Gymnastics for CrossFit: How To Get Better (5 Tips!)

Written By Charleh Dickinson  |  Programming 

Gymnastics is a great way to improve your CrossFit performance because it develops strength, power, coordination, and flexibility.

However, when it comes to working on these skills, a lot of athletes make a few common mistakes that are actually pretty easy to avoid.  

That’s why this article is going to cover really important steps and things that you need to do to get better at CrossFit gymnastics as a whole - so it doesn't matter if you're trying to get better at handstand walks, handstand push-ups, kipping pull-ups, or trying to get your first strict ring muscle up. 

The advice in this article goes for any sort of gymnastic movement inside the ecosystem of CrossFit - and will help you get your ducks in a row to make sure that you are making progress and attacking your goals.

Tip one: Improve your power-to-weight ratio 

Tip one is a concept I’m borrowing from race cars: power-to-weight ratio.

This is where you have enough power without sacrificing agility by being too heavy. 

A good example of this is a monster truck. These have a lot of horsepower, but because they’re so bulky and heavy, they’re not very fast. Whereas with race cars, everything is as light as possible, including the weight of the driver, so it can go as fast as possible. 

But what does this have to do with cross CrossFit gymnastics?

Well, for you as an athlete or anyone who's doing gymnastics as a whole, it's important to increase your power and decrease your weight, thus improving your power-to-weight ratio.

So If you're someone who's really strong but doesn't have very much weight to carry around, you’ll naturally be exceptional at gymnastics. 

Alternatively, if you're really strong, but you have a lot of weight on your body, then you won't be able to move as well, and you won't be able to do the movements as effectively or efficiently, and you're going to burn out a lot quicker because you're moving so much weight. 

So how do we apply this to our training?

Well, a fact not many people will talk about is that if you want to get better at gymnastics, it really helps if you lose excess body weight. 

For example, if I was wearing a 40-pound vest on my back, I would not be able to do nearly as many pull-ups or any gymnastic movement. But as soon as I take off that vest, things get a lot easier. 

I'm not saying that you need to go out and lose 50 pounds. However, if you are really trying to improve your gymnastics, dialing in your nutrition to ensure that you're not carrying excess body weight will really help to improve your gymnastic skills.

But remember that if you are looking to lose weight, you can't cardio your way or CrossFit your way out of a bad diet, so make sure that you're adding caloric restriction into your life without being obsessive about it. 

You can find out more about losing weight with CrossFit here

Tip two: Increase your strict strength 

Point two is to increase your strict strength. For this step, it’s important to reiterate how important it is to actually focus on strict strength. 

This is because a lot of times when people are practicing kipping pull-ups or butterfly pull-ups or handstand walks and things like that, it's all dynamic skill-based movements - so they feel like they just need to dial in their form and technique to improve.

But here's the thing: if you are lacking true strength, the ability to do strict pull-ups, strict handstand push-ups, or any of these things in a strict form, then you're really capping the ability that you can improve to.

So if you’re trying to learn butterflied chest-to-bar pull-ups, and are working on your form, you’re  trying to dial in your technique to improve overall. But if you can only do three strict pull-ups, you don’t have the base level strength to eliminate that glass ceiling that's hovering over your skills.

But if you worked on your strict pull-ups and bumped them up to ten or more, you’re going to be able to crush your butterfly chest to bar pull-ups.

The bottom line? you can't technique your way out of not being strong enough to do the movements.

Tip three: follow a progression consistently 

Point number three is all about practice. 

If you want to improve your skills, it doesn't matter what kind of gymnastic skill it is, you must follow a plan consistently.

For example, a lot of athletes ask me, “how do I get better at kipping pull ups?” and then when I ask them how often they work on their kipping pull-ups, the usual answer is “only when they’re programmed”. 

The problem here is that a lot of these skills that we're trying to work on are only programmed once a week, and then if they are programmed, the chances of you showing up for that specific class and having enough time to work on that specific skill are pretty slim.

That’s why we always tell our athletes that it’s all about consistency. 

Normally, we suggest two to three sessions per week focused on one skill. Each session should be about 15 to 30 minutes long - but you should see improvement as long as we're practicing consistently a couple of times a week. 

Usually, you’ll want to follow a very specific program that tells you the reps and sets and when to do things first and when to do things second - so you’re progressing from point A to point B.

If you can follow a program that gives you the proper progression and you stay on top of it consistently, I promise your gymnastic skills will accumulate much much quicker than just waiting for your gym to casually program that skill in the daily WOD. 

So take control. Dedicate two to three sessions per week, and focus on one or two areas you want to improve. 

And if you need help with your progressive programming, check out our courses at WODprep academy.

Tip four: have someone who can watch your movement.

Point number four to improve your Gymnastic CrossFit skills is something that is equally as important as following the right drills and consistent progressions: it's having someone who can watch you.

This is because sometimes it's difficult to know whether or not we're moving properly.

I know when I first started, I figured my kipping pull-ups were good enough. But if I watched them on video, I'd be like, “Oh, something seems off.” But I couldn’t really figure out why.

But a trained coach or professional can look at your movement and say, “Oh, you're making the classic push away fault.” or “Oh, look, your arch position is inefficient.” There are a lot of things that a trained eye will be able to identify very quickly. 

Even if you don’t think you’re making any mistakes, having a trained eye to analyze, your movements and spot any mistakes you’re not aware of will help you to take your performance to the next level. 

So for this step, hire a trained eye or have a friend who’s good at coaching CrossFit and gymnastics. 

Or, if you don’t have anyone to help out, we can. Inside our courses, we have something called a fault fixer series where we show a video of a fault, and then we teach you how to fix it. 

Another thing that we offer is WODprep Masters, which is a community where myself and the rest of my coaches literally analyze your videos and tell you exactly what you're doing wrong. 

So let's say you're learning kipping pull-ups and you can't figure out why you can't string more than three together. Well, you upload a video onto the platform and me or one of my coaches will say, “Hey, this is your problem, here's what you need to do to fix it.”

Or you can always show a video to your coach. We always recommend capturing the movement in slow motion so the person analyzing it can easily make tweaks and adjustments to help you progress.

This step is very simple, but it's going to eliminate a lot of time and frustration, and you will absolutely fast-track your success in CrossFit gymnastics.

Point five: the domino effect.

The final piece of the puzzle to fast-track your gymnastic abilities is the domino effect. 

When it comes to learning the skills that CrossFit requires there are probably hundreds of them.

Think of each of these skills as a domino that we need to knock over - knocking over one creates a domino effect, and then all the dominoes start falling. 

This means that it's really important to reflect on what domino you should knock over next. 

For example, let's say you want to learn butterfly chest-to-bar pull-ups. To get to this, strict pull-ups are a domino, and so are kipping pull-ups, kipping chest-to-bar pull-ups and butterfly pull-ups. The butterfly chest-to-bar pull-ups are the final domino. 

To improve, you have to stack them up in order just like that.

The first thing you need to work on is not improving your butterfly efficiency - that’s skipping over the dominoes. Instead, you need to knock down the first one before moving on to the next.

So in this example, where your first domino is getting adequate strict pull-up strength, you’ll need to do five to ten strict pull-ups, and then move on to more advanced kipping movements.

And then once you have ten strict pull-ups and at least fifteen kipping chest to bar, then it's going to be so much easier to knock over the butterfly chest of our pull-ups domino. 

If you’re not sure what you need to work on next, if you join WODprep Masters, you can ask our coaches what your next Domino is. 

Once you identify that skill, make sure you apply the tip that I highlighted earlier about consistently practicing your progressions.

To summarize

So there you have it, the top five steps that will help you to master CrossFit gymnastics and take your performance to the next level. All you need to do now is to practice, practice, practice.

If you want to fast-track your success, make sure to check out our free skills guide, which will help you to Rx your workouts and overcome any sticking points.

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