Superior arm strength in gymnastics is generally a trait linked with explosive skills and tumbling. But there is also an intrinsic need for great arm strength on bars – to not only endure the fatigue of an entire bar routine, but also to hold the body in specific positions whilst a rotational force is being applied (the ‘clear hip to handstand’ is a perfect example of this).
A lack of strength in beginners will show as they struggle to handstand, cartwheel or support their body weight upside down. Often an arm will bend, a hand will shift position, or the skill will collapse as their arms cannot provide a sufficient base of support.
As Artemis Gymnastics coaches, we aim to provide many opportunities to develop strength and our favourite exercises are listed below.
What to do…
Hold the shape, squeeze the muscles to lock it in, before you create movement.
Think – how does this shape relate to gymnastics?
- Front support
- Chin-up hold
- Handstand shape
- Straight shape supports and hangs. (Support means above bar, hang means below bar).
Move the shape
Front support becomes push-ups, and the options here are endless. Hand position, elbow direction and speed can all be varied, as well as the surface the feet and hands are placed on (e.g. hands on a Bosu ball, feet on a Swiss ball, then doing push-ups is quite a challenge!).
- Our basic set to work multiple muscle groups is 10 reps of 4 positions:
- Hands forward + elbows in;
- Hands out + elbows out;
- Hands out + wide arms;
- Hands in a triangle (finger tips touching).
- Front support pop bounces are crucial for learning ‘blocking’ for vault and tumbling.
- Chin-up holds can combine with abdominal strength in the form of ‘levers’ – rotating from chin up position to candlestick position (with straight arms) on a bar.
- Straight-body support on parallel bars can then ‘walk’ forward and backwards along the length of the bar.
Invert the shape
Handstands are a great example of this, and can be performed on many different angles, surfaces and with or without support.
- Ideas include:
- Hands on floor, feet on a wall making a 45* incline;
- A partner holding feet; a partner lightly assisting.
- Handstand walking, shrugging, push-ups, pops and presses are all good variations that challenge the upper body.
The grip strength to hold a pen or pencil is a fine motor skill that takes time to develop. (Think about children’s crayons – they are given the thick chubby crayons before thin coloured pencils). Toddlers generally develop this strength through playing, but it can be boosted by spending time hanging on rings and bars. Straight-body bar hangs are also a great contest for recreational gymnasts, and it develops the strength needed to swing for an entire routine. ‘Chin-up, change grips’ are great for squad gymnasts to challenge their strength.
Rope climbs are excellent for developing upper body and grip strength. Ropes are an unusual, uneven shape, and the movement of rope climbing is uneven and rarely identical, which happily challenges the gymnast’s arm and shoulder muscles constantly. A beginner might start with using hands, feet and even knots in the rope to rest on but should aim to progress quickly to speed climbing.
Then, they can work on ‘scissors climbs’, which allows the gymnast to still place their feet on the rope but aim to take them off every time they pull up. Scissors on the way down is much simpler, but the chances of slipping are higher when the gymnast fatigues. The ultimate goal is climbing with no leg to support – often, the legs will be in straddle clear, or pike – as fast as possible.
How many to do?
Gymnastics will use either sets and reps or time-based activities. Sets and reps may start with small numbers, with a different body part to condition in between. This method offers the gymnast some independence, although coaches might count aloud the to ensure all athletes are doing repetitions in a timely manner. Time based activities are generally also a whole-group activity useful for static hold exercises.
- A beginner might start with 2 sets of 10 of an exercise, and build their repetitions from there (e.g. 2 x 15, 2 x 20, 3 x 15, 3 x 20 etc); or
- They may do 2 x 20 seconds’ worth of an activity, and increase to 2 x 30s, 2 x 45s, 1 x 1 minute, etc.
In all cases, quality over quantity must prevail. Proficient shaping and technique must be prioritised and as such, stopping at the fatigue point (or form break) makes a good marker of an appropriate number of repetitions or time to build from.
This is just a small insight into the progressive and carefully considered coaching techniques used by our passionate team of coaches at Artemis Gymnastics… all wrapped up in creativity and fun. Why not come and try our gymnastics holiday program or join us for weekly classes?
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