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How to Train Like an Olympic Gymnast

Posted: 08/09/2012 7:27 am

Ever wonder how Olympic gymnasts achieve that ultimate combination of lean muscle, incredible flexibility, and impressive bodyweight-to-strength ratio? Well, training for years and years from a very young age certainly plays a significant role. But there are training moves that you can learn from Olympic gymnasts to give you some of their enviable physical features.

The Floor

When gymnasts take to the floor, you'll witness a series of tumbling passes that demonstrate flexibility, strength, and balance. Floor routines typically last just a little over a minute, and require a combination of cardiovascular endurance and explosiveness. Two exercises that can get you tumbling like a gymnast are squat-thrust jumps and somersault pushups. Challenge yourself by trying 60 seconds of each exercise.

The Horse

A pommel horse routine involves single leg and double leg swings, scissors, and other intense moves, while supporting the body with the arms. The amount of core strength and skill required for this routine is incredible, but you can start to build horse-ready abs by beginning with a more simple exercise: lying scissors. Try kicking in and out for 25 repetitions, then rest 30 seconds and repeat for three to five sets.

The Rings

Rings are suspended on cables, and the gymnast must hang from the rings for his routine, while preventing the rings themselves from swinging. The rings require extremely solid and well-balanced shoulder muscles, combined with lower abdominal strength. A hanging leg raise is a great exercise to simulate the strain of the rings. If you're just getting started, try a single hanging leg raise (in which you raise one leg instead of two), or if your legs and abs need more of a challenge, try a double. Be sure not to let your shoulders "slouch" as you do this exercise. If you can do 10 controlled hanging double leg raises, you're well on your way to trying out the rings.

The Vault

To do the vault, a gymnast sprints 20-25 meters down a runway and then hurdles onto a spring board, often throwing multiple twists and somersaults before landing. This routine requires a combination of leg speed, hip power, and extreme body awareness in the air. While sprinting followed by hurdling may not be possible in your particular exercise setting, you can try one of my favorite quick and explosive exercise routines: a 10 by 10 on the treadmill. To perform this, simply set the treadmill on as high an incline and speed as possible, then run explosively for 15 seconds. Rest 30-60 seconds, and then repeat, for a total of 10 treadmill sprints.

The Parallel Bars

For the parallel bars, the gymnast suspends himself with his hands slightly further than a shoulder's width apart on each bar, and then executes a series of swings, balances, and releases that, similar to the rings, require great amounts of shoulder and core strength. To get a feel for the kind of burn a gymnast will experience during this routine, try performing as many body weight dips as you can in 60 seconds, trying to get your elbows down to 90 degree angle with each dip. If you can get to 15, you're off to a great start!

The High Bar

The high bar is a thick bar that the gymnast must hold onto as he performs circles around the bar with multiple twists, releases, and changes of direction. While gymnasts use leather grips, chalks, and even honey to get a better grip on the bar, they must also have extremely strong hands and forearms. If you want to get a grip like a gymnast, try the one-two combo of the deadlift to the pull-up. It will not only give you a strong grip, but also work your arm and upper back muscles. If you can perform 10 body weight deadlifts followed by 10 body weight pull-ups, you may want to send in your application for the Olympic gymnastics team -- just as soon as you perfect that landing.

Do you have other favorite exercises that would make for a great Olympic gymnast training routine? Leave them below!

Ben Greenfield is a fitness and triathlon expert and host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast on the Quick and Dirty Tips network. His latest book is Get-Fit Guy's Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body -- A Workout Plan for Your Unique Shape.

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