Being a top-tier athlete is as close to being superhuman as you can get. Lightning-fast runners, swimmers who must have a secret pair of gills, and gymnasts who soar through the air and complete two full rotations plus a twist before landing with a smile on his or her face. That’s totally normal, right?
If you’ve been keeping up with any news these past few months, you’ve probably heard rumblings about the incredible, gravity-defying U.S. women’s gymnastics team. (The men’s team ain’t too shabby, either.) We just spent the last two weeks admiring the unimaginable athleticism of the women’s gymnastics team as they spun, leapt, and flipped on a 4-inch wide beam.
Along the way, we’ve gotten sidetracked by their arms. Seriously, it’s like their muscles have muscles. It’s no secret that gymnastics workouts are next-level body-weight workout, but even if you can barely do a cartwheel, you can still borrow some of their best arm-chiseling moves. And no, you don’t have to wear a skin-tight leotard to do them. Unless you want to.
4 Moves That Can Build Arms Like a Gymnast
You won’t get arms like a gymnast just by doing a million triceps kickbacks or putting up big numbers on the bench. “You don’t want so much muscle that you’re immobilizing flexibility,” says Nina Oteri a certified head coach at the Gymnastics & Cheerleading Academy of Cherry Hill in New Jersey. “That’s why gymnasts have those lean arms—you’re triggering different muscles in each exercise. It’s not just biceps curls. It’s about making you strong in areas you might not be as strong.”
That means gymnastics workouts can also make you sore in places you didn’t even know you had muscles.
1. Half Push-Ups
Remember cheating on the fitness tests in middle school P.E.? That’s the vibe you’re going for here — do as many push-ups as you can, as quickly as possible, but only lower yourself halfway down each time. While it’s not a perfect push-up, Oteri explains that this quick-and-dirty version works the fast-twitch muscles that gymnasts need to pull off explosive moves.
2. Handstand Push-Ups
Don’t panic—this may be an advanced move, but you can work up to it… slowly. Start in a regular push-up position, with your feet slightly elevated on a yoga block or footstool, and do a few sets of push-ups in that position. As you get stronger, move your feet up to a sturdy chair. When that gets easier, try a pike position so your feet are still on the chair but your hips are up toward the ceiling in a hinge position centered over your shoulders. When you’re comfortable, you can (carefully!) attempt a full handstand push-up against a wall. “If I had to choose one exercise, this would be it,” says Steven Legendre, assistant coach at University of Oklahoma and a World Championships silver medalist.
3. Triceps Push-Ups
A dead giveaway that a person has dabbled in gymnastics conditioning is by that subtle triceps bulge on the back of their arm. Instead of doing a bench dip that places stress on the shoulder, opt for tricep push-ups. Get into a plank position and place your hands closer than shoulder width as you hold your body up with straight arms. Bend your arms and lower your chest down to the floor, keeping elbows close to your side, until your chest almost touches the floor as you inhale. Using your triceps and some chest muscles, press your body back up to the starting position as you breathe out.
4. Bar Shimmy
Gymnasts need both arm and grip strength to spin themselves ’round and ’round the uneven bars without flying off on accident. To build up to this kind of strength yourself, hang from a pull-up bar, high bar, or the monkey bars at the local playground, and use your hands to “walk” back and forth across the bar, suggests Scott Weller, another certified head coach at the Gymnastics & Cheerleading Academy of Cherry Hill, NJ. Weller recommends this for working the deltoids and improving grip strength.