Gymnastic Training and Hypertrophy: Bodyweight Is Not Always the Best

When I was a teenager, two male gymnasts used to live in my building, and I had the opportunity to follow their progress indirectly. At first, I didn’t know that they were gymnasts. Both of them were pricks, and we didn’t talk much. One of them lived next door and gave us cockroaches because his family had caveman level of hygiene. I would not be surprised if he was throwing food on the ground and leaving it there for days. Thanks, man. I still remember the smell.

Many years later I learned that the physical development of those two muscle gangsters had been the result of ring training. Recently, I saw one of them in a YouTube video and realized that he wasn’t really that big. In fact, he looked weak because his lower body was too slim.

This lead me to the question – is gymnastic training really as effective as the gurus say when it comes to hypertrophy? Honestly, I don’t think so.


Gymnastic Training Is Not Hypertrophy Friendly

I love bodyweight exercises. I even think that getting very proficient at dips and pull-ups would be highly beneficial for most people. At one point, however, gymnastic training no longer supports your hypertrophy goals. It can even hinder them. Allow me to explain before getting angry.

There is a big difference between a skill and a hypertrophy exercise. The higher the skill level, the less hypertrophy friendly the exercise is. For example, pull-ups and dips are great for hypertrophy since they train the primary muscles of the upper body through basic motions. You can add weight until the end of time. On the other hand, movements like the iron cross, the L-sit, the V-sit, flares and many other typical gymnastic drills may be very hard to learn but are not hypertrophy-friendly, although they do produce growth.

In general, “very unstable” exercises are not hypertrophy-friendly, although there are exceptions (e.g., push-ups and dips on rings).

For example, a one leg squat a.k.a. a pistol requires much more balance than a barbell squat, but it does not produce nearly as much hypertrophy. There are squatters with enormous legs who can’t do the movement at all. At the same time, there are pistol squat masters who get buried by 225lbs on the barbell. The pistol comes with balance requirements and works the stabilizers rather hard whereas the squat and the leg press allow the lifter to progressively overload the primary movers without limitations caused by balance.

Gymnastics Is Basketball for Short People

Most gymnasts are barely 5’6” and rarely weigh over 135lbs. They start training very early and stay in the gym for years. In other words, for many individuals, gymnastic training would result in frustration and unjustified self-hatred. It’s the equivalent of trying to dunk a basketball when you are short. You will never be as efficient as the tall guys.

Imagine somebody as tall as Michael Jordan trying to perform a planche, an iron cross, a maltese or even just a front lever. For a guy like that gymnastic training should be limited to the basics.

In conclusion

Different people are made for different things. Trying to make a basketball player out of a gymnast is just not practical. I would rather be the one I was born to be instead of feeling miserable for things I cannot change.

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