We’ve gotten this question a number of times: Can I build muscle mass with just bodyweight exercises?

Absolutely! Ever seen male gymnasts? (Head to the google)

Gymnasts work almost exclusively using only bodyweight, and they are jacked! It’s not easy though!

Most people that train using only their bodyweight just don’t do enough for it to matter: a couple of sets of pushups, dips, and air squats won’t provide the stimulus to grow and get strong. It’s all about maximal contraction and time under tension. To use only your bodyweight and grow like a gymnast you’ve got to spend a lot of time under maximal tension, contracting lots of muscles, and train with a lot of movements, progressing through to straight arm work.

Ring work (like rowing) is a great place to spend time developing strength and awareness!

In addition to gaining freaky strength and some hypertrophy, gymnastics will improve your body awareness, flexibility, and coordination. Christopher Sommer, a former Team USA gymnastics coach, says that many weightlifters of the 1940’s and 50’s (the old Muscle Beach days) believed in order to develop your body, you needed to do a combination of weight training and gymnastics training.  If you’re only training to look good in the mirror, then how athletic you are isn’t important. But if you’d like to look good and be athletically functional, then you need more than just size and strength. “Strength without balance, agility, coordination and explosiveness is strength that’s athletically unusable.” Gymnastics provides those.

Fortunately for us, CrossFit incorporates all of this. Gymnastics, moving your body through space, is before weight-lifting in the CrossFit Hierarchy of Development and is essential to master before moving up the pyramid. Teaching a gymnast to snatch or double-under is easy. Gymnastics is a requirement because it will ensure that you have the proper joint dynamics and integrity necessary to take on the higher demands of weightlifting.  Learning, and training, body control is essential for general physical preparedness.