When I first started training gymnastics in Denver I discovered so much about my body I’d never learned practicing other fitness models to build my upper body.
One of those things was that I barely used 40 percent of the muscles in my body, including some pretty big muscle groups like LATS. Your lats extend from the side of your chest and wrap around diagonally down your back, right underneath your scapula, to just above your sacrum.
This muscle group tends to be one of the more difficult for women to train simply because it can be hard to isolate and engage without dedicated technique. To find your lats, and feel them engage, simply extend your arms out in front of you and push down on something. Don’t just push down with your hands though, depress your shoulders and try to push down with the area just underneath your armpits.
Feel that? Those are your lats! They are very important for many Gymnastics Bodyweight Training skills and techniques, and putting the time in to build them up will radically change your practice and your body!
Here are a few simple gymnastics fitness exercises you can do to build those sexy back muscles and improve your skills.
Front Lever Tuck Hold
Get upside down on the rings. Don’t worry, this isn’t as scary as it seems. Extend your legs toward the ceiling and hold yourself still. Then, bend your knees and lower your hips as far as you can without losing control and letting your hips fall. While in the tuck and lowering your hips, pull down on the rings with the area just below your armpits. Think about pulling down and pushing your shoulders forward toward your hips. This will engage your lats. The goal is to hold yourself in a tucked position with your back parallel to the ground. This is a progression exercise for the front lever, where your legs would be out straight in front of you and your entire body would be parallel to the ground. You can’t do a front lever or a front lever tuck hold without engaging your lats.
Even if you don’t have enough strength in the beginning to keep yourself up, and your hips fall straight down, keep practicing! Use a spotter to help you keep your hips up enough to train your lats to engage. This is an excellent exercise to learn how to use your lats and begin to feel and build these important muscles.
Classic pull-ups, with an overhand grip so the focus is on your lats rather than biceps.
Even if you need a spot, adding 10-30 of these once to twice a week into your training will give you some noticeable gains in your pulling strength. If you want to up the ante, try wide grip pull-ups with your hands a little further than shoulder length apart. You’ll definitely need a spot for these at first, but the work will be worth the effort.
You’ll need a spotter for these. Grip a single parallel bar as you would to do a pull-up. Kick your legs up to meet the bar and pull down with your lats. Maintain a straight body and squeezed glutes to keep good form. Your spotter will need to hold your legs up to the bar, but can give you as light or as much of a spot as needed. As your spotter decreases the spot you’ll notice that you need to pull down harder and squeeze your glutes to keep your shins at the bar. Three sets of 30 seconds should leave your lats feeling worked and sore the next day. This is how to build a strong back in Denver.
While these drills are great for building bicep strength, if you focus on the pull down in the lats they can be a great exercise for those too, especially if you hold a false grip on the rings.
Using the mushroom if you have to to get on top of the rings, get a good false grip on the rings and turn your wrists in toward your chest. Simply hang while pulling down with your lats and squeezing your biceps. Start with a 20 second hang and move to 30, then 45, and eventually 60. You’ll be a pulling beast if you practice this a few times a month.
Finish with a good stretch
Nothing feels as good as stretching a muscle that’s been worked really hard. With your left side facing the stall bar, place your elbow onto one of the rungs and grab hold.
Take the opposite arm and grab onto the bar with an overhand grip and then keeping your feet close to the stall bar, push your hips away from the stall bar. You’ll feel the lat muscles on that side of the body start to stretch and it will feel amazing! Do the same thing on the other side. This is a Denver stretching exercise you won’t find in other gyms.
Building your lats will make a huge difference in your gymnastics upper body in Denver and any fitness style you’re into, so I hope you’re encouraged to work them out and see all they can do for you!