Gymnastics is one of three disciplines incorporated in CrossFit (in addition to Weightlifting and Metabolic Conditioning), providing a seemingly endless number of skills to master and strengths to develop.
Similar to the revival that Olympic Weightlifting has experienced over the past decade, gymnastics has also gained a lot of new interest from those who want to excel in CrossFit and Calisthenics. Gone are the preconceptions that gymnastics is just for girls and boys dressed in lycra, gymnasts have now got the respect they deserve from the worldwide fitness community. They are pound for pound some of the strongest athletes on show at the Olympic Games, not to mention that they also have the physiques to match. This comes from years of dedication training bodyweight movement patterns, developing mobility, stability, strength and explosive power.
Gymnastic exercises such as pull ups, press ups and squats are staple movements included in CrossFit programming. They are some of the most functional exercises that you can do in a gym and no doubt have the greatest transfer to strength that you may need outside of the gym. Mastering basic control and posture in these movements is essential before trying to add more complex elements, or even additional load. Much of your success in gymnastic movements will depend upon your ‘core strength’ or your ability to transfer force effectively from trunk to limbs and vice versa. Take the press up for example, most would agree that the primary working muscles are the pectorals, deltoids and triceps, but the supporting / stabilising role of the core muscles is often overlooked. One of the biggest faults we see with a press up, is the hips starting to sag, or a segmented worming effect with the spine. This occurs due to a lack of core strength / endurance in maintaining a rigid press up position. Gymnasts spend hours upon hours working on core conditioning circuits, so that they can effectively maintain body shape in static and dynamic positions.
Many of us are guilty of trying to run before we can walk, getting blinded by the lure of advanced gymnastic / CrossFit movements, such as; muscle ups, handstand press ups, toes to bar etc, without necessarily having the pre-requisite strength to perform them. So if you really want to RX that WOD (without staring at the bar / rings / wall for most of the allotted time), commit to getting the basics right;
- Understand the key gymnastic positions and shapes. That way you avoid looking like that drunken guy who was trying to do ‘ the worm’ on the dance floor!
- Develop static strength first! Make sure you can hold the intended body shape / posture for an extended period of time, before trying to move dynamically.
- Plan appropriate progressions and assistance exercises to develop your strength and skill. In order to progress, the progressions you programme have to be appropriate to your current strength / skill level, not Rich Froning’s!
- Sacrifice short-term results for long term gains. No doubt you can perform an RX toes to bar movement strict, but that wont help you link multiple reps together and maintain the desired intensity for the workout. Although you may not want to, scaling movements initially (to your appropriate level) will actually help improve technique and efficiency in the long run.
- Ask a coach for help. Gymnastics is a specific skill set, make sure you seek help from someone who has the knowledge and experience to help develop you.