Mastering Gymnastics Movements For Crossfit Athletes

CrossFit Gymnastics
We’ll teach you to make real progress in these technical skills.

The gymnastics part of Crossfit got you feeling stuck? Or the opposite, you love all the different skills and want learn how to make progress in all the technical movements.

Gymnastics can be challenging because of all the different progressions and how much the technique matters, and that’s what I love!

Today, I’ll be giving you a complete run down of how master the different Crossfit gymnastics movements and also:

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L Sit
Want to get strong? Train more gymnastics.

How Training Gymnastics Can Help You In Crossfit & Helped My Strength 50+ lbs

We are huge believers in progressions and scaling or “leveling” up an athlete as they get more proficient at a skill.

This could be a:

  • body weight squat –> goblet squat–> front squat–> back squat–>overhead squat

You start with the fundamentals and as you get more proficient you make the movement more challenging.

Now, if you started with the overhead squat at first you would probably realize how challenging just getting into a good overhead squat is.

For coaches, that’s why we like to start with that exercise to screen your movement deficiencies. It tells us a lot about what mobility restrictions the athlete might have.

This movement will tell a coach so much about your mobility.

I want to quickly share with you a story about how gymnastics got me really strong. I was wanting to get stronger. Doing all the things:

  • following a well crafted strength program
  • prioritizing nutrition and recovery
  • doing a ton of accessory exercises

But I was having such a difficult time getting stronger*

*To be fair, I was already pretty strong. If you haven’t noticed yet it’s much harder to continue to progress in strength the longer you train.

For perspective at the time some of my strength numbers were:

  • Back Squat – 405lbs
  • Deadlift – mid 400’s lbs
  • Strict Press (this wasn’t great) – 150
So not super human strength, but pretty strong.

I followed strength cycle after strength cycle and couldn’t move the needle. Being a Crossfit junkie/athlete whatever you want to call me/us.

I was ready for something different.

So I picked up my gymnastics training again, just incorporated 3 days a week 15-20 minutes and a very short while after my strength numbers sky rocketed.

  • Back squat 405 –> 425
  • Deadlift Mid 400’s –> 510
  • Strict Press 150 – 170

And that’s what we love about coaching and helping athletes. We continuously get to gather data and feedback to improve our programs to help athletes get the best possible results in the shortest amount of time.

In the rest of the blog I’ll cover how to make progress in the specific skills.

Taking your strict handstand push ups from 2 reps to 7 reps. Your ring muscle up from 0 to 3. Things like that, so scroll down below and enjoy!

pistol squat
Which is the hardest skill for you?

Crossfit Gymnastic Skills

When we think of Crossfit gymnastics skills there are several, and my favorite part?

Is that they are skills!

Skills can be developed as you get strong, dial in on your technique and then work on simply progressions.

Below I’ll show you an example of some of the skills you will see in the sport and some of the progressions.

Handstand Push Ups

  • strict handstand push up (nose to wall and back to wall), kipping handstand push up, handstand walking)

Below we’ll be giving you examples of HOW to actually make progress with these different skills and put into your program.

Handstand Walks

Pull Up Variations

What’s interesting is you may be great at vertical pushing but be poor at vertical pulling. I personally am the opposite. Very proficient at pulling drills but struggle with higher rep ranges with handstand push ups.

  • strict pull up, strict chest to bar, kipping pull up, butterfly pull up

Notice as I list out the skills as that strict, is always first. We’ll talk more about that shortly.

how to train for a crossfit competition
Do you prefer bar or ring muscle ups?

Muscle Up Variations

The muscle up.

Everyone wants to be more proficient at muscle ups because they are fun! Heck I remember the first time I saw someone do it…

…he performed a strict ring muscle up.

He made it look so easy, I thought…I can do that. I tried and I was quickly humbled.

EVEN though I was good at pull ups.

Learning the smaller details like why establishing a solid “false grip” is essential when first learning, as it makes it easier to get on top of the rings. I talk about that in this video below.

Don’t have this skill yet? We will help you. Stick around.

Did you notice how much easier the transition was? Yes, you have to have strong grip, strong pulling strength and be comfortable on the rings but the transition was so smooth with the false grip.

Then you have the bar muscle up which is “easier” because you don’t have to worry about the stability of the rings.

What’s great about these more difficult movements are there are a ton of progressions to meet you where you are at.

Which is harder for you? Ring or bar muscle ups?

We find that most athletes want to skip straight to doing more of the the “thing” aka more attempts at the muscle up.

However, if we can get you to take 3-5 steps back and master some of the fundamental techniques or build you strength up a little bit when you go back to attempting the skill you see how you can effortless float up.

Want the program we take athletes through who are trying to improve their gymnastics?

Toes To Bar

This movement may seem simple, but we know a ton of athletes who struggle with syncing together more than a few reps at a time.

toes to bar
How many ttb can you sync?

Toes to bar demands strength from:

  • grip
  • lats
  • hip flexors
  • abs

And being able to have solid t spine mobility to get a good kip.

Double Unders

double under workout
This skill is known to break people.

Now, double unders really frustrate people because it doesn’t take strength to perform them…

…or does it?

We believe it does.

And a lot of athletes under estimate the strength and the importance of having plyometric training a part of their training program.

If double unders are the death of you, check out our proven success program with double unders here. We incorporate plyometrics, strength, and simple drills/progressions to help you overcome double unders.

Pistol Squats

The hardest variation of single leg squatting…

…although I might argue that Bulgarian split squats are still harder 😛 but the reason why pistol squats are so challenging are it’s take some:

  • serious balance
  • mobility
  • and strength.
These progressions are a perfect example of how building on fundamentals is the way to go.

We believe the pistol squat is the most demanding on mobility than any of the other skills we mentioned.

So let’s talk about why mobility matters and how focusing on your mobility will unleash your performance.

Why Mobility & Positioning Matters

So why does mobility matter?

The last skill we just talked about demands yes strength and stability. But it also demands a ton of ankle dorsiflexion (photo above).

A great way to test to see if your ankle dorsiflexion is limited is when you attempt to do a pistol squat if you do this…

pistol squat
You lose balance and then fall backwards

That is because of lack of your knees ability to go over your toes.

So why is mobility important and we believe the first thing that should be addressed? Because if you don’t have adequate mobility you can’t even get into the position.

And if you find a way to get into position your body is going to compensate somewhere and potentially lead to injury.

For instance if you lack ankle dorsiflexion and attempt a pistol squat this most likely will happen:

  • your heel will raise
  • your knee will come in
  • your hip will kick out

You see, everything starts with your feet and having adequate ankle mobility is essential for optimal performance.

T Spine Mobility
Let’s use an example of overhead positioning now

We looked at your feet and how lack of ankle dorsiflexion can effect your ability to do a pistol squat, but what about other movements.

In the photo above you see the:

  1. arched back (photo on left)
  2. neutral spine (photo on the right)

We want your spine to be neutral and everything to be “stacked” over all of your joints. And if you are wondering why someone would arch their back:

  • just like with the lack of ankle dorsiflexion, if you don’t have the ROM (range of motion) your body has to compensate somewhere

If you don’t address your t spine mobility your body will compensate by arching your lower back to create space…

…and this leads to putting a lot of pressure on your lower back, and that’s no bueno.

Core Strength & Technique

Let’s talk about core strength

It doesn’t matter if you are in a handstand position like I am (in the photo above)

  • doing a squat
  • a jerk
  • strict shoulder press
  • running
  • etcv

You want to have a strong and solid “hollow body” position. This position is just about requirement number one when we take on a new client.

Because it’s teaches the athlete how to get their spine into a good position and prevent the dreaded rib cage flare out.

workout for abs
An example of a hollow body

You can see this photo of me the amount of musculature when establishing a proper hollow body position.

It’s learning how to get your entire body tight.

Everything from your:

  1. rib cage
  2. arms
  3. glutes
  4. toes

The full body is tight with the rib cage pulled down.

When you have a strong hollow body and begin to progress to new skills your body will just have a better understanding when you try and kip for the first time for example.

Notice how the hollow body carries over to skills on the bar as well

We believe you should have adequate mobility first, then begin to work on the technique so you are training the correct movement patterns.

What that means for you:

  • prioritize mobility more
  • build on the fundamentals first
  • progress slowly

Do those three things and the skills will come, let’s talk next about how important strength.

Strength First & Then Kip

ring muscle up
Master isometrics and eccentrics first.

Let’s talk about strength and how this correlates to getting better at Crossfit and specifically gymnastics movements.

We get asked frequently:

“How can I get better at Chest to bar pull up and or butterfly pull ups”?

Everyone that messages us

And the first thing I ask them every time is…

how many strict pull ups can you do?

You see, because there are only a few reasons holding you back from getting better at these skills:

  1. lack of strength
  2. lack of technique
  3. lack of knowledge or different drills and progressions you could be doing
strict pull up template
Notice this hollow body position but now on the pull up bar? Stay “hollow”, always.

And here is some suggestions of how we believe you should be prioritizing strength when it comes to your gymnastics movements.

Isometric Holds

These are a fundamental way to build muscular endurance and get time under tension.

Handstand Examples:

  • nose to wall holds
  • nose to wall shoulder shifts, shoulder taps, hip taps, freestanding
  • double kb overhead hold/ walk

Pull Up Examples:

  • active hang
  • chin over bar hold
  • heavy farmer carries
shoulder mobility

Pistol Squat Examples:

  • bottom lunge hover
  • bottom lunge hover + single leg raises
  • bottom squat position holds + single leg pistol squat

With all isometric hold style of training we are simply trying to accumulate time under tension in the position you want to get stronger at.

Eccentric Training

Also referred to as “negatives” are probably the most effective way to get stronger, build muscular hypertrophy which can in time lead to greater maximal strength output.

Eccentrics are all about control the muscle while under load.

Let me give you an extreme example below:

Eccentric handstand push ups

This is an extreme version, but in the video I’m working on my handstand push ups.

Because of my experience and the volume of training that I can handle I’m doing a weighted deficit negative handstand push up.

I wanted to show you an extreme version of what eccentric training looked like because I wanted to highlight how the only thing I care about is the DOWN portion of this exercise.

You notice I’m controlling down (ideally would like this control to be about 2 seconds slower) but then I’m kicking right back up and controlling down again.

You want to be careful with doing eccentric training however because of the amount of damage it has on your muscle fibers (in a good way). So generally, less reps is better.

Remember you are only as good as you can recover.

beginner crossfit workouts
Let’s talk about contrast training and the benefits it has to strength training

Contrast Training

The amount of force you can eccentrically load (what we just talked about) into a muscle tendon is a direct proportional to how much force you can apply.

Eccentric training has been shown to increase the amount of type 2 muscle fibers (which we want) and if we have more of those bad boys we can really use them when we apply this contrast training method.

Here is a great example.

The concept is simple and let’s keep it that way, it works like this:

  • lift something really heavy that gets a ton of motor neuron recuritment
  • do an exercise of the same movement pattern that is more dynamic

An example of upper would be:

  1. Heavy bench press, directly into
  2. med ball chest pass

Now that you have an idea of some different ways to get stronger, let’s talk about how to actually map some of these progressions out.

Don’t worry, I’ll keep it simple.

How To Program/ Progressions

Writing programs and different progressions is my favorite thing to do because it almost feels like art to me.

I love getting to see athletes progress from being able to not do a skill or not many reps to becoming proficient at them over time.

And we are big believers in if you want to get better at a skill, you must practice it. Once you become more proficient and you have learned the motor pathways in your brain, you probably don’t have to train it as much.

But in the beginning, you want to work hard at mastering the technique, getting strong, and using a form of progressive overload.

Get your mind right first and then attack it.

For this example I’m going to use a progression for wall balls. I want to show you how to increase your tolerance (capacity) can be done in not just technical movements like muscle ups, but simple stuff like wall balls. But the concept can be used for any movement.

Wall Ball Progression

Week 1:

Every 3:30 until you fail:

  • 8 x wall ball
  • run x 400 meters

+8 wall balls every round

One thing to keep in mind is the workouts are “written for the best” and scaled for the rest. It’s why having a coach we believe is so important because we can help scale workouts to fit the desired training stimulus for you.

But here are some ways you could scale that workout.

  1. since the wall balls are the focus we would want to scale the run if needed but still get relatively the same challenge
  2. you could scale the distance of the run (looking for something about 1:40-2:00 minutes) of running or better
  3. you could row, bike, ski, instead of run

The goal is to get your heart rate up and work through the wall balls under fatigue.

Stay the course.

Week 2:

Every 90 seconds x 4 sets

  • 25 x wall ball

Week 3:

Every 45 seconds x 8 sets

  • 12 x wall ball

Notice the difference between week 2 and 3. The volume (number of reps) is the same but just at different intensities.

periodization training
A picture of us completing this wall ball progression

Week 4:

Every 30 seconds x 10 sets

  • 10 x wall ball

This week we decrease the rest but cutting the time interval to 30 seconds instead of 45.

Week 5:

Every 45 seconds x 6 sets

  • 15 x wall ball

This week we go back to 45 seconds but increase the reps by +3 from week 3, however we decreased the amount of sets (or total volume). We are huge believers in intensity over volume.

Week 6:

Every 20 seconds x 4 minutes (12 sets)

  • 7 x wall ball

You can see over the course of the 6 weeks the intensity really ramped up. The interval times got shorter, the reps got more challenging, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.

If you want to get better, you have to challenge your body to create change and adaptation in your body.

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We covered a lot of different ways to improve your gymnastics proficiency. We discussed how improving your gymnastics abilities will not only help you get better at the movements but increase your overall strength too.

  • prioritize mobility
  • master the technique and the fundamentals
  • progress slowly
  • get super strong before you kip
  • make your progressions simple, and add intensity

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