In a month that couldn’t decide if it was summer or autumn this intrepid mover took  journey to the Italian town of Piacenza to take part in the ST for GST seminar hosted by Kit Laughlin.

The work shop took place over two days in the stunning Studio 38. Seriously, if it was offered to me to drop everything and live in Studio 38 I wouldn’t of returned home.

The seminar was designed as an experiential workshop, giving the participants the possibility of experiencing selected stretches with the direct assistance and explanation of Kit. This concept allows you to then take that experience of how the stretches are performed and further apply this knowledge to the other stretches in the system provided by ST. For people new to GST and ST I think this was a great approach, whereas for myself as a coach I would of preferred to have some more theory, but it wasn’t billed as a workshop for coaches.

Meeting Kit was great, we’ve corresponded over the internet via his forum for sometime but it’s always nice to see that the internet persona matches the person in real life. This is a quote I found which I believe describes Kit quite accurately

“In a world of fitness hucksters, rabid egomaniacs and control freak coaches, Kit Laughlin stands alone as a sincere, humble guy.” 

It was remarked on that Kit at times has a manner of speaking that can come across as quite “esoteric” or “spiritual”, which especially manifests itself in his approach to stretching which embraces not only the bodily side of things but also takes the mind or “spirit” into account. But this is something I’ve found with myself over the years, the more I work with people and their bodies, the more I find the  language we have not sufficient to describe the level and depth of change going on in the body that we have to resort to the language of the “mystics” to explain it.

For me it was great to see such an experienced coach conduct a seminar in the manner of Kit. While only one person, he was able to explain the material in detail while also being able to give everyone individual attention to help them either progress or regress to the correct level.

Over the years I’ve attended many workshops, seminars and training courses, and this one ranks as the best of the bunch. I definitely recommend attending if you get the chance.
Some choice bits of my notes:

  • Its not me hurting you, its your own body hurting you. Kit was quick to point this out after starting the day with a very deep Quad and Hip Flexor stretch. Judging by the faces around the room many people were wondering why they paid this Australian to hurt them.
  • Muscles must flow out of the way. Kit was constantly pointing out that softness of the body was the desired state.
  • When setting up a stretch, stretch more gently then you think you can.
  • Balancing on one leg can only be maintained with an arch in the foot
  • The pec minor stick stretch requires a lot more force than you think it does.
  • Hit your problem areas once a week, no more.
  • If you can’t straighten your arms in a bridge its more than likely your lats that are tight.

Stretch Therapy for Gymnastic Strength Training


Backbend to Bridge

The back bend to bridge aka the dropback or the half limber is one of the big flexibility milestones for my students. To do properly it shows we’ve achieved good total range of motion over the whole anterior chain of the body as well as this range of motion we’ve also developed good active flexibility and bodily control. Once this is attained most other back bending type exercises, walk overs, limbers, valdez etc are a relatively straight forward progression.

So to learn this I generally aim to have people in a good bridge before spending a large chunk of our time on the progressions below. That’s not to say you can’t start them before you’ve got  good bridge. Progress will just be faster if you have.

I start people with the standing arch drill and we aim to have a comfortable 30 – 45 seconds before moving onto the next drill. This is definitely one of the under used bodyline drills. In general I feel people could benefit from the use of standing bodyline drills in their programs.

The next drill in the sequence is the arch back to box with head just touching. The idea behind this drill is to learn to one control the lowering by pushing the hips forward at the same time as the torso arching and two to use the abs to pull out of the arch. 5 sets of 5 reps is a good short term goal for this. Use a box just below the pec line is a good start.

Once this has been achieved the next step is to take arms over head and also to begin to let the knees bend more. 5 x 5 is once again a good aim here once you reach that then lowering the box. Sometimes I’ll just program total reps in this situation when someone is just learning the motion. ie give them ten minutes to finish 12 – 15 reps. Depends on the person and stage of their developement.

Next or concurrently I’ll start teaching the student how to transfer weight from hands to feet and vice versa in a normal bridge. This movement is not too challenging and is generally done for skill, ie work on getting it nice and smooth. It can be advanced by trying to lift the feet or hands 5cm off the ground and lowering back slow as possible. No real sets or reps I just will have a chunk of time devoted to practicing this during practice.

Once all the above have been addressed the actual movement itself is a straightforward affair. Once the student is pulling from a 20cm box for 5 reps they’ll generally be able to pull once from the floor. Some students will need hand spotting to maintain correct position when trying from the floor.

All the good contortion teachers I know recommended always training the front of the body with roughly the same intensity as the back so on days when I have bridge programmed I’ll also program Jefferson curls or a different front bending exercise. 3 – 4 sets of 5 – 10 reps with a pause in the bottom is good here.


Fixing Arched Back in Handstand

One of the most common problems in Handstand training is trainees having an arched back and  their ribs flaring. Inexperienced Coaches will automatically use the “ribs down” cue to try fix this, in my experience this is one of the worst cues for the situation as most beginner trainees in the handstand world actually do not have required scapular mobility to achieve the needed degree of shoulder flexion for a Handstand so rely on either arching the lower back or flaring the ribs to achieve it.

Attaining correct line will speed up your progress immensely in handstand and transfer to other skills. Initially when training with me some people will be devoting 80% of their training time in handstands to corrective exercises and only 20% to Handstand specific. I generally expect to have this issue fixed in 3 months with most people and then after that handstand progress is very rapid
The following collection of exercises is what I’d use as a standard approach to correcting this issue its not a be all and end all but will aid most in correcting this issue.

To know if this approach is for you I’ve come up with this easy to apply self test if you fail the test then this approach will more than likely help

First thing we need to do is remove any adhesions and restore tissue quality to the area. I thoroughly recommend everyone attend a qualified NMT or ART practitioner. As an adjunct I recommend using this foam roller technique

Next we need to introduce a daily mobility sequence. I’m not in the business of reinventing the wheel and recommend you look at this excellent video by Kit Laughlin. Also if you’re serious about fixing this area buy his “Master Shoulder Flexibility”  here

Next we need to strengthen the surrounding musculature in the scapula. I generally recommend 4 sets of 8 – 15 on this exercises done twice a week. And for some people they do a couple of sets as part of their warm up

Next the following stretches are done 2 – 3 times weekly on upper body day.

Remember folks knowledge is nice but applying it is better. Please let me know how you get on with this sequence.