Upper Body Conditioning

Gymnastics requires a tremendous amount of upper body strength. Strength to weight ratio of elite gymnasts is unrivaled. These exercises cover arms, shoulders, chest and back. The conditioning on this page is geared towards developing the upper body strength required for this sport.
Push-Ups - We all know what they are, yet there is a huge variety on how they can be done. Here are some varieties to try. Any of the push-ups can be done on the floor, parallel bars, or parallettes.
  • Yer Basic Push-up - Prone position, body tight and slightly hollow. Toes on the floor, hands below your shoulders. Lower yourself to the floor and push back to the prone position. No arching, bending, pikeing allowed. Keep your elbows close to your sides as this is a more functional movement.
  • Decline Push-up - Starting with feet on the ground and hands against a wall, or other stable surface push ups can be performed with little to no resistance. These push ups can be scaled to beginning fitness levels and those who are rehabilitating injuries. With the body almost completely vertical these can be used to restore and build mobility in the arms and shoulders, and can gradually progress to a horizontal push up.
  • Knee Push-ups - Fairly self explanatory. Like a basic push-up, but your knees are your anchor point rather than your feet. This makes the motion easier.
  • Ball-Planche Push-up - This is a difficult type of push-up. The starting position is a ball planche. Dip down as close to the floor as you can keeping your body horizontal and without touching your knees to the floor and push back up to a ball-planche.
  • Hollow back press to handstand - Sort of a push-up, sort of a press. Start lying on your stomach with your hands near your hips. Lift your heels and push up to handstand, reverse the motion. If you start in a seal stretch and rock forward it makes the move significantly easier.
  • Pseudo-Planche Push-up - For those of us who can not do true planche push ups, this is a method of working towards that goal. Lying flat on your stomach with pointed toes place your hands near your waist and push up. Try to lean forward as much as possible. Your feet will slide as you do this so wear socks or it can be rough on the feet. As you get stronger doing this eventually you feet will lift off the floor and you will end up in a planche. See it.
  • Planche Push-up - To those that can do them, the only true push-up, to the other 99.9% of the world, something that looks physically impossible. The name basically explains it. Doing push-ups in a planche position. If you can do them you know what they are.
  • Handstand Push-up - In a handstand lower as far as you can go and push back to handstand. This can be done against a wall either with your back to the wall or facing the wall. Facing the wall in the handstand will force better technique.
  • Tricep Pushups - Place your hands on a bar, or block about waist high. Feet in front arms back. Lower down till you are almost sitting on the floor, push back up.
Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups - This is a list and explanation of various kinds of pull ups.
  • Basic Pull-up - Hang from a bar with your hands about shoulder width apart. They can be done in an over-grip or an under-grip. The change in grip will change what muscle groups are used and how they are worked. Both kinds should be done for conditioning. The pull up should be done so that your chest is touching or close to the bar.
  • Inverted Pull-ups - Works best on parralell bars or rings. Get in an inverted hang and pull as high as you can. This can be done both piked or straight body. Work both as it changes how the muscles are worked, and affects stability.
  • Inverted Pull-ups (inclined) - Start hanging below rings or a bar with your feet supported at about the same height as the bar or rings. Keeping your body straight and tight pull up to the bar or rings.
  • Wide Arm Pull-up - Hang with your arms wide in an over-grip. Pull up so that either your chest touches the bar or the back of your neck touches the bar.
  • L-hang Pull-up - Hang in an L in either an under-grip or over-grip. Do a pull-up maintaining the L position.
  • Pull-up to Lever - Starting from a bent arm hang with your chest to the bar, straighten your arms while dropping your shoulders back and lifting your toes to a front lever, then pull back to a bent arm hang.
  • Muscle Up - Starting from a hang on rings pull up high, shift your shoulders over your hands and push up to support.
  • Hang to Handstand - Start in a hang on rings, do a muscle up, then a press to handstand. Greatly helps with stability on rings, and will wear you out quick.
  • One arm pull-up - Hanging freely by one arm perform a pull-up. This feat is accomplished by few. Working one arm lock offs, and one arm negatives will help you obtain this. View a video.
  • Rope climb - Climbing a rope is an excellent conditioning tool. Start using your legs and whatever method you can to get to the top, gradually reduce your reliance on your legs. Eventually climb with only your arms with your legs in a straddle L. View a video.
  • One arm rope climb - Yeah, it's possible. Just watch. View a video.
  • Front lever pull-ups - Start in a front lever and pull your stomach to the rings/bar. View a video.
Other - These are just a bunch of random exercises that I didn't categorize above.
  • Dips - On a set of parallel bars or rings start in a support, lower till your shoulders are almost level with your hands, and push back to support.
  • Dip Hops - On parallel bars start in a support at one end of the bars, dip deep then push explosively upwards and hop down the bars. Repeat in quick succession to travel the length of the bars. Can be done forwards and backward.
  • Dip Swings - On parallel bars or rings do dips while swinging. The dip can be done on the forward swing, rearward swing or both.
  • Dip Walks - On parallel bars start in a support at one end of the bars, do a dip and walk to the other end of the bars, do another dip and walk back to the start, do a final dip. This is 1 dip walk. 2 dip walks would involve 2 dips at each and, and traverse the bar there and back 2 times for a total of 10 dips. 3 dip walks is a total of 21 dips traversing the bars there and back 3 times. Each addition is exponentially harder.
  • Cross Pull-outs - From a support on rings, lower slowly towards a cross as low as you can and pull out back to support. (Doing this improperly can lead to injury, please consult your coach before doing these exercises)
  • Handstand shoulder shrugs - Do a handstand against a wall. Preferrably facing the wall in the handstand. Shrug your shoulders up and down without bending your arms. This will help to improve your block.
  • Handstand Walking - The name says it all. Just walk around on your hands. Forwards, backwards, sideways, hopping around. This will develop strength and a very solid handstand. Remember to keep good form.
  • Maltese/Planche/Back-Lever conditioning - Lie on a bench with 2 dumbells of equal weight. Hold the dumbells above you with sraight arms in a planche position(this will be an upside down planche, it will look like a front lever this palms turned up, but the load will be on the same muscles as a planche), next lower the dumbells down to the position of a Maltese, next lower the dumbells to a Back Lever position. Hold each for 3 seconds. Weight so that 3-7 reps of this cycle can be completed. Be aggressive about increasing the weight. - submitted by Bernd W.B. Eisenkreuz
  • Noodle Rolls - Take a pool noodle cut into 12 in sections. Start with hands on the floor, knees on a section of noodle. Pull shoulders forward while rolling the knees forward keeping toes pointed. Roll back out & repeat. A push up can be added, or the noodle can be placed on top of a block to vary the conditioning. - submitted by Amy
  • Planche Crawls - Start lying on the floor with a partner holding your feet. Push up so you are now in a wheel barrow position with a hollow body. Then lean forward and slowly lower straight arm to lying on your chest on the floor. It is your partners job to keep you from landing on your face hard. The partner will do just enough to prevent this by pulling back on the other person's feet. Again as you get stronger your partner will have to do less and less. Eventually this drill can be done solo. Most people will need to turn their fingertips back in the top position to not overstretch their wrists.
  • Planche Drills - The position is a push up position with your feet on a surface level with or above your shoulders. The closer your feet are to being level with your shoulders the more difficult this drill is. Lean as far as you can without falling forward. The goal is to lean enough so that your feet rise slightly off of the surface they are on. Small bounces of your feet can be done as well to make the conditioning more dynamic.
  • Skin the cat pull outs - This can be done either on rings or bars (high or parallel). Start in a hang. Starts like a leg lift, bent or straight, but continues through a basket position to a skin the cat. If you have flexible shoulders continue to roll through to eagle grip. Then, reverse the process (rotate forward) until you return to the position u started. This works to shoulders (both back and front), the abs, lower back and serratus. (This conditioning was submitted by a reader, anonymous)
  • Swing handstand on P-bars - great shoulder work. Even for women it is usefull. Will help with that pesky cast handstand. Be sure not to swing to the handstand arched.
  • Upper arm shrugs - Get in an upper arm support on P-bars. (a support with the bar resting across the back of your bicep and tricep, arms bent to about a 110 degree angle, and your hands on the bar). Then shrug up and down. Kinda like doing the funky chicken.