There is an odd dichotomy in fitness. Sure, we all gaze in admiration at feats of bodyweight mastery, such as the muscle-up, the human flag or an effortlessly executed back lever.
However, at the same time, we tend to write off bodyweight training as the endeavour of beginners – something we should progress beyond as quickly as possible, or maybe even bypass altogether.
The best way forward, as ever, doesn’t lie at either end of the spectrum. Bodyweight mastery is a long-term goal: it’s all about making seemingly implausible movements possible through a lifetime of practice.
Much like progressively putting more weight on a barbell to elicit strength gains, the budding gymnast has level upon level of progressions that must be overcome. But unlike strength training, these progressions are rarely incremental.
But fret not. With the introduction of just a few of these easily achievable movements, you can build a fully fledged gymnastics workout regimen, unlocking hidden strength, gaining new poise and control of your body and maybe even attracting some envious looks in the gym.
Do these workouts on alternate days, with a rest day in between.
This workout zeroes in on your pressing muscles, combining the gravity-defying movement of the high-flying gymnast with bodybuilding techniques to give you the best of both worlds. Complete as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes, resting as necessary.
Ensure you perform all the reps of each movement with good form before moving on.
1. Pike Push-up (5 reps)
Place your feet together on a box, with your toes down and your hands on the floor in front of you. Straighten your legs and arms until you’re in an inverted L shape. Slowly bend at the arms, lowering your head to the floor. As soon as your head reaches the ground, press upwards explosively to full lockout, then repeat.
2. Ring Dip (10 reps)
Now that your shoulders are fatigued, we can get to work on your chest. Jump up to support yourself on a set of gymnastic rings with your arms locked out. Slowly bend at the elbows, keeping them close to your body for stability. Lower until you feel a full stretch across your chest, before pressing back up. Repeat.
3. Parallette Push-up (15 reps)
Next, force your triceps to take the weight. Grasp a set of parallettes or dumbbells, shoulder-width apart, and assume a strong push-up position above them. Keeping your arms close to your body, slowly lower your chest past the handles, then explosively press back upwards. Go again.
4. Hollow Rock (20 reps)
Now that your chest, shoulders and triceps are nicely engaged, focus on your core. Lie flat and extend your arms straight ahead. Lift your feet around 15cm and pin your lower back to the floor. Generate a little momentum with your arms and legs to create a rocking motion. Brace your body throughout, keeping your feet and hands elevated.
It’s easy to neglect building strength across our backs: after all, what we can’t see in the mirror tends to be forgotten. But these muscles not only account for the largest proportion of your upper-body strength, but are best placed to give you the coveted V-taper physique of gymnasts.
As before, complete as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes.
1. L-sit Ring Chin-up (5 reps)
Start by taking the edge off an old classic. Grip a set of rings and place your feet on a box. When your arms are fully extended, make sure you don’t sink too low below your feet. Now, dig your heels into the box. Maintaining tension in your legs, pull yourself up, rotating the rings until your hands touch your chest. Lower and repeat.
2. Ring Row (10 reps)
With your feet back on the ground, grab the rings and hang. Position yourself with your heels in front and your arms fully extended. Ensure that you’re rock-solid from your shoulders to your ankles. Flex at the elbows to pull your chest up to the rings, pause, then lower yourself back to the start position under control. Repeat.
3. Superman Raise (5 reps)
Let fly with this movement to light up everything from shoulders to glutes. Lie face-down with your legs straight and your hands at your temples. Lift both your arms and legs around 15cm from the floor and hold for a few seconds, creating tension through your whole body. Slowly lower to the floor. Go again.
4. Ring Plank Hold
(30 sec) Finish with this core-busting, shoulder-strengthening hold. Place your toes on a box and grip the rings. Assume a push-up position with your body parallel to the floor. Maintain straight arms and a tight, rigid core. Push the rings away throughout. Hold for 30 seconds, then dismount with care.
The mastery matrix
The key to this workout is to go at your own pace. Use this matrix to identify your optimal intensity level.