How Gymnasts Get So Freaking Strong!

If you have ever asked yourself why are gymnasts so freaking strong, then you’ve come to the right place. In this video, I am going to show you just how gymnasts and calisthenics athletes are able to show off incredible feats of strength using nothing but their own bodyweight.

First, let’s talk about strength. Relative vs absolute. While the person with the greater absolute strength may be able to lift more weight, the person with greater relative strength might be able to perform some pretty impressive feats themselves, especially when it comes to manipulating their own body in space.

So how is a gymnast or calisthenics athlete able to take advantage of that strength?

To start, it helps to have a lower bodyweight. While this is not always the case, in most instances it is extremely helpful. The less one weighs, the less absolute strength required to perform calisthenics exercises. Here is where relative strength can be the advantage – just be cause one might be able to lift more weight on the bar, doesn’t mean they have the same relative strength to meander their body in space the same way a calisthenics athlete or gymnast might be able to.

It is also important to note that their ability to take advantage of leverages is paramount to unlocking strength potential. Bodyweight athletes are required to use leverages the same way that leverages are required when performing traditional weighted exercises. Think of the deadlift or the bench press; standing too far over the bar, or having the elbows unaligned with the bar means that you are not efficiently using leverage to maneuver the bar in space. Having the proper leverage almost “lightens” the exercise itself.

Gymnasts and calisthenics athletes have also taken advantage of stabilizer muscle recruitment. These smaller, often underutilized muscles are key to unlocking greater strength, especially in weighted exercises. I’ve gone over before, with KC Mitchell, about the use of leg drive in the bench press to unlock stabilization muscles in the lower back to assist in the lift and allow you to push more weight almost instantly.

Another key to their strength, bodyweight athletes make use of both isometrics and full range of motion. The amount of time spent training in both the abbreviated and the complete range of motion effectively increases the amount of time under tension. Training in these abbreviated ranges allows for strengthening in that specific range, but, again, increases the amount of time spent performing the exercises.

There is also a fun-factor that is built into calisthenics training, a built-in challenge and reward system. As you continue to attempt the exercise, you find yourself getting closer and closer each time. This sort of mental focus to the exercise pushes you to continue trying and trying until you finally get it. This leads to repetition after repetition – naturally increasing the volume.

We know that when dealing with sub-maximal loads, an increase in volume is necessary to building strength. Thus by continuing to perform the movement over and over again in attempts to mastering it, bodyweight athletes are able to effectively get stronger.

However, not all bodyweight loads are comparatively light or sub-maximal in terms of loading. Think of it like the chin-up vs a single arm chin-up. While the exercise is still unweighted, the single arm chin-up requires a great deal more strength in comparison to its two-arm counterpart. In comparison, you might call one “heavier” than the other based on the strength required to perform the movement.

So, when it comes to getting stronger and more muscular, is the traditional method of weights the way to go, or should you strictly do calisthenics? Well, I think it is best to take advantage of the best of both worlds. I believe that whether or not you are training with weights, you should absolutely incorporate calisthenics exercises into your training program as they provide unique benefits and strength requirements that you might not find in the weight room.

If you are looking for a workout program that incorporates bodyweight training into weighted training routines, be sure to check out the ATHLEAN-X training programs using the link below.

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