Manna Magic: Unleash Legendary Static Strength
If you’ve never before heard of the wild exercise called a Manna, then welcome to the world of superhuman strength and skill...AKA gymnastics. Manna is defined as an unexpected or gratuitous benefit and training for one ironically ends up provides just that to those dedicated enough to see the progression plan through. The manna takes an amazing amount of coordinated flexibility and strength, and with the proper progressions, is within reach for every hard-working and dedicated fitness enthusiast.
Although mastering the manna is something that takes a LOT of practice and prep, the progressions you’ll work on in the journey alone will be well worth it. It’s true, the manna, when performed properly, looks almost impossible: the ability to perform an L-Sit, hands behind you, legs off the floor and the impressive magic that happens when the body compresses in on itself, supported only by the arms.
For most new to Gymnastics Strength Training™, the manna is completely unknown. Not only is the word 'manna' unfamiliar to newcomers, but when they actually see someone perform the movement, they often remark something along the lines of it being totally impossible. For adults who have never even done a V-up, Hanging Leg Lift, or L-sit before (all manna prep exercises), the idea of lifting their hips up to shoulder height with their legs straight above their torso is difficult to even imagine. With proper progressions, however, the manna should be within the reach of most.
In the GymnasticBodies Curriculum, the manna is one of the seven fundamental exercises that athletes will work towards in the GB Foundation Series. There is a whole range of benefits that come along with spending time on the progressions and mobility drills that build up to this challenging movement. Further, the manna is an essential element to balance out advanced ring strength. Here we will discuss the manna itself, how to train for it, and the positive adaptations it yields to those brave enough to commit themselves to working on it.
What is a Manna?
In the code of points for men's artistic gymnastics, the manna as performed on the floor is ranked a C-level skill on the range of A to H. Typically an athlete will begin seated on the floor with their legs wide in a straddle. From this position, they press their legs and hips up off the floor into a middle split hold, where their hips are held in front of their hands. Continuing upward, the legs pass through a V position and eventually come together over the top of the body, held horizontally in line with the torso. The hips are tightly compressed so that the knees are just hovering above the face, and the athlete holds this manna position with locked elbows, straight legs, and pointed toes. Boy, that's a mouthful. To make it simpler, check out the video above for a beautifully executed example.
Manna is NOT a Leg Lift
Note that the manna is not simply a V-Sit where that athlete attempts to rise higher into the position. Proper progressions rather focus on extending the hips forward. Overlooking this important point is a common mistake that prevents further progress in otherwise hard-working athletes.
Clearly, there are pre-requisites that need to be in place before seriously attempting to lift oneself into a manna. As previously mentioned, movements like V-ups and Hanging Leg Lifts will build core strength in the front of the body to help bring the legs up closer to the torso. Not only this, but you must also spend time stretching your hamstrings and working on your pike compression so that you have enough flexibility to hold the top position as well. Lastly, the L-sit and other related progressions like Straddle L's and Middle Split Holds are needed to further strengthen the specific ranges of motion needed for manna work.
Students Say …
In the GB curriculum, the manna is one of the seven fundamental exercises that athletes will work towards. Many students discuss on the GB forum how the shoulder mobility and strength gains alone keep them practicing, and although the last 30 degrees of this beastly skill is tough, the progress they see in overall gains and mobility keep them dedicated.
Training the manna is also a great prehab exercise. It works the rear delts and over time opens up tight shoulders into a greater range of motion. Prepping for it takes active flexibility work versus the traditional static holds of stretching, something we all need in our sedentary culture.
GB students also note that they find themselves preventing more injuries when training active flexibility drills, like the progressions for manna. The overarching goal? A healthy, well-developed physique with balanced stability is at the tops for anyone training manna.
Benefits of Training the Manna
As you can imagine, training towards the manna involves many different components, but fortunately, that also means it prepares the body in several varied ways. First, there is a ton of scapular retraction strength required to take the L-sit back and up through a V-sit and into a manna. This greatly increases the load on your triceps to keep your elbows extended, and it also strengthens your entire upper back in order to lift your hips above your torso. Outside of GST™, this focus on retracting your shoulder blades will help improve your posture and combat the hours of desk patrol most adults put in at work each and every day.
Additionally, working on the manna means taking the passive hamstring flexibility you have developed from the GB Stretch Series and turning it into active pike compression. This emphasis on core strength by folding your body in half will carry over to press handstand work as well, as many students struggle in handstand development due to lack of compression strength. In fact, many competitive gymnasts include a manna to press handstand in their floor routines (a D-value skill) partially because once you develop the ability to compress the hips, both the manna and press handstand become well within reach. Lastly, practicing manna progressions also helps prepare your wrists for the loads and angles that are required for other GST™ areas like the planche, hollow back press, and advanced hand balancing.
We’re ALL on a journey for the best experience possible in our bodies, and in the things want to do – both for the mastery of skill and for the quality of a hopefully long life. Although impressive and awe-inspiring in it’s end stage, training the gravity-defying GymnasticBodies Manna with the Foundation Courses can be yours if you put in the hard work and take the time to see each mobility and strength progression through.