Strength coach Jeff Cavaliere C.S.C.S. frequently shares his professional advice and insight into building muscle safely and sustainably, with a focus on biomechanics and technique. In a new video on the Athlean-X channel, Cavaliere breaks down how gymnasts—as well as other calisthenics athletes—are able to develop such impressive strength when it comes to controlling their bodies in space.
While strength is certainly a hugely important factor in these athletes’ ability to perform such highly difficult bodyweight exercises, Cavalier explains that it’s not just about absolute strength, i.e. producing force. If that were the case, he reasons, strongmen and bodybuilders would be able to do them.
“We need to consider the bodyweight of the people doing the exercise,” he says. “Oftentimes they are going to be lighter guys doing these exercises, but that’s where the concept of their relative strength comes in. They’re able to take their weight and command it in space in ways that a lot of us cannot.”
Another component in the equation is leverage. “They basically have the ability to align their center of mass in a way that effectively lightens their bodyweight,” says Cavaliere. “Even at these already light bodyweights, they can take what’s there and make it lighter and that’s key.”
Gymnasts also know how to recruit their stabilizing muscles to bodyweight exercises. “This is where calisthenics athletes have mastered the concept,” he says, explaining how eliminating “looseness” from movements can reduce “energy leaks,” making for a more efficient, controlled execution.
But these aren’t just concepts that benefit gymnasts: Cavaliere believes they can be used to great effect in the weight room as well. “Most of these calisthenics exercises actually do require full range of motion,” he says. “So the time under tension that’s generated through these exercises is off the charts, which also goes into and feeds their ability to not just get better at the exercise, but to get stronger at the movement as you perform them.”
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