Gymnast Training: Behind the Workout

Lauren Mitchell, 41st AG World Championship, 2009Training to be a gymnast is different, in some ways, from other types of training. There are a number of rather complex goals behind the gymnast’s workout, including agility and balance as well as muscular power.

While gymnast training necessarily builds muscles, the focus is more on movements. Thus, gymnasts do a number of different types of training in order to be able to carry out the complex, challenging, and wonderful movements that delight audiences.


Cardiovascular exercises are vital for gymnasts, helping to build stamina and reduce levels of body fat. Running and sprinting are particularly good cardio.

Running works out a number of muscles, including the gluteal muscles (glutes) of the buttocks, quadriceps (quads) of the front thighs and hamstrings of the back thighs. See our previous entry on running for more info.

The core and abdominal muscles are particularly important for gymnasts. The rectus abdominis or “six-pack” muscle is easily the most famous, and is responsible for flexing the upper body, but the external and internal obliques also play key roles in lateral flexion.

One excellent core exercise is the bicycle maneuver, which works out the rectus abdominis and obliques. Simply lie back on the floor, clasping your hands behind your head, bend your legs 90 degrees and start rotating your feet as if you were riding a bicycle.

The shoulders and upper body include a number of different muscle groups that are important for gymnasts to work out, including the deltoids, which help you raise your arm at the shoulder, the biceps and triceps of the upper arm, the pectorals of the chest, and the latissimus dorsi (“lats”), a flat muscle on the back that acts at the shoulder.

Planks and pushups are good core and bodyweight training exercises. Make sure to keep your back straight and your feet together. With planks, make sure your forearms are flat against the ground. As you become better at doing planks, you will find them taking up more of your time. To increase the challenge, simply try them with one foot, or one arm.

With basic-style pushups, keep your elbows close to your sides as you push your body off the ground. Your body should be tight and somewhat hollow; be sure not to arch your back.

Handstand pushups are excellent for working out the deltoids, triceps, and muscles of the core. To do a handstand pushup, perform a handstand, then lower yourself, head pointing toward the floor, and then push back up to the full handstand position.

Chinups are an excellent exercise for gymnasts, and the only equipment they require is bars. Make sure your hands are about as far apart from each other as your shoulders are, and pull yourself up with the backs of your hands facing away. Bring your chin above the bar, and then lower yourself back down.

As you gain proficiency with these simpler exercises, you will be able to start working out on gymnastic equipment. It is important to be careful, however, as these exercises are considerably more difficult, and require a greater level of proficiency in order to mitigate the risk of injury.

Beam_and_feet_(close_shot)For women’s gymnastics, the balance beam and the uneven bars are both events that require a great deal of upper body strength. The balance beam, for example, is only about four inches wide, and female gymnasts use it to perform a variety of moves.

As you practice on the balance beam and uneven bars, you will want to make sure your upper body stays strong. The triceps overhead extension is a particularly good exercise to try.

First, take a dumbbell and hold it in both hands in a standing position, feet about shoulder width apart from each other. This exercise is demanding and can be dangerous, so be very prudent about how much weight you use!

Now, carefully lift the dumbbell over your head, extending both arms all the way. Lower the dumbbell behind your head, keeping your upper arms stationary and moving only your forearms. Make sure to breathe! Again, the amount of weight you choose will depend on your own strength and comfort level, so be careful and safe.

gymnastics ringsFor men’s gymnastics, working on the rings will help to build muscle and balance. Exercises like the top position hold are excellent for the triceps of the upper arm, the posterior deltoids of the shoulders and the middle and lower trapezius of the upper back and shoulders.

The purpose of gymnast training workouts is to build strength, agility, balance, and grace. Keeping these complex goals in mind will help you in your training. Stay safe and have fun!

 

 

Photo of gymnast by Zelda F. Scott (CC)

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