TUCKED away in a corner of Stroud about 200 people a week are doing elite gymnast strength training.

But these people are not elite gymnasts, they are everyday people, some of whom have chronic back and neck problems.

Wesley Tan, 38, and his partner Claire Berthier, 40, launched Forma - Gymnastic Strength Training (GST) classes at The Fitness Mill in Thrupp three years ago. Reporter Megan Titley went along to a class to find out more.

CATCHING up before the class Wesley had told me that he thinks GST will be the exercise form which everyone is doing in the next 10 years, rather like Pilates and Yoga are now, so I had high expectations of session.

I had my own vested interests in taking part, I have knee and hip injuries due to my running addiction so I am on a drive to try and strengthen the muscles around my joints.

We started the session with a bit of a cardio workout to warm up. Running round the room my ankles twinged with each step and I thought about what Wesley had said about how the training reconditions joints, clearly my ankles needed it.

GST is a method devised by Christopher Sommer, former coach to USA Junior National Gymnastics Team.

When people decide they want to get fit they think of running or going to the gym but not many adults think of signing up to an exercise class used by elite gymnasts.

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Initially Wesley was sceptical of GST but since he took it on he has not looked back.

“Now I feel the best physically than I’ve ever felt and I’m more flexible and stronger than I’ve ever been,” he said.

“We use strength and mobility exercises used by elite gymnasts to build strong, flexible and resilient bodies.

“And we get to play on swings, hang upside down on gymnastic rings and climb ropes.”

Between them, he and Claire teach 14 classes a week in the foundations of gymnastic training, handstand preparation and flexibility.

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With a background in classical dance Claire worked as a professional dancer for the acclaimed Batsheva Dance Company in Israel founded by the pioneering contemporary dance choreographer, Martha Graham.

Sitting in box splits during the session I followed Wesley’s instructions reaching over each leg holding a weight high above my head and coming back to centre. I really felt the weight training deepening the stretch and challenging my stomach muscles to become stronger.

The stretching and strengthening components of each exercise are central to the way Wesley’s classes work.

Take the side sit ups we did for example, afterwards we stood with a weight leaning over each side to stretch out those stomach muscles we’d just worked out.

Commenting Wesley said: "We stress the body in measurable increments, taking our time over months to gradually progress the amount of stretch and strain we put on our joints, this is how we avoid injury.

"This gives the body time to adapt and the joints become stronger, the connective tissues become more resilient and this is a major difference from traditional training methods."

Towards the end of the class we got to use some props and there were lots of exercises I had never done before.

Using the wall bars I watched as others stood on the bottom bar, and leaned away from the wall into a diagonal line. They then folded down from the waist and did back arches. I tried it and it looked deceptively easy, I could feel muscles working that I did not even know I had.

One exercise we did which I couldn’t manage at all was the reverse leg lift. Somehow I got myself into the right position - hanging from the wall bar from my hands upside down and backwards.

Then I feebly attempted to lift my legs up, except that I couldn’t figure out how to move them at all and my partner had to help. Learning new exercises and challenging myself is something which really draws me to a class.

I enjoyed the interactive partner work for the feedback and guidance it allowed on technique. It was also a brilliant way to get to know the other people taking part. This worked especially well in the handstand conditioning class where I kept forgetting to tuck in my stomach and hips, suck my chest into a concave shape, try and touch my shoulders to my ears all whilst keeping my legs stuck together like glue. But it worked, when I tried doing a handstand later my whole body felt lighter because I was engaging all the right muscles.


Half handstand with one leg finding vertical. The half handstand is not utilised enough when teaching the handstand, it helps students how to find stacking the hips, shoulders and hands properly and also encourages the correct hollow position. #FormaGST #Gymnasticbodies #GBaffiliate #christophersommer #gymnastic #strength #training #stroud #fitness #health #osteopathy #physiotherapy #fitfam #inspire #handstands #mobility #movementculture #cotswolds

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I loved the class, everyone was friendly and there was a good level of focus in the group. The exercises moved on a nice rate keeping me occupied but not drawing out the intense exercises too much.

Two days later and I could feel the classes had already started to sculpt my body, I was achy all over in my back, thighs, arms, shoulders and stomach.

Forma is affiliated with Gymnastic Bodies, an online source for GST courses, it is the only affiliate in Europe so far.

Wesley and Claire are both osteopaths who moved to Stroud to set up their practice in 2008.