How To Get A Strong & Shredded Body With Just Two Gymnastics-Style Workouts Per Week.

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Articles, Fitness, Workout & Exercises

Allow me to introduce you to my friend Stephen:

As you can see, Stephen is…to use the highly scientific term we throw around in the fitness industry…

…shredded.

So who is Stephen, exactly?

His full name is Stephen McCain. He is a gymnast, actor, coach, and fellow “biohacker”. He is a 2x Olympic Gymnast, 4x World Championships Team Member and Silver Medalist, USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame Inductee, with 11 and half consecutive years on the Elite National Team. He has performed gymnastics on every continent with the exception of Antarctica.

He has also worked in Hollywood for 20 years and has appeared in film, television, commercial, and on stage. At 43 years of age, he stays in top shape using his own Gymnastics H.I.I.T. program (details below) he developed that utilizes a combination of flexibility, strength training, gymnastics exercises, and plyometrics.

A few weeks in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure of getting a few hours of private gymnastics instructions from Stephen, and afterwards he sent me the note that he was able to achieve the body and muscle you see above by simply performing something he calls a “Gymnastics High Intensity Interval Training Circuit” – just two times a week! The video below shows an example of some of the exercises in his circuit.

Here are a few other examples of Stephen in action:

High Bar Routine from Competition Days:

Ring Routine from Competition Days:

The Journey to become an Olympian:

Anyways, after I met with him in LA, Stephen generously offered to share with me the entirety of his Gymnastics High Intensity Interval Training Circuit in the form of two basic workouts that even the complete gymnastics newbie can handle. In this article (published with Stephen's permission), I'm going to reveal those exact workouts, along with a few more tips Stephen gave me about how to get a strong and shredded body with just two gymnastics-style training workouts a week.

Enjoy, and be sure to check out even more links and helpful training tips in the summary.


Basic Gymnastics Training Tips

Along with sending me the program I'll reveal below, Stephen also sent me a few basic gymnastics training tips. He said the following:

“Hi Ben, I saw your recent posts about gymnastics. Looks like you are finding some good stuff. There is a lot of good info out there, but I want to make sure you get the proper foundation. Gymnastics is all about basics and any weakness will limit your growth. Strive for perfect form and technique on everything you do. Please, please, please…don’t cheat like a lot Crossfitters do.

So, here is what I feel is a proper foundation.

Flexibility – No gymnastics program will be successful without acquiring a certain level of flexibility. 

Pike – Most important. Put most resources on getting this first. Work on getting your back flat.

Pancake – Essential for press to handstand. Work on getting your back flat

Shoulders – Maintain your range of motion while your upper body gets stronger

Splits prep (mainly stretching hip flexors due to increased core work)

Shoulder bungy prehab – Take care of your shoulders, they are going to endure a lot with gymnastics. A good habit. (note from Ben: I'm now using this Crossover Symmetry bungee program for my shoulders).

Straight-arm dumbbell work – Cultivate straight arm strength.

Straight body core work – #1 foundational strength requirement. If you did nothing but this work for the next 3 months, you would be so prepared for growth. You cannot do proper gymnastics strength without a super strong rock solid core…period. Few examples…

Hollow hold

Hollow rocks

V ups

Leg raises

Arch ups

Handstand work – Perfectly straight body with tucked pelvis and no shoulder angle. Few examples…

1 minute stomach against wall

45 degree against wall

Planch work – Start with tucked position. Get comfortable leaning far over hands.

Press Handstand work

“L” sit

Muscle Up

Basic Rolls for starting basic kinesthetic awareness

Basic Strength Exercises (aim for the numbers below) – you will be combining these major muscle group exercises with a “straight body” shape and/or press / hinge movement…then stuffing those exercises into a high intensity interval training template for the ultimate body weight workout! Perfect form always; using the tight straight body position.

20 Dips

10 Pull Ups

30 Push Ups

5 Handstand Push Ups

Plyometrics – Squat jumps, box jumps, proper landing position. Can be combined with Basic Rolls.

Activate every muscle in your body when doing gymnastics; make your body an interconnected group of muscles that becomes “one unit.” Including, pointing your toes and fingers during exercises.”

OK, so armed with these basic tips from Stephen, let's delve into two sample gymnastics workouts.


Two Sample Gymnastics Workouts

Using the tips above from Stephen, here's an example of the two primary workouts I'm now performing. From warm-up to cool-down, these take about 40-45 minutes to complete with minimal rest in between. If I can squeeze it in on a Saturday or Sunday, I also perform a shorter 20-30 minute version of the workouts below, also straight from the mind of Stephen.

Day 1

Warmup

* Full shoulder set on bands
* Horizontal dumbbell or clubbell raises to failure
* Vertical dumbbell or clubbell raises to failure
* 15 Strict Pull Ups
* 30 Dips
* 30 Push Ups
* 15 Reverse Lunges Per Side
* 30 Squats

Static Holds/Core/Positions

* 45 second Straight body hold between mats (stomach up) –
* 45 second Straight body hold between mats (stomach down) or 15 Reverse Hypers

* Max Time Wall Handstand

* 5 Draw Bridges

* 30 second Ring Support Hold

Gymnastics Exercises

* 10 Planch Leans

* 10 Hanging Leg Lifts

* 10 Press Slider Assist

* 10 x Front lever band assist

Gymnastics Exercise/Major Muscle Group Combo

* 15 Muscle Up Drills

Major Muscle Group Exercises

* Single Leg Squats (TRX) or Single Leg Roll Up (15 each leg)

* 15 Lunges (TRX or Weighted or suspended leg back) per leg

* 15 Front Lever Pull Ups on bar or rings (same as horizontal pull-ups)

Bursts

* 4 sets of 30 seconds of Box Jumps or band assist squat jumps or squat jumps or lunge jumps

* 4 sets of treadmill sprints or Sprints with Jog back or band assist sprint in place

Optional Finisher:

Tabata set on bike or elliptical


Day 2

Warmup

* Full shoulder set on bands
* Horizontal dumbbell or clubbell raises to failure
* Vertical dumbbell or clubbell raises to failure
* 15 Strict Pull Ups
* 30 Dips
* 30 Push Ups
* 15 Reverse Lunges Per Side
* 30 Squats

Static Holds/Core/Positions

* 45 second Straight body hold between mats (stomach up)

* 45 second Straight body hold between mats (stomach down) or 15 Reverse Hypers

* Max Time Wall Handstand

* 15-30 V-ups

* 30 Olga Crunches

Gymnastics Exercises

* Planch Walks with Sliders or paper plates

* Crab Walks with Sliders or paper plates

* 10 Press First Half Drills – Press Compression slider assist (1 min to end of video)

* 10 Press Ball Assist

* 30 Second L Seat Leg Extends (Stay in tuck for as long as needed)

Gymnastics Exercise/Major Muscle Group Combo

* 3 Muscle-up Thera-band Assist

* OR if already done earlier in day, weighted horizontal pull-ups or other hanging or grip activity like regular pull-ups or neutral grip pull-ups

Major Muscle Group Exercises

* Single Leg Squats (TRX) or Single Leg Roll Up (15 each leg)

* 15 Lunges (TRX or Weighted or suspended leg back) per leg

* 15 Front Lever Pull Ups (horizontal pull-ups) on bar or rings

Bursts

* Box Jumps or band assist squat jumps

* 4 sets treadmill sprints or Sprints with Jog back or band assist sprint in place

Finisher:

Optional Finisher:

Tabata set on bike or elliptical


Summary

So is that it?

Yeah, just about, but there's one final modification I'm making to the programs above when I do them, since, beginning Spring 2017, I'm still racing big ol' long Spartan races and need a solid mix of strength, power muscle and endurance.

Here's the modification for even more cardiovascular intensiveness:

Assuming that time permits (you'll need a solid hour if you decide to use this strategy), then in between each and everyone one of the sections above, from Warmup to Static Holds/Core/Positions to Gymnastics Exercises to Gymnastics Exercise/Major Muscle Group Combo to Major Muscle Group Exercises…

…I perform approximately 1-2 minutes of a hard cardio bout, preferably running, cycling, rowing or elliptical – whatever happens to be handy. I don't gas myself so hard that my form on the gymnastic sections suffers, but adding in a just a few of these cardio bouts definitely assists with a few missing components of gymnastics training that aerobic athletes such as cyclists, obstacle course racers, triathletes or marathoners need, particularly maximum oxygen utilization (VO2 max), mitochondrial density and muscular endurance.

But in my opinion, adding those components are only necessary if you're an endurance athlete, who, like me, doesn't have the time to squeeze in both a cardio workout and a gymnastics workout on the same day.

And finally, in addition to the two gymnastics training sessions above, I am indeed stacking and sprinkling a few other components into my weekly program, such as mobility, foam rolling, ELDOA (podcast on this coming soon), Core Foundation training, Kundalini yoga, my biohacked infrared sauna, cold thermogenesis, snowboarding, snowshoeing and tennis. I share all of those additional components and how I manage to squeeze them into a week in this plan, which is the exact workout plan I'm following for the first three months of 2017.

If you want to learn more about how to get the body of the gymnast, I ‘d highly recommend a quite comprehensive article I wrote two weeks ago that walks you through some of the best free online gymnastics programs scattered about the interwebs. It is entitled, fittingly enough, “How To Get The Body Of A Gymnast“.

Finally, if you have questions, thoughts or feedback for Stephen or me, just leave your comments below and one of us will reply!


Also published on Medium.

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12 thoughts on “How To Get A Strong & Shredded Body With Just Two Gymnastics-Style Workouts Per Week.

  1. Steven Anderson says:

    The warm up is pretty hard to do without time between exercises. Normally i can get a high number of pushups in, but after the preceding exercises, especially the dips, I struggle to get 30!

    Do you expect us to do this without any time between exercises?

    1. Minimal rest in between!

  2. Chris James says:

    Starting this kind of training is SUPER tough in the beginning especially if you are out of shape or even if you are a powerlifter. The great thing is that I’ve found that my abilities have seemed to increase at a much faster rate than with typical weight training to even HIIT workouts. Great to see these posts Ben!

  3. Chad says:

    This is great! I’ve switched from weights to calisthenics and gymnastics about a year ago and love it. These workouts are helpful, as I’ve been having problems balancing training for skills with getting in an actual workout. With the workouts above, it appears there is just one round of each; correct? What do you suggest for progression? For instance, 10 planch leans…if that becomes easy, do you add more reps, more rounds, or add a static hold to each rep? I may email Stephen too, as I’m interested in some possible online training/programming if he offers that.

    1. Stephen McCain says:

      Hi Chad, great question! Yes, the gymnastics training always fits into the circuit template I designed. That way you acquire gymnastics strength skills but always get a workout. The workouts increase in intensity, so the gymnastic’s stuff is more in the beginning of the circuit. I have found that some of my beginner clients benefit from multiple sets of a gymnastics exercise or any other exercise where they are weak. I will usually have them do 3 sets, rotating between 2 or 3 exercises. The key is doing the exercises with 100% focus on proper form and technique. Once you acquire a gymnastics skill, like the planch leans, then you increase the difficulty; constantly upgrading at your own pace. I don’t believe you need more than one set of any exercise when you can cultivate really high intensity without breaking form.

  4. Justin says:

    Awesome article!

    I live in the LA area… is there any way to contact Stephen for private training?

    1. Stephen McCain says:

      Hi Justin, send me an email and we can discuss. Love to help!

      [email protected]

  5. Mike says:

    I’m sure it’s good info for you elite athletes but a regular guy like myself (and probably most of your followers) wouldn’t even be able to do the warm-up. Right now I’m using the basic GMB “Elements” program but at 58 yrs of age this stuff doesn’t come easy anymore.

    1. Having hung out with a bunch of the folks I feature here I can tell you that you CAN do it. ;) https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2016/05/the-fitt…

    2. Stephen McCain says:

      It can be daunting to start a gymnastics strength program. However, the same thing can be said about yoga…especially if you compare yourself to a seasoned yogi. This stuff takes time to learn indeed. But if you look at the basic elements of it; flexibility, standard body weight exercises, core strength, and a few gymnastics positions, you will see the benefit of doing these things even at a beginner level. In addition, all the exercises can be broken down into more simplified exercises, until they are acquired with proper form. Then they can be built upon to become more and more complex overtime.

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