Friday, 20 January 2012

Overcoming Gravity

It seems books on strength are like buses.  Nothing for ages then several come along at once!  Chris Highcock's Hill Fit gives a solid program for fundamental strength gains aimed primarily at the hill walker and mountaineer but with wider application.  'Overcoming Gravity: A Systematic Approach to Gymnastics and Bodyweight Strength' by Steven Low targets a much more specialised audience:

  • In this book, Steven Low takes the reader on a journey through logically and systematically constructing a strength oriented bodyweight workout routine. With a highly systematic and scientific approach, Steven delves into the exercise physiology behind strength training and how to adequately prepare the body for the rigors of bodyweight training. Using the same rigor and attention to detail, Overcoming Gravity also includes recommendations for all bodyweight athletes concerning health and injury management. Unlike other books on this topic, it provides extremely comprehensive sample programming to assist in the design of a well-balanced routine, including information about the proper execution of the exercises and techniques.
It was an interest in bodyweight exercises during the mid 2000s that first led to my stumbling across the whole paleo model.  Around that time I'd had a few concerns about my training.  I'd get hunger shakes on occasion and the amount of lifting I did had resulted in a not-too-impressive physique.

One thing led to another and I was soon to be found devouring Chris Sommers pivotal essay 'Building an Olympic Body through Bodyweight Conditioning' on Dragon's door whilst eshewing grains and ramping up the meat and fat in my diet courtesy of Arthur DeVany's seminal 'Essay on Evolutionary Fitness' - but with a bit of my own special sauce, adjusting things as I saw fit within the evolutionary paradigm.

My pioneering approach of paleo diet and bodyweight program were soon exposed as being far from unique with the discovery of Tamir Katz' TBK Fitness Program, but what Katz' book did was suggest that I wasn't quite as mad as I had thought, and give me comfort that I was on to something...

Fast forwards a few years and I was waiting for two books in particular, Arthur DeVany's 'New Evolution Diet' and Chris Sommer's 'Building the Gymnastic Body'.

Both these books are excellent, but in some ways they did disappoint.  ADV's book didn't seem to add much in a practical sense to his 'Essay on Evolutionary Fitness' (the circa 2006 version of which is the best in my opinion).  Meanwhile Sommer's book, although comprehensive in terms of exercise progression, was lacking in detail on program structure and such like.  Thankfully any shortcoming was remedied through reading the posts on his Gymnastic Bodies website, but sadly, even with the excellent content herein, it could still be something of a challenge to come up with a practical program.  This is where Low's 'Overcoming Gravity' comes in.

Low has coached Gymkana (a gymnastics performance troupe) and has actively contributed to several forums over the years including DrillsAndSkills, PowerAthletesMag, CF, PMenu and Gymnastic Bodies.  He then went on to host 'Eat, Move & Improve' where he published his excellent 'The Fundamentals of Bodyweight Strength Training'.  This was a pilot for 'Overcoming Gravity' which in turn is the book that 'Building the Gymnastic Body' should have been.  The sheer ambition, the breadth and depth of information here is superlative. 

Diet-wise Low supports a paleo approach, and in terms of strength training, the fundamentals are based upon a classic 5x5 structure (a la Starting Strength).  But where this book really earns its stripes is in the focus on joint, tendon and ligament health, on ROM, and on prehabilitation and rehabilitation.

Specific emphasis is given to shoulder health.  With respect to the shoulders Low seeks to optimise training by picking complementary exercises (manna and HS for example), and looks at broader whole-body routines to develop a robust physique/structural balance in optimal time.

Your body really does work on a use it or lose it basis.  In your youth your body will work hard to overcome how badly you treat it.  But with accumulated damage comes real problems.  The emphasis Low places on building functional, physical health from the inside, rather than cosmetic musculature really is the way to have hustle in to your senior years.

If I had one gripe it is that although production values are adequate, at $50 you'd expect the proof reading to have been a bit tighter; there are a significant number of mistakes throughout.  However this really is splitting hairs when considered against the content.  Whatever my expectation of a $50 book, this is no ordinary $50 book and I'd happily pay more for this book, warts and all.

As Hill Fit points out, strength training is for many of us a missing ingredient.  We get wrapped up in a flavour of exercise, a particular sport and so on.  But with gymnastics the variety of exercises and the progressions available with an exercise choice mean that we are never siloed in our planes of motion and we can maintain intensity for as long as we improve our strength.

A bodyweight and'or gymnastic basis really does have merit in your training and these books will tell you why.  Meantime I've just got to say 'Well done' to Steven Low for breathing life in to gymnastics, making it accessible to the masses of body nazis and fitness fanatics everywhere.

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