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Posted 4th April 2017 by Josh Schouten

backleverstretchBack in my twenties, I took part in marathons and triathlons, thinking, like lots of others I know, that it was good for me. But slowly the injuries came, the adrenal fatigue set in, the digestive issues impacted my health, and I began to question the kind of impact my training was having on my body and my hormones. As a student of life, I began to research more about the human body and I realised that extreme endurance training of this nature was very detrimental to building lean muscle mass and not great for life expectancy and heart health… I moved more into weights training, quickly becoming a bit of a strength nut. This then uncovered further limitation/injuries in my shoulders and hips and I began to realise that I couldn’t keep doing the regular hardcore CrossFit style workouts, which just didn’t suit me.

I looked around at different athletes and different sports, and thought about the strength, mobility, and longevity of these athletes. Lots of former weightlifters are battered in their 50s and bodybuilders are often broken, too, later in life. What I noticed about those doing more gymnastics related styles of training however (ie. Calisthenics), is that they’re often fit, mobile, healthy and strong well into their 40s, 50s and even 60s! Check out @lwt1976, @marcusbondibeach, @gymnasticsbodies (in particular coach Sommer), @forma.gst, Wesley Tan to name just a few.

It was a no-brainer for me. Not only did I feel very inspired by some of the incredible things that movement specialists like @Ido Portal and many of his students were doing, but I also knew I wanted to be strong and supple well beyond my forties. These days I’m still lifting weights, but I’m no longer chasing weights – I don’t need to deadlift 200kg when I’m 50, rather just need to maintain a certain level of strength.

My top 5 reasons why you should consider gymnastics training:

It’s a long-term thing:

I’ve already addressed this one via my own motivations for becoming committed to gymnastics training: you can continue progress for years and years. With bodyweight training the journey is never ending, even when you think you’ve got something nailed, you catch someone on Instagram showing ridiculous talent, and suddenly you are brought back down to earth. There can be no ego in the quest toward bodyweight enlightenment, it is simply not permitted (but humility is key). People out there are doing it 10 times better and even they are not yet Masters. They’re merely on a similar journey to you.

Gymnastics doesn’t just refer to specific exercises on the rings or the rig. It also encompasses Capoeira, Parkour, Dance, Martial Arts, and anything bodyweight related. You’re also likely to build the kind of body that’s less likely to be injured. One reason for this is that there’s more focus in gymnastics on mobility, flexibility, strength, structural balance and movement quality. Working on the rings for example offers you a chance to move in all directions, stabilising shoulders, wrists and elbows. You just don’t get that with a barbell.

It’s more than just the physical:

Let’s face it: a lot of weight training is basically about the physical movement of an external load. Gymnastics, however, is more mindful because you’ll need to develop great spatial awareness and control of your body. There’s very little chance to cheat gymnastics, whereas you can cheat a back squat or deadlift with bad form. But with gymnastics you have to be strong, present and flexible or you will fail.

There’s a strong carry over to most other sports:

Because gymnastics is essentially about understanding how the body moves, it can impact your ability in pretty much every other sport you can think of. Gymnastics training also improves fitness, health, coordination, strength, self-confidence, work ethic, discipline, motivation, determination, overcoming fears, and overall performance. These are all very practical life benefits.

It helps you develop brain cells:

straddlestretchWhen was the last time you learned a new movement?

People often think their brain cell development stops at thirty, but that’s just not true. Did you know that one of the best ways to develop new brain cells is be learning new movements? Ido Portal talks about this a lot (Check out PART 2 of his interview with London Real). Zone 1 is when you’ve never performed a movement before, so it’s difficult and you’re stumbling through it. Once you’ve practiced it, you arrive at Zone 2, where you’ve got the movement, and you can do it. In these two stages you develop the most brain cells… Gymnastics is precise, you have to continue to learn new movements, whereas with something like Olympic Weightlifting, once you’re proficient at the movement, it becomes more about perfecting movements (rather than learning new ones). Zone 3 is where you have the movement and you can do it on demand. The brain cell development stops here.

Core strength + mobility = better posture: Doing gymnastics to any decent level requires you to develop huge levels of core strength and great control of the spine. You’ll need lots of hamstring flexibility, shoulder flexion and extension, wrist and ankle mobility, and hip flexor mobility too, all of which contributes to better posture. If you don’t have 180 degrees of shoulder flexion, you can’t do a handstand (but you can do power snatches, for example) and without hip mobility you won’t be able to do straddles, pikes, pancakes, or L-sits.

Just one caveat… Gymnastics is a broad remit and much of the benefits above don’t just come from hard work but also having a good, thought out programme. Every gymnastics workout programme should include horizontal pushing (such planche and push ups), vertical pressing (like handstands), and both horizontal and vertical pulling (eg. ring rows, muscle-ups and pull ups).   All of this movements require much more than just strength to perform correctly, and this is what I love about gymnastics and bodyweight training.