How to Get the Body of a Gymnast

In this episode, you’re going to discover exactly why you should train like a gymnast, how to get the body of a gymnast, and some sample gymnastics routines for handstand and muscle-up

Ben Greenfield
5-minute read
Episode #319

I was recently reading Tim Ferriss’s new book “Tools Of Titans”, and in that book (which I review here), Tim describes how his biceps strength and size, core stability, mobility, and explosiveness all notably increased the past year via the use of a strategy called “Gymnast Strong” from gymnastics coach Chris Sommer of GymnasticBodies.com.

It’s certainly been a little while since I’ve written about the benefits of gymnastics training (my first foray into exploring this style of training is detailed in my article “How to Get the Abs of a Gymnast”), but Tim’s experience actually inspired me to incorporate just a bit more gymnastics-style training into my own routine in 2017, and in this episode, you’re going to discover exactly why you should train like a gymnast, how to get the body of a gymnast, and some sample gymnastics routines for handstand and muscle-up.

Why You Should Train Like a Gymnast

Every four years, fitness enthusiasts around the world have a chance to marvel at the the impressive physiques of the gymnasts competing in the Olympics. The males have huge, muscular arms, broad shoulders, V-shaped waists, and extremely developed glutes, while the females are lean and strong with tiny waists and tight buns. Both sexes demonstrate impressive feats of not just strength, but also balance, coordination, and extreme amounts of mobility and flexibility.

So how are these folks training? What kind of exercise routines do they do?

Most of the types of movements these athletes are performing are quite powerful and explosive in nature, including handsprings, pull-up actions that involve hoisting themselves into the air and “muscling up” over a bar, mid-air abdominal tucks, and springs off beams and boards. This power requirement forces them to work their fast-twitch muscles like a sprinter, and to reap all the fat loss benefits of high intensity interval training.

Now granted: most gymnasts develop their actual muscle mass and low body fat over a number of years, with most starting to train when they are younger than eight years old, giving them around ten years to put on the muscle mass seen in the Olympics. But surprisingly, most gymnasts don't actually lift much with traditional weight training exercises to achieve this type of muscle.

Instead, gymnasts perform a high number of relatively complex bodyweight and balancing exercises, which, due to the instability factor, can be extremely taxing on both slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers.

These moves include double and single arm pull-ups, ring dips and ring holds, balance beams, parallel bars, handstand push-ups and handstand walking, and isometric holds, often for 4-6 training hours each day every day of the week.

So what is the big picture here?

In a nutshell, to apply gymnastics training principles to your program, you need to add in more plyometric and explosive exercises and also more complex bodyweight exercises that involve balance and isometric holds.

When you do this, you will find that weightlifting is not the only way to build muscle mass or an impressive physique, and by instead implementing a variety of body weight exercises and complex movements in a workout, you can “attack” both your muscles and your overall fitness from a variety of different angles. The type of exercises you’ll learn below—exercises that require you to maneuver your own bodyweight—are far superior for developing the lean, functional muscle of an Olympic gymnast compared to moving around those heavy pieces of metal in the gym.


About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.