T-Nation: Wait a sec, these guys with the killer biceps don't do barbell and dumbbell curls?
Sommer: No, not a single one! In fact, their amazing biceps development isn't the result of any kind of curling movement at all, but primarily due to the straight arm leverage work which they do on the still rings.
The straight-arm work is enormously difficult and puts tremendous strain on the biceps resulting in incredible growth. The key to success is being able to approach these exercises in a safe progressive manner.
T-Nation: What do you mean exactly by straight-arm work?
Sommer: By straight-arm work I'm primarily referring to the classic strength positions on the still rings (iron cross, planche, maltese, etc.) and the connecting movements between them.
Straight arm work basically means moving the body without the advantage of bending the joints. Essentially then, by increasing the length of the lever, we greatly magnify the intensity of the exercise.
A case in point would be a cross pull (basically a straight arm pull-up where the arms pull out to the sides) compared to a regular pull-up. The bodyweight is the same in both cases; however, the cross pull is several orders of magnitude harder than the pull-up, resulting in significantly higher strength and muscle gains.
Now consider that I had one teammate in college who could hold an iron cross with 60 pounds hanging on his feet and you begin to get an idea of the incredible strength of some of the high level gymnasts. By the way, this same gymnast had an upper body that was incredibly large and ripped!