Gymnastics – Sat 6.03.17

 In W.O.D.

We’ve been using CrossFit’s first article,  What is Fitness? to discuss their definition of fitness.  Below is CrossFit’s view of gymnastics in fitness.  CrossFit’s use of the term “gymnastics” includes all activities where the aim is body control:

Skill: movement review and warm up

Conditioning: Come in and find out!  Bring a Friend!

Gymnastics Our use of the term “gymnastics” not only includes the traditional competitive sport that we’ve seen on TV but all activities like climbing, yoga, calisthenics, and dance where the aim is body control. It is within this realm of activities that we can develop extraordinary strength (especially upper body and trunk), flexibility, coordination, balance, agility, and accuracy. In fact, the traditional gymnast has no peer in terms of development of these skills.

CrossFit uses short parallel bars, mats, still rings, pull-up and dip bars, and a climbing rope to implement our gymnastics training. (See CrossFit Journal, September 2002, “The Garage Gym” for recommended equipment and vendors.)

The starting place for gymnastic competency lies with the well-known calisthenic movements: pull-ups, push-ups, dips, and rope climb. These movements need to form the core of your upper body strength work. Set goals for achieving benchmarks like 20, 25, and 30 pull-ups; 50, 75, and 100 push-ups; 20, 30, 40, and 50 dips; 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 consecutive trips up the rope without any use of the feet or legs. At fifteen pull-ups and dips each it is time to start working regularly on a “muscle-up.” The muscle-up is moving from a hanging position below the rings to a supported position, arms extended, above the rings. It is a combination movement containing both a pull-up and a dip. Far from a contrivance the muscle-up is hugely functional. With a muscle-up you’ll be able to surmount any object on which you can get a finger hold – if you can touch it you can get up on it. The value here for survival, police, fire fighter, and military use is impossible to overstate. We will in future issues be covering the details of this great movement. The key to developing the muscle-up is pull-ups and dips.

While developing your upper body strength with the pull-ups, push-ups, dips, and rope climb, a large measure of balance and accuracy can be developed through mastering the handstand. Start with a headstand against the wall if you need to. Once reasonably comfortable with the inverted position of the headstand you can practice kicking up to the handstand again against a wall. Later take the handstand to the short parallel bars or parallettes without the benefit of the wall. After you can hold a handstand for several minutes without benefit of the wall or a spotter it is time to develop a pirouette. A pirouette is lifting one arm and turning on the supporting arm 90 degrees to regain the handstand then repeating this with alternate arms until you’ve turned 180 degrees. This skill needs to be practiced until it can be done with little chance of falling from the handstand. Work in intervals of 90 degrees as benchmarks of your growth – 90, 180, 270, 360, 450, 540, 630, and finally 720 degrees.

Walking on the hands is another fantastic tool for developing both the handstand and balance and accuracy. A football field or sidewalk is an excellent place to practice and measure your progress. You want to be able to walk 100 yards in the handstand without falling.

Competency in the handstand readies the athlete for handstand presses. There is a family of presses that range from relatively easy, ones that any beginning gymnast can perform to ones so difficult that only the best gymnasts competing at national levels can perform. Their hierarchy of difficulty is bent arm/bent body (hip)/bent leg; straight arm/bent body/bent leg; straight arm/bent body/ straight leg, bent arm/straight body/straight leg, and finally the monster: straight arm/straight body/straight leg. It is not unusual to take ten years to get these five presses!

The trunk flexion work in gymnastics is beyond anything you’ll see anywhere else. Even the beginning gymnastic trunk movements cripple bodybuilders, weightlifters, and martial artists. In a future issue of CFJ (CrossFit Journal) we’ll cover in great detail many of the better trunk/ab exercises, but until then the basic sit-up and “L” hold are the staples. The “L” hold is nothing more than holding your trunk straight, supported by locked arms, hands on bench, floor, or parallel bars, and hips at 90 degrees with legs straight held out in front of you. You want to work towards a three minute hold in benchmark increments of 30 seconds – 30, 60, 90, 120, 150, and 180 seconds. When you can hold an “L” for three minutes all your old ab work will be silly easy.

We recommend Bob Anderson’s Stretching. This is a simple no nonsense approach to flexibility. The science of stretching is weakly developed and many athletes like gymnasts who demonstrate great flexibility receive no formal instruction. Just do it. Generally, you want to stretch in a warm-up to establish safe, effective range of motion for the ensuing activity and stretch during cool down to improve flexibility.

There’s a lot of material to work with here. We highly recommend an adult gymnastics program if there is one in your area. Our friends at have a gymnastics-conditioning page with enough material to keep you busy for years (http: // This is among our favorite fitness sites.

Every workout should contain regular gymnastic/calisthenic movements that you’ve mastered and other elements under development. Much of the rudiments of gymnastics come only with great effort and frustration – that’s O.K. The return is unprecedented and the most frustrating elements are most beneficial -long before you’ve developed even a modicum of competency.

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