Maybe you have dreamed of being an Olympic gymnast. Whether your childhood meant watching Mary Lou Retton get a perfect 10 on that funky old vault or Carly Patterson throw down her Double Arabian beam dismount, gymnasts have long dazzled us with their superhuman strength. Even if you're not 10 years old with eight hours a day to spend at the gym, you can still build strength with gymnastics conditioning drills.
Even if you don't have gymnastics equipment at your disposal, you can reap the benefits of a few classic conditioning moves. "Drills and Skills" recommends that old standard, jumping jacks (and you thought you didn't get anything out of high school gym class!) If you want to add an extra challenge, perform a squat at the bottom of the jumping jack, after your feet hit the floor and before you spring off again. Then try hanging from a horizontal bar with an overhand grip and raising your legs as high as you can, keeping your knees straight and your toes pointed.
Gymnasts have to have a tremendous amount of upper-body strength to pull themselves up onto the uneven bars. Develop your arms and shoulders with pushups and pullups. Grasp a mounted bar with an overhand grip and pull your chin up over the bar, working up to 10 pullups. Once you've mastered the overhand grip, try an underhand grip. For an extra-challenging pushup, spring off the floor with your hands on the arm raise, clap in the air, land on the palms of your hands again and lower your upper body down by bending your elbows. Still need a challenge? Learn to climb a rope using only your arms, keeping your legs in a pike position.
Across-the-floor lunges are a mainstay of gymnastics conditioning. To perform this drill, step forward with one foot and bend both knees, lowering the back knee to the floor. Alternate legs as you walk across the room. To make it even more challenging, tie a rubber exercise band loosely around your thighs. If you need even more of a burn, try squat jumps. Spring into the air and land with your knees bent, then spring into the air and straighten your legs again. Aim for at least 10 repetitions of both lunges and squat jumps.
You may have seen rows of gymnasts doing the splits in that Olympic fluff they show between events. Splits are one of the major flexibility exercises gymnasts practice. If you're new to the splits, try them on a yoga mat, using yoga blocks to support your hands until you can lower your hips all the way to the ground. A rolled-up blanket placed beneath your hips can help you relax into the stretch. Backbends are another standby gymnastics drill. Gymnasts learn to push up to a backbend from the floor, then move on to doing them from a standing position.
Neville Smithson did his undergraduate work at Hampshire College and earned an MFA in creative writing at the University of Cincinnati. Having had a change of heart about his passions, Smithson is now back in Massachusetts, where he enrolled in a combined MA/PhD physical therapy program.