Gymnastics Training Article: Simulate the
Skills with Straight Arm Conditioning
By Karen Goeller, CSCS
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the Gymnastics Drills and Conditioning Books!
We all know there are so many
different coaching methods, training programs, and coaching personalities. Many
gymnastics coaches successfully help their gymnasts become stronger, but they do
not always incorporate enough sport specific training into their programs. I
have seen gymnasts benefit from the general strength exercises such as push ups,
but when it comes time to perform certain skills the gymnast’s muscles are not
always prepared, accustomed to the sequence of movements for the skills, or
strong enough in each position required to safely complete the skill.
Gymnasts really need a variety
of training to include sport specific movements in addition to general strength
in order to more closely simulate the skills in our sport. For example, many
straight arm exercises such as the front lateral raise, press handstand, or
planche drills more closely simulate gymnastics skills than bent arm exercises
such as the push up, bench press, or reverse dips. There are no required skills
in women’s gymnastics, other than the pullover on bars, that require the female
gymnast to bend her arms.
So in order to better prepare
the female gymnast for all of the straight arm movements of the sport, we must
train the female gymnast with straight arm conditioning. Muscles will only
perform what they have been trained to perform so the gymnast trained with
straight arm conditioning will be better prepared to compete in the sport.
I have included a straight
arm exercise that will help strengthen your gymnasts chest, shoulder, and
back muscles. This sport specific conditioning exercise simulates two very
important movements for uneven bars, the glide kip and the cast handstand. The
gymnast must be able to open and close the shoulder angle multiple times during
an uneven bar routine. This exercise will help your gymnast to learn to
efficiently transition from one arm motion to the next with ease. Picture your
gymnast performing a glide kip, cast handstand, and clear hip handstand because
it simulates the arm and shoulder movements necessary to connect the skills. She
will be required to reverse arm and shoulder movements several times within this
short period of time. When you think about the shoulder movements necessary to
connect these skills you will see the reason I have for incorporating two
exercises into one drill more than 15 years ago. .
Lie Down Cast/Kip
Drill (Barbell / Toning Bar)
Teach your gymnast
this exercise with a light dowel or rolled up towel.
Spot your gymnast
during this exercise.
Give her full
instructions before she begins the exercise.
gymnast to lie on her back between two folded panel mats with her arms above
her head. Her head must remain between the mats, but her hands and wrists
should go beyond the mats in order to allow the bar to reach the floor after
it is lifted over head for full range of motion.
The purpose for the
mats on each side of the gymnast is to prevent the bar from falling on the
gymnast. Place the bar on the mats and make sure it will not fall between the
mats or roll off. The folded mats must be a few inches higher than your
gymnast while she is lying between them for safety reasons. The bar must be
long enough so that each end will rest on each of the mats. The bar will be
lifted from and returned to the mats without touching your gymnast. There
should be enough clearance for your gymnast to slide in or out while the bar
rests on the mats. If the bar is brought down too quickly or falls, it should
land on the mats, not your gymnast. This is a very safe exercise when the
coach and gymnast focus on the task.
Once the mats and
bar are in place, instruct your gymnast to sit between the mats, slide her
legs under the bar, and then lie down. She should position herself so that the
bar is above her hips.
gymnast to grasp the bar securely. Instruct your gymnast to keep her arms
straight, but not to lock them.
Next, instruct your
gymnast to lift the bar off the mats, up toward ceiling, and then toward the
floor above her head to simulate a cast to handstand motion.
Your gymnast may need some
help initiating this movement.
Remind your gymnast
to continue to hold the bar securely and then allow her to lift the bar off
the floor, toward ceiling, and then to the mat. The bar will be positioned
above her hips. This movement will simulate a kip on bars.
Allow your gymnast
to continue with several repetitions if she is comfortable. Inform her that it
should be a continuous motion whenever possible.
Your gymnast will
likely need more help lifting the bar from the mat (the initiation phase)
which involves the shoulders (deltoids) than she will on the return phase
which involves the back (latissimus) muscles. Be prepared to spot all phases
of this exercise. Make sure you can reach the bar, especially when it is above
your gymnast’s face.
The amount of weight
used will depend upon your gymnast’s strength and experience. If you are using
a bar with no weights, you can wrap a thick towel around each end to help
prevent your gymnast’s knuckles from touching the floor.
The higher the mats, the
easier it will be to lift the bar because it will give them a head start on
the lift. To start with a smaller movement you can stack the mats higher, but
be sure to train with a lower stack for the full benefit.
Here is another
exercise for uneven bars. This one also helps the gymnast with specific
gymnastics skills because she will go into and out of a handstand. The
Planche – Virtual Handstand – Planche Drill is a great exercise for body
tightness, control, upper body strength, and core strength. This drill is an
appropriate exercise for gymnasts on so many levels, including those expected to
perform the cast handstand and clear hip handstand on bars in the near future.
Instruct your gymnast to stand
with her back to a spotting block or mat stack, place her hands on the floor,
and then place one foot/ankle on the block. Once your gymnast has one
foot/ankle on the block, she can then place her other foot/ankle up on the
Now your gymnast should be in
an elevated push up position with her feet on the block. Your gymnast’s legs,
hips, and chest should remain off the floor throughout this exercise.
Now that your gymnast is in
the elevated push up position, instruct her to move her hands close enough to
the spotting block so that she can form the planche position. Her shoulders
will be further form the block than her hands.
Once your gymnast is in the
planche position with her feet on the block, instruct her to squeeze her
buttocks and then to pull her belly button in. You should see the lower
portion of your gymnast’s back elongate into the correct low back position for
a handstand (pelvic tilt).
After your gymnast has formed
the correct shape with her lower body, instruct her to push down on the floor
and pull in her chest simultaneously. The portion of your gymnast’s back
between her shoulder blades should rise toward the ceiling. Her upper back
should be round, not flat. Your gymnast has just performed a protraction /
shoulder shrug in the planche push up position. To help teach the shoulder
shrug touch the portion of your gymnast’s back that is between her shoulder
blades and ask her to push up on your hand to form the rounded back.
Instruct your gymnast to hold
that tight shape throughout the rest of the exercise.
To start the exercise,
instruct your gymnast to lift one of her legs up toward the ceiling, but to
keep her other foot on the block. Your gymnast’s body, with the exception of
the foot still supported on the block should have moved as one unit up to the
single leg or virtual handstand. The leg that is pointed toward the ceiling
should be the one forming the handstand shape along with the upper body.
Your gymnast’s shoulders,
hips, and one foot should be directly above her hands while the other foot
remains supported on the block. Inform your gymnast that her hips and
shoulders should remain square with the block. Her buttocks should be under,
belly in, hip opened, chest in, and shoulders in a shrug/stretched position.
Remaining square and tight is not always easy for the gymnast.
Once your gymnast is in the
correct single leg, or virtual, handstand position she can begin the return
motion by slowly lowering her free leg back to the block and shifting her
shoulders forward so she returns to the planche position. Your gymnast’s body
should move as one unit to the starting position. Instruct your gymnast to
keep her head in line with her spine, neither tucked in nor tilted back.
Next, instruct your gymnast to
return to the single leg or virtual handstand position by lifting her free leg
back up above her hips so that she is vertical, with the exception of her
supported leg. She must also open her shoulder angle and keep her shoulders
and hips square with the block. Your gymnast must bring her shoulders and head
into alignment for the correct handstand shape again. Instruct your gymnast to
look at the floor just above her hands for the planche and then at the block
for the virtual handstand.
Once your gymnast understands
the motion of the virtual handstand to planche and back to the handstand, ask
her to complete a few repetitions before stopping if she is comfortable.
Inform your gymnast not to
planche too far forward until she builds strength and becomes very comfortable
so she does not collapse.
This exercise puts tremendous
pressure on your gymnast’s wrists. You should allow her to rest when she
communicates that her wrists are getting tired.
This exercise, when performed
correctly, closely simulates the shoulder motions of the cast handstand and
clear hip handstand on uneven bars. You should use a floor bar as long as the
floor bar is stable.
See video of this exercise on Handstand Book page!
The constant change in shoulder
angle causes a change in the demand on your gymnast’s upper body muscles. Your
gymnast will develop strength in a wide range of positions which is necessary
for success in gymnastics.
As you can see, the straight arm
training closely simulates gymnastics skills. Your gymnast’s entire upper body
will be challenged with these exercises. If performed frequently and
consistently your gymnast will gain upper body and core strength for specific
Although the push up and bench
press are great exercises, they do not simulate the gymnastics skills performed
by female gymnasts. Gymnastics skills must be simulated for the most safe and
effective training program.
may also be interested in....
Conditioning Animated E-Books
Handstand Drills and Conditioning Book
and Conditioning Poster
Drills and Conditioning E-Book
Gymnastics Drills and Conditioning Book
Gymnastics Training with Karen Goeller
Karen M. Goeller
Karen Goeller has
been training athletes since 1978. She has an
education that includes training in emergency medicine, physical therapy, and
nutrition. She has held certifications that include NSCA-CSCS, Fitness Trainer,
EMT-D, Nutritional Analysis, and many Gymnastics Certifications among others.
Besides being author of the Gymnastics
Drills and Conditioning books, Karen is the author of the
Swing Set Fitness books. She has also published
journals, training programs, and
articles. Her books are used by fitness
experts, coaches, teachers, and athletes worldwide. Karen has worked for world
famous gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, owned a gymnastics club for ten years, and
has been featured in several newspapers and on television many times. She offers
sports performance training and private
gymnastics training in NJ. For
more on Karen visit
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