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7 Essential Lower-Body Gymnastics Movements

A lot of emphasis is placed on upper-body strength and gymnastics moves in competitive fitness. That’s great, but many athletes are under-developed and imbalanced from neglect of their lower-half.

You might squat and clean heavy every week, but you need more specific work if you want to fully develop an explosive, dynamic, and strong lower-body. Incorporating more lower-body gymnastics movements into your programming might be just what you need to take your performance to the next level.

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Here are my 7 essential drills for balanced, stronger, and more explosive legs.

1. Gymnastics Squat

To begin, set a good foundation. From the ground up pull the heels together, engage the legs and squeeze those glutes, draw your belly button towards to the spine, get your ribs down, your chest open, and pull the shoulders back, down and away from the ears. Just practicing a disciplined set-up will make a big difference in your lifting.

Standing with the legs engaged and feet squeezed together you will squat all the way down while maintaining a straight back with legs and feet together and heels on the floor. This is a prerequisite to the pistol and a great way to identify and correct ankle mobility limitations. Correct those limitations and your performance on just about everything will improve.

2. Kicks in all directions

Set-up in exactly the same way as the gymnastics squat. Keep your legs as straight as possible on all kicks, keeping the shoulders and hips square and stacked. Kick to the front, side, and backwards. This drill will be very, very tough if you have weakness or mobility issues in the hips. Just stick with it. Scale up by adding static holds or ankles weights.

3. Calf Raises…Yes, calf raises!

This movement is highly overlooked and often joked about, but it’s actually a super-beneficial movement. Place your foot on a raised surface so the heel begins below the ball of your foot. Move through a full range of ankle motion, all the way from deep flexion up to full extension. Balance on the balls of your feet while making sure the legs are fully engaged all the way up to the glutes, core, and upper body.  This drill will really help to mobilize and strengthen the calf, foot, ankle and achilles tendon. That’s critical for durability during running and jumping.

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4. Candlesticks, Rolling Pistols, and Pistols

The candlestick begins while standing at full extension. Move through a full gymnastics squat into a tight tuck roll. Pull your knees into the chest, the heels towards the glutes, and tuck your chin down. Roll onto your scaps with arms extended overhead, pressing firmly into the floor. Get your feet directly vertical, squeezing everything together in a tight hollow, stacked position (ankles over hips over shoulders), then roll quickly back through the tight tucked position all the way back up to full standing position. Everything stays the same during the rolling pistol except that you will stand up on only one leg.

To scale down the candlestick and rolling pistol, roll back onto a mat to shorten the range of motion. To effectively modify and train the full pistol, take a pair of parallettes and set them one cubit length apart (your fingertip to elbow). Stand in between and place one foot close to the front of the parallettes. You’ll squat with this leg.

Raise the free leg out in front as you move down into the bottom of the pistol, reaching with your hands towards the back of the parallettes. This will help you maintain control as you move down through full range of motion. Keep your heel down and weight centered over the supporting leg. Use your arms just enough to help you through your sticky spot on the way back up.

This is my favorite way to modify pistols with my athletes.

Click image – Details at GymnasticsWOD

5. Squat Jumps

Set up again just as you would for the gymnastics squat. As you move down to the bottom of the squat, let your arms come down to your side, hands reaching for the floor. Jump as quickly and forcefully as possible, pushing hard and fast off the floor all the way out of the ball of the foot, extending at the ankle, and pointing the toes as your feet leave the ground. Your body should hit a tight, controlled hollow body position with arms hugging the ears at the very top of the jump.

Don’t forget to stick your landing on each and every jump! You should land light, first on the ball of the foot then down to the heel. Stay tight and maintain control throughout your body. This is one of the easiest ways to build strength and lower body control quickly.

6. Mat Jumps

Take a broken down, worn out, thick mat and put it on top of a foam pit. If you don’t have access to a foam pit, just give the mat a try to start. Simply jump on this for reps or time to induce muscular fatigue.  This will really help you develop explosiveness in the legs by teaching you to absorb and reverse force. Make sure to pay attention to maintaining solid form with a tight and controlled hollow body throughout this drill. This one is killer!!

If you are limited to a pit-less CrossFit box many gymnastics academies will sell their old, worn out mats and gear from time to time. Or, just check on Craigslist. You’d be amazed at what you can find there.

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7. Broad Jumps

Perform these while staying tight and controlled throughout, pushing hard and fast off the floor all the way through full extension of the leg, to the ball of the foot, extending through the ankle, and pointing as your feet leave the ground. Maintain a tight, controlled hollow body position with arms hugging the ears throughout the jump with legs and glutes engaged. Jump off the ground as quickly and forcefully as possible.

The landing should be light and fast. Begin on the ball of the foot and finish with a light kiss of the heel. Stay tight and maintain control throughout the entire body. Immediately reversing direction and push off the floor through the ball of the foot.

Work these drills until you get comfortable. To make things tougher, just add load to any one of these movements. I think you find that it makes a big difference in your overall performance.

For ideas on how to program these movements in your training just comment below. We can get a discussion going.

Happy training,



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Mike Bledsoe


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