Understanding Muscularity in Gymnastics for Bigger Gains in Bodybuilding

Every 4 years when the Olympics comes round, TV viewers are left in awe when it comes to the male gymnastics. Jacked arms, with bulging biceps, tiny waists, boulder shoulders, thick horse-shoe triceps; performing superhuman feats of strength!

Genetics and Drugs

Some people who may not know much about gymnastics may make an assumption that gymnasts who become professionals may have supreme muscle building genetics or are on drugs. Firstly it is counter-productive for gymnasts to put on muscle (as explained later on), so good muscle building genetics or taking drugs would not be advantageous. This is why gymnastics is an incredibly clean sport with zero drug controversy.

Gina Paulhus, U.S gymnast coach, even admits: "Almost any dedicated, reasonably athletic individual can make it far in the sport". This can lead us to assume that pretty much anyone can build equally jacked and ripped upper bodies; should you train in a similar fashion.

Bigger Muscles: Not the target, but the side effect, of Gymnastics

This may sound quite humiliating to some weight lifters that bust their ass in the gym, all to achieve minimal results; but gymnasts don't even want to put on muscle. Their goal is to increase their strength to weight ratio, and with muscle adding weight to their frames, this isn't exactly ideal. Too much muscle for this reason can be disadvantageous. Their muscle growth is a result of their bodies adapting to the stimulus of their training regimens and is a sure sign that their muscles are getting stronger.

Having big arms and having big-looking arms are two different things. Gymnast's muscles for example may not actually be that big. Gina Paulhus points out that many thick muscled gymnasts weigh around 150lbs. What a bodybuilder can take from this is that to look jacked it is essential to cut (diet) until you are very lean, to show off maximum muscle definition and achieve that tiny waist. This improving waist-to-muscle ratio makes your arms appear bigger.

Gymnasts Training Regimen

Professional gymnasts who carry the most muscle mass are the ones who perform on the rings and pommel horse. Other gymnasts who have significantly less muscle hypertrophy, do not perform these exercises. So an obvious conclusion we can draw from this straight away is that bodyweight compound exercises are the big stimulus for their impressive muscle growth.

One muscle group that particularly stands out on a gymnasts physique is their biceps. If you watch gymnasts perform the pommel horse and the rings; you will see that a lot of the bicep work is actually stabilisation. So, your biceps don't just grow with bicep curls when your biceps contract, but also during stabilising movements - yes that means when your arm remains straight. A great example of this stabilisation work is on the rings, when gymnasts move their bodies into a front, flat lying down position with their head forwards and their toes out stretched. During this motion both of their biceps have to be strong enough to hold their whole bodyweight, stabilising them from wobbling/falling.

They also hold this position for a good few seconds, which also can be applied to virtually all gym exercises.


Olympic gymnasts usually start training for the sport around the age of 5 and then go on to do 20 years of work, before they reach the Olympic stage. Their weekly routine consists of 25 hour plus weeks. Uh, what? Instantly it is clear to see the training volume of a bodybuilder compared to a gymnast are totally opposite. Bodybuilders are often wary of "overtraining" if they do more than 40 mins on one body part in a single session. They also avoid training a body part more than once or twice per week. However, gymnasts have proved that with gradual increases in training volume and frequency, the body adapts and allows you to eventually work up to such work loads (without holding back muscle growth).

Gymnasts clearly prove that overtraining isn't an issue (despite their high frequency and volume), as their strength to weight ratio is exceptional. If you compare professional gymnasts strength levels to professional bodybuilders (albeit steroid enhanced), gymnasts win easily pound for pound. Thus a conclusion could be that a typical bodybuilder's training split is actually, undertraining.

No Bulking/Diet Tricks

With gymnasts being natural competitors, plus the fact they have never "bulked" via eating in calorie surplus'; their training methods deserve a lot of respect from a muscle-building point of view.

Bodybuilders bulk up, eating higher calories, that in turn builds muscle; but for gymnastics this would be a big no-no; as gaining fat will make it more difficult for them to perform their routines. Gymnasts also have quite a lot of leeway in their diet, in terms of eating unclean foods from time to time. This can be done due to the high calorie expenditure each day, due to long hours of training.


Replicating their training methodologies; including gradually increasing your training frequency and volume (without worrying about "overtraining") are some good ways to spark new muscle growth and cause your body to adapt to new levels. After all, extreme results require extreme measures and if you stick to 40 minutes on your arms your whole life, you won't be able to expect the same muscle gains as male gymnast.

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