Kilo for kilo, Olympic gymnasts are perhaps the strongest athletes in the world. But it’s not because they pick up a lot of heavy objects. “I don’t lift weights at all,” says US Olympic gymnast David Durante. “I’m either practising gymnastics or doing body weight exercises.” Which just goes to show that you don’t need high-tech training equipment to be strong and muscular.
One problem, though: “Not just anyone can mount the still rings and do an iron cross,” says Durante. “It takes years to develop the specific muscles that allow us to perform our routines.” And that’s why we’ve created a plan that will let you train your muscles the way a gymnast does, but without having to be a world-class athlete.
By combining the classic body weight exercises (you’ll add resistance to some) and cutting-edge training techniques found in this workout, you’ll build shirt-splitting muscle, real-world strength and a more athletic-looking body. And you won’t have to spend hours at the gym – you’ll be in and out in under 40 minutes.
YOUR 4-WEEK TRAINING PLAN
Do these workouts 3 days a week, alternating between the three routines each time and resting at least a day between sessions. For example, you might do Workout A on Monday, Workout B on Wednesday and Workout C on Friday.
In Step 1, do the first exercise (chin-up), rest for the prescribed amount of time, and then do the second exercise (dip). Rest again, and repeat the sequence until you’ve completed all the sets. Note that when the reps decrease, you should increase the weight in order to keep the exercise challenging. (See the exercise descriptions on the right for details.) Follow the same procedure for Step 2.
For Step 1, alternate between exercises as you did in Workout A, resting 60 seconds after each set. Do 3 sets of 10 reps for each movement. For Step 2, do the same number of sets and reps that you did in Step 1 – but for just one exercise. For Step 3, see the exercise description for the Swiss ball plank.
STEP 1 Bulgarian Split Squat, Step-up
STEP 2 Hanging Leg Raise or Incline Reverse Crunch
STEP 3 Swiss Ball Plank
For Steps 1 and 2, alternate between exercises the same way you did in Workout A. However, rest only as long as you feel you need between sets, and use the weekly guidelines below.
Weeks 1 and 3: Do as many sets of 5 repetitions of each exercise as you can in 20 minutes.
Week 2: Do 30 reps of each exercise in as few sets as possible.
Week 4: Do 45 reps of each exercise in as few sets as possible.
STEP 1 Chin-up, Dip
STEP 2 Push-up, Inverted Row
Grab a chin-up bar with a shoulder-width, underhand grip, cross your ankles behind you, and hang with your arms straight. Pull yourself up as high as you can. Pause, and then lower your body to the starting position. (If that’s too hard, perform the same movement on a lat pull-down machine.) To add to the challenge, hold a dumbbell between your feet or attach a weight plate to a dipping belt (most gyms have one) and hang it around your waist.
Grab the bars of a dip station and lift yourself so your arms are fully extended. Cross your ankles behind you and then bend your elbows and slowly lower your body until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Pause, and then push yourself back up to the starting position. To add to the challenge, hold a dumbbell between your feet or use the dipping belt as described in the chin-up instructions.
Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them at arm’s length at your sides. Stand in front of a bench and place your left foot on it. Press your left heel onto the bench and push your body up, until your left leg is straight and you’re standing on one leg on the bench. Lower your body until your right foot touches the floor. That’s 1 rep. Complete all the prescribed reps with your left leg, and then switch to your right leg and repeat.
HANGING LEG RAISE
Hang from a chin-up bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip, your knees slightly bent and your feet together. Simultaneously bend your knees, raise your hips, and curl your lower back underneath as you lift your thighs towards your chest. Pause, and then lower your legs back to the starting position. If that’s too hard, skip this exercise and perform the incline reverse crunch instead.
Perform a basic push-up, but as you push your body back up, rotate the right side of your body upwards and raise your right arm quickly as if you’re trying to touch the ceiling. You should be facing sideways with both arms straight, so that you form a T. Return to the starting position and repeat, this time lifting the opposite arm and turning the other way. To make it harder, hold a light dumbbell in each hand as you do the exercise.
Secure a bar 90cm to 120cm above the floor. Lie under the bar and grab it with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Hang at arm’s length from the bar with your body in a straight line from ankles to shoulders. Keeping your body rigid, pull your chest to the bar. Pause, and then lower yourself back to the starting position.
BULGARIAN SPLIT SQUAT
Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand with your back 60cm to 90cm from a bench. Place your left foot behind on the bench, so that only your instep rests on it. Hold the dumbbells at arm’s length at your sides. Keeping your torso upright, lower your body until your front knee is bent 90 degrees. Pause, and push yourself back to the start as quickly as you can. Finish your reps and switch legs.
INCLINE REVERSE CRUNCH
Lie on a slant board with your hips lower than your head. Grab the bar behind your head for support, or simply grasp the sides of the bench. Bend your knees slightly and hold your feet together. Raise your knees to your chest by lifting your hips and crunching them inwards. Pause, and lower your hips back to the start. To add to the challenge, hold a dumbbell between your feet as you do the exercise.
SWISS BALL PLANK
Place your elbows on a Swiss ball and your feet on a bench, so that your body is stretched out like it is during a push-up. It should form a straight line from shoulders to ankles. Contract and brace your abdominals. Hold this position for 60 seconds. Rest another 60 seconds and repeat one more time. Each week, try to extend the time you hold the plank by 10 to 15 seconds.
Assume a push-up position with your body forming a straight line from ankles to shoulders. Your arms should be straight. Lower your body as far as you can – your upper arms should drop lower than your elbows. Pause, and then quickly push yourself back to the starting position.