CrossFit is about exposing people’s weaknesses–and for many people, that weakness is one or more of the gymnastics exercises found in the sport.
You don’t have to look far to find gymnastics exercises in CrossFit. They are in every kind of WOD and regularly come up during the CrossFit Open.
Which movements are we talking about? Basic gymnastics exercises like the pull-up, handstand hold, L-sit and even push-ups are some of the staple exercises in CrossFit.
Advanced gymnastics exercises like the muscle-up, handstand push-up, handstand walk separate the best CrossFit athletes from the pack.
If you aspire to be good at this sport, you have to emphasize gymnastics in your CrossFit training.
Here’s how to add more gymnastics to your training, as well as a few gymnastic WODs to help you get started.
What is a Gymnastic WOD?
A gymnastics WOD is a CrossFit-style workout that is primarily built around gymnastics movements like pull-ups, push-ups, handstands, or muscle-ups.
Because the emphasis is on good technique and execution, gymnastics WODs are less likely to incorporate heavy compound exercises like the deadlift or squat.
A well-programmed workout will include appropriate progressions (meeting you where you’re at skill-wise) and plenty of rest between efforts.
Unlike with weights, failure is not always the key to getting better at gymnastics exercises–in fact, it may be detrimental.
CrossFit Gymnastic WOD Benefits
Gymnastics exercises benefit you in ways few other things can. Here are some things you’ll gain from adding them into your training:
- Core Stabilization– Any gymnastics exercise will force your core to stabilize and maintain a tight position throughout.
- Spatial Awareness- Gymnastics teach your body how to move through space efficiently. For example, a perfectly performed kipping pull-up teaches your body how to perform a pull-up with the least amount of energy possible.
- Strength– It’s not the same strength you gain with a barbell, but you will get strong all the same. Just watch some Olympic gymnastic athletes on YouTube if you don’t believe it.
- Mobility- Unlike compound barbell movements that can make you stiff, gymnastics can actually help mobilize your tissues and help you develop better range of motion in your major joints.
Programming Gymnastics Into Your Training
CrossFit is built on nine fundamental movements, none of which are gymnastics exercises. However, at every level of the sport, you will find gymnastics.
Treat these exercises with equal importance to anything strength or conditioning related in your programming. If you want to be a competitive CrossFitter, they might be more important.
Adding more gymnastics into your training, however, requires some programming know-how.
Unless your goal is to purposely get better at executing exercises while you’re breathing heavily (and you can already rep out an exercise like muscle-ups), you’ll probably want to approach your gymnastics training fresh.
If you’re too tired, you won’t be able to practice technique correctly.
Here are a few options for programming gymnastics into your training.
1. Add Them To Your Warmup
Gymnastics exercises plug into warm-ups seamlessly and can actually help you mimic the exercises you’ll perform later on in the WOD.
For example, handstand push-ups or handstand holds can warm your shoulders up and get you ready to do jerks.
2. Accessory Work
On the opposite end of your training, gymnastics also fit well after the hard work is done.
Give yourself a few minutes to recover from the WOD, then perform ten to fifteen minutes of accessory work on your weakest movements.
3. Extra WOD
Whether you add an extra day to your training (weekend day, for example) or double up one day per week, you can specifically practice gymnastics exercises for thirty minutes or more and probably not compromise your training.
However, be careful. Going to failure often is not ideal here if you want to properly recover, especially early on. Listen to your body and make adjustments if it’s taking away from your normal sessions.
There are few better places that you can practice gymnastics exercises than in an EMOM (every minute on the minute interval style workout).
EMOMs allow you to build in recovery time between efforts, which is perfect for gymnastics.
Our EMOM e-book already has 25 gymnastics EMOM workouts written for you.
CrossFit Gymnastics Progressions
Developing fitness is about proper progressions.
This means that you honestly assess where you are at with a given movement and then pick exercises, drills, or training styles that will properly challenge you and help you develop.
At any CrossFit gym, you will see people who have been doing CrossFit for years that still can’t do a muscle-up or handstand push-up.
Often times, these same people can deadlift a lot of weight or are some of the better members at the gym. What gives?
First, there’s nothing wrong with this, but the reason they can’t do gymnastics exercises well is simple. They are unwilling to take a step back and progress slowly.
Unless you learn gymnastics at a young age, it’s unlikely that the muscle-up form will come naturally to you. This can be a humbling process.
But if you ever want to swing from the rings like Noah Ohlsen, you have to start small–and it’s all about progressions. Here are some examples.
To do a muscle-up, you must be able to do at least one pull-up and one dip. However, once you can do several of each, you’re short changing your development by using these as a substitute each time muscle-ups come up.
Your progression could go something like this: banded pull-up, kipping pull-up, strict pull-up, muscle-up practice, muscle-up.
Handstand Push-up Progression
To do a handstand push-up requires a lot of strength and coordination in your shoulders and core. The kipping variation also takes times to learn. It’s not a very natural movement to most people.
Your progression could go something like this: push-up, pike push-up, handstand hold, ½ ROM handstand push-up (using ab-mats to shorten distance), full ROM handstand push-ups, strict handstand push-ups, parallette handstand push-ups
L-sits develop ever muscle fiber in your body, but especially your core, lower back, and hip flexors.
Your progression could go something like this: hanging knee raise, hanging knee hold, parallette hold with knees tucked, L-sit with 1 leg tucked and 1 leg extended, full L-sit.
CrossFit Gymnastics WODs
Here are three CrossFit gymnastics WODs you can add to your programming to help you get started. Each emphasizes one of the more advanced gymnastics exercises found in the sport.
1. Muscle-Up Gymnastic WOD
EOMOM 14 (7 sets):
- Max set of muscle-ups (sub modified muscle ups or pull-ups)
- 150M shuttle run
- Check out more EMOM gymnastics WODs here.
2. Handstand Push-up Gymnastic WOD
Complete 5 Total Sets:
- 3 Strict Handstand Push-ups
- 6 Kipping Handstand Kipping Push-ups
- 9 Push-ups
Rest 90 seconds between efforts. Record misses and add a penalty like 3 burpees per miss at the end of the workout.
3. L-Sit Gymnastic WOD
“Longest 3 Minutes Of Your Life”
Accumulate 3 minutes of an L-sit hold (or proper progression). Rest as much as you need between sets. The clock doesn’t stop in between efforts.
Score is total time.
Gymnastics exercises offer benefits to your fitness that no other movements in CrossFit can.
You will develop full body coordination, balance, spatial awareness, mobility, and a kind of strength that can’t be achieved with a barbell in your hand with these exercises.
The key to gymnastics is simple, but not always easy in practice–proper progressions.
Be honest about your current skill level and match appropriate exercises or rep schemes to that level so that you can develop.
While this article gives you a good base to start, YouTube is home to hundreds of other videos that can teach you progressions.
Gymnastics are a matter of setting aside your ego and progressing slowly. The sooner you do that, the fitter (and better at CrossFit) you can hope to be.