8 Strength Training Principles for Gymnasts

build strength gymnast

One of the most important factors in becoming a successful gymnast is strength. You won’t be able to learn new skills, and perform them correctly without the proper strength. You would never be able to do a pullover, if you couldn’t do a pull-up, or at least pull your chin above the bar. And you would never be able to do a back handspring, if you couldn’t hold the weight of your body jumping on to your hands.

Dr. Sands has suggested that the forces that a gymnast must be able to endure can be up to 17 times their body weight.  When a gymnast punches the floor for a front tuck, she is going to experience 8-17 times her body weight, and then she will experience that force again when she lands.

If that hasn’t convinced you that strength is important, here is another piece of evidence…

The TOPS program is what USA Gymnastics uses to find gymnasts with a “special” talent for gymnastics. To find these gymnasts they focus on their strength and flexibility.

So if your dream is to get better and improve your gymnastics skills, then building more strength is important. Here are 10 strength training principles to keep in mind.

1. Quality is more important than Quantity.

If you rush through the exercises without focusing on your form, and do the exercises incorrectly, you won’t be working the proper muscles, and won’t see the same benefit from the exercise. It’s also important to get in the habit of doing exercises with good form, since we want to perform our routines with proper form.

2. Don’t add resistance (weights) until you can do the exercise properly with gravity alone.

Never add weight to an exercise that you cannot do several repetitions of correctly with your own body weight.

However, it is good to add weight or resistance when you have mastered an exercise. In order to improve endurance for short periods of high-intensity (routines), maximum strength must be increased, and one of the best ways to do this is through resistance training.

strength training gymnasts

3. Focus on a Push/Pull balance of exercises.

To create a balanced training plan, you should do equal amounts of pushing and pulling exercises. A push exercise is when the muscle tissue contracts when the weight is pushed away from the body. In a pulling exercises, the muscle group contracts as the weight is pulled toward the body.

I attended a seminar by Dr. Dave Tilley, where he stressed the importance of balancing the following types of exercises:

  • Upper Body Horizontal Pushing with Upper Body Horizontal Pulling
  • Upper Body Vertical Pushing with Upper Body Vertical Pulling
  • Lower Body Hip Pushing with Lower Body Hip Pulling
  • Lower Body Knee Pushing with Lower Body Knee Pulling

So for instance, for every repetition of an upper body horizontal pushing exercise you do during the week, you should be doing an upper body horizontal pulling exercise. It’s important to balance these in order to prevent injuries.

4. Consistency is key.

We all know that the key to success in gymnastics, is consistency of effort.

Well here is a quote straight from the article, Strength Training Fundamentals in Gymnastics Conditioning,

“Consistent, special strength training is necessary for maximum performance in gymnastics”.

So not only is it key to be putting in consistent effort to improve your gymnastics skills, you also need to be putting that same consistent effort into your strength training.

In the same article, the author emphasizes that just practicing skills will not give you the level of strength you need to perform those skills correctly.

So, strength training is important if we want to improve and learn new skills. But, how frequently is enough ?

In a study published by the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), they compared training muscle groups 1 to 3 days per week with the results on muscle growth. They concluded that training major muscle groups 2 times per week produced superior results than training them once per week.

5. Strength training exercises need to be similar in movement to the skill you wantstrength for skills gymnastics to learn.

The principle of specificity states that your body will get better at the type of exercise that you do. So you need to do strength training exercises that are similar to the movement in the skill you are trying to learn.

There are two types of conditioning that gymnasts need according to this article by Olympic gold medalist Vladimir Artemov:

  1. Conditioning for Fitness: This is conditioning that makes your body stronger overall, and is good for your health.
  2. Sport Specific Conditioning: This is when you develop muscle memory that you use when you perform skills.

Artemov also mentions that there won’t be time to do all of the conditioning a gymnast needs at the gym, that doing some at home is important.

Another important point is that it has been proven that just repeating the skill is not sufficient strength training, however special strength training is needed for each event and more individually, each skill.

When I put together challenges in SkillTrakker, I choose exercises that help you strengthen the muscles you need for the skills, and ones that mimic the movements you do in the skill so that you create the right muscle memory. SkillTrakker is also a great way to make sure you are getting that conditioning done at home.

6. You need to vary your workouts to promote change.

You need to vary your intensity or the type of exercises you are doing if you want to keep getting stronger. Introducing new exercises, or varying the resistance of old exercises will challenge your muscles and force them to strengthen.

strength training gymnastics

There are three variables you can change: volume, intensity and frequency. Varying each of these helps you to challenge your body. Usually if you increase one, you have to decrease one of the others.

For example, if you start out doing 10 kettlebell deadlifts with a 10 pound weight, and then you want to increase the intensity to a 20 pound weight, you will probably have to decrease the volume (the number of reps).

The main point is to keep changing up your workout, so that you keep forcing your body to adapt and get stronger!

7. Rest is important.

You need to give your muscles time to recover in order for them to get stronger. In order to give your muscles a break, make sure you are varying your workouts to allow them time to recover. You can work on your upper body muscles one day, and then give them a break the next day and work on your lower body.

8. Nutrition

In order to build strength, you need to be consuming a healthy diet that includes protein, carbohydrates and fat. Protein is especially important since it helps build and repair muscles. Protein-rich foods include eggs, lean meat, chicken breasts, fish, nuts and beans.

So what does all this mean?

If you would like to become a better gymnast and learn new skills faster then you should make building strength a priority. In order to increase your strength, it’s important to put in consistent effort with exercises that are similar to the skills you want to learn. It’s also important to vary your workouts, and get the proper rest and nutrition.

Good conditioning is the key to progressing faster, and these principles will help you get on the right path.

If you’re serious about improving and putting in consistent effort, I would love to see you join the SkillTrakker community. Gymnasts are using SkillTrakker to get results with their consistent effort and the accountability it provides! Don’t forget to enter the giveaway to win a free lifetime membership!

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