Male gymnasts possess physiques talking to the deepest layers within the warriors trying to achieve ascension by forging thicker muscle fibers. The extraterrestrial upper body development common for the elite of the sport is attributed to advanced bodyweight techniques. The element blamed to produced the largest amount of muscular growth would be the routines on the rings since they require the most upper body strength of all gymnastic adventures.
Many muscle apprentices accept the notion that “sexy” bodyweight work will turn them into massive beasts carrying a form of the so-called “pussy slaying physique”. Subsequently, they embrace the bodyweight doctrine, hearts beating faster after a pristine revelation, and keep admiring their idol, hoping that one day, when is not exactly clear, they will have a development equal to that of the ring lords.
Since gymnasts are allegedly natural, their blueprint for muscle construction is particularly appealing to the average natty, especially when you add in the lean factor – gymnasts, unlike powerlifters, are all ripped, for they have nothing to gain from the extra fat.
All of this makes for a nice promo fairy tale, but there’s a problem, maybe more than one, that demands clarifications.
Truth be told, intermediate and advanced gymnastic training is an inefficient way to build muscle mass regardless of what the promo says.
What is hypertrophy?
Hypertrophy is a super-compensation process that originates as a response to stress imposed on the muscle tissue. Movement against a restricting force is one of the methods capable of triggering adaptation resulting in extra muscle protein synthesis (MSP). Another option to stimulate hypertrophy would be steroids (hormones). Anabolic drugs can cause significantly more protein synthesis than training. When extra male hormones are imported into the system, the muscles grow even without resistance training.
Does Gymnastic Training Provide The Optimal Hypertrophy Stimulus?
Undoubtedly, gymnastic training can stimulate hypertrophy. The question, however, is whether this is the optimal way to summon the process. An iron cross on the rings demands supreme lat and biceps strength, but is training in this fashion the most straightforward way to build those body parts? Not really.
The same holds true for many gymnastic drills. Virtually every strength element in gymnastics is a stunt first and muscle builder second. Gymnastics’s primary goal is not to build your muscles in the fastest, safest and most efficient way possible but rather to create a show for the crowd while showcasing the capabilities of the human body.
Is Gymnastic Training ”Natural”?
Note: In this case ”natural” does not refer to steroids.
There is nothing natural about walking on your hands and suspending yourself in weird and disadvantageous positions between parallel bars and hanging rings. There is nothing natural about jumping over a platform. There is nothing natural about flipping as many times as you can in order to “receive points”.
The same holds true for most of the physical entertainment that humans engage in. There is nothing natural about the sports that the modern man endorses.
“If they are not natural, why are we doing them,” asks the dreamer with a look suggesting deep curiosity slowly overshadowed by fear and uncertainty.
There are many explanations to this inquiry, but in this particular context, I will focus on the physical aspect. Humans are adaptable creatures. They can take a basic function, extract it, and put it in a context. The fact that something is “not natural” does not make it impossible or unattainable. The body clearly allows those stunts to happen in a fairly safe way after years of preparation. Therefore, one could even speculate that this alone makes them natural.
Meanwhile, you will never see a dog or other mammals do unnatural things. Sure, dogs like to play games but most of the time that happens when the owners create a specific context. By themselves, dogs rarely engage in stunt activities. Additionally, animals will never use their bodies in ways designed to satisfy some sort of aesthetic requirement and yearn for art even though they are more than capable of similar acts.
Humans, however, are different. We need those extras as part of our coping mechanisms. For that reason, we have created factories for dopamine production – sports are one of the reactors.
Is Gymnastic Training Capable Of Inducing Quicker and More Pronounced Hypertrophy?
There is absolutely nothing magical about the growth stimulus produced by gymnastic training. The drills do not possess otherworldly powers that somehow alter the natural course of events so much that you end up “jacked” before noon. This is the truth regardless of what the promoters are saying. They just have to make their training ideas look superior to attract more customers. Some bodyweight courses may indeed be superior to other types of training for some reason, but quicker and larger muscle growth is rarely one of them.
Ultimately, gymnastic training is an inferior system for mass construction.
Below you will find a full list of reasons why it’s not a good idea to count on gymnastics to get “swol”.
1.Gymnastic Training Is Torso and Arm Dominant
All strength elements are focused on the upper body alone. Gymnasts have zero incentive to build big legs. They need supreme lower body explosiveness, but plyometrics do not build big muscles. A common trend among many acrobats is to skip leg day and run instead. While most gymnasts are not as extreme in their approach, some coaches limit the lower body training simply to avoid unnecessary hypertrophy. Every gram of muscle on the legs and hips that is not required to jump higher has to go.
This shows how incredibly inefficient the sport of gymnastics is in the pursuit of a bigger lower body.
Moreover, many of the gymnastic movements for the legs and hips are gimmicky. For instance, pistol squats may look like the hardest thing ever, but they do not require exceptional leg strength nor are they capable of building the primary movers (quads, glutes) as much as basic “gym” exercises like squats, leg presses…etc. Furthermore, the balance requirements of pistol squats take away from the work of the primary movers.
Another lower body movement that the gymnastic community loves to talk about is the so-called natural leg curl done for posterior chain development. Ironically, there is nothing natural about the natural leg curl. When was the last time you had to natural curl yourself? Never. Moreover, the exercise is so difficult that most people will never do it properly. It’s much better to stick to more programmable and scalable movements. A simple deadlift or a regular leg curl make for a better choice when it comes to hamstring hypertrophy.
2.The Advanced Strength Elements Are Not Designed For Tall Men
It is significantly easier to excel in this sport when you have short limbs. Most men who have long arms and legs will never achieve the advanced strength elements (iron cross, maltese…etc.) Yet the promoters of gymnastic training say that those movements are the engine behind the hypertrophy presented by the elite. This isn’t exactly true. To reach those skills, gymnasts do all kinds of exercises and progressions to prepare themselves for the extreme. That preparation made of more basic exercises plays a huge role in the assembly of a modern gymnast. Secondly, if you are never going to reach the advanced elements due to structural characteristics, why are you even trying to, especially when your goal is pure hypertrophy? Why are you wasting your time and killing your elbows to do an iron cross if all you want are bigger biceps? Just do regular curls. The gains will come faster, and you won’t have to embarrass yourself by engaging in a mission doomed to fail right from the start. When your arms are long, the torque is way too high. It is unlikely that the joints of a tall man will ever be prepared for similar stunts.
3.Bodyweight Only Training Requires You Switch To More Difficult Variations
Most bodyweight only programs require you to either add reps or progress to harder variations of the same exercise. For example, once push-ups get too easy for you, you can elevate your feet, switch to one arm push-ups…etc. While this is a legit way to progress and probably the best one when you only train with your bodyweight, it has a downside – the pattern changes and with it the stress on the joints and the muscles.
For instance, when you switch from regular dips to the so-called Russian dips, the load shifts, and the body has to adapt to a completely different motion. And while this may be beneficial for gymnastics, it has zero value in terms of muscle growth. The first time I tried Russian dips, my elbows started crying right away. You could say that I was really weak, but I was actually doing weighted dips with 60lbs for high reps (5+) without joint discomfort. The elbow pain was the result of a new pattern which places more stress on the joints. Adapting to it over time would have made my elbows stronger for that particular movement, but the adaptation wouldn’t have resulted in growth unachievable by simply adding more weight to the classic dip.
Another example would be the one arm push-up. When you switch from two arm push-ups to the one arm variation, the exercise immediately becomes deltoid and triceps dominant because the pushing arm is really close to the body. In other words, the new pattern shifts the emphasis. Meanwhile, adding weight to the basic push-up preserves the original load distribution intact.
4.Lack Of Efficiency and Too Many Variables
Unlike gymnastics, lifting is pretty straightforward. For instance, before you can start doing handstand push-ups for your shoulders, you will have to spend an eternity preparing your whole body for them. Eventually, you will get there, but if your initial intent was to simply build stronger shoulders, the overhead barbell press wins every time. You can start doing it tomorrow because the learning curve is short and the skill level is low compared to a handstand. In addition, the exercise gives you more control over the actual pressing movement.
The same inefficiency is characteristic of many gymnastic movements designed to hit a specific muscle group hard.
5.Overemphasis On Being Functional
Goals determine whether something is functional. Strictly speaking, there’s nothing functional about handstands, press to handstands, planches, front levers, iron crosses…etc. Those movements are not required for anything other than gymnastics, tricking, acrobatics, bboying…etc. For example, if you are a skateboarder, and you want to improve your ollie (basic jump), training with your head upside down has zero benefits.
When it comes to everyday life, weightlifting is more functional than gymnastic training because it teaches you how to manipulate external objects. Even the simple barbell curl provides more “functional” strength than a press to handstand even though it requires basically no athleticism. Yet the gymnastic gurus want you to believe that everything they teach is mega functional when we all know that the only way to get good at something is to practice. If you want to be good at handstands, do them, but if your goal isn’t that, you could still be healthy and strong without putting all your blood into your head.
6.The Bodies Of Gymnasts Vary In Their Size
I am tired of people posting pictures of gymnasts as a way to prove that gymnastic training results in massive muscle mass. This simply isn’t true. Most gymnasts are not nearly as big as you may think. Yes, all of them have decent upper body development, but only a few stand out. The truth is that gymnasts are not bigger than the local crew doing push-ups, dips and pull-ups on the monkey bars in the neighborhood.
In addition, one would have to be very naive to believe that drugs are not a part of the sport. It’s true that gymnasts don’t benefit from extra “non-functional” bodyweight, but just about any athlete can improve his or hers performance with doping. Even some swimmers take steroids to gain an edge. Yet people think that bodybuilders have a monopoly on steroids and PEDs in general. I am sorry, but that’s incorrect. Bodybuilders are simply the obvious example, but at the highest level – all athletes are taking something when they can get away with it.
The Actual Benefit Of Gymnastics Is Elsewhere
The strength of gymnastic training is not hypertrophy. There are more user-friendly options for that. The real benefit lies in the skills and mobility training. As a natural, you will hit the wall faster than you think. It may take you a while to realize it, but after trying most of the suggested routines, you will quickly learn that bodybuilding is one big hallucination designed for teens and insecure adults who still haven’t figured out that nothing is as it seems in this rigged reality. The natural response to this revelation is anger and depression. How would you feel if you learn that you’ve worked overtime for nothing? Would you be motivated to work even harder? Exactly.
Here’s where skill training comes into play. While you cannot become as big as the movies say naturally, you can develop exceptional physical skills without taking steroids.
Sometimes it is nice to forget about hypertrophy altogether and do an activity for the trill and the skill. This is why I often recommend to desperate naturals to limit their training to a minimum (sometimes even only once a week) while dedicating the extra free time to the pursuit of other physical activities such as gymnastics, martial arts, swimming, shooting…etc.
What are the optimal exercises for hypertrophy?
It depends on the situation, but in general, the following movements would be considered the greatest of all time:
Chest – bench press, dips, push-ups
Back – deadlift, rows, pull-ups, shrugs
Legs – squat, leg press, deadlifts, calf raises
Arms – curls, close grip bench press, dips, close grip push-ups
Shoulders – overhead barbell press
Neck – Curls with bands or neck harness (some machines are also good)
Forearms – wrist rolling, curls
Abs – cable crunches and static exercises (gymnastic movements are great abs builders)