Louis Smith's Olympic Workout

Olympic workout
(Image credit: Unknown)

Top gymnasts – including Team GB's silver-winning Louis Smith – have awesome all-round body strength and muscles that look like they’ve been sculpted from marble. But you’re unlikely to see them in the weights room. Part of their power comes from just doing gymnastics, but they also use bodyweight conditioning exercises to build muscle.

Smith’s main discipline is the pommel horse, a gruelling combination of upper and lower body work that involves high-speed rotation, one-armed handstands and leg flares. He works on his skills and fitness for two sessions a day, six days a week, using a foam pit to perfect his mid-air acrobatics. “Gymnastics is a tough sport,” he says during a training session at his home gym in Huntingdon. “I’m always covered in bruises from hitting the parallel bars and coming off the horse.”

Their intense training prepares the athletes for the rigours of competition. “At Beijing 20,000 people were watching me and the pressure was immense,” says Smith. “I knew that 15 years of hard work came down to 60 seconds on the pommel horse. I was completely focused on not making a mistake. At the end of my routine I didn’t feel anything except a massive sense of relief that I hadn’t fallen.”

To attain the immense strength and control needed to perform complex acrobatic moves at speed, follow the workout, which is taken directly from Smith’s medal-winning training routine.

Smith trains six days a week for fitness and dynamic strength, but you can get stronger, bigger and fitter without quite as much commitment. We’ve taken the best moves directly from his workouts for you to do as a circuit in order to build brand new muscle and the functional strength to go with it.

1 Wingers

Sets 3 Reps 5

This move combines isometric and dynamic elements for overall strength. Hang from a bar with arms fully extended. Do a pull-up until your upper arms are parallel to the bar. Keeping your upper arms level, move your body forwards and backwards quickly. Consciously maintain the tension in your upper body to stay up near the bar.

2 Jump and squat

Sets 3 Reps 8

This drill will improve your knee stability and help to prevent injury. Stand with hands behind your head. Bend your knees and explode into a forward jump, going for length rather than height. Keep legs straight while in the air. Bend your knees as you land and then continue this into a squat with thighs parallel to the floor - hold for one second. Drive back up and fully engage your glutes as you go into the next jump.

3 Straight-arm lift

Sets 3 Reps 10

This develops static strength in the arms, allowing Smith to shift position on the rings and keep his arms straight on the other apparatus. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, lie back and take the arch out of your lower back by lifting your head slightly. Keeping your arms straight, lift them up towards the ceiling, palms facing upwards. Pause for one second and lower maintaining tension in your arms.

4 Rebound jumps

Sets 6 Reps 3

This plyometric drill gives legs dynamic spring – essential for tumbling skills. Set three benches or markers with enough distance between to allow a two-footed leap. Bend your knees and swing your arms back before doing a two-footed take-off. When you jump, bring your arms up and knees in to your chest. Land on two feet, bending your knees, then explode immediately into the next jump.

5 Handstand dips

Sets 2 Reps 10

This conditions your biceps and triceps dynamically – use a wall for balance if required. Assume a handstand position – if you are a beginner ask a partner to help by holding your ankles during the move. Lock your core to maintain your body shape and bend your elbows to lower down. Lean your body to balance your weight, but don’t bend at the hips.

6 Dish rocks

Sets 3 Reps 8

This move trains the core with its static hold and then targets the abs with the rocking motion for a strong midsection. Lie flat, arms and legs extended. Crunch your arms and legs up and lock them into position, then rock your weight backwards and forwards onto your hips and then your shoulders. Hold the rocker position for eight seconds at the end.

Jon Lipsey

Jon Lipsey worked for Men’s Fitness UK, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Jon was deputy editor and editor from 2007 to 2013. He returned as editor-in-chief from 2016 to 2019. He also co-founded IronLife Media and the New Body Plan