Upper Body Resurrection – The Path To Strength Gymnastics

Uncommon Success - UNCOM

Let’s face it. Most people have a completely dormant upper body. You could even say dead. Now your legs will get some work just moving the rest of you around. Even those of us who master the art of finding the closest park at the shopping centre will still get some calf and thigh development getting around and, actually, the more body weight someone is carrying the more of a strength stimulus it is to get up stairs or walk up a slope. But the upper body?!?

For something like 95%+ of the population, daily use of the upper body is very limited. What does this mean?

We’re not exploring our potential. Even if you are training you’re probably leaving your upper body to rest way too long between sessions to get the body you want. Now there are many ways to solve this problem but what we’re looking for is the best solution.

What consistently works?

You could look at a Poliquin 1 day arm-cure. Do curls and triceps all day, the slow tempo should help to avoid tendonitis if you’ve been hitting the isolation work. What do you have at the end of it? Well you may eventually create trademark arms that might even be so heavy the shoulders can’t deal with carrying them around all day! A problem most guys would probably like to have at some stage in life. The reality is that unless you’re also pretty strong on the basics then your arms aren’t going to grow much. Once you’ve got a strong push-pull foundation, then you can add some isolation work if you need to fill some sleeves.

How do you build a lifelong foundation of upper body development like the Greeks and Romans?

Calisthenics – body weight training. Now before you scroll off let me tell you I’m not talking about the way 99% of those chasing handstands are doing their training. Most people who’ve fallen in love with “flow”, “locomotion” and “foundations” would be well served by getting under the bar for some bench press. Or at least reading on and doing what it really takes to look like an elite gymnast or gym goer.

Let me tell you a story that changed my perspective on bodyweight training for aesthetics.

In 2008 I lived in baseball mad Valencia, Venezuela for 3 months teaching English and experiencing life under “21st Century Socialism” during the days of Hugo Chavez leadership (RIP). The amazing thing about Valencia and most of Venezuela for that matter was that the council had made it policy to put a dip-chin station on just about EVERY BLOCK (a pre-Chavez initiative). Chin-Dip stations were literally all over the city and most of the country!

The result!?

More guys that could do multiple sets of 20 wide grip pull-ups (no kipping) than I’ve seen anywhere else in the 40+ other countries and hundreds of gyms I’ve been to. Sure leg development was lacking for most of them but let’s not worry too much about that.

How did they train?

Dips and chins. DIPS AND CHINS! Sure there were a few funky variations but this was in the time before BarStarz and the boom of 360 muscle-ups. It was about dips and chins. For reps.

How did they do it? Lots of sets. Not to failure. Most days! There were a number of guys over 50 with abs you could get lost in!

No matter what your training goals are, a foundation of volume and intensity on the basics is common ground among all strength / power athletes. I cover that more in my High Frequency Movement article.

This article is not for INFOTAINMENT> Apply the following 

4 blocks of dips and chins 2+ times per week will change your life! Add one block per week up to a total of 8 blocks and you’re getting to Venezuelan street level.

How do the RealSTRENGTH blocks work?


To get started perform 1/4 – 1/3 (25-33%) of your 3 sec rep max. (Test your 3 sec rep max first in the BASE1 protocol).

If your 3 second maximum repetition (TEST) for chin-ups is 3 reps then you will do 1 rep every minute for 5 total sets to complete 1 block of chin-ups.

  • 5×1 rep, 1 every 60 seconds.

If you score 15 on your 3 sec max reps full range dips then you would do 4 reps on the dip.

  • 5×4 reps, do 4 reps in each minute.


Start the clock. 1 chin-up, perfect form controlled descent, walk to the dip bars, do 1 dip, rest the remainder of the minute. When the clock reaches 60 seconds start the cycle again.

5 sets = one successful block. At this intensity gains will be mostly in strength. That’s ok, Rome wasn’t built in a day. We want a foundation of force to build muscle we can use for things like 1-arm chin-ups and handstand push-ups

Add 1 rep to each block until you’re able to perform 3 pull-ups and 5 dips.

Eg. Session 1 (3sMRTEST 3 Chins – 5 Dips)

Minute 1 – 1 Chin + 1 Dip

Minute 2 – 1 Chin + 1 Dip

Minute 3 – 1 Chin + 1 Dip

Minute 4 – 1 Chin + 1 Dip

Minute 5 – 1 Chin + 1 Dip

Session 2

Minute 1 – 1 Chin + 2 Dips

Minute 2 – 1 Chin + 1 Dip

Minute 3 – 1 Chin + 1 Dip

Minute 4 – 1 Chin + 1 Dip

Minute 5 – 2 Chins + 1 Dip

Session 3

Minute 1 – 1 Chin + 2 Dips

Minute 2 – 1 Chin + 2 Dips

Minute 3 – 1 Chin + 1 Dip

Minute 4 – 2 Chins + 1 Dip

Minute 5 – 2 Chins + 1 Dip

Depending on your age and recovery you may be able to increase by 1-2 repetition each block for many consecutive sessions or you may need to repeat the same block 1-3 times before you can advance. Take your time and concentrate on perfect form and you will find that when you re-test at the start of the next month you will have made significant gains.

Over 15 Chin-ups / 25 Dips

With higher reps this will get you breathing hard and arms on fire and ready to burst like a hot water bottle under Ronnie Coleman.

If your 3 second maximum repetition for chin-ups is 15 reps then you will do 4 reps every minute for 5 total sets to complete 1 block of chin-ups.

5 x 4 reps, 4 reps each minute.

If you score 25 on your 3 sec max reps full range dips then you would do 7 reps also on the dips.

5 x 7 reps, 7 reps each minute.

Once you’re over the 3 Chin-ups / 5 Dips then we can start to use some variations.




-> Start Chins on the first minute, Dips on the second minute, chins on the third minute etc. This method is less of a central stimulus in terms of lactic acid production, respiration etc, this method therefore provides more of a strength stimulus with less interference from fatigue.

Session 1

Minute 1 – 4 Chins

Minute 2 – 7 Dips

Minute 3 – 4 Chins

Minute 4 – 7 Dips

Minute 5 – 4 Chins

Minute 6 – 7 Dips

Minute 7 – 4 Chins

Minute 8 – 7 Dips

Minute 9 – 4 Chins

Minute 10 – 7 Dips

Simple and effective. This method will bring back many a body from the silent death or dissociation. Experience your new improving physical capacity and take it with you into your studies, travels, music and work!


For those who don’t have dip bars (or chairs with arm-rests) you can do the same test with push-ups. When you perform your work sets you don’t need use the tempo, just keep the form strict so you get the results when you go back to test again on the 3 second tempo.


Use rings hung from your chin-up bar and perform ring rows alternated with push-ups. These are great for those who are getting less than 6 chin-ups on the 3 second tempo testing.

If you don’t have a pull-up bar, get one! You can use a doorway variety, local swing-set or even a tree! .There is always a solution. You can also get home parallel bars quite easily now to be able to do dips and more advanced gymnastics work in the lounge room.

A simpler, more effective and proven way to resurrect an upper body you will not find!

Don’t max it out every session UNLESS you’re training only 1-2 times per week then take it to as much intensity as you can muster!

Once you’re hitting an intensity of more than 8/10 cut your rep goal by 20% and start again.

How often and when?

It really depends on you, your other goals, your immune function, your knowledge of self-care, training history etc.

Start with 2 blocks of each movement (4 blocks total) and progress over the month to 4 blocks of each movement per week (8 blocks total), great things will follow.

Now you’ve seen the path towards that Greco-Roman physique you’ve always looked up to. All that is left is to test yourself and get moving!

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