Gymnasts are in ripped, peak condition for good reason. While a poll would likely result in a majority believing the jacked, hulking figure of the average weightlifter is stronger than the leaner-cut pro gymnast, but, pound for pound, gymnasts are arguably some of the strongest athletes in the world.
Whether or not you have aspiration to one day compete in The Artistic Gymnastic Championships, many of the exercises performed by top gymnasts can benefit you and your gym gains.
Gymnastics, after all, is comprised of an extremely high level of strength and balance combined with endurance.
To begin, working with your own bodyweight can be far more beneficial to those precious muscle and strength gains than you might think. Weights are not always necessary in developing lean muscle and, what’s more, weight machines in particular can result in muscle gains but a restricted movement. One of the main differences between gymnasts’ gains and those of a bodybuilder is the obvious dexterity and freedom of movement they’re capable of.
Before you begin experimenting with some new moves, why not familiarise yourself with a few of the classics that don’t involve weights.
Pull-ups and chin-ups can be modified by adding weight and also varying the angle the lift yourself towards the bar, which commands different muscles. Take this a step further and hit the monkey bars to combine these with a bit of variety to your movements.
For your abs, many of the best exercises don’t require equipment, from hanging leg raises to crunches and twists. Planks provide you with endless possibilities by altering the angles and where your weight rests. Where equipment is available, Roman chair lifts (and side lifts) will help you to develop the-oft neglected obliques and lower back muscles, and balancing on a gym ball in any combination of ways will channel your core.
But you knew those already, so without further ado, here a few gymnast hacks that you can add to your repertoire.
Hollow Body Hold
This is a primary move in gymnast training that is about channelling your abs to achieve body tension.
What does it look like? Lying on your back, keep your legs together and straight with your arms out straight above your head. Really engage your abs and lift your legs and shoulders off the floor at the same time. Hold this position so that you are slightly curved from the tip of your fingers to your toes for a minimum of 30 seconds. When you begin to develop, try rocking back and forth to increase the intensity on your abs.
Gymnast Pull up
Alright, so you’ve got the hang of a standard pull up, but you’ll have noticed that gymnasts do them differently. While you’re at it, what have your legs and core been doing while your focus has been on your arms? However you’ve been doing them, it’s time to take it up a notch and do it the gymnast way, which will engage your abs, glutes, hamstrings and lats.
How does it work? Holding the bar with a shoulder-width overhand grip, hand with your arms straight. Engage your abs and keep your legs clamped together. Point your toes ahead of you so that you curve into a C shape. Focus on your abs raising upwards instead of your arms or legs and lift until your chest reaches the bar before slowly lowering yourself.
This is another one that has made its way from the mats to many a Crossfit box.
Handstands, though difficult to master at first, open you up to a warm-up and warm-down exercise that seriously puts your core to work, reaches your lower abs where many crunches may not, as well as developing your balance, symmetry and shoulder strength. More than that, you will at last look like one of those people on the mats in a gym that really must know what they’re doing.
A true test of strength and poise, these are performed on parallel bars and rings and make you look exactly like all stock images of a real gymnast if you can hold the pose long enough to take a picture. These will put your hips, lats, triceps and abs to the test like no other.
How are they done? If you don’t have access to rings or bars you can perform these with large squared-off dumbbells. You need to begin in an L-shape, sitting upright with your legs out straight in front of you. Take hold of the rings or bars and raise yourself so that your arms are straight
Sit in between parallel bars or parallets, holding on to the bars. (If you don’t have access to either piece of equipment, you can use a pair of hexagonal dumbbells on the floor instead.) Straighten your arms, pulling your shoulders down away from your ears as if you’re doing a reverse shrug. Bend your knees toward your chest, and lift your legs and glutes off the floor until your feet are even with your hips. Hold this for 30 seconds. Then lower back down to the starting position.
Once you can hold the tucked position for 30 seconds, extend your legs straight out in front of you and hold.