40 points.
Tim Ferriss: Wow.
Coach Sommer: Yeah. The nice thing with the contrast bath is the cold is there long enough to reduce inflammation. But then it goes back into the room temperature and it’s not been cold long enough to reduce circulation by an extreme extent. So you kind of get the best of both worlds.
Tim Ferriss: Is there any reason to keep the warmer water at room temperature versus hot water?
Coach Sommer: The difference going back and forth, we’ve never used more than room temperature.
It could be significantly uncomfortable because the ice water is ice water. We make that. So we just want to bring it up enough. We don’t want to make it hot; we’re not trying to make soup. But just enough to get a little blood flow back into the cold again.
Tim Ferriss: Got it. I will go get some reusable heat packs or ice cold packs. Looking at home equipment, this is something that came up quite a bit after our first chat. What home equipment should someone invest in first to get started, if anything? Let’s look on the inexpensive side, like $100.00 or less, and then if you have unlimited budget.
Coach Sommer: Actually, super simple and I designed it this way on purpose because you’ve got to test the water. You’ve got to find out, is it my thing? Do I enjoy it? It’s not always a matter of is it effective, does it work?
Obviously it’s effective, obviously it works. But then it becomes a matter of is this my flavor of ice cream that I like? So basically, they need some floor space and they need a bar. They need an overhead bar. Maybe some light dumbbells, a dowel. A dowel would be a long, straight stick. And other than that, they’re kind of pretty much good to go. We really went out of our way to make it as simple to get started as possible.
Tim Ferriss: What would someone use a dowel for? I have a few in mind but for people who aren’t familiar. This is effectively a broomstick or even a PVC pipe.
Coach Sommer: Yes, broom handle, long wooden dowel. We use that for different shoulder mobility. When we train adults, and this kind of goes back to the general structure of development, before we can get into the really cool stuff, light hair on fire, get all strong, yada yada, we first have to do years of damage from desk patrol.
That means mobility is jacked up. So we’re going to use the broomsticks – the dowels – with a little bit of weight on them to start rebuilding that shoulder girdle mobility.
Tim Ferriss: Got it. For those people interested, in that category we would have various types of dislocates, right?
Coach Sommer: Dislocates, some flexion work where they’re working on lifting their arms overhead. Probably for adults, their greatest deficit, especially those who have been having any type of professional career that involves paperwork is they’re going to have extremely poor shoulder extension. To describe shoulder extension, standing upright, hands at my side, lifting my arms back behind me.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I would put myself in that category for sure.
The shoulder extension, I’ve seen some improvements. Granted, I’ve gone from absolutely disgusting to watch to just moderately offensive to watch but still a large improvement. You would actually be very impressed with my progress that I’ve made – prior to the wrist injury, that is – on one thing. If people look up dislocates and they use a normal grip, so let’s just say people are starting with a dowel in front of them. They’re holding it like a barbell in a dead lift with their arms slightly wider so it’s an overhand grip.
The opposite of that, in some ways, would be the dorsal grip where you start with the bar behind you and you’re holding it as if you’re going to try to do a bicep curl through your legs, so your palms are facing forward. You might recall when I tried to get my arms, I couldn’t get up at all. But then when we started at the top, my wrists were so inflexible that I couldn’t bring the bar down at all.
So I’ve made a lot of progress on dorsal. So it’s very illuminating to me to look at not only the shoulder restriction that I have, but how it is effected by shifts in the grip. This might be one reason why people are like, “Oh, I’ve got great shoulder extension,” and they’re using regular dislocates, let’s just say, to assess that. Then they go on the rings and they’re not prepared for it, and they’re going through all these different types of hand positions and arm positions and boom, they tear something and they’re out of commission.
You could also use dowels for hollow body rocks or arched body rocks, correct?
Coach Sommer: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: Why is that helpful? For people listening, the hollow body position, one way to think about it would be almost like a diver in the Olympics when they’re jumping on the diving board before taking off.
So they’re not arched. They have sort of a slightly concaved… If you were to lay on your stomach, put your hands out in front of you, put your toes on the ground and then lift your body off of the ground a few inches; is that a fair assessment?
Coach Sommer: That would be the arch if they were laying on their stomach. If they did the opposite, laying on their back, that would be the hollow.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, right. So what I’m trying to explain is the hollow body position. If you’re on your back, you’re sort of rolling on the pelvis with posterior pelvic tilt, right?
Coach Sommer: Yes, just everything tucked under. Think of the body as a long, flattened letter C.
Tim Ferriss: What does holding the dowel achieve with the hollow body rock in that case, or the opposite where you’re on your stomach and kind of doing that flattened C? What does the dowel accomplish?
Coach Sommer: Give them something visceral to feel. As far as shoulder girdle is concerned, if they shrug their shoulders up to their ears, that would be scapular extension. If we do the opposite, that would be depression. So when they’re holding it with just a regular grip and they push that dowel up above their head, that helps them physically to activate the shoulder girdle and get that extension through the shoulders.
Tim Ferriss: For people who have tried either of these, and I encourage people to try them, try it with and without a dowel and video yourself if you can. It’s incredible how having something to hold onto can address a lot of the problems that you have, at least in my experience. That was true with the arch body rock, in particular. What other pieces of equipment, if any…?
Coach Sommer: For getting started, that’s a pretty solid list. Because a lot of their stuff, even though I know they would like to, they can’t jump right in. they’re going to have to pay their dues. We’re going to take six months, maybe eight months and we’re going to do some strength work but primarily we’re going to address those joint deficits, those mobility deficits. Because if you can’t get in the correct position, how can you exercise in the correct position? You can’t. I was speaking to someone the other day and we were kind of pointing out some of the fallacies in traditional training where it’s just kind of accepted that as you get older, your body can no longer tolerate doing overhead weighted work.
I’m a strong guy and I can’t do military press anymore. Rather than them trying to find out what the cause of that deficit is, they just kind of accept it: yeah, my shoulders are fucked; I just can’t lift my arms over my head anymore.
I’m the exact opposite. I say, seriously? You find it acceptable that you can’t raise your arms over your head anymore? What if there’s something on a shelf? Now, we’re not talking world-class performance. How about if you want to be in your closet and you just want to get a suitcase down? Nope, shit, I just can’t; I’m just going to live in a life where my arms don’t go above my shoulder forever. To me, that’s just asinine. We’re not trying to be contortionists or anything; this is your natural range of motion.
And you’re going to sacrifice this for the rest of your life rather than okay, what caused this? What caused this was a steady diet – and nothing wrong with these exercises; they just did them to exclusion – a steady diet of bench press and curls which is going to make the pecs really tight; it’s going to make the bicep really tight. There’s nothing at all wrong with bench. There’s nothing at all wrong with curl.
But it has to be done in a way with a balance program that maintains that healthy range of motion in the joint. We don’t just get tighter and tighter and tighter. What are they, just going to eventually lay there and not move? A nice thing to do – especially for the listeners; they’ll get a big kick out of this – the first time I saw this, it blew my mind. Go to YouTube and enter in the search, high speed karate chop. Yeah, I know. Yeah, I know; so cool. Such a corny thing to say.
What they’ll see is going to blow their mind. First thing they’re going to do is going to be at regular speed. A black belt is going to be there and he is going to break a cement block with his hand. I’ve done it; I’m sure a ton of listeners out there have done it. No big deal, right?
Tim Ferriss: Breaking a cement block with their hands?
Coach Sommer: Yeah. It’s not like you get attacked. You’ll see it. And for those of us who did see it: yeah, that’s what it was, dadada; there’s training for it.
But then what they’re going to show is what happens to the physical structure at 4,000 frames a second. It’s astounding what happens. And it’s also important to remember that this happens in all athletic activities. What we think happens when we’re training is that our bones are getting denser and firmer and stronger. Well, what this video is going to show is that as his hand comes down on that block and he’s trying to break it, you’ll see the bones almost liquid, folding over themselves.
Oh yeah, the first time I saw it, I was completely freaked. I was like, what in the hell is this? He’s crippled himself. It’s over, it’s done. His whole hand has snapped. And then you see the bones come back. This, then, when you see it, it’s always important when you try to look for the core principle of what’s going on.
What this is illustrating is that our eyes aren’t fast enough to see it. But this is the essential nature of what our skeletal system does. It’s not to be strong and stiff and brittle. It’s to absorb force and then rebound back against it. So if someone’s playing tennis, if it’s a running back, someone jumping, any of this; the bones are designed for plyometric training. They’re designed for this.
They’ve actually taken some older adults and will put them on something as simple and gentle as jump rope. And just that small impact from the jump rope built more strength than traditional weight lifting. This is why we’ll see older adults when they fall and they break a hip, it’s that the bone bent and it kept bending. It didn’t come back again.
Tim Ferriss: Just to underscore something you said earlier, which is a lot of people give up, blame age: I’m just fucked, my shoulder’s done, sorry; I’m just going to assume this desk sitting position for the rest of my life or whatever it is, there’s an Instagram account that you introduced me to. Which any time I feel like copping out with some BS excuse that is repeated by a lot of people my age – I’m 39 right now – I look at Mats Trane. People should check this guy out.
Coach Sommer: Mats Trane. M-A-T-S T-R-A-N-E.
Tim Ferriss: Correct. So a 53-year-old who’s doing gymnastics strength training.
Coach Sommer: Who started when he was 48.
Tim Ferriss: Yes, started when he was 48. It’s a great account and currently has about 2,500 followers so I’ll be curious to see where it is…
Coach Sommer: About to get a lot more.
Tim Ferriss: Yes, about to get a lot more. But very inspiring to watch this guy.
Coach Sommer: Very inspiring, and Mats was in the same position as a lot of the listeners. Mats started training with us because Mats owns a restaurant supply company; he’s one of the co-owners, working huge hours.
The doctor pretty much told him, if you don’t start taking care of yourself and go out and get some excursive, you’re not going to be here in a couple of years. It was literally that point-blank. It wasn’t: well, I’m a little concerned; maybe you could do a little better. No, the doctor flat out told him: you’re going to be a dead fucker if you don’t fix it.
Tim Ferriss: I like doctors like that. I need to find somebody who speaks to me like that.
Coach Sommer: Yeah, we need more of those.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s talk about something we’ll see a lot in that Instagram account, which is stretching. And specifically, I’m not going to belabor this point but on the gear side of things, one question I often ask people is what have you changed your mind on in the last few years? And I don’t know if this is in the last few years but could you talk about stretch straps for a second?
You have Orange demonstrate using the straps for very stiff people in the hamstring series.
Coach Sommer: Yes. For years, and this was just me being national team because as a national team coach, your reality – my reality and I’m sure all national team coaches – our reality of what is average, of what is normal, becomes skewed over the years simply because of the quality of the athletes and how exceptional they are that we surround ourselves with. We quit looking at them as exceptional and it just becomes our normal, day-to-day experience.
And so we look at other people, then, not as regular; we start looking at them as: my God, they’re seriously fucked up. How do they get out of bed in the morning? I don’t understand. Well, we kind of at first brought that same one to their stretching. So there’s a piece of equipment called a stretch strap.
Basically it’s a long circle of nylon strapping that is then sewn into kind of mini loops; they just make a daisy chain of it. Then we also like to use yoga blocks. We use those to accommodate reduced range of motion. For years I thought those were just silly crap. I thought, take the training wheels off the bike and go out and ride the dam bike. And I was completely wrong. What it does is you can use this combination of the blocks and the stretch straps. Someone who’s crazy, crazy tight, it gives them an opportunity to actually get some work in so that they can sit down and start progressing.
Tim Ferriss: Start progressing.
Coach Sommer: That’s the name of the game. Where I’ve come to now is they don’t need to start exceptional. We don’t know how far they’re going to go.
We just had someone share. He’s been doing the stretch courses for a year. A really good student, Ryan Bailey. He just sent a testimonial in. it’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous how much progress he made in a year of just consistent stretching. He’s got full chest to legs on his pike, now. He can sit down, he can touch his head to his toes. His splits are almost all the way down. He’s astounded. He can’t believe it. He’s ecstatic.
And part of that was we just start it and let them scale the movement according to where they are right now. Because in order to make progress, you first have to accept where you are.
Tim Ferriss: Right. And if your starting position, because of inflexibility, is posturally unsound because you don’t have the blocks, then you’re just developing compensations and problems.
Coach Sommer: Let’s even be more specific. We’ve got people who can’t sit on the floor. And by that I mean they can’t sit on the floor with their legs in a straddle and sit up straight.
Tim Ferriss: Legs straight in front of them and together.
Coach Sommer: Yes. Either legs straight together in front of them or legs apart, right on the floor and straight. They can’t do it. Their back, their glutes and their hamstrings are so tight that in order for them to sit on the floor, they have to slouch. Rather than opposite, being able to sit up tall with a flat back and instead of sitting on their sacrum or their tailbone, sit on their glutes or their hamstring.
Tim Ferriss: So one potential way that you could use the block in that case would be sitting on one or two yoga blocks.
Coach Sommer: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: Which I have to do. If people really want to feel ridiculous, you can try to do something called – what was I doing?
It was straddle pike pulses.
Coach Sommer: I did enjoy those immensely.
Tim Ferriss: Oh yeah, I sent Coach videos of these. There’s a good chance you’ll have a glute medius contraction, we’ll call it.
Coach Sommer: We’ll call it contraction, un-attainment; a nice cramp.
Tim Ferriss: A severe cramp that will lead you to fall over in pain.
Coach Sommer: For those who haven’t seen the video, Tim is an excellent dancer, as he was rolling around on the floor.
Tim Ferriss: When someone is doing a hurdler stretch, and I’ll just assume people know what that is; you can look it up if not. Why do you elevate the heel of the straight leg on top of a block?
Coach Sommer: It would depend because maybe, if they are more advanced enough that they can be on the floor, because what that will do is most people will, without realizing it, allow the knee to go bent.
So then where the hamstring crosses the knee and where the calf crosses the knee coming up, neither of those are being addressed then. But more than likely what will happen, especially when they’re starting, is rather than elevate the foot, we’ve had people that are so tight they have to start sitting on a chair in order to try to get in the right position. They have their feet on the ground out in front of them and they actually have to elevate. The hard thing for them is you’ve got to be understanding of where your body is at. It’s not a good thing; it’s not a bad thing. It’s a “what it is” thing.
Tim Ferriss: If we’re expanding to weighted stretches, this is a question that a number of folks have had. What are your thoughts on weighted stretches; if there’s a place for it in GST?
Coach Sommer: It’s essential.
Tim Ferriss: What are some of the best examples of how to use them for novices or intermediate?
Coach Sommer: Maybe before an example is why; why do a weighted stretch? The reason is an adult is so tight. He’s so tight and he’s strong at the same time. The weight of his torso, for example – or her torso – isn’t enough to help them bend forward. So he can’t make any progress. But if we take them and we stand them up, for example, and we let them hold a weight in their hand, it’s important to separate mobility work from maximal strength work.
We’re not Conan, we’re not Tarzan, which I saw that movie yesterday; it was kickass, Legend of Tarzan. We’re not going out there and trying to be he-men and super macho. What we’re trying to do is remodel connective tissue. And it has its own schedule: 200 to 210 days for a first cycle of adaptation.
Right away that means I’ve got to calm my ass down and I need to be patient, here. That’s six to seven months. There is no rush; you can’t rush because this is hardwired into us; you can’t force it. So what the weighted mobility allows is to gradually take that strength and that tightness that we have, and instead of it being a negative, use it as a positive.
So now they have that little bit of weight. Let’s say it’s a Jefferson curl, which is kind of a curling, dead lift movement, and they start with a kilo or two. Just that little bit of extra weight for the muscles to have to work against, think of it as flossing. The muscles start loosening up; they start fatiguing a little bit which leads to them relaxing, which leads to that increased range of motion, which would never happen without using the weight.
Tim Ferriss: The exercise that comes to mind immediately is the one you mentioned, Jefferson curl. And for people who aren’t familiar, because I don’t want to assume everyone’s heard the first episode and feel free to jump in and correct me, here. Imagine you are standing, and you could certainly start not elevated, but let’s just assume you’re standing on a step or a block. You have an empty barbell in front of you. You would then tuck your chin and curl down, kind of one vertebra at a time. It’s basically a slowly curled back, stiff-legged dead lift, where you might target to have your wrists get past your toes. Is that a fair description?
Coach Sommer: That would. And probably the primary difference between it would be a stiff leg dead; it’s going to have slightly bent knees whereas the Jefferson curl is going to be completely straight knees.
Tim Ferriss: Right, so no soft knees. What are some other examples of very effective weighted stretches? Because I saw tremendous returns and progress with the Jefferson curl in pretty short order.
I remember I asked you, when should I be doing Jefferson curls, at one point because I didn’t see them in some of the workouts. And you said, “Jefferson curls are like breathing to us.” I said okay, I should probably do them more often, then. What are some other exercises that you find particularly effective as weighted stretches?
Coach Sommer: The shoulder extension work. Everything most of us do conditioning-wise is anterior dealt; front of the body. They’re going to do bench, they’re going to do curls, they do all these things and they very rarely put their hands back behind them in extension; very rarely. So they actually create their own shoulder impingement. Think about it.
The pecs are so strong that the shoulders are rolled forward. They’re strong and they’re tight. Sometimes people mistakenly think that in order to be strong, they have to be tight. That’s not the case. Today is Friday, so it’s Opening Ceremonies today. The Rio games are just getting ready to go. Gymnasts are going to be first out of the gate. They’re going to see ridiculous strength and power. Power is strength multiplied by speed. So they’re going to see ridiculous amounts of power; they’re going to see huge muscle mass. And they’re also going to see an athlete who’s very supple and mobile and agile. So it’s very possible to have both.
Tim Ferriss: The shoulder extension work, would that take the form of dislocates with a little bit of weight on the bar?
Coach Sommer: The dislocate is going to be from the front all the way to the back. The shoulder extension work is starting upright, grasping a bar, some kind of a bar, with a little bit of weight.
It might be as little as a pound. Our athletes went all the way up to 20 kilos. But start where they’re at. And then without allowing the torso to move at all, just using the shoulders, lift the bar up behind them. The goal is to get to 90 degrees. If they can start rolling overhead, their grip is too wide. So narrow that grip in a little bit, lift again, and keep going. The goal is to get down to shoulder width and still being able to lift to 90 degrees.
Tim Ferriss: I saw a video on your Instagram account of a very peculiar exercise that I’d love to get your two cents on. Sometimes I wonder when I see some of these exercises, I’m like did Coach Sommer just come up with something for his own entertainment value to see how many thousands of people he can get to do this? But this one was interesting. It was someone standing on a bench, like a bench press bench.
They were holding onto what looked like a 45-pound plate – it could have just been a bumper plate of some type – underneath the bench. So imagine if you put the 45-pound plate – let’s just call it a plate – directly underneath the middle of the bench. Then they reach their arms down on either side of the bench, grab this plate, stepped up to the bench and then went from bent knees to straight knees, trying to bring their head to their toes, effectively, or shins. They can’t lift the plate up because it’s under the bench. What is this movement and what are the applications or values of it?
Coach Sommer: That’s a weighted pike and that was part of my elite athletes’ daily warm-up. And because it’s me, of course, for some of them the 45-pound plate wasn’t enough so I was kind and generous enough to go over and help press down on the plate for them to give them some extra range of motion.
Tim Ferriss: Would they do a short number of repetitions?
Coach Sommer: For that particular one, yeah. There’s a couple of ways we could program that. We could just go a straight 30-second hold, so straighten the legs, hold for 30; that was very common for us. We would also do what we call a ten by ten. So that would be starting from a squat, straighten up, a little pause, back down to a squat would be one. Do that ten times. And then the ten by ten part comes from on the tenth one, hold that weighted pike for ten seconds.
Tim Ferriss: I’ve done shorter versions of this for you before.
Coach Sommer: Just one more quick one. The reason we call it mobility instead of flexibility is because in their heads, they think flexibility as being rather passive, that there’s no strength involved.
I’d like them to start considering that usable flexibility or mobility has a strength component to it. That if we have extreme flexibility that’s not supported by strength, that’s actually dangerous.
Tim Ferriss: It’s a liability.
Coach Sommer: Yeah, it’s a liability. I can get my joint way out here and it can be under load, suddenly, on the field of play and I get hurt.
Tim Ferriss: Uncontrolled range of motion.
Coach Sommer: Yes. But if there’s strength throughout that range of motion, now we’ve increased our athletic ability, we haven’t decreased it.
Tim Ferriss: This is a question that came up quite a lot from listeners. What does lower body gymnastics strength training look like?
Coach Sommer: That’s a great question.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s just say for a 40-year-old former athlete, somebody who’s not hobbled but maybe they’re just a recreational athlete. They think they’re not hobbled.
Coach Sommer: They think they’re not hobbled. I’ll share a story to show that they’re more fucked up than they think they are.
Tim Ferriss: Okay sure. Go for it.
Coach Sommer: Our very first seminar that I did working with adults, way back in 2007-2008, had some really athletic people show up, really strong by regular, everyday standards. They squatted, they dead lift, and they were strong. When I tried to do our entry-level plyometric work with them, so a kind of a straight leg bouncing that I would do with my introductory athletes, my 5-year-olds, it destroyed them. In fact, the stronger they were, the faster they went down.
Tim Ferriss: Just to dig into that for one second – I apologize – but just for the image in my head, we’re not talking about broad jumps; we’re talking about sort of a jump roping movement where they’re hopping for 50 feet down the Marilyn:
Coach Sommer: Jump rope with straight legs. When we train, we separate jumping movements where the joint is bending and then jumping from rebounding movements where the joints are tight and extended. So the Olympics are getting ready to start and we’re going to see some crazy stuff. When they’re tumbling on the floor, there’s no time to jump because it happens so fast. So the body has to be strongly extended so that the connective tissue is what provides the power.
We’ll get some people who will fuss. Oh yeah, if I look at it under the thousands of frames a second, I can see a knee flick. I’m like, you know what? Bite my ass. No one can see that as we’re coaching. I’ll tell you about that as a coach and as a former gymnast, what we’re trying to do is be as extended as possible.
So what happens then is you take an adult, and what have they been doing for conditioning? They’ve been doing what they know how to do. They’re going in and they’re doing leg press, and they’re doing leg extension, and they’re doing leg curls, and they’re doing squats, and they’re doing dead lifts which are all primary muscle mass exercises. There’s no joint conditioning as far as a plyometric factor is concerned. And they’re always exactly on track, which everything is in alignment and that’s a separate discussion. But there’s no impact.
So they get really, really strong, and this is what leads to that kind of weekend warrior syndrome. Monday, Wednesday, Friday they conditioned in the gym. They’ve been working hard, their diet’s good, they’re doing their cardio and they go out to play softball.
They go to run around the base and they have these strong primary movers, but they haven’t done anything for ACL, MCL, meniscus. Their knee goes a little bit out of alignment and they pop their knee playing softball.
Tim Ferriss: So what would you prescribe to prevent that? And whatever we can give people, obviously if they want to dig into the deep training they need to look at the more in depth and comprehensive courses. But what are some movements that might help?
Coach Sommer: Some people were really good on the last podcast we did and through the comments, they put up – it’s also on our courses – specific knee exercises. Because the trainers will tell you you should always, always make sure your knees track over your toes. But it’s literally impossible to do anything that includes change of movement, change of direction without planting the foot and pushing sideways or at an angle that your knee doesn’t come off track. So if all I do is these primary squats and deads, I build this huge, strong muscle mass.
And I haven’t done anything to prepare meniscus where it takes the knees off to the side and there’s either direction and then twisting movements. And they don’t have to be huge loads. We cover all of that. We should put up some samples. Remind me, Tim; we’ll put that up for them.
Tim Ferriss: Could you describe one of the movements just for people who want to get an image in their heads? What would one of these exercises look like?
Coach Sommer: Probably the simplest one would be a twisting squat. So think of sitting on the ground cross-legged, or we used to call it sit like an Indian when I was young. So sitting on the ground cross-legged, and stand up out of it without hands. What’s going to happen is as they’re standing up – and we’ll ignore the fact that we’re also going to push on the side of the ankles? But just from that standing up, they’re working the ACL. They’re putting pressure on the outside of that knee and standing up.
We’ve never done more than body weight on these movements. We’ve never done more than, for our lead athletes, a single set of ten in their daily warm-up. But what it does is rather than praying and hoping, lighting candles and going to church and all this stuff that our knee will never, ever go off track, accept that it’s going to go off track and prepare for it. Prepare for it.
Tim Ferriss: Are there any other recommendations that you would have – this is from a number of runners in the comments – for preventing running injuries besides not running?
Coach Sommer: Were they specific on the running injuries?
Tim Ferriss: They were not. You could pick common issues and how you would address them.
Coach Sommer: I’ll give an extreme example.
We have a student, Douglas, who every year he is a maniac for running. He loves to do ultra marathons. He lives up in Montana and he loves to run through the mountains, and he’s insane. He’s insane. It’s his thing. He’s been doing the GB stretch courses, which aren’t running-specific but they are human body specific, if you will. He’s been doing those for a year, now. He said this is the first year that he’s going out and doing his 20-mile runs and more where he’s not getting tight. He’s not getting the injuries that he would have gotten before.
He says wow, my body feels good. I was a little surprised. I was like: wow, you’re feeling good with that mileage? I forget how much he’s doing per week; it’s something ridiculous. And he says: no, I feel really good. Now, that being said, he lives u p in Montana.
So obviously there’s not a lot of running going on in the winter because the snow his hip-deep on a giraffe; no one’s going out to run in that. So there was enough time for him to address deficits prior to getting back on the trail and running again. So I’m not sure how effective it could be with someone who already has a high mileage program and then we add this in. It will be effective but it’s going to be much slower than someone who is off-season.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s say they’re off-season. What would be some exercises or recommendations for getting to that point?
Coach Sommer: Something that they find out is when we do our front split course, a lot of people, not as many as before, but we’ll get comments. We start them with calf work, ankle mobility. We work on tibialis, which is on the front of the shin. We’re working on soleus, which is the lower calf muscle.
We’re working on the gastroc, which is the higher calf. We’re working on extension and flexion of the ankle. We’ll get people who are like: God dammit, Coach, I can’t fucking walk today because of these stupid exercises; why did you put this in?
Tim Ferriss: Let me hit pause. I remember the first time I did this particular sequence, and I’ll just give people some details so they can get the idea. It starts off with feet parallel, 60 calf raises and then stretching. And then very quickly, like 60 seconds later, duck stance, feet pointed out, 60 calf raises and then more stretches. Then feet pointed in, 60 calf raises.
I just remember this is the first time I did any stretch work I got from you and I was like: holy fuck, I am going to get buried by this stretch workout. I thought this was going to be a day off and I’m only five minutes into it. It isn’t actually that punishing the entire time, but please continue. I just wanted to add some color.
Coach Sommer: It’s important to understand that our bodies are capable of generating enormous amounts of power. But it was supposed to be on an as-needed basis, not all day long, every day. What we are by nature, just due to how our physique is designed, is we’re endurance animals. So your calves are designed for endurance work. They’re designed for you to go out and kill something, put it on your shoulders, and then carry it through the mountains six miles back home. And people don’t train their calves like that anymore.
So the calf is an endurance muscle. Your core is an endurance muscle. Your arms are an endurance muscle. And just why do it? We’ll come back to calves. For example, we used to have my athletes do very heavy, weighted, legless rope climbs a couple times a week.
When I stopped doing that and had them go on a 7-meter rope triple climb, so up-down, up-down, up-down, jump in the back of the line. Their turn comes back on a 7-meter up-down, up-down, get in the back of the line. Come back up again, up-down, up-down. So what is that, seven ascents in five minutes? Because they’re just booking, and I’m not warm and fuzzy when we’re working with athletes. Because this wasn’t conditioning; this was warm-up. This was what we’d consider a pre-strength.
At an elite level, if you can’t do that as part of warm-up, you’re not elite level and you’re not strong enough to do advanced work on rings. But what we noticed, just as a consequence of putting that in their daily warm-up, is their arms exploded, which is kind of contrary for how I was taught coming up. If you want to get stronger, we need more load.
Well, yes, in certain circumstances. But because the biceps and the arms are endurance muscles… Because think about it. I go out and I kill something. Does it do me any good if I can only carry something for 30 seconds? I’ve got to be able to carry this for long durations of time.
Well, calves are the same. A good friend of mine who I mentioned in the other podcast was the Bulgarian Olympic coach. I learned a lot from Rumen. Rumen was the one who found out that connective tissue, like the Achilles tendon, which is what we’re training with those high rep calf raises, thrive and are healthy with high rep work.
So the converse of that, the flipside of that, is if you’re not doing high rep work you’re slowly starving that connective tissue. You’re slowly starving it because it’s not getting enough blood flow because it doesn’t have its own capillary system so it’s fed by exercise and movement.
That doesn’t mean you can’t do the high intensity work; you absolutely can. But at least, and especially the stronger you are, at least once or twice a week you need to feed these tissues.
Tim Ferriss: Feeding sessions.
Coach Sommer: Exactly right.
Tim Ferriss: Tissue feeding sessions. So if we’re looking at these runners, and you’re having them engorge the calves, feeding the connective tissues and then looking at different types of bent ankle work before the hamstrings. Are there any other…?
Coach Sommer: At their level of strength, that’s probably sufficient. Later, as they get more advanced, once we have healthy joints and we have some reasonable mobility, then we can start doing plyometric work. Because plyometric work is what, it’s multiples of body weight on impact.
What’s running? Running is going to be a multiple of body weight during their run. That’s why someone who’s really weak and deconditioned, when they go out to run it’s like a session from hell. Everything hurts. They’re flat footed, there’s no bounce in their step, their lungs burn; everything hurts. Compared to someone who’s in shape. For example, way back when in high school, we didn’t have the nice floors, the nice gymnastic competition floors that we have now. So we tumbled, when I was coming up, on wrestling mats.
Tim Ferriss: I know wrestling mats; oh, yeah.
Coach Sommer: Yeah, you know them well. So what happens is I was repeatedly exposed to – we’ve measured it at the Olympic training center. When someone does basic tumbling, a roundup-back handspring-back flip; they are hitting 14 times body weight.
Well, not 14 times for one, single time in training but turn after turn after turn. Because it turns out that how we increase the strength of connective tissue at really high levels is very high load, very, very short duration – micro; fractions of a second – high intensity micro bursts. That’s the fastest, most effective way to build connective tissue strength on a joint that’s prepared to do so. I had a crush on a girl in high school and she was a big runner. I’d never run a day in my life, except from chores or something.
She was going to run in the summer so I jumped to – shoot – 12 miles a day. I went and joined their elite track club. Didn’t notice a thing. Within two weeks, went out and ran 20 miles. Didn’t notice a thing. I remember talking to people saying, I don’t understand why people have to train for this shit; this is no big deal.
But if someone can handle that higher level, more advanced plyometric work where they’re hitting 14 times body weight, ten times body weight, are they going to notice when they’re running and it’s maybe two, two and a half times body weight? No. That’s nothing. That doesn’t even exist. You don’t even notice that. Now, we have to build up to it, though.
Tim Ferriss: To shift gears to different common questions, what are the prerequisites for a safe back tuck, back flip? Let me rephrase this. What should the checklist be, even before considering it? Because this is what a lot of people want to do.
Coach Sommer: I won’t even touch them with it because they’ll be all out there trying to do it, and they’re all going to die. And they’re all going to get mangled and they’re going to land on their head, and they’re going to be mad at me. Coach, you told me wrong.
For the technical stuff, anytime that there is inversion, then there’s also risk of injury, especially if they’re running outside and they’re doing it on their own in their backyard. So I really don’t recommend it. If they want to do it – and it’s awesome; obviously I spent my life doing this stuff – I recommend they go to a good, professional instructor. Don’t go to your neighbor, and don’t pull out YouTube and say hey, cool, look at this; I think we can spot each other. Because you’ll probably spot him well, and when it’s his turn to spot you, he’s gonna fuck it up and he’s gonna drop you.
Tim Ferriss: So let’s choose something a little safer; not as much fatality risk or paralysis risk. Prerequisites for a bar muscle-up, and/or the most common mistakes in training for muscle-ups.
Coach Sommer: Muscle-ups, people will look at it and they’ll go alright, it’s got a pull-up component and it has a dip component and I’m just going to string them together.
What they’re missing is that there’s a transition. There’s a transition where they’re going from a pull-up where their elbows are pointing basically down at the floor on their pull-up, to a dip where their elbows are pointing straight up. In between there, their elbow needs to transition through. And in order to make that transition, you have to have shoulder extension. That means I need to be able to let my elbow go back behind my torso.
Tim Ferriss: Just to totally interrupt and be an asshole, I feel like shoulder extension is like if you remember Seinfeld, did you ever see Seinfeld? Something bad would happen and Jerry would go: Newman! I feel like for me, that shoulder extension… anyway.
Coach Sommer: I actually think it’s for – and this is something that I didn’t realize because this isn’t an issue with gymnasts, but it took a long time, like obliques also for adults are huge.
If we wanted to go down the issues of adults, they’re not going to have any thoracic extension. They don’t have shoulder extension. Their obliques are unbelievably tight and weak simultaneously, which kind of sucks because hopefully, if you’re tight, you’re strong but they’re not; they’re just tight and weak. Their piriformis is jacked up and their calves, from all the deskwork and sitting on the chairs, are like piano wire.
Tim Ferriss: I’m rolling out my foot on a golf ball as we speak, standing instead of sitting. Coming back to the muscle, if people miss the transition, what would the exercise progression then look like? I know we need the shoulder extension so that would most certainly be a piece of the puzzle. But since it’s a question that a number of people threw out…
Coach Sommer: Again, we’ve got to hammer this home with them. They were taught that these gymnastics elements, like a muscle-up, are skilled training, technique training. And I’m sorry but that’s a load of horseshit. It’s not skilled training. Skilled training is a triple back flip. That’s skilled training. This is a strength element. And in order to do this strength element correctly, the body has to be able to get into the correct positions. This is why you saw cross fit, for example, where they were doing the kipping muscle-ups.
Why do a kipping muscle-up? To avoid the transition, trying to bounce from the bottom to the top. And there are issues of when it’s appropriate and when it’s not; we won’t beat that horse to death. I think we did that last podcast. But they lacked the ability to pull their elbows behind their body. So to my mind, if you can’t get in the correct positions, why are you even trying to do the exercise?
Tim Ferriss: What would be some good tests for someone to know… or I guess these could double as goals, in a way.
Coach Sommer: Russian dips.
Tim Ferriss: Yes, okay. Could you describe Russian dips, please?
Coach Sommer: Sure. Russian dip, you’re going to need a little bit more of a longer dip handle. So get up in a straight arm support, bend down like a regular dip and then lower back – we see some people who will lower onto their elbows. I don’t know who came up with that stupid variation. Don’t do it. It’s worthless; it’s a waste of your time. Lower down and then go on to the upper arm so that you’re basically laying on the inside of your bicep. And then from there, pull back up again to the bottom of the dip position and press back up to straight arm.
Tim Ferriss: Got it. So this would be easiest to do on the equivalent of parallel bars.
Coach Sommer: Parallel bars would be good. I’ve seen it on elevated weight benches. I’ve seen it done on stacked plyo boxes.
Tim Ferriss: How would you do it on a bench? Because I have seen the variation and I’m sure some people out there, if they search Russian dip, will see this on, say, elevated boxes where someone is lowering down basically onto the forearms. But what you’re saying is you want to lower in such a way that you end up kind of on the inside of your bicep, is that correct?
Coach Sommer: Yes. Think of it this way. This is actually a really good illustration of what we’re talking about. The reason they want to stop on their forearms is because their elbow is tucked right in at their side. There is no shoulder extension. Basically they’ve skipped the moneymaker; they’ve skipped the part of the exercise that gives them the benefit in the first place. Rather than going all the way down, getting shoulders back behind them, shoulders back behind their hand and then as that shoulder starts coming forward, that elbow goes strongly backward behind the torso.
Tim Ferriss: Got it.
Coach Sommer: And if they think they’re a real stud, instead of lowering to the bar, do it on the end of the bar. Our athletes would do it, some all by themselves and some with a light spot, do it so that the hands are on the rail but they’re lowering and doing the Russian dip, lowering to the regular position of it but there’s no bar under them to catch it; they’re just doing it in the air. Because isn’t that what a muscle-up is?
Tim Ferriss: I’ve seen a video of this. What’s your take on foam rolling or other mobility tools, or so-called mobility tools?
Coach Sommer: I like it, especially for someone who is just getting started. What’s happened over the years of them being inactive, and I vaguely remember this from back when I used to have hair, getting tangles in your hair.
So if the muscles aren’t stretched out on a regular basis, stuff just starts getting knots in it. Just think of it as a tangle. The foam rolling, done well, can be a really nice way to get in there and just break those lumps out, break those knots out.
Tim Ferriss: What separates doing it well from doing it poorly? What are the characteristics?
Coach Sommer: Pain, actually. Because these knots, it’s unpleasant to loosen them up. So there’s got to be some pressure on there in order to break this stuff out. And actually, some people will present it that there is a difference between pursuing health and pursuing performance. That somehow they’re diametrically opposed. In my approach with all of my athletes over the years, I disagree with that vehemently.
Because a healthy athlete is one who can perform better. If he’s got injuries that are mingling in the back of his mind, he can’t pay attention to business. So the healthier we can keep them, the more pain free we can keep them, the better results we’re going to get. Especially with the Olympics right now, are there going to be some little here and there? Yes. But overall, we want healthy, healthy athletes.
With the foam rolling, if these knots and lumps aren’t addressed, they’re going to be pulled longer. And if they stay too long, they’re going to become adhesions. Think of that as we’re starting now not replace muscle tissue with collagen and obviously, that’s a horrible, bad thing. I was just recently in England doing some workshops over there. I saw a gentleman with probably the most severe, kyphotic hunch forward.
Tim Ferriss: The hunchback of Notre Dame.
Coach Sommer: Yes. This guy was bent 90 degrees forward.
Tim Ferriss: Wow.
Coach Sommer: And he was walking down the street. I looked at this gentleman, and I was like, oh, my God, that poor bastard. Then I saw several other people like that. And I think what’s important for people to realize, because everyone’s getting older and we’re not getting out of this alive; it’s going to happen to everybody. They need to start looking around and they need to see these people who are dealing with those issues and understanding that the vast majority of them were not born with that issue.
This happened from a lifetime of neglect. And by neglect, I don’t mean necessarily they were trying to do it but they just didn’t exercise, they didn’t stretch. And before you know it, boom; now I’m screwed. When it gets to that point where that gentleman is, there’s no coming back.
We can go over crush fractures and how vertebrae change shape, and distension in the neck and all this stuff but the bottom line is if we went way back and started with just the foam rolling, even something as simple as the foam rolling and just broke lumps out, started getting some blood flow, start loosening things up; quality of life is going to be so much better later.
Tim Ferriss: This is a common comment that I saw. Tall people, let’s just say over six feet tall, any changes to training in GST for those folks?
Coach Sommer: No. I know they would like there to be. We have guys who are six and a half feet tall, six-foot-six, and they’ve got front levers and press handstands, and rope climbs. Because what goes with being taller is also increased diameter of the muscle belly.
So yeah, it’s a bigger frame but it’s also a bigger engine. In terms of acrobatics, because those levers are much longer, if we’re actually doing hard tumbling in that [inaudible] it’s easier the smaller you are. But in terms of basics and stretching and just being a live human being, no, not so much.
Tim Ferriss: On a related note, men or women; different training approaches? Same approach?
Coach Sommer: Once they get up to an upper level, we’re not going to take the girls into the more advanced ring strength. I personally haven’t; I don’t know if there are some who can. I haven’t done it. I will say that in our gym when Allan was 10…
Tim Ferriss: Who is Allan, for people who don’t know?
Coach Sommer: Allan was my last senior lead athlete for the U.S. National team.
I had him from age 6 to 18, so 12 years of training; 16,000 hours plus that I spent with his preparation. When he was 10 years old, he was capable of doing 15 muscle-ups; slow, no kipping, no bouncing. There was a young who beat him. There were reps I didn’t count. Chelsea, one of our young ladies I was training at the time doing the physical prep for our elite girls, she did 17. They were beautiful. She was pretty awesome.
Tim Ferriss: So for people who are coming in off the street, for the sake of argument let’s say there are 35 former athletes, men and women; are the training approaches the same?
Coach Sommer: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Got it. So no modifications needed one way or the other?
Coach Sommer: No.
Tim Ferriss: I’ve been very impressed with some of the female trainees I’ve seen on your Facebook and Instagram who, and seen in person, quite frankly at Awaken in Denver, who are able to do a slow – and when I say slow, I mean almost slow motion slow – muscle-up from a dead hang on the rings L-sit up to perfect dip position maintaining L-sit and back down. It’s really inspiring and impressive.
Okay, here’s one for you. We only have a couple left and then we’ll come to a close. This is a question from Holly. “Coach Sommer, my boyfriend is also a gymnastics coach. What is the most effective way to handle gymnastics coaches when they get cocky and condescending? How do people best handle you? Thanks in advance.”
Coach Sommer: There is no solution for that; go date a musician.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. Here’s a question. This is a common question, and there’s part of me that gets it and part of me who has seen the benefits long enough that I don’t succumb to this as quickly. However, this is a question from Mark, and he’s talking about some of the gymnastics training that he’s doing. “The problem I tend to have is that a lot of the drills focus on static holds, at least in the earlier stages.
Is there a good way to get into gymnastics that is dynamic and fun, more like a cross fit variation that is geared toward entertaining workouts? I don’t like cross fit but I can’t deny their programs have a lot of variety and stay fresh. Doing planches for three minutes a day every day is really boring and gets demoralizing when progress is slow or even steady.”
Coach Sommer: He’s not doing my program.
Tim Ferriss: Even if he’s not, I want you to talk about what people can do to keep morale high. He’s just talking about maintaining not just from sort of an optical training standpoint but from an emotional perspective.
Coach Sommer: They probably won’t like my answer. It depends on how committed they are to getting results. I look at things as there are two types of athletes, two types of people who do fitness. There are those with an immature attitude and there are those with a mature attitude. And it’s not necessarily a chronological division. An immature attitude is someone who wants to be entertained. They want that immediate gratification. I want what I want, and I want it right now.
The mature attitude is I’m going to do what I need to do now in order to get what I want later. It doesn’t seem like it’s that big a difference, but it’s actually rather profound. The higher the goal you’re aspiring to, the longer delay there’s going to be in that gratification. A beginner struggles with it because they have not yet had a taste of success. So someone who’s been successful has told them, if you keep nose to the grindstone these great things will happen.
You’re like: yeah sure, I know you’re full of shit. This sucks, this is so boring. Once someone gets that first taste of success; they got a little stronger, they lost some weight, they built endurance, they’ve got more mobility, they get to move to a new exercise; oh, this worked. Cool. Cool. Okay, awesome. Now I’m going to do it again.
And it just keeps compiling and you learn over time. What I would like them to appreciate is that Olympics are getting to go on right now. Not one person is there at the Olympic games because they spent all their training being entertained, not one of them. Not a single one. Not just at this Olympics; ever. So if you want moderate results or you just want to do a little bit and be here or there, then bounce program is all you want.
But if you want to actually affect change on the body, you want to remodel tissue, you want to increase your range of motion, correct mobility deficits, you want to get stronger, you want to lose some fat, you want to get your core dialed in so you don’t have that big gut hanging over the belly; it took time to break it, it’s going to take time to fix it.
We’re looking at a minimum of six, seven, eight months to make a nice, solid start.
Tim Ferriss: One thing I would also point out to folks is that there seems to be, and I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this, Coach, because maybe it’s just my experience and maybe it’s some type of delusion that I’m having. But I made quite a bit of progress, like I mentioned, with the J curl and some of these other weighted movements and un-weighted movements.
But there were some that just wouldn’t or didn’t feel like they were progressing at all. And then about a month ago when I was overseas, I did a stretching workout and it seemed like almost overnight, everything had leapt forward like 30 percent. It was just nothing, nothing, nothing and then all of a sudden it was like I was stuck in between the gears and I suddenly got into the next gear.
It was at about the six month point for some of these movements. Is that common, that people will be like one week, just holy shit?
Coach Sommer: Completely common and tough for a beginner who feels like God, I’m not getting anywhere, I’m not getting anywhere. But it’s just the body adjusting. It’s just the body retooling. Things are progressing but they’re progressing at such a subliminal level that they’re not even aware of it. Think of it as a lot of times, it’s just one little thing that’s throwing a kink in the wheel. It just needs one little muscle to get caught up and then everything else can go forward. It’s just being patient.
I think sometimes it helps for people to understand that his training, working out, fitness, whether it’s GST with me, whether it’s cross fit, whether it’s tennis, whether it’s just hiking in the mountains; it doesn’t matter. This is a lifetime deal that biologically your body is either on or it’s off. It’s either healthy and thriving, growing, or it’s dying; it’s decaying. There is no in between. There is no treading water.
This isn’t a painting that you made; you start it and you can leave it alone, and walk away for six months and come back and pick up where you were. Your body is not that way. You’ve got a couple of days after a training and then if you aren’t coming back and using your body, then as far as your body’s concerned that strength you’ve built, that mobility you’ve built, the athleticism you’ve had is unnecessary to your survival and it’s going to start breaking it down.
Because it’s expensive to maintain. You have to feed all that muscle. You have to feed that metabolism. And your body thinks it’s not necessary, and that’s where the decay comes in. so you’ve got to, whatever the flavor of their fitness that they enjoy, this is a lifetime gig. They have to go out and do something. There is no escape.
Tim Ferriss: There is no escape from Coach Sommer, people. How many times do I have to tell you? I want to wrap up, actually. I saved this in Evernote because I wanted to have it at my fingertips. Not on my fingertips as blackmail material but rather…
Coach Sommer: That’s not what you said earlier.
Tim Ferriss: Don’t you cross me, Coach Sommer! I sent you an email, because I don’t want people to think I’m just setting up the pins and knocking them all down every day, just hitting home runs every time I get up to the plate.
I sent an email to you a few months ago because I was very frustrated, particularly frustrated – and I’ve had multiple points of frustration – but particularly frustrated with something called straddle L extensions, which in my workout journal I shortened to frog spaz because that’s what videos of me look like. I’m not going to read the whole email because it’s a decent length but I’ll just read a portion of it, which is the following. “Dealing with the temporary frustration of not making progress is an integral part of the path towards excellence.
In fact, it is essential and something that every single elite athlete has had to learn to deal with. If the pursuit of excellence was easy, everyone would do it. In fact, this impatience in dealing with frustration is the primary reason that most people fail to achieve their goals.” And I’m not starting this email where it started. “Unreasonable expectations time-wise resulting in unnecessary frustration due to a perceived feeling of failure, achieving the extraordinary is not a linear process.
The secret is to show up, do the work, go home; a blue-collar work ethic married to an indomitable will. It is literally that simple. Nothing interferes; nothing can sway you from your purpose. Once the decision is made, simply refuse to budge and refuse to compromise.”
Coach Sommer: I’m an eloquent bastard.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, you are an eloquent young man sir. I think that’s a good place to wrap up this round two. Coach, are there any particular social profiles or sites that you would like people to check out?
Coach Sommer: Obviously we have a Tim Ferris landing page: gymnasticbodies.com/tim. Tim has asked that we’re going to update for you guys and put some more material on there. That will, in turn, take you to kind of a curriculum page, letting you know what are the stages of preparation; what support are available to you as you work your way through a GB course.
Check out our Facebook page, gymnasticbodies.com; a lot of great stuff on there. Check out my personal page on Facebook, Christopher Sommer. Good gymnastic stuff, occasional just kind of crazy stuff thrown in there as well but you guys are used to that from Tim’s page.
Tim Ferriss: People can also check out your YouTube page, which is YouTube.com/gymnasticbodies. For people who are curious about the Russian dips, there is a video of the Russian dips right there. Russian dips and L sit, if you go to the video page it’s maybe four rows down. How to use gymnastics rings, standing straddle press, the weighted pike stretch that we talked about is also on that page. Lots of good stuff and lots of exercises that I have also used already up to this point like the lat flies, which are a really cool exercise.
Coach Sommer: Excellent.
Tim Ferriss: Lat flies, just to throw the image out there, imagine doing a wide grip pull-up to the point that your head is just below the bar, and your arms at the elbow are bent at 90 degrees. Then you’re moving your chest forward and backward. That’s a very primitive description.
Coach Sommer: Maybe a hanging pec deck.
Tim Ferriss: Yes, exactly. You’re hanging from the pull-up bar but you look like you’re sitting in a pec deck and then you’re moving your torso back and forth. That’s a killer exercise. Coach, I really appreciate the time, as usual.
Coach Sommer: Thank you, Tim.
Tim Ferriss: I’m going to get back to training this evening and continue my stretch series.
I’m going to go get a heat pack to work on this wrist that I have mangled in my own stupidity.
Coach Sommer: Paris is dangerous. Don’t underestimate.
Tim Ferriss: You’ve got to keep an eye out. I was focusing too much on the croissants and not enough on proper training. But Coach as always, thank you very much. And to everybody listening for show notes, as always you can find links to things that we’ve mentioned at – you can go to fourhourbody.com if you want to see my second book but you can go to fourhourworkweek.com/podcast. And until next time, thank you for listening.
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