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Why Even Gymnasts Should Train Their Lower Body

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One of the things a gymnast (particularly a rings gymnast) doesn’t want is excessive size on the legs. It stands to reason, extra weight there means more weight away from the body’s center point and thus, leverage based moves (almost every main ring element) would be made considerably harder.

And if we’re being honest, you’ve heard worse news, right? Usually this is a green light to do ZERO lower body strength training – and sometimes not even any mobility work either!

It’s no secret that gymnastics/calisthenics is heavily upper body dependent and almost all practitioners enjoy upper body training far more than lower body training. This statement is strengthened by how male dominated calisthenics/ring based gymnastics is. Obviously you girls love a lower body session! And granted, there are many guys who also love a lower body session but usually these are weightlifters and sports specific athletes, as opposed to the average gym bro.

Why you hate lower body training

Leg work sucks more because it takes more energy and taxes you far more. This is especially true for leg sessions involving free-weight compound lifts such as the squat/deadlift variations, as the loads tend to be highest on these and along with that comes the spinal load. The two added together is just down right taxing.

Plus, who likes having sore legs and finding it tough to walk about?! It sucks and although you might feel hardcore, you won’t be able to shake the deep feeling of fatigue you’ll have from head to toe.

And the reason you always seem to feel this way after leg day is because you don’t do them often enough! See, you summon up a 10/10 effort to motivate yourself to finally do one and it takes your soul as well as your energy, leaving you trembling at the notion of daring to do it again in a few days…….

‘A vicious circle’, one might say.

My most recent experiment

For those who don’t know, I’ve been using Micha Shulz’s ‘King Of Weighted – Skills Program’ for the last 9/10 weeks or so now. It’s a hybrid routine; basically a mix of strength work, calisthenics skills and lower body training. The program is pretty high volume and has a strong workload in it! When I first started, I only did the compound lifts in the lower body templates and left out the accessory stuff – machines and more isolated moves in this case.

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(German Street Workout Champion ‘Micha Shulz’ @micha_bln_ on Instagram)

The simple reason for doing so was a complete lack of care for development in the lower body and to leave more recovery capacity for the upper body work. Spoken like a true calisthenics athlete, huh?

Recently though, being the experimental and ever wondering guy I am, I figured I’d start pushing myself to run the lower body workouts in their entirety. I fully committed to the last 3/4 weeks at a twice weekly frequency where possible, also.

And I’ve found a few things……….

1) It gets easier. 

Gradually momentum builds and it doesn’t feel like that arduous and impossible task it once was to get going. Plus, it takes less out of you as you become more conditioned to it.

2) You can make a hell of a lot of progress in short times with the lower body.

Again, this might sound obvious but as the muscles below the waist are larger than above, they can not only handle more weight overall but they can handle greater weight increases, as well. In a sick sort of way I’m really enjoying pushing the reps/weights up wherever I can! It’s like being a beginner again.

3) Upper body sessions feel like a piece of p*ss! 

This is probably the BIGGEST takeaway: regular lower body training builds phenomenal work capacity that benefits your upper body work like no other! I’ve found progress in advanced skills such as weighted bar muscle ups, handstand pushing and heavy dips comes quicker alongside the lower body work!

And it makes sense as not only is the work capacity increased but also the recovery. Make no mistake, you get substantial cardio/conditioning benefits from regular lower body work, and I don’t even mean the high rep, low weight, short rest crap. Even the heavier lower/moderate rep stuff gases you pretty good.

In addition, there’s the metabolic/hormonal benefits of training the legs. This isn’t me touting the whole ‘squats are as good as steroids’ mantra, as that’s well and truly overrated and over-hyped. But nevertheless, your metabolic turnover is significantly higher when legs are trained versus not trained. This means more leeway for caloric consumption, better body composition and greater insulin sensitivity.

What about bulky legs?

There is obviously potential to increase leg muscle with regular lower body training but the extent to which, largely depends on the individual. If your genetics are good for lower body gains, then this could be a problem. Some people can get really strong on lower body compounds across large rep ranges and still have twiggy legs. This is a ‘sorry bro, you can’t choose your parents’ moment.

If you were to see too fast an increase in leg size the tweaks are pretty simple. Either reduce training frequency – so one day per week instead of 2, or cut the volume of the workouts themselves down. It’s about finding your sweet spot where you’re still getting some work capacity benefits from leg training and keeping athletic, while not adding weight to the legs where your bodyweight dependent moves don’t suffer.

For some, that might mean a session once per week consisting of 10-12 sets. For others it might mean 2 sessions per week consisting of 18-20 sets! Like most things, it’s a monitoring job. Keep tabs over a few weeks and you’ll know what’s happening. The scales won’t lie, nor will your pants.

Bottom line, I see no reason a healthy calisthenics/gymnastics athlete should do no lower body training at all. Try a few weeks of consistent, focused lower body training and watch your upper body get stronger too, as well as your body composition improve.


JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

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