Gymnasts are some of the strongest athletes on the planet and they get that way using almost 100% bodyweight training exercises. So how do they do it? While the topic of building strength in gymnasts is large enough to fill several books, I’ll give you a real quick version of some of the methods below.
Progressive workload is when you increase over time either resistance on the muscle or the time the muscle is under resistance. What this does is stimulate the muscle and then allow it time to overcompensate by becoming stronger so that it can handle more resistance for a longer period of time in the future.
To do this gymnasts use basic bodyweight exercises and also more advanced movements on the gymnastic rings through both static and dynamic exercises.
First what is the difference between static and dynamic exercises? A static exercise is when you hold a movement solidly without moving up and down like you would usually see with weight training. This is also sometimes called isometric or embedded movement.
Now having said that, you can probably guess what dynamic movements are. Yes, dynamic bodyweight exercises are “normal” type movements where you move up and down usually over your fullest pain free range of movement.
The loading parameters for these two styles can vary widely depending on a lot of factors but I will give you the basics of 12-15 reps for 3 sets on dynamic movements before going onto harder variations. Higher than normal for strength development but perfect to make sure there is equal development and recovery of the tendons and ligaments with the muscle.
For the static embedded bodyweight movements like L-sits you work up to holding the position for 60 seconds broken down however you like. Starting off with 6, 10 seconds holds and working away until a full non broken 60 seconds is achieved before doing a more advanced movement.
The basics of bodyweight exercises used by gymnasts are pull-ups, dips, squats, pistols, handstands, handstand presses, L-sits, hanging leg raises, pushups and various jumping movements.
Once the rings get involved the whole journey of strength development really starts to take off. Now it’s time to not only take some of the basic exercises like dips and pull-ups and do them on the gymnastic rings but also to add in specific really cool stuff. These movements are back levers, front levers, and all manner of abdominal movements like hanging leg raises, straddle split, L-sit and knee tuck just to get started.
Getting strong like a gymnast is an incredibly fun, challenging and rewarding game to start and I highly encourage you to either pursue it as you only training or at least a high percentage of it.
How To Design Your Workout For Getting Stronger At Home
I mentioned the gymnastic basic movements above. So how do you actually put them into a workout program you can do at home to get gymnast strong? Here is an example from my own training:
Day 1 Gymnast Workout:
Front Lever 5 x 60 seconds
Back Lever 5 x 60 seconds
Ring Pushups 5×10
Day 2 Gymnast Workout:
Deck Squats 5×10
Various jumping movements (try to have some fun)
Day 3 Gymnast Workout:
HANDSTAND AND ABDOMINAL
Handstands 5 x 60 seconds
Handstand presses 5 x 10
L-sits 5 x 60 seconds
Hanging leg raises 5 x 10
Day 4 REST
Day 5 Repeat cycle
When and if you can do this you will be strong like a gymnast… at least a beginner gymnast. These are the numbers that I am going for long term. They are a brutal goal if you are starting mid life and have not been doing gymnastics from youth.
But you’ll be a beast.
All of the sets and reps – the numbers you see, have to be worked up to over time. The longer the better it seems especially as you get older. This allows the joints and tendons to get stronger so you don’t basically rip yourself apart like I did at first.
Literally… a full biceps tear.
The rep scheme for working up to 5×10 is this: 3×3, 5×2, 3×4, 4×4, 4×6, 5×6, 4×8, 4×10, 5×10
For the timed seconds moves I set my watch at 1 minute and 20 seconds. I press start at the beginning of the movement and stop when I’m done. Each time this chips away at the minute. The extra seconds are there to account for mount and dismount from skill.
I don’t know how others do it. But that’s my way.
There area also exercise variations that come before these. For example, you can’t program in pistol squats for the majority of the population right of the hop. Hardly anyone in America has the flexibility, joint integrity or strength to randomly access the movement. Check out my pistol squat tutorial.
Getting Strong Like A Gymnast Is A Lot Of Training
To be honest, this is the routine I try to fit in. It’s a lot of time training per week for someone with a family and job. But this is about as lean a training program as I can create without having too many holes in my skill level to progress.
A real gymnast does SO much more accessory work and training volume. For example, look at the handstand day. It looks like just a couple of sets of handstands and presses with some abs. But the truth is there has to be wrist, elbow and shoulder warmup as well as strengthening and mobility for for each of those joints.
The above applies to every body part. Especially the lower body from hips down if you have troubles doing deep squats without effort. It’s a long road that’s completely wort it. It’s VERY far removed from the bodybuilding idea of mass for mass sake.