Exercises in gymnasts for shoulder and elbow strength

5 exercises to increase shoulder and elbow strength and stability in gymnasts 

Gymnasts spend a lot of time on their hands. Tumbling, swinging on the bars, vaulting, you name it; at some point a gymnast will be upside down supporting themselves on their hands. The repetitive high impact gymnasts place on their upper extremities can lead to overuse injuries of the shoulder, elbow, and wrist. Strengthening the muscles that support these structures in dynamic and functional ways, with proper form, can reduce the incidence of these injuries. Below are 5 exercises for gymnasts, with their progressions, that can help to strengthen and stabilize the shoulder and forearm muscles. These exercises can be incorporated into warm ups, different events, or conditioning programs. 

Also sharing here an article related to Gymnastics about the move and routine.

Exercises for Gymnasts #1: Bosu Ball Walk Outs 3X 10 repetitions, progress as necessary

How To:

Using an exercise ball

– The gymnast will roll out using their hands into a plank position, making sure the core is engaged and you are actively pushing their hands into the floor. Their back should be flat. Once in the plank position, they should be able to walk back to the starting position.

– Progress to arm and leg lifts

– Once they are able to roll out into a plank with proper form, they can progress to lifting one leg at a time from the exercise ball, maintaining plank position and form.

– Progress to lifting one arm at a time, maintaining form. 

– One full repetition will include roll out into plank, lift legs alternatively, lift arms alternatively, roll back to starting position 

Using floor bar

– This is a great and functional progression for the uneven bars. With hands on a floor bar, feet on exercise ball, alternatively lift legs, then arms, returning to plank position on bar. 

Exercises for Gymnasts #2: Wall handstands

How To: 

-With stomach facing the wall, gymnast can kick up or walk their feet up the wall into a handstand position. You will know the shoulders are engaged if the gymnast can perform a shoulder shrug. 

– Proper form is held at the top of the shoulder shrug, pushing down and away from the floor. Core is engaged, in proper form there will be a straight line from the toes to hands on the floor, you should not be able to see their ears. 

– Modify by starting with hands farther away from the wall, making sure they are still able to maintain a straight line from toes to hands. 

– Once they are able to maintain form with hands next to the wall, they can progress

Progression to lateral weight shifts: 

– Start this progression in a handstand, stomach facing the wall, and have them shift their weight from side to side, while maintaining straight form for exercises in gymnasts.

Progression to shoulder taps: 

– If they are able to perform weight shifts properly, progress to shoulder taps. 

– Shifting their weight completely onto one had to tap their opposite shoulder before returning to the handstand.  

– Watch to make sure they don’t relax their core or shoulders as they shift their weight. If their back starts to arch or their head starts to poke out and shoulders shrug, they need to correct before progressing. They can alternate for 10 repetitions. 

Progression to lateral walking: 

– The next step is lateral walking along the wall. Start with short distances, they have to walk down and back! Progress from 1M up to 5M as their strength and endurance increases. 

Advanced option:

– Handstand walking across the floor, forward and backward with good form 

Exercises for Gymnasts #3: Plank slides with weighted bag: 3 X 10 repetitions 

How To:

– Staring in plank position on the floor, using their grip bag as the weight, have them drag the bag to their opposite hand while maintaining plank position. 

– Make sure they don’t twist their body as they reach and pull the bag. This is great for tricep strength. 


– Have them progress by increasing the weight of the bag, balancing their legs on an exercise ball, or both. 

Exercises for Gymnasts #4: Concentric/eccentric biceps and triceps with theraband

How To:

– Seated in pike position, start with by holding the theraband in both hands. Sitting in a pike is a great way to work on posture and core strength with these exercises in gymnasts. 

– For triceps, start by holding the theraband up at chest level. Straighten out the right arm, pulling down towards their legs, and slowly releasing and bending elbow back to starting position. The slow and controlled motion of releasing the band is great at strengthening muscles! Repeat on the left side…

– For the biceps, start by holding the thread and in both hands down by their legs. Bend the right elbow up to the chest and slowly release down to starting position. Repeat on the left side…

Exercises #5: Kneeling row with overhead press with theraband: 3X 10 

Target Muscles: 

– Not only does this exercise work on UE strength, we are working on UE and trunk flexibility and core stability.

How To: 

– Loop a theraband around the supports of the beam or bars until you have one end of the theraband in each hand. 

– Kneeling on both knees, start by bringing arms up to chest level. 

– Complete a row, bending the elbows back and squeezing the shoulder blades together. Arms should be parallel to the floor. 

– Then rotate hands up, fingers pointing to the ceiling, and complete an overhead press, extending the elbows. 

– Reverse each move slowly until back to starting position. 


– You can progress this exercise to be completed in standing. 

Contact us today!

Are you ready to perform at your optimal level, now that we have ideas on exercises for gymnasts to help increase shoulder and elbow strength and stability? Contact Doctor of Physical Therapy, Mary Kate Casey at our Chicago, IL clinic today! Through our movement analysis, we can assess jumping and landing mechanics and help you improve performance and reduce your risk of injury. Give PREP Performance Center a call at 773-609-1847 for more information on our movement analysis program!

Book an Appointment Today

Rest and Recovery Integration into Off-Season Training for Gymnasts

Rest and Recovery Integration into Off-Season Training for Gymnasts (Level 7-9)

Recovery is crucial after an intense and exhausting competition season. Look no further for a few tips that will help you approach your summer off-season training in a safe and effective way. Even though complete rest is difficult for an elite-level gymnast, rest and recovery for at least one month in the off season will allow you to compete with less soreness, and a new fire and strength to attain new skills. Rest can include active rest of completing injury prevention programs and identifying muscle imbalances within the body to improve prior to the competition season. 

Following the rest period, a slow progression into summer is essential. Starting with basics, pits, drills, strength, and anatomical adaptation will allow you to ensure the proper technique is learned. This should include low intensity with high repetitions of skills to increase the body’s endurance and neural adaptation to new movement patterns.

Finally, reflection of the season as an athlete and with your coaches is crucial to improving performance. Valuable feedback will not only help with motor learning and goal setting but also begin to guide your mindfulness techniques for visualization when preparing for the next level.

Sharing here an ebook from gymbc.org regarding Strength and Conditioning for Gymnasts.

Look no further for a gymnast-specific conditioning routine to help you exceed your potential and reduce injury occurrence. Conditioning Routines are different then individualized Rehabilitation Programs, as they are focused on performance once the athlete has quality movement mechanics. If you believe you have pain or an injury, contact your PREP physical therapist in order to identify muscle imbalances or asymmetries prior to initiation of the exercises below. A physical therapist can evaluate you and initiate injury prevention and rehab program for you to complete as a part of your active rest and recovery. Integrating the previously mentioned recommendations with the following exercises before your routines, as well as focusing on proper nutrition, meditation, and hydration, your next season will be off to the right start!

Cardio: 3-4 days a week for a total of 30-45 min/day. Start your workout with cardio to get your muscles warmed up. 

EXERCISE 1: Block/Mat jumps along diagonal of floor 

Targeted muscles/importance:

– a cardiovascular system for stamina through routines, and general lower extremity strength with core stabilization

How to: 

– Set up mats/blocks about 5 feet apart 

– Jump on top of or over each, rebounding in between

– Can use a variety of patterns and/or progress to single leg


– Make sure your core stays tight and you do not let your upper body loosely flop forward and backward

– Rebound lightly through your toes, not pounding down on your heels

– Allow your knees to bend slightly and absorb the impact of the jump

EXERCISE 2: Killer Sprints (Rest and Recovery)

Targeted muscles:

– total body with quick twitch muscle focus throughout the legs

How to: 

– Set up 3 cones on the long edge of the floor or runway 

– Follow the sequence below to complete 1 set

– Begin at the start 

– Start, first, start/end. 

– Start, first, start, second, start/end

– Start, first, start, second, start, third, start/end

– Try and perform each set as quickly as possible 

Strength: should be done at least 2 days/week, with progression to 3 as appropriate. 

EXERCISE 3: Seated straight leg raise over small cones 

Targeted muscles:

– iliopsoas, rectus femoris, vasti, and lower abdominals 

How to: 

– sit in a straddle position with cones in a half moon shape in front of you at mid-shin length 

– 4 cones on each side

– Lift one leg over the cone furthest away from the midline, keeping your trunk upright

– Perform all 4 lifts on one side from outside to inside, then inside to outside before switching to the other leg 


– Be sure to not use your hands or momentum to lift your leg, use the strength of your hip flexors 

– Keep your lower abs activated 

– Lower your leg back down slowly, rather than just flopping it to the ground

EXERCISE 4: Bilateral Shoulder External Rotation

Targeted muscles:

– Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid, middle trap, and rhomboids

How to: 

– Stand with your back against the wall with light weights in both hands (can also use a resistance band)

– Start with hands together and elbows band to 90 degrees by your side

– Open up your hands away from the midline of your body keeping your elbows tucked tight to your side

– Slowly return to the middle


– Keep your shoulders relaxed and head in a neutral position, not shrugging them and activating your traps 

– Keep a slight squeeze between your shoulder blades the entire time and do not let your shoulders roll forward off the wall

– Keep your heels, bottom, back, and shoulders against the wall

Endurance: Important to work on our endurance muscles that are “on” all the time for stability during most skills to make sure they do not fatigue out by the end of your routine.

EXERCISE 5: Back extension holds 

Targeted muscles:

– Paraspinals/erector spinae, scapular stabilizers, and glute max

How to: 

– Hang your upper body off the end of a mat or vault table, hinging at the hips and having a partner sit on or hold your legs down

– Place your hands behind your head and lift up so your chest is above the mat 

– Squeeze your shoulder blades together and down


– Keep your gaze looking a few feet in front of you, being sure not to bring your neck into extension with your back 

EXERCISE 6: Plank hold 

Targeted muscles:

– Rectus abdominals, obliques, transverse abdominals, hamstrings, scapular stabilizers

How to: 

– Start on your stomach with elbows directly below your shoulders bent at 90 degrees

– Push off with your toes and elbows so your stomach and knees come off the ground.


– Keep back flat and straight through your shoulders, hips, knees, and toes. 

– Keep a slight squeeze in your glutes and between your shoulder blades for improved stabilization

– Do not allow your head to hang between your arms

Flexibility: 25-30 minutes before practice. Flexibility is extremely important as a competitive gymnast, but it is important to implement safely into your training routine, and then focus on strengthening those muscle in their new range of motion for stabilization. 

EXERCISE 7: Bridge Splits (Rest and Recovery)

Targeted muscles:

– iliopsoas, rectus femoris, and hamstrings 

How to: 

– Set up two blocks ~ 1 foot high parallel to each other 

– far enough away that your lower legs are on each side

– Hold your splits in a double elevated position for 2×30 seconds each side


– Be sure to keep your back knee turned under facing the mat and hips/trunk square

– Make sure to maintain an upright trunk and good posture throughout the exercise

– Do not have anyone push down on you to gain more range in this position

EXERCISE 8: Circle wall screens (Rest and Recovery)

Targeted muscles:

– rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers

How to: 

– Kneel in a 4-point position with your right shoulder near a wall

– Keep head and trunk neutral, and circle your R arm forward all the way around slowly staying parallel to the wall 


– Rotating the trunk or head to circle your arm around 

-Circling your arm side to side rather than in one place all the way around

– Keep your arm close to the wall and in line with your body 


Contact us today!

Are you ready to perform at your optimal level with rest and recovery integration? Contact Doctor of Physical Therapy, Mary Kate Casey at our Chicago, IL clinic today! Through our movement analysis, we can assess jumping and landing mechanics and help you improve performance and reduce your risk of injury. Give PREP Performance Center a call at 773-609-1847 for more information on our movement analysis program!

Book an Appointment Today