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Gymnastics Training Article: Simulate the Skills with Straight Arm Conditioning
By Karen Goeller, CSCS

Copyright © Goeller

This article is not available for reprint in any publications or on any website.

Check out the Gymnastics Drills and Conditioning Books!


We all know there are so many different coaching methods, training programs, and coaching personalities. Many gymnastics coaches successfully help their gymnasts become stronger, but they do not always incorporate enough sport specific training into their programs. I have seen gymnasts benefit from the general strength exercises such as push ups, but when it comes time to perform certain skills the gymnast’s muscles are not always prepared, accustomed to the sequence of movements for the skills, or strong enough in each position required to safely complete the skill.


Gymnasts really need a variety of training to include sport specific movements in addition to general strength in order to more closely simulate the skills in our sport. For example, many straight arm exercises such as the front lateral raise, press handstand, or planche drills more closely simulate gymnastics skills than bent arm exercises such as the push up, bench press, or reverse dips. There are no required skills in women’s gymnastics, other than the pullover on bars, that require the female gymnast to bend her arms.


So in order to better prepare the female gymnast for all of the straight arm movements of the sport, we must train the female gymnast with straight arm conditioning. Muscles will only perform what they have been trained to perform so the gymnast trained with straight arm conditioning will be better prepared to compete in the sport.


I have included a straight arm exercise that will help strengthen your gymnasts chest, shoulder, and back muscles. This sport specific conditioning exercise simulates two very important movements for uneven bars, the glide kip and the cast handstand. The gymnast must be able to open and close the shoulder angle multiple times during an uneven bar routine. This exercise will help your gymnast to learn to efficiently transition from one arm motion to the next with ease. Picture your gymnast performing a glide kip, cast handstand, and clear hip handstand because it simulates the arm and shoulder movements necessary to connect the skills. She will be required to reverse arm and shoulder movements several times within this short period of time. When you think about the shoulder movements necessary to connect these skills you will see the reason I have for incorporating two exercises into one drill more than 15 years ago. .


Lie Down Cast/Kip Drill (Barbell / Toning Bar)


  1. Teach your gymnast this exercise with a light dowel or rolled up towel.

  2. Spot your gymnast during this exercise.

  3. Give her full instructions before she begins the exercise.

  4. Instruct your gymnast to lie on her back between two folded panel mats with her arms above her head. Her head must remain between the mats, but her hands and wrists should go beyond the mats in order to allow the bar to reach the floor after it is lifted over head for full range of motion.

  5. The purpose for the mats on each side of the gymnast is to prevent the bar from falling on the gymnast. Place the bar on the mats and make sure it will not fall between the mats or roll off. The folded mats must be a few inches higher than your gymnast while she is lying between them for safety reasons. The bar must be long enough so that each end will rest on each of the mats. The bar will be lifted from and returned to the mats without touching your gymnast. There should be enough clearance for your gymnast to slide in or out while the bar rests on the mats. If the bar is brought down too quickly or falls, it should land on the mats, not your gymnast. This is a very safe exercise when the coach and gymnast focus on the task.

  6. Once the mats and bar are in place, instruct your gymnast to sit between the mats, slide her legs under the bar, and then lie down. She should position herself so that the bar is above her hips.

  7. Instruct your gymnast to grasp the bar securely. Instruct your gymnast to keep her arms straight, but not to lock them.

  8. Next, instruct your gymnast to lift the bar off the mats, up toward ceiling, and then toward the floor above her head to simulate a cast to handstand motion. Your gymnast may need some help initiating this movement.

  9. Remind your gymnast to continue to hold the bar securely and then allow her to lift the bar off the floor, toward ceiling, and then to the mat. The bar will be positioned above her hips. This movement will simulate a kip on bars.

  10. Allow your gymnast to continue with several repetitions if she is comfortable. Inform her that it should be a continuous motion whenever possible.

  11. Your gymnast will likely need more help lifting the bar from the mat (the initiation phase) which involves the shoulders (deltoids) than she will on the return phase which involves the back (latissimus) muscles. Be prepared to spot all phases of this exercise. Make sure you can reach the bar, especially when it is above your gymnast’s face.

  12. The amount of weight used will depend upon your gymnast’s strength and experience. If you are using a bar with no weights, you can wrap a thick towel around each end to help prevent your gymnast’s knuckles from touching the floor.

  13. The higher the mats, the easier it will be to lift the bar because it will give them a head start on the lift. To start with a smaller movement you can stack the mats higher, but be sure to train with a lower stack for the full benefit.




Here is another exercise for uneven bars. This one also helps the gymnast with specific gymnastics skills because she will go into and out of a handstand. The Planche – Virtual Handstand – Planche Drill is a great exercise for body tightness, control, upper body strength, and core strength. This drill is an appropriate exercise for gymnasts on so many levels, including those expected to perform the cast handstand and clear hip handstand on bars in the near future.


  1. Instruct your gymnast to stand with her back to a spotting block or mat stack, place her hands on the floor, and then place one foot/ankle on the block. Once your gymnast has one foot/ankle on the block, she can then place her other foot/ankle up on the block.

  2. Now your gymnast should be in an elevated push up position with her feet on the block. Your gymnast’s legs, hips, and chest should remain off the floor throughout this exercise.

  3. Now that your gymnast is in the elevated push up position, instruct her to move her hands close enough to the spotting block so that she can form the planche position. Her shoulders will be further form the block than her hands.

  4. Once your gymnast is in the planche position with her feet on the block, instruct her to squeeze her buttocks and then to pull her belly button in. You should see the lower portion of your gymnast’s back elongate into the correct low back position for a handstand (pelvic tilt).

  5. After your gymnast has formed the correct shape with her lower body, instruct her to push down on the floor and pull in her chest simultaneously. The portion of your gymnast’s back between her shoulder blades should rise toward the ceiling. Her upper back should be round, not flat. Your gymnast has just performed a protraction / shoulder shrug in the planche push up position. To help teach the shoulder shrug touch the portion of your gymnast’s back that is between her shoulder blades and ask her to push up on your hand to form the rounded back.

  6. Instruct your gymnast to hold that tight shape throughout the rest of the exercise.

  7. To start the exercise, instruct your gymnast to lift one of her legs up toward the ceiling, but to keep her other foot on the block. Your gymnast’s body, with the exception of the foot still supported on the block should have moved as one unit up to the single leg or virtual handstand. The leg that is pointed toward the ceiling should be the one forming the handstand shape along with the upper body.

  8. Your gymnast’s shoulders, hips, and one foot should be directly above her hands while the other foot remains supported on the block. Inform your gymnast that her hips and shoulders should remain square with the block. Her buttocks should be under, belly in, hip opened, chest in, and shoulders in a shrug/stretched position. Remaining square and tight is not always easy for the gymnast.

  9. Once your gymnast is in the correct single leg, or virtual, handstand position she can begin the return motion by slowly lowering her free leg back to the block and shifting her shoulders forward so she returns to the planche position. Your gymnast’s body should move as one unit to the starting position. Instruct your gymnast to keep her head in line with her spine, neither tucked in nor tilted back.

  10. Next, instruct your gymnast to return to the single leg or virtual handstand position by lifting her free leg back up above her hips so that she is vertical, with the exception of her supported leg. She must also open her shoulder angle and keep her shoulders and hips square with the block. Your gymnast must bring her shoulders and head into alignment for the correct handstand shape again. Instruct your gymnast to look at the floor just above her hands for the planche and then at the block for the virtual handstand.

  11. Once your gymnast understands the motion of the virtual handstand to planche and back to the handstand, ask her to complete a few repetitions before stopping if she is comfortable.

  12. Inform your gymnast not to planche too far forward until she builds strength and becomes very comfortable so she does not collapse.

  13. This exercise puts tremendous pressure on your gymnast’s wrists. You should allow her to rest when she communicates that her wrists are getting tired.


This exercise, when performed correctly, closely simulates the shoulder motions of the cast handstand and clear hip handstand on uneven bars. You should use a floor bar as long as the floor bar is stable.



See video of this exercise on Handstand Book page!




The constant change in shoulder angle causes a change in the demand on your gymnast’s upper body muscles. Your gymnast will develop strength in a wide range of positions which is necessary for success in gymnastics.


As you can see, the straight arm training closely simulates gymnastics skills. Your gymnast’s entire upper body will be challenged with these exercises. If performed frequently and consistently your gymnast will gain upper body and core strength for specific gymnastics skills.


Although the push up and bench press are great exercises, they do not simulate the gymnastics skills performed by female gymnasts. Gymnastics skills must be simulated for the most safe and effective training program.


You may also be interested in....

Gymnastics Conditioning Animated E-Books

Handstand Drills and Conditioning Book

Handstand Drills and Conditioning Poster

Handstand Drills and Conditioning E-Book

Gymnastics Drills and Conditioning Book

Private Gymnastics Training with Karen Goeller


By Karen M. Goeller
Karen Goeller has been training athletes since 1978. She has an education that includes training in emergency medicine, physical therapy, and nutrition. She has held certifications that include NSCA-CSCS, Fitness Trainer, EMT-D, Nutritional Analysis, and many Gymnastics Certifications among others. Besides being author of the Gymnastics Drills and Conditioning books, Karen is the author of the Swing Set Fitness books. She has also published journals, training programs, and articles. Her books are used by fitness experts, coaches, teachers, and athletes worldwide. Karen has worked for world famous gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, owned a gymnastics club for ten years, and has been featured in several newspapers and on television many times. She offers sports performance training and private gymnastics training in NJ. For more on Karen visit



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