Over the past four years British athlete Max Whitlock has turned himself into one of the world’s best gymnasts, winning world titles in 2015 and 2017 and claiming two gold medals at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
But when he’s not wowing crowds with his strength, balance and agility, the 26-year-old is usually being pestered by his mates for tips on how to sculpt a beach-ready body.
Ahead of the 2019 Gymnastics World Championships, Whitlock spoke to RSNG about how gymnastics exercises can help anyone get washboard abs.
1. Swap The Gym For Gymnastics ‘I get friends asking me for advice all the time: how to lose weight, how to tone up a bit more, how to become more agile and move properly, or how to get a six-pack – that kind of thing. But that is where gymnastics can help so much.’
‘I find it crazy, having been a gymnast since I was seven, how gymnastics helps in every single activity I do. Doing the basics of gymnastics helps with everything from coordination to balance. People aren’t making the most of what their body can do. That fascinates me.’
‘So it’s nice see the reaction when people finally try some gymnastics exercises and realise they can do much more than they thought.’
‘Learning to support your own bodyweight through gymnastics is the best way to build core strength. Start with something simple like ‘circles’ where you get into a press-up position, then slowly walk your legs around your body, moving your legs under each arm as you complete the circle.’
‘It is very similar to what I do on the pommel horse and it really works your core. Or you can do ‘roll-backs’ where you start in a squat position, roll onto your back, then roll back up again to a standing position. It’s like the end of a forward roll and it really works your core.’
People think core strength is a quick fix but I work my core strength every day – do a short routine but do it consistently
2. Make Your Core Workouts Part Of Your Daily Routine ‘The best thing about gymnastics exercises is that you can do them anywhere. I still do a lot of classic moves like planks, twists with a weighted plate, V-sits, sit-ups, and crunches with turns and twists.’
‘I do a little circuit with a minute of each exercise. You can do them in your living room any time and it only takes ten minutes. If you do ten minutes every day, you’ll be amazed how quickly you improve your core strength.’
‘People think core strength is a quick fix but I work my core strength every day. I tell everyone to do a short routine but to do it consistently every day. It is the frequency which will get you great results in the long-term.’
3. Don’t Just Focus On Your Mirror Muscles ‘When I talk about core strength I don’t just mean my abs, but also supplementary things like stability, agility, coordination, balance and flexibility. Gymnastics teaches you that your muscles all work together and that is why the best way to work your core properly is to do full-body exercises.’
‘If you don’t do full-body exercises, and just focus on your abs, you will always be limiting your potential and not working your core in the best way. The majority of exercises we do work every muscle group at once.’
‘I often do a bodyweight circuit of upper-arm dips, tuck-jumps, wide-arm press ups, squat jumps, chin-ups and pull-ups. It’s not just about the beach look – your core muscles need to be functional too.’
4. Don’t Pile On The Pounds ‘I have to eat healthily as we need to fuel our muscles but we don’t want to put on unwanted weight. For me, that’s because it is harder to move muscle around as it’s so heavy. You lose your agility and fluidity of movement. But it also works if you want to keep good definition in your core muscles.’
‘There is no point in training hard and then just putting on weight. So I tend to eat something like eggs and toast for breakfast, tuna and potato for lunch, or fish and vegetables for dinner. A snack might be a cereal bar or a banana.’
‘I don’t do much running but a bit of cardio like hill sprints can be good for getting rid of any body fat. I do a lot of high-intensity circuits too just to stay on top of my fitness and stamina.’
The imbalance of the rings works so many tiny muscles in your core
5. Become A Lord Of The Rings ‘If you want to make progress, you have to keep pushing yourself, and I think the rings are a really good exercise for people to try if you want to reach that next level. Because they don’t provide a solid base, your body has to use more muscles to perform the exercise and stay balanced.’
‘If you can learn to do chin-ups or leg raises on suspended rings you will be working your upper body, mid-section and legs all at the same time and you will get amazing results for your core.’
‘But there are also some other cool moves you can do on the rings which will really get you noticed. Try these but get a qualified PT to check your form the first time that you do them:’
Max’s 4 Hardcore Gymnastics Moves
SUPPORT HOLDS When you first start out on gymnastic rings, try to perfect the basic support hold: ‘Start with a platform underneath you in case you need it, and just practise holding onto the rings in a ‘support’ position, which means holding yourself up with your straightened arms by your sides and your legs directly beneath you,’ says Whitlock.
‘The imbalance of the rings works so many tiny muscles in your core and forearms so it’s an incredible exercise.’
L-SITS Once you have mastered the support hold, try performing L-Sits, which involve hanging in the support position described above but with your legs raised parallel to the floor: ‘If you practise hard on the rings, you can progress to L-sits which are really tough on your core, arms and shoulders,’ says Whitlock.
‘Start by raising just your knees or one leg and progress slowly until you can lift both straightened legs.’
MUSCLE-UPS Muscle-ups are a crowd-pleaser in CrossFit gyms worldwide. Hold the rings in a ‘false grip’ with your wrist partially positioned over the ring for extra support and range of movement. Then pull your body up until your shoulders are above your hands.
During the ‘transition’ stage, keep your elbows close to your body and switch into a dip position, before driving up with your arms until they are straight. This is a complex move so get a PT to help and work on it phase by phase rather than expecting to be able to do it from the off.
‘My tip is to keep your hands as close to your shoulders as possible and then just roll it underneath the armpit,’ says Whitlock. ‘Because the rings move not just forwards and backwards but all over, it is a really tough core exercise.’
THE IRON CROSS The ‘Iron Cross’ – also known as ‘The Crucifix’ – is a famously challenging core exercise which involves hanging from two gym rings, then straightening your arms horizontally so that your body forms a cross shape.
‘It’s one of the hardest core exercises and it works your upper body too,’ says Whitlock. ‘Before you get onto this you want to work your shoulder muscles to make sure you have the strength to support the position,’ he warns.
Start by moving your arms a small distance from your sides and increase the range as your strength improves, keeping your head neutral and your wrists straight throughout.
WHAT NEXT? Get some inspiration from Max’s personal HIIT workout that he uses to torch bodyfat off his abs:
Double Olympic champion Max Whitlock is a long-term Global Ambassador to Europe’s No.1 sports nutrition brand MyProtein
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time and consult with a personal trainer before attempting any of the exercises or movements in this article