I, like most, was confused after reading Chris Sommer’s article, Building an Olympic through Bodyweight Conditioning. It seemed easy — a series of holds, escalating to 60 seconds.
But the ease ended upon effort.
After failing to hold the tuck planche for more than three seconds, I gave up. But my motivation for bodyweight holds always creeps. There is something majestic about holding the body in gravity defying positions, and Sommer’s articles is one of a few that detail how.
I wanted to get a real perspective, not an Olympic coach’s. This led me to interviewing a good friend, Yuri Marmerstein. He’s an average guy, but after many hours, he’s elevated his skills to an impressive level.
Q: First, what got you interested and how long have you been practicing?
A: I think what originally got me started was reading up on old time strongmen in high school. Their stories were very inspirational and they used a lot of gymnastic training so I held it in high regard. I started doing lots of bodyweight and muscle control training via Charles Atlas, Maxick, etc. I believe this gave me a good base to practice advanced skills on.
Also, in 2004/2005 when the video of Bboy Junior came out on Ebaums world — I had never seen anything like it. I gave myself a one year timetable to perform planche pushups like Junior. Of course, it was ridiculous. 5 years later I’m still nowhere close to being able to do them like that.
Around that time the Chris Sommer planche/front lever article came out, which I found very useful. So I’ve been practicing around 6 years. I started pretty late, and regret not being more active as a kid.
Q: How much time do you devote to it, and how does it fit in with tricking?
A: Depends on the discipline. Handbalancing — I train every day right now. Strength — couple times a week. Tricking — once or twice a week.
Handbalancing has a slow learning curve, taking a day off requires a day to get back in balance and by then I’ve lost two training days.
Tricking is on and off. I try to maintain my tricks, at least. When I get motivated, I’ll take some time to try to improve.
Q: Since I’ve started handbalancing, I’ve noticed a lot of tweaks in my wrist and ankle if I’m not careful. Am I careless, or is this something that comes with the territory?
A: Yes, you have to bear with it and get used to it. Luckily, the wrist has a lot of bones and nerve endings, so it will be easy to tell if something i wrong. Stretching out the wrists and doing prehab is highly recommended. I’ve found refuge in rice digs.
Q: Any other tips?
A: Stretching and strengthening the hand and wrist often will help. Make sure your wrists are warmed up thoroughly before attempting to put weight on them. Clubbells, can be great for the wrists and shoulders — and they can be homemade. Check out old school kung fu movies, they have interesting ways of strengthening their hands.
Q: Speaking of injuries, you have suffered in the past. How did you get injured?
A: I was going off of a raised tumbletrak, went crooked and overrotated. As I was falling back onto the hard floor I instinctively stuck my hand out behind me and landed on it. The next morning my wrist was quite swollen and immobile.
Q: Your YouTube page shows you training with barbells. How does barbell training fit in with gymnastics skill training and what effect do you think they have on each other?
A: There is an overlap, but not as much as you would think. Bodyweight training has more carryover to weight training. You can do both, but as you get more advanced, your body can only take so much punishment. You will have to make a choice whether you want to barbell training dominant or bodyweight training dominant. You can excel at both, but typically high level gymnasts/acrobats rarely touch weights and high level weightlifters are only proficient in basic gymnastics skills.
Q: You referenced Chris Sommer’s article, Building an Olympic Body through Bodyweight Conditioning. What do you think of his 60 second progression sequences and selection of exercises?
A: I have coach Sommers’ book, and I even follow the WODs on his forum on occasion. I think he has a great variety of exercises with plenty of advanced and beginner progressions. But the 60 seconds might be excessive, although you cannot argue the importance of building a solid base. If you are not solid in the basic skills, the advanced skills will not come to you and can even lead to injury.
Q: What kind of advice do you have for a novice practicing handstands, planches, levers, and l-sits? Is it about putting in the time and devotion or have you picked up tricks to get to where you are now?
A: Practice often. You have to suffer a little. A good thing about bodyweight training is that it doesn’t devastate your nervous system like heavy lifting does, so once you build yourself up you can practice 5-6 days a week without feeling drained.
Handstands should always be done fresh; don’t save them for the end. You can make good progress incorporating 5-10 minutes of practice into your warmup. Of course, if you want to get really good, you’ll have to practice more, but it’s a start.
Planches, levers, etc you can practice whenever, but be consistent.
Lastly, if you are feeling burned out, don’t be afraid to take it easy for however long you need. I’ve made some of my best progress coming back after a rest period.
Q: This may seem like a silly question, but have you ever recalled an instance in life where you were glad you had some of the skills you developed from your training (cushioning yourself from a fall or another similar event?)
A: The only thing that comes to mind right now is years ago when I was walking on a frozen lake (or maybe it was a river). The ice started to crack under me and without thinking I did some kind of acrobatic move to escape it. Later, I thought very highly of myself for it. Being able to roll is a useful skill for anyone, athlete or not.
Q: Weight training for tricksters, yes or no? Gymnastic skills for tricksters?
A: Weights? Sure, why not. Though heavy weight training and intense tricking should be rotated accordingly so as to maximize recovery. Plus, most trickers are too skinny anyway.
I don’t see how trickers wouldn’t be interested in gymnastics skills. It follows along the same lines of doing impressive, seemingly impossible things with your body.
Q: Any last words?
A: Remember that if you are training yourself, you are doing it for self enrichment. Take your time. These skills take a while to learn, so you have to be patient. Don’t worry about how long it takes you to learn something, just keep at it and you will progress.
Thanks again, Yuri!
For those interested in seeing or learning more about Yuri Marmerstein, be sure to check out his YouTube page filled with tons of videos, both tricking and hand balancing. While you’re there, support him by subscribing.