Okay, so you want to learn some gymnastic skills but you’re 20, 30, 50, 70, whatever … The problem, however, is that you have no background in gymnastics or even high skill sports, you’ve got an office job which has made your hips and shoulders pretty tight and they’re also now pretty unwilling to move to their full potential because they’ve become lazy … and who can blame them, you’ve neglected them for years. I could go on but I’m sure you get the idea.
It’s daunting and you have no idea where to start.
Allow me to put on my metaphorical cape and come to the rescue.
What you’re missing is a good foundation.
I’m not talking about the foundation of a 15 year old Chinese gymnast who already has ten years of training under his belt and has been shortlisted for the next Olympics. But you still need a foundation.
You need to build the relative strength/conditioning, flexibility, movement patterns, and you need to master the basics …
Now, I’m not for one second saying this is an easy road and the length of this road is way too varied by person so I’m not going to even attempt to set timeframes. Depending on your genetics, age, background, job etc. there are just too many variables.
By all means skip steps or fast track steps but if you are really serious about this you should master each of these fundamental elements before you continue to higher skill attainment. You can of course (and should) overlap I.e. work on strength and flexibility simultaneously but the below is in an order of importance (at least in my opinion). Remember that it might be easy to skip the fundamentals now but believe me when you reach a plateau and your training stagnates, it will be much more frustrating.
- We’re designed to move. Unfortunately, we’ve evolved into a race that no longer needs to hunt or forage for food in order to survive. Instead we need to earn money to survive, not only do we need it to survive, we’re also greedy so we want more of it. Earning lots of money in this day and age tends to involve sitting on a chair with a hunched back typing grumpy emails to co-workers and telling everyone how busy and stressed you are.
- That’s fine, I guess. Well, it’s kind of not, but it is what it is. Anyway, what it means is that for most of your life your body has spent very little time exploring all of it’s movement patterns across a full range of motion and thus we adapt into a somewhat ‘stiff’ and immobile human.
- So first things first … go and move. Run, crawl, sprint, turn, jump, bend, twist in all different directions. It really doesn’t matter what it is but get off that chair and go use your glutes for something other than pillows.
- Master the Basics
- Learn to handstand. The handstand is a fundamental skill that you need to master.
- Learn to handstand. Really, this is important. Go learn.
- First you should learn a free standing handstand. WITH NO WALKING. Imagine you had to re-learn to walk. What’s the first thing you would do? You would first learn to stand and balance on two feet. Then you would try to walk. Why would you not do the same on your hands?
- Once you’ve nailed a free standing handstand you should then learn different positions, styles, terrains etc. Now you can learn to walk (which will now be easy), then use obstacles, hold a handstand on the bars, make the floor uneven, walk backwards and sideways, do pirouettes, split/tuck/straddle your legs. Or whatever you want. Just nail lots of different variations and learn to balance in less than optimal conditions.
- I have two separate blog posts for free standing handstands and handstand walking which you should also read.
- When in doubt learn to handstand but the following skills should also keep you busy for a while. Check my series of ‘Master the Basics’ blog posts for more info.
- Basic pulling and pulling strength e.g. pull up and dip variations
- Planche progressions
- Lever progressions
- Basic skills – cartwheel (on both sides!), forward roll, backward roll
- Basic terminology – know the different between a hollow (dish) and arched body, understand tuck, straddle and pike etc.
- Learn to swing on the rings. Properly. I have a separate blog on this as well. I’m pretty good to you hey.
- First of all I have done a separate, more detailed, post on flexibility so you should probably go and read it.
- Dynamic stretches are great for warming up but you need to also spend time in static stretches in order to push past your current range of motion and become more flexible. Aim for 2+ minutes accumulated in a stretch.
- Avoid static stretches before any other strenuous activity, in particular weightlifting, your body may not be used to it’s new range of motion which can cause injury. Static stretches can also temporarily reduce strength. Try to do static sessions post training. Dynamic stretching pre-training (warm up), static stretches post workout (cool down).
- Keep it simple. Don’t try to be fancy and find “the next best thing”. Bands etc. are fine but honestly the best way to learn the splits is to sit in the splits, the best way to learn a pike fold is to sit in a pike fold. It doesn’t have to be complicated, regardless of how inflexible you currently are. Obviously there are many other stretches that can help you along the way but hopefully you get my point – keep it simple.
- Stretch with a partner. If you can use your own bodyweight to push you past your current range of motion then great but sometimes you need someone to give you that extra push.
- Don’t be half hearted. Treat stretching like a normal training session. Sitting in front of the TV is fine and can be a good distraction but you have to be careful not to get lazy. As a general rule of thumb sit in a stretch for 2 plus minutes.
- “Stretching shouldn’t hurt” – I’ve heard this a lot and I understand the point, you don’t want to push so hard that you injure yourself but you need to realise that stretching is going to be uncomfortable and unpleasant … it shouldn’t be easy. To some degree, you need to push your body past it’s current range of motion / limitations so that it can adapt and become more flexible. No pain, no gain … kind of.
- Strength & Conditioning
- Build the relevant strength. You should be a master of push ups, pull ups, muscle ups, hollow (dish) and arch holds. You should also be a master of your own bodyweight, handstand push ups should be easy, basic static holds such as L-sit, even planche holds etc.
- The rings are your friend. Use them.
- For static holds build on the progressions and try to accumulate lots of volume (time) in the hold. For pushing and pulling movements, particularly bent arm strength (e.g. dips and pull ups) concentrate on the easier progressions that allow you to complete multiple sets of multiple reps.