Intermediate/Advanced Gymnastics Strength (Originally posted July 27th, 2017)
A few people on instagram and youtube have requested me to make a video covering my training program that I use. Haven’t had time to make the video yet and I wanted to go ahead and get it out in written form so I will go over the general plan here which you can apply to your own training and I will also cover how I use it myself. I originally made this routine using information I learned through reading Overcoming Gravity, and polished it by consulting with the book’s author, Steven Low.
This is focused on progression for intermediate gymnastics strength trainees who are on the larger side (>180lbs, >6’). Those are not hard limits, but the further you are below them, I’d only say this would be helpful if you were closer to the advanced/elite skills.
I will first preface by saying that I am not a licensed personal trainer, nor am I a medical professional, so by using my program or any program for that matter you are doing so at your own risk. This program is for an intermediate to advanced trainee, and you should have a good idea of your own limitations when using this. If you’re not intermediate/advanced in reference to the bodyweight charts made by Steven Low for Overcoming Gravity, then you should use a more beginner-focused program because this program will not efficiently make you stronger. I’ll start with the general structure of the program and follow up with how I implement it.
Most bodyweight training routines can be divided into warm-up, skill work, strength work, accessory work, and cool down. I will not cover warm-up here, I do a general warm-up routine involving upper body warm-up, core body positioning drills, lower body mobility, and foam rolling if something in particular feels tight. Skill work follows and can be between 15-30 minutes of practice on a skill that isn’t as dependent on strength as it is on becoming familiar with the movement pattern (hand balancing, rings work, floor work, etc). Again, this is primarily for intermediate trainees, so you should already have that part of your workout down along with your understanding of why basic aspects of a balanced workout are the way they are.
For the strength routine, I’ll start with the general layout. Legs training will be left up to one’s self. I personally use 5/3/1 for leg progression and program accessory work by feel, because leg work simply is not as important to me. 5/3/1 with accessory work consisting of 3x8-10 of squats and 3x8-10 deadlifts has been enough to get me to a 1.8x bodyweight squat and a 2.4x bodyweight deadlift at 6'2" 211lbs bodyweight. Due to work and school, I usually do legs whenever I have the time. Some weeks I’ll have two leg days, and some weeks both squats and deadlifts will be done with an upper body workout. It all depends on scheduling. I’d recommend leg work on different days so that one can focus on it and upper body as well, but do what time permits. Again, leg strength is not the primary focus of this program, so on to upper body work.
Programming (The Meat) #
In regards to progression, periodization, set&rep scheme, and overall training philosophy. For upper body, I use a Daily Undulating Periodization or DUP scheme to progress my strength. I’ll link to an article in the description about it, but in short, DUP involves cycling through all or most repetition/intensity ranges over the course of a microcycle which is usually one training week, instead of over the course of a mesocycle which is usually 4-6 weeks in the case of traditional periodization. In this program I stick to a light, medium, and heavy upper body day. Each day is within the 10-15, 5-10, and 3-5 rep range respectively.
I stick with 3 pairs of exercises each with 3 to 6 sets. The first pair are my primary pushing and pulling goals, while the second pair are secondary pushing and pulling goals. I use the third pair of exercises to supplement whatever aspects of pushing and pulling I may be deficient in, whether certain planes of movement or specific exercises. Holds I usually keep between 4 and 10s, any more doesn’t have a great carry-over to strength for me personally and any less doesn’t accumulate enough volume. Negatives I usually keep between 7 and 10s for the same reasons. Dynamics (exercises doing a full concentric and eccentric) are what I focus the DUP work on in the aforementioned rep ranges.
Varying holds and negatives in the style of DUP work for me to a small extent, it didn’t give me enough of a training stimulus at what I was working on when I tried to keep everything strictly following a DUP style. I personally found the best results focusing all of my static hold efforts on the same variation throughout the week (4x8-10s tuck planche holds for example) except for the heavy day where I would do 5-8 sets of 3-5s holds. More sets for shorter timed holds.
Progression is done by adding weight, increasing repetitions, increasing sets, increasing hold quality, or slowing tempo of dynamic exercises. One of the most important things I can’t stress enough is to never sacrifice form or quality for progression. If you’re not progressing without major loss of form, you may need to think about your recovery, volume of work, exercise selection, progression selection, or other training factors. I always try and progress weekly in some regard (because DUP repeats on a weekly cycle), but if I can’t, firstly I’ll work on my recovery and secondly I’ll reconsider my training if a stagnating or negative trend continues for longer than two weeks.
Accessory work is entirely dependent on the person, I like to always keep some elbow, shoulder, and wrist prehab included, because it what works for me to keep my upper body moving smoothly, so take this as you may. I like to keep my upper body prehab consisting of high rep controlled tempo bicep curls (think 50+ reps), similarly high rep/controlled tempo wrist curls and extensions, and external rotation prehab in the form of face pulls for 15-20 reps. 2-3 sets does the trick. Reverse wrist push-ups have treated my wrists well too (reverse in regards to the back of the hands being on the ground, not the palms).
My Specific Program #
Here’s a spreadsheet of my program. I implement the exact principles I was talking about above working to achieve the iron cross, straddle planche, front lever, and handstand push-up on the rings. I focus on my main goals first, follow with my secondary goals, and then finish with basic strength movements because I’ve had much better results including them compared to excluding them. My leg day is currently focusing on strength in regards to mobility because that’s what’s important to me right now. I may do deadlifts and squats for higher reps occasionally on Friday, but it’s not a main focus of mine right now.
Writing about the rationale would be redundant, but if you have any questions on my specifics, ask below.
Where My Program has Taken Me #
These are my numbers I can find since I began using this scheme at the start of the 2017. I’ve also had to deal with sickness and injury a good few times (because of not warming up, stretching, or doing my prehab sometimes when I ran really low on time due to my life schedule and lacking recovery, also because of my schedule).
- planche 10s tuck > 20s tuck as well as first advanced tuck
- front lever 2s straddle > 6s straddle (and much cleaner adv tuck)
- weighted dips 135x1 > 180x1
- weighted chins 130x1 > 160x1
- iron cross no negative control and no assisted crosses > clean negative control and ¾ 4s bodyweight crosses (estimated band resistance?)
- deadlift 405x5 > 455x4, no max > 500x1
- squat 325x5 > 325x9, 355x1 > 385x1
Applying to Powerlifting #
To use this program while making gains with powerlifting, I would program leg work separately, adding a third day if you desire, and simply add in bench press a one of your upper body pushing exercises during the week. For example, you could switch out bench and planche holds (or push-ups and keep the planche work in), strict press for handstand-push-up work. Whatever your priorities are, you have to program in that order. I prefer the most technically complex (planche and iron cross) exercises first, but you can also prioritize by importance. If you’re having difficulty prioritizing, you may need to cut down on the number of your goals. There’s plenty of time to tackle different activities, so it’s okay to put some on the back-burner for a while, as long as you keep your mobility in shape, they’ll be there waiting when you get back.
In conclusion #
I guess I would like to add a slight philosophical note too. When you start getting to an intermediate/advanced point in your training, progress can start slowing down. Don’t let it bother you. Try and take a step back from your training to get some enjoyment out of it. If you’re not training for competition, take some time off occasionally from your main training and take a week or two to focus on the basics as well as prehab if you’ve had a few injuries. Don’t neglect flexibility. I didn’t talk about it much here, because there are much better resources online about it, but I included it in my personal program. Flexibility helps greatly, not just in bodyweight fitness, but in everyday life. Don’t skip it.
This is my first time writing longer form and I did it in a lot of different sittings so I’ll gladly take any critiques as well.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask below, but please go back to the beginning if you were skipping around before you have questions. While there are different sections, some information refers to things previously mentioned. I hope this helps, train hard and smart :).