How To Do Gymnastics
There’s nothing quite like the excitement and inspiration that comes from watching Olympic athletes in action. Perhaps one of the most beloved sports is gymnastics.
Who doesn’t love watching the skill, grace, determination, and power that comes exudes from sweet teenage girls in the USA Gymnastics Team? Or the draw-dropping strength and precision that the male gymnasts display on events like the rings and pommel horse?
If you didn’t start gymnastics by the time you were five, you may not realistically achieve some of these feats, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn the basic skills and movements to enhance your own physique and athleticism.
The following are four of the most popular gymnastics moves you see repeated in various forms that build core and upper body strength. CrossFit has even adopted and adapted these foundational moves as part of their programming because of their ability to improve your functional fitness. Learn these, and you may find that other exercises become easier. Not to mention the improved muscle tone and ability to say, “Yes, I know how to do gymnastics”!
How to Do a Handstand
- Prior to trying a handstand, make sure to warm up with some dynamic stretching to get your lower back, arms, and legs prepared for the movement.
- Start by practicing using a wall, facing it while standing about three feet away.
- Stand with feet about hip distance apart in a stagger stance, arms straight up in the air by your ears.
- You can get some momentum by lifting your front foot up in the air slightly, then as you lower it back down, kick your back leg up in the air while dropping hands toward the floor.
- When palms reach the floor placed shoulder distance apart (fingers should be facing the wall), kick up your front leg so both legs hit the wall.
- This may take a few attempts, as it may be hard at first to get all the way up. You might also overshoot and hit the wall so hard you fall right back down. Take your time and be patient as you figure out the right level of momentum.
- Ideally, you want your neck in a neutral position aligned with your spine, and your back shouldn’t be overly arched. Keep belly button pulled in tight, and push through your shoulders for strength.
- Hold here as long as is comfortable to build strength and endurance.
TIP: If this is still too hard, try doing a wall headstand, starting with arms and head on the ground near the wall and kicking up from toes on the floor. A partner is also a great option to help you lift your legs up against the wall.
- Once you are comfortable with the wall handstand, try moving onto the free handstand in a wide open space. This will take some practice and maybe a few falls and twists along the way, so make sure there’s nothing in your way you could crash into.
TIP: If you feel yourself falling over, either twist your body to one side lift one hand so you can catch yourself and land on your feet, or tuck your head and roll down onto shoulders with a rounded back. You might even practice this first with the help of a spotter. Have them grab your feet, then help you roll down safely and slowly until you get used to the feeling and can do it on your own.
- Repeat previous steps 2-3, this time imagining a wall in front of you. This will take more core strength and control to maintain your balance and keep your back from arching excessively and legs going too far past your head.
- If you have someone who can spot you, have them grab your legs when feet are parallel to the ground and hold you there until you can balance on your own.
- Keep practicing this for 5-10 minutes daily to get used to the feeling and improve the time you can hold it. Again, be patient as this can take a while. But if you are consistent, it will come.
How to do an L-Sit
The L-Sit can be done with parallel bars, rings or push-up bars. Whatever you use, it will be easier to learn if you have ample space between your lower body and the floor. This move will help you build core and arm strength for the Kip, which is the next exercise. If your hamstrings are tight, do some dynamic stretching first to loosen them so you can keep them straight in this movement.
- Start with feet on the ground if using rings or bars, or with bottom on the floor if using push-up bars (bars should be shoulder distance apart, or just outside of your thighs).
- Grip the bars so palms are facing inward, with wrists directly under shoulders.
- Draw knees in toward chest, lifting feet off of the ground. At this point you may need to slightly shift weight backward to bring shoulders back over your wrists so you don’t tip forward.
- If this is easy, then slowly extend one leg out in front of you, followed by the other. If you’re on rings or bars, you may be able to more easily extend both legs at the same time. If this is too hard, try extending one leg at a time as a progression.
- Hold this as long as you can, keeping your back as straight as possible. Rest for 30-60 seconds, then repeat 3 more times to build strength.
How to do a Kip (or Toes-to-Bar)
A kip is a fundamental but incredibly challenging gymnastics move. The second half of the move is similar to a CrossFit muscle-up, and the first half requires a great deal of core strength. If the kip is too difficult, focus on mastering the toes-to-bar, which is a similar movement to the first half of the kip.
- Put some gym chalk on your hands to start, as these movements require good grip and can cause painful friction. If your hands are especially sensitive and you plan to be practicing kips and muscle-ups often, consider using a pair of gymnastics grips.
- Hang from a bar with hands about shoulder distance apart with a few feet between you and the floor.
- Start by bending knees slightly and flexing at the hip as you draw your feet toward the top of the bar. If you’re unable to complete this, continue working on this movement and core strength.
- If you’re ready to progress, then repeat the same movement with legs straight and toes pointed and bring them up to touch the bar.
- Repeat this 10-12 times. Once this becomes easy, you can move onto the next phase of the kip.
Kip Part 1
- Stand a few feet away from the bar, which should now be lower, just above shoulder height. If you can’t lower the bar, stand on a box.
- Similar to a squat jump movement, swing arms behind you and slightly bend knees to get momentum, then jump toward bar while raising arms to grab it while feet are in the air slightly behind arms.
- Let legs glide under bar and in front of you with the momentum, keeping them lifted off the ground. You should be bending at the hips so your body forms an L shape as you slide beneath the bar.
- As you straighten out and start to open at the hips (just before you lose momentum), drive your toes up toward the bar just like the toes-to-bar, keeping legs straight.
Kip Part 2
- Keeping your body in a hollowed-out position, press legs up into the air pressed tightly together, keeping them as close to the bar as possible. At the same time, begin pulling up with your upper body, pushing the bar down with your shoulders.
- Draw your hips to the bar as quick as possible as the legs drop back toward the floor. Using this momentum with hips at the bar, pull yourself up and over the bar, rotating hands over the bar with the naturally movement of your body.
- If this part is too hard, you may want to spend some more time working on inverted pull-ups using gymnastics rings or a smith machine bar.
- At the end point, your body should form a straight line with hips just slightly above bar.
How to do a Backbend
Not only popular in gymnastics, backbends are hugely popular in yoga for the benefit they provide in improving posture, blood flow, spine mobility, shoulder strength and chest opening. As a note of caution, if you have lower back issues, start with some beginner yoga stretching to increase flexibility and strength before attempting full backbends. Another great way to begin is with a yoga wheel or stability ball:
Backbend Prep with a Yoga Wheel or Stability Ball
- Sit on the floor with the yoga wheel behind your back. If using a stability ball, start seated on the ball.
- Lightly place hands on yoga wheel to stabilize yourself as you press your lower back against the wheel, lifting hips up off the floor. If using a stability ball, walk feet forward until you can rest upper back and next against the ball.
- Extend arms behind you, then roll backward slowly, relaxing your head and neck. Roll until hands touch the floor, bending at the elbows (this may not be necessary if using a ball). Continue rolling as far back as is comfortable for you.
- Then, bend knees and drop hips to roll forward, keeping arms extended behind you.
- Continue to roll back and forth slowly, stretching your back through a full range of motion.
- Once your back and chest feel stretched out, pause when you get to where your hands can touch the ground, and try to place palms on floor, fingers facing toward your body.
- Try pressing up slightly so back raises off of wheel. Lower back down, then repeat, trying to press a bit higher.
- Repeat this until you can press all the way up. This may take some time and practice, as well as stretching through your shoulders and back. Be patient with the process!
Backbend Prep without a Prop
- Lie on back with feet flat on floor near your bottom. Place hands right by your ears, elbows pulled in and parallel with each other. Fingertips should be facing your body.
- Slowly press up through shoulders and heels, while lifting hips toward the ceiling and straightening arms. Go about halfway, then return to floor.
- If this is too challenging, try bringing your fingers to your heels, then press up through shoulders and hips to create a small bend in your back. Draw shoulders in closer underneath your body to lift higher. Repeat until this is easy and you are ready to move on to hands by your head.
- Repeat steps 1-2, going up all the way, or as far as comfortable until you can extend legs and arms completely.
- If you have no lower back issues and shoulder strength is good, advance by kicking your legs up and over to end up back in a standing position. This is similar to a back walkover in gymnastics.
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