If you’ve got an eye for muscle and physique, you must have noticed Olympic gymnasts.
They’re some of the most athletic, jacked athletes at the games and they’re renowned for their core and upper body strength. There’s a reason for this: gymnastic strength training.
What is GST?
Parallel bars and rings are some of the most demanding pieces of equipment: you can’t do an iron cross without huge chest and shoulder strength! Gymnasts do very little weight training, but have some of the strongest, most functional bodies in all of sport.
This article is all about how you can use gymnastic movements as part of your own training for improved results. These are 8 of our favourite gymnastic strength exercises for bodybuilders and physique enthusiasts:
1. Ring Push Ups
Gymnastic rings are awesome. Gymnasts consider them to be the single best tool for building upper body strength – they can be used for a whole bunch of exercises, they challenge your grip strength and they add a huge stability challenge to hit the muscles you miss with a bench press.
Ring push-ups are one way you can add serious difficulty to a simple movement. Think you’ve mastered the push-up? Get your hands on some rings and elevate your feet off the floor – you’ll soon find that they’re much harder than you thought.
This variation puts your shoulders and chest through a longer range of motion – meaning more eccentric loading and thus more muscle gains – as well as adding work for the shoulder stabilisers.
If you only ever bench or flye, you’re going to feel a whole new set of DOMS in the morning as you’re working totally-neglected muscles!
2. Maltese Push-Up
Another pull-up variation that shows that the push-up isn’t dead.
The Maltese push-up is all about hitting the chest – the wider grip and supinated hand position mean that you’re relying on the triceps less and the pecs far more. This exercise is great for both pecs – minor and major – and its going to be totally different to anything you’ve done before.
The Maltese push-up can be done with your feet on the wall to make it harder, but its still going to be easy enough that you can squeeze out a bunch of reps and burn your chest out. Because it’s lighter than bench or other heavy weights, it makes a great addition to a chest/shoulders/tricep superset.
3. Low Dips
We’ve all seen guys doing short-range dips to hit the triceps, but today we’re big advocates of the long, low dip. This is like any other dip, but you go as low as your shoulder mobility will allow, keeping the upper back tight and staying ‘hollow’.
Pausing at the bottom of each rep really stretches the chest and shoulders out – great for mobility and muscle size. You’ll immediately realise how much harder this variation is, while the extra range of motion builds serious muscle in the pecs and the supporting muscles of the shoulders.
You can also combine these with leg raises for an awful-but-amazing finisher for the chest and abs.
4. L-stand press
It’s not quite a handstand push up but, trust us, it hurts so good! The L-stand press is like a handstand press but your legs take some of the weight to make it easier and reduce the chances of falling on your head if you mess up.
The difficulty of this movement is keeping the core tight and using both the upper back and triceps together. You’re going to have a serious pump in the upper back, traps and shoulders tomorrow – but you’re also going to build stability, balance, functional strength and a ton of new muscle as a result.
5. Ring Rows
Ring rows are one of the best exercises for the upper back. They’re used by gymnasts to strengthen the upper back muscles for the pull-up so, if you’re working on getting your pull-ups stronger, they’re the right place to start. This is going to add serious meat to your upper back without having to fiddle around with bands or eccentric pull-ups.
You can make these harder by elevating your feet more, so that your leverage gets worse and the movement gets harder. This is going to add difficulty without adding weight – something that’s going to be key if you’re looking to get your first pull-up.
Even if you can do pull-ups, the ring row is a great exercise to hit your muscles from a different angle. While the pull-up is all vertical (more lats), the ring row has a bigger role for the rhomboids and other scapular retractors – the muscles near the spine that control the shoulder blades and build deep crevices in your upper back.
6. Legless Rope Climb
These aren’t just for elite gymnasts or kippy CrossFitters – they’re a legit exercise for building strength and balance in your upper back (and some sneaky bicep and core work).
Legless rope climbs are a key part of progressing to a strict, gymnastic pull-up and they’re going to build athleticism, core strength and upper body size in a totally new way.
It’s somewhere between a bicep curl and a pull-up, which means its great for size and strength and, if you can do more than one, its more fun than your normal cardio!
7. Pull-Up Like A Gymnast
You probably already train, or want to train, pull-ups. However, if you’re looking to get bigger and stronger then the gymnastic approach to pull-ups is going to be ideal for both.
Gymnasts don’t mess around when it comes to pull-ups. Doing pull-ups like an Olympian is going to mean two things: slower and more controlled. Slow pull-ups are a great way to add time under tensions, improve your control over the muscles, and boost your muscle growth.
Adding more control simply means keeping the core tighter and learning to sequence your muscles better. This approach to pull-ups will make you stronger in the movement so you can add weight, do more reps, and improve your muscle gains.
8. Hollow Holds
The hollow position is key to gymnastics and it’s a great skill to learn if you want a core that looks good and performs amazingly.
The hollow hold is a simple core exercise that involves stretching out your arms and legs as much as possible while keeping the core rock solid. You can build up to it, or make it harder, but the variations are all going to contribute to massive core strength and thick, aesthetic abs.
You don’t need to use weights to get bigger and stronger. While gymnasts aren’t built like bodybuilders, they’ve got great aesthetics: a fantastic taper, strong shoulders and a lean physique.
They’re doing something right and combining these movements with your regular workouts is a great way to improve your progress. Even if you’re just looking for new and exciting ways to switch it up and enjoy your training!