13 Gymnastics Exercises to Unleash Your Inner Child
Remember when you were a kid and would play outside, run around the playground and swing on monkey bars? Now compare that with your physical activity today. Why was it fun then? And why is it hard now? How can you change that? One way to make your workout more fun is with gymnastics-based exercises. Gymnastics is about learning how to control and improve basic movements. Here's a list of moves, ranging from basic to a bit more advanced. They're divided into five categories: Body Basics, Handstands, Tumbling, Ring Work and Bar Work. So find your local gymnastics gym, CrossFit box or a nearby playground and unleash your inner child.
1. Hollow Body Rocker
Core strength is essential not just for gymnastics but for everyday life to prevent injury. (It's not just about those six-pack abs, though those are a nice bonus.) This exercise builds that fundamental strength that'll carry you through the rest of the workout. HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back and raise your hands and feet several inches off the floor. Engage your abs by pulling your belly button in and keeping your body tight from your fingertips to your pointed toes. Rock back and forth from butt to shoulders, maintaining a banana shape the entire time. Do three to five sets of 20 rocks (back and forth equals one rock).
Back flexibility is another essential building block for gymnastics workouts. Plus, hanging out upside down is fun and gives you a new perspective (literally). But if you're not very flexible, only go part of the way up and build your flexibility slowly. And if you have back problems, you should avoid this exercise altogether. HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back with your feet near your butt and your hands up over your shoulders. Press your hands and feet hard into the ground. As you are pressing, extend your chest and shoulders away from your feet as you squeeze your glutes to lift your hips towards the ceiling. Do three to five sets of 30-second holds.
3. Kick Handstands
Go to any park and you'll see kids flinging their bodies feet over head into handstands. Why? Because they're cool and fun and different. When was the last time you did a handstand? How about giving one a try? You can start by doing them up against a wall if you're afraid of tumbling over. HOW TO DO IT: Reach your arms up overhead and lean forward, kicking your feet over your head. As you kick up to your handstand, stay tight through your core and push the floor away from you, extending through your toes. Keep your arms locked and your body in a straight line. Do three to five sets of five reps.
4. Handstand Walks
Once you've mastered the kick handstand, try handstand walks. And if you're feeling especially kid-like, challenge your friends to see who can "walk" the longest. HOW TO DO IT: Kick up into a handstand and slowly walk one hand in front of the other -- just like you walk with your feet. As you walk in your handstand, think about pushing your hand through the ground on each step. Keep your legs and toes squeezed tightly together. Do three to five sets of 10 steps.
Don't know how to do a somersault? Just ask any kid you know, and they'll show you. Kids are fearless, so take a page from their playbook and just go for it! (As long as you don't have any pre-existing injuries that would make this dangerous for you, like a back neck or back.) HOW TO DO IT: Tuck your chin toward your chest and focus on lightly rolling along your spine on the floor. Do three to five sets of five rolls.
There's nothing more freeing than cartwheeling through a big, grassy field. So find yourself some room and cartwheel to your heart's content. It's a great way to let go of daily stresses and just be carefree for a few minutes. HOW TO DO IT: Raise you arms up overhead and propel yourself forward, planting one hand at a time on the ground and moving like a cart's wheel. As you step, keep your arms locked and kick with your legs to move your body to complete your cartwheel. Land one foot at a time and stand back up. Do three to five sets of five reps.
7. One-Armed Cartwheel
As a more advanced version of a standard cartwheel, you'll need to make sure you can properly do a cartwheel before moving on to this variation. HOW TO DO IT: Perform this move just like a standard cartwheel, but place your first arm down only and push through the floor. Kick with your legs to propel your body to complete your one-arm cartwheel and land one foot at a time. Do three to five sets of five reps.
These might feel like cartwheels (and they are very similar), but you'll need a little more force to bring your feet together mid-air and land with them both at the same time. HOW TO DO IT: Raise your arms up overhead and propel your body forward and around like a cartwheel. As your legs go over your head, bring your feet together and snap them down quickly toward the floor. Use your arms to push off the ground and lift your chest to finish your roundoff. Do three to five sets of five reps.
9. Inverted Ring Hang
For this exercise, you'll need to find a set of hanging rings, but most CrossFit boxes now have these. This is also a more intermediate move, so you'll need significant core, shoulder and leg strength. HOW TO DO IT: Grab hold of the rings and use your core strength to pull your legs up over your head and invert yourself on the rings. Focus on using your arms on this movement. Rotate the rings and engage your lats to assist pulling your legs up towards the rings. For a beginner variation, only lift your feet up as high as you can to build your core strength. Do three to five sets of three reps.
10. Skin the Cat
As a more advanced ring exercise, you should avoid this exercise if you have any issues with your shoulders. But if you're up for the challenge, it can be an exhilarating exercise and great shoulder stretch/strengthener. HOW TO DO IT: Grab hold of the rings and hang. Lift your feet up and over your head until your body folds over your shoulders on the other side. As your rotate around the rings, extend your toes towards the floor as you lift your chin and look forward. As you pull back through, tighten your grip and pull your hips up towards the ceiling. Do three to five sets of three reps.
11. Ring Swings
Let loose and have a little fun with this one! You'll still need to focus on engaging your abs and not arching your back too far back, but this is a great exercise to unleash your inner child. HOW TO DO IT: Grab hold of the rings and hang. Use the rings to push and pull as you swing. It's not only about your body moving but also pressing into the rings and pulling the rings to create leverage to lift your body higher as you swing. Do three to five sets of five reps.
12. Hollow/Arch Tap Swings on Bar
Similar to the last exercise, you'll be using basically the same muscle groups but this time on a bar. It won't require as much shoulder strength and stabilization (that doesn't mean none, though), but it does require the same type of core strength. HOW TO DO IT: Jump up, grab the bar and hang. Squeeze your entire body tightly and focus on pressing your chest forward and backward to create the tap swing. You don't want to swing with your legs. Use your shoulders as the focal point of the swing. Do three to five sets of 10 reps.
13. Toes to Bar
After this exercise, you'll realize how incredibly strong kids are without even thinking about it (and how weak a lot of us have let ourselves get). But don't be discouraged; you can build up your functional strength and learn to work out with more child-like enthusiasm. HOW TO DO IT: Use the same swing as the tap swing. As you swing forward, press your chest forward and feet backward to increase the momentum of the swing. On the back swing, press your hands into the bar engaging your lats and pulling on the bar with straight arms as you lift your toes towards the bar. Do three to five sets of 10 reps.
What Do YOU Think?
When heading to the gym for your next workout, add these exercises into your warm-up or go ahead and create a circuit of gymnastics skills. You'll not only improve your overall biomechanics, balance, stability and flexibility, but you'll also be more fit and have more fun than before! Do you think you'll give these exercises a try? Have you ever done any of them before?
PJ Stahl, MA, CSCS, is the creator of the TABATA™ Transformation System, TABATA BODY program director and a TABATA™ master trainer. He utilizes his 14+ years of experience in the fitness industry, education in kinesiology and national certifications to provide a wide range of services to his clients including elite coaching, motivational speaking, fitness consulting and educational seminars. You can take a TABATA™ class with PJ at Lock Box LA.