It’s official. 8 weeks of training with no weights, has come to an end.
I have only used my bodyweight to challenge my strength, following some very well thought-out progressions and programming from head coach Christopher Sommer, over at Gymnastic Bodies, (GB).
I followed the Foundation One training programme, which aims to get you physically prepared for the 7 key positions found in gymnastics;
Just to put things in perspective, there are 4 volumes of progressions designed to get you up to the positions above. I barely completed half of the 1st volume, in 8 weeks.
Part of me agrees that you should be able to complete each exercise as required, before moving on to the next progression (the GB philosophy). But I can’t help believe that the GB crew have come up with as many progressions as possible in order to sell more products.
I say this because some of the progressions that I thought may take me a few weeks to work through, I completed on my first try, leading me to ask ‘was this really a necessary exercise to incorporate, if it was completed so easily?’
Having said that, the GB philosophy clearly isn’t about accelerated learning. It’s about covering all bases, and finding out where you’re weak, as done by Olympic standard gymnasts. And with that in mind, it makes sense to sell as many volumes of material as possible.
(For the record, some of the exercises were so savagely difficult for me, that I spent weeks trying to master them, clearly showing that I was weak in that area and that skipping them would have been a mistake!)
What you will notice if you embark on this Gymnastic journey, is that Coach Sommer has named all the exercises in his material, himself. That means if you want to google an exercise to see how it is done, find out the technique etc, you can’t find it!!! It takes a little bit of digging to find out all the other names that are used for the featured exercises….
Enough of the business motives, let’s get down to seeing if the programme actually worked or not!
Aside from the figures, which I will get to shortly, I can tell you 100%, from feeling in my own body, that;
- I have built muscle in my mid-to-lower back. I didn’t know it was possible to flex your muscles in this area, but now I can.
- I have greater range in my straddle position, and stronger glutes to hold my legs out there.
- I have improved my upper thoracic spinal mobility, something I only really noticed in week 8, but worked on it the entire time.
- I haven’t lost my size, despite using no weights.
I have also had some interesting realisations along the way, too:
- Holding a position for 5 sets of 60 seconds, is brutal.
- Using a prescribed mobility exercise as a form of rest between calisthenic exercises, is an effective way to train and efficient use of time. It’s also difficult to not take extra rest when you’re puffing.
- Some positions felt easier than others, depending on what strength or mobility I already had.
- My body awareness had been steadily maintained, if not improved throughout the whole 8 weeks. I felt this getting back on the slackline and trying new positions that I’d previously not thought of.
- Warm-ups need only take 5-10 minutes.
- The ‘Mastery Templates’ are one of the most helpful tools I have ever used.
My results probably won’t help you. But they will allow you to see, within a realistic time frame, just how long it takes to improve your strength in a position until you’ve mastered it.
All too often, the magazine culture of today offers empty promises; packing on muscle in record time, or becoming the Hulk overnight. Although I’m a strong believer in hacking the learning time to a minimum, the following numbers will give you a good idea on what actually constitutes a gradual increase.
If you can’t be bothered to read through the results for each position, I recommend you skip to the position you want to learn / learn more about, and see how far I managed to get in 8 weeks.
So how far did I get? Can I hold a front lever after 8 weeks? No, is the short answer. I had to start from the beginning!
I started with the exercise Bent Hollow Body Hold; required repetitions = 5 sets of 60 seconds
This was supersetted with a mobility exercise, the Cat Stretch; required repetitions = 15
Much to my surprise, I couldn’t complete 5 sets of 60 seconds. I only managed 60, 40, 30, 30 and had died by the 5th set.
So I calculated that my starting point was 5 sets of 36 seconds.
By week 6, I had managed 5 x 60 seconds. Stamina takes time to build!
By week 8, I’d reached the Bent Hollow Body Rock exercise. That’s only exercise #2 out of 6!
Long way to go…
If you want to get a really strong core, I recommend doing any of the 6 prescribed exercises for the Front Lever. They are savage!
I started week 1 well, mastering the Scapular Shrugs exercise, for 5 sets of 15 repetitions.
By week 8, I’d reached the Elevated Planche Lean exercise, for 5 sets of 24 seconds.
The required standard is 5 sets of 30 seconds before moving on; 6 seconds off.
The Elevated Planche Lean is exercise #6 of 6, so I did well to progress through all 6 stages in 8 weeks.
I have definitely completed more Tuck Planche progressions than I have for the Front Lever, so perhaps this is why my progress was better for this position.
If you want to build muscle in your mid or lower back, then follow the prescribed mobility exercises for the Straddle Planche section. They will have your hips and back screaming, but they really work!
My favourite mobility exercise in this section was the Straddle Donkey Kick.
The prescribed rep range is 10 reps, performed as an active rest between work sets.
Hollow Back Press
Started on week 1 with Incline Push Ups for 5 sets of 15 reps, no worries.
Progressed to exercise #6 of 6, the Parallel Bar Dip, by week 8.
My tricep strength is pretty good. Foundation One for the Hollow Back Press seems to focus a lot on developing tricep strength.
I only tried this mobility exercise in week 8, but boy, was it a good’un!!
Week 1 = The Incline Row for 5 x 15 repetitions.
Week 8 = Chin Up Hold for 5 x 36 seconds (exercise #6 of 6)
For the record, holding a chin up, in the top position for a required 5 sets of 60 seconds, is absolutely savage. 36 seconds was as far as I could manage, and things definitely got creative when I dislocated one of my fingers at week 6.
I started week 6 with 5 x 20 seconds. So in 2 weeks I increased my hold time by 16 seconds. So maybe in another 3-4 weeks I could have smashed the required 5 x 60 seconds… who knows.
Holding a position for this long is tough on my mental game. My head starts to run away with itself at the 30 second mark… then the voices of defeat start to creep in and tell me that I should give up, that it’s too difficult.
As well as testing your mind, you will build strength by performing an iso-hold for this length of time, and as a result of your muscles being under tension for that much time, you will also build them up. Not massively, but enough to be able to flex them at will.
After a couple of weeks trying to iso-hold a difficult position, you will start to notice you can engage a certain muscle that little bit deeper, meaning that it’s all working!
This exercise really pumped my guns up, especially by sets 4 and 5. However, it’s your lats that are supposed to take the brunt of the load in this…..
The integrated mobility exercise for this section that helped me open up my thoracic spine, was the Overgrip Bent Lean. Sounds like a good Friday night.
To be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever hold a Manna like a pro, unless I dedicate a severe portion of my life to learning how to do it. It’s an incredible feat of strength in my eyes, and flexibility. Still, here’s how I got on at the baby-end of the spectrum….
Week 1 = Tuck Ups 5 x 15
Week 8 = V-Up 5 x 15 (exercise #3 of 6)
My favourite exercise of this block for discovering the importance of the glutes
for holding the legs in position, was the Straddle Up. 5 x 15 reps was the prescribed dose.
And this was the integrated mobility exercise, the Jefferson Curl. This was the first mobility exercise I’d been exposed to that incorporated the idea of weighted stretching.
For those of you that know of Ido Portal, I can see where he got his ideas for weighted stretching from. It works!
Week 1 = Arch Body Hold
Week 8 = Arch Body Rock (exercise #2 of 6)
Up there with the Chin Up Hold, the Arch Body Hold took me 7 weeks to master. 7 weeks! And it is just a static position. I was surprised. However, this little number built me some muscle on the ol’ lower back, so it’s all good. I would definitely recommend this exercise to all, just be sure not to hyper-extend your lower back when you do it, aim for a more anterior pelvic tilt by pressing your hips into the mat.
The next progression from this hold is the same position, but a rock. I tried it but found I just kept crushing my penis in to the floor. Not a fan. The Arch Body Hold is far safer for the ‘nads.
Single Leg Squat
Week 1 = Deck Squat
Week 8 = Cossack Squat (exercise #2 of 6)
The Deck Squat. The only exercise in the whole Foundation One programme that felt like conditioning. And it had to be for the legs. I thought I was going to cruise this stage, and instead it took me 7 weeks to hit 5 sets of 15 reps. It just felt so dirty. You hit rep 10 and all your coordination turns to shit, you can’t tuck your feet up to your arse, and so you can’t stand up properly. One little stage goes out of sync and the whole move’s fucked.
Much harder than it looks, and if you’re looking for a leg conditioning exercise that feels as sickening as a burpee, try the deck squat.
THE MASTERY TEMPLATES
One of the best parts of the Foundation One programme was this idea of Mastery and Mastery Templates.
The Mastery bit is simple – do no progress to the next exercise, unless you have completed the required mastery number of sets and reps.
The Mastery Templates come in when you cannot quite reach the requirements. You refer to the table, and you can see exactly how many sets and reps you need to complete and how far away you are from reaching Mastery level.
Here are a couple of the templates which show you how to reach a required hold of 60 seconds or 15 repetitions, respectively;
It really couldn’t be easier to follow. Every 4th week is a scheduled deload week, hence why the reps are reduced. Whenever you fail your reps, in any exercise, you can refer to these tables as a pathway to success.
Out of the 7 positions, here’s how I’d rate my progress in 8 weeks, based on how far I’d progressed through each of the 6 exercises;
Front Lever = Weak
Straddle Planche = Strong
Hollow Back Press = Strong
Rope Climb = Strong
Manna = Average
Side Lever = Weak
Single Leg Squat = Weak
Going forward from here, it would make sense to incorporate some of the exercises where I’m weak into my next training programme, or at least take some of the more useful mobility exercises and use them as active rest.
I found the whole Foundation One template very well programmed, a lot of thought and practical experience has gone in to its design.
I really recommend you try the programme, if anything to see where you’re weak. That was my original motive after hearing a podcast with Coach Sommer and discovering what his basic requirements of strength were; I was so surprised at what he was asking, I thought it was time to test my ability and see where my weaknesses lay.
I have discovered I have many!
If I return to complete another 8 week block in the future, it would make sense to start where I have left off. I still have 4 positions to complete the required progressions for – Sommer’s recommendation is to continue performing the mastered exercises whilst you catch up with all the ones your weak at. In my case, that would be staying at the final exercises for the Straddle Planche, Hollow Back Press and Rope Climb but continuing to work through all the progressions for the Manna, Side Lever, Front Lever and Single Leg Squat.
I would like to see what effect performing mobility exercises between weights sets, has on improving conditioning and overall mobility. It is such an efficient use of time and really tests your ability to recover between sets.
I am also keen to see how using some of the prescribed working exercises and mobility exercises would fare up when used as Accessory exercises within a strength and conditioning programme. This is definitely something I am exploring next….
Thanks for reading, post any of your questions/comments below and all the best with your training!
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