T Nation


I saw a recent blurb on the University of Utah Women’s Gymnastic’s Team (almost always in the top 3; usually number one). It was during practice. Those ladies had six-packs to die for, guys!

Now, I know gymnast to a LOT of lower leg lift type movements (which I’m VERY slack on!). Barring the fact that these ladies train like animals, AND watch their diets, are more lower leg lift type movements a big key to a great six-pack?

Mufasa, I teach all of the tumbling classes at a large university in Texas. I can’t think of a tumbling skill or gymnastics skill where the core isn’t just absolutely essential. Proper form is almost entirely dependent on a solid core. Most guys have the strength to just “chunk” a basic skill and get through it. Many girls don’t have that luxury, so form is everything. To break it down to each event… on the floor, all of the power has to be transferred through a solid core in EVERY movement. On the balance beam, the core is essential to balance (duh), especially on anything more difficult than simple walking (everything is more difficult than walking). On the bars, I could write something 3 times longer than this entire response because THIS is where the core is worked the hardest. Just imagine the strength involved having your body parallel to the earth with straight arms. Your core is lifting your entire lower body! Tell you what, take the hanging leg raise in the piked position, and multiply it by 10. Finally, there is one more thing…
Keep in mind that at that level (just like bodybuilding pros), these girls have some serious genetic factors working in their favor. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be there. =)

jeremy-i am starting tumbling via coach davies.
I know this sounds dumb, can you explain the foward and backward roll in detail?

Jeremy: Great stuff! I guess another point is that at this level, most of these ladies have been doing gymnastics since they were almost babies. That length of time doing something has to not only make for a helluva’ core, but exteme neuromuscular “connection” and/or efficiency.

I’ve noticed that a lot of training involves “hitting and holding” movements (which is often a competition requirement). So a question: could we “non-gymnast” perhaps benefit from periodically doing something like leg lifts and hold them? In other words, a series of “static” leg lifts? (I don’t think I’ll be doing many hand stands on the floor, much less on rings…or “Iron Crosses” in my lifetime…!!!:)—!!!

Another question, more curiosity than anything else. Why do many of the “Olympic Level” gymnast have the look and build of pre-pubescent little girls, while those on the college level are often muscular and strong appearing? Both groups are strong…no doubt…but as competition up to the Olympic Level progresses, the “muscular” girls appear to drop out.

I completely agree with Jeremy Nelms about having to have a solid core to do all of the gymnastics routines, but want to expand on his good genetics comment. Obviously, what I’m about to say is not true all the time, but it applies to most elite sports. First, ask yourself: Does playing basketball make you tall? The answer is obviously, NO. Are basketball players tall? Yes, basketball is a sport dominated by tall people because that gives them a huge advantage in the game. It is not exactly as clear with other sports, but it is a valid question to at least think about. Examples include: sprinters/fast twitch fibers, marathon runners/slow twitch, gymnasts/great abs, etc. Sure, in each of these cases, training plays a huge role, but to think that Carl Lewis or Maurice Greene did not come out of the womb as primarily a fast twitch creature is to not see reality.

To do a forward roll, place your feet together and squat down, placing your hands on the floor in front of you. Now, tuck your chin to your chest (look at your stomach) and PUSH with your feet. This is almost instinctive, but as soon as you are halfway through the roll, THROW your hands forward (in the direction you are going) to gain momentum to stand up WITHOUT putting your hands on the ground.

The backward roll is a little harder (to do and explain), but those with hardly any amount of lifting experience should be okay. This is all one motion, so read this through a couple of time. From a standing position, put your hands at the BOTTOM of the military press position (hands next to ears with fingers pointed BEHIND you). Tuck your chin to your chest. Now squat down and back. Right as your butt is getting ready to hit, push backward with your legs and IMMEDIATELY tuck your knees into your chest. As SOON as your hands hit the ground, push UP like a military press. If you are doing a true reverse roll, just push hard enough to take the weight off of your head as you roll backwards. Keep your knees tucked to your chest until your feet hit, and then stand up. Like I said, that one is hard to explain, and pics/video would do better.

Mufasa, I think fairly “intense” static holds might be worthwhile. It’s kind of like a 1RM for the ab muscles. =)

As far as your second question goes concerning the “looks” of Olympic vs. college-level gymnasts, I will give you a theory. I would like to preface that my theory could be wrong, and I’m willing to listen to other ideas. First, Olympians tend to have unbelievable training schedules (minimum of 20-24 hours workout each week) and diets. It would not surprise me at all if this tends to delay normal “female characteristics” caused by hormonal changes during this age period. Second, there is a point at the elite level of gymnastics where strength-body weight ratio simply can’t be compromised. In other words, if a girl starts “growing” there will be a point where, even if it is pure muscle, the strength levels will not be there for specific moves. Or, the extra mass/muscle is simply too hard on the joints and injuries occur. I don’t know what the literal numbers are for landing from a double back tuck, but the force on landing and “sticking” is several times that of bodyweight. They haven’t done anything wrong; it’s just time for them to grow. THAT is the group that makes up the collegiate teams. These are the girls that were (and still are) unbelievable athletes, but the OLYMPIC level just isn’t attainable. There is a reason only 60 out of 3 billion girls make it to the Olympics in gymnastics… The remaining 600 just below that level get paid (rightfully so) to go to college. =)

Outstanding insights, Jeremy! And THANKS!

One last thing…how would you descibe an “intense” static leg lift, and how would you perform it? I think that “lower” ab work is PROBABLY lacking in a lot of our programs, and I am going to start instituting more. (Note:Some people do not believe in “lower” and “upper” ab work…I happen to disagree.I think that you can most certainly shift the emphasis).Again…thanks, Jeremy! Mufasa

Could you point out some of the more important things to remember when doing handstands? I can get into the vertical position with some frequency now and my strength is pretty good but I can’t maintain my balance for long. Ouster

I agree wholeheartedly. The most sore my abs have ever been was the day after i did tucks for the first time.

Okay, let’s get to some of these questions. Concerning the handstand, the most important thing is to push your body the ENTIRE time up from the floor. You need to pretend like you are pushing as hard and as “TALL” as possible. Some people have the habit of letting the body sag or “settle” into the handstand, which is: 1) ugly and 2) harder to keep balance with. Another big principle is to keep the head neutral. Most people lean their head back and look at their hands, which almost automatically creates an arch in the back. You should actually be looking at whatever your stomach is pointing at.

Jeremy: Just wanted your take on the performance of an intense, static Leg Lift…

I tend to have my classes work on a hollow body position lying on their back and hold that or “rock” back and forth with that position, as opposed to a static leg lift. The hollow body position forces the lower back into the ground by slightly elevating BOTH the torso and the legs. It’s a good, static ab exercise that can be made harder by wearing shoes/ankle weights and keeping the hands extended over the head. No matter what, though, it’s still not as hard as bars! =)

Jeremy, I’m learning the handstand as a workup to handstand pushups. Is it possible to do pushups from a gymnastic handstand? It seems that the moment you bend the arms, you’ll break up the alignment and the balance will go. Ouster

Ouster, that’s a different story. You need to work on 2-3 separate things. 1) Work on handstands on the floor without support (“pretty” handstands). 2) Work on handstand pushups against a wall for strength purposes. If you have to do negatives first, just make sure you’ve got a pillow or something under your head. 3) If you are SERIOUS about being able to do these for reps on the floor without support, you will have to sacrifice some form initially. 4) In my opinion, handstands off of chairs or parallel bars are better ways to work on handstand pushups, assuming you can already do them against the wall for reps. The range of motion is greater than when doing them on the floor.

Ive got a question. Im going to try and learn a back handspring back tuck and some running tumbling during the offseason. Do you think this is possible? How many days per week do you think I will need to devote to it? Im a very fast learner. I learned my tuck in three days. It was perfect then but since have fostered bad habits. what do you think. I would really love to have a full by next year.

Thanks for your advice Jeremy. It’s useful to know that this movement is possible.

Goldberg, the good news is that you already have the strength to do everything you want to do, so all you have to learn is form. Form is going to be a bit difficult to teach online, but for now I’ll just answer your question and say that it is extremely possible to learn what you want to learn in a few months in the offseason. You’ll be able to chunk it within the first few weeks, and you’ll actually have some form in the 3rd-4th week - if you LISTEN to your coach. =) If you don’t have a coach, find one. If that doesn’t work, I’ll attempt to help you here. By the way, a full is going to take quite a bit longer, so I’m just talking about the back handspring back tuck and the roundoff back HS back tuck.

Thanks man. Our assistant coach has a cheer gym in town that i can go to anytime i want and half our squad works there. So im sure spotting and technique wont be a problem. I was just curious as to how long you would think it would take. thanks for the info.

Okay, I need some help with definitions here. Is a back tuck the same a back sault (spelling)? What about a back hand spring? Is that just a back flip?
Goldberg You said it took you 3 days to learn a back tuck. Were you shown how to do it or did you just think damn im going to try it and teach yourself?