I’ve always approach the Manna with fear. So many stories on how hard it is made me think it was not even worth the try. This was a mistake: anything a human has ever done creates a path, which can be followed by others. You only truly know how far you can go by trying, not by giving up before you even the start.
But that is over. I truly believe the manna is achievable by people who started as adults in gymnastics (I started at 21), with the right steps and attitude, that is, one of unbreakable belief and disciplined hard work.
As part of this journey, I have compiled what I feel are the best progression for getting the manna. This was done by comparing various sources (Gymnastics Bodies both on Building the Gymnastics Bodies book and the Foundation series; This post by user Awareness on bw reedit; This video by acrobat Cosmin Malita on his instagram channel; and the Overcoming Gravity book, by Steven Low). I eliminated the repeated progression and added what I felt was important. These are the results:
#1. Support hold: A proper support hold has various cues:
- Straight arms
- Shoulders externally rotated (rings turned out)
- Flat back, chest high (this mean scapular retraction)
- Shoulders down (this means scapular depression)
All this points must be in place for this progression to carry for the manna.
#2. L-sit: The L-sit will develop basic pike compression (meaning the ability to actively move or hold your legs close to your chest), improve scapular strength (depression), work on key muscles (triceps) and even improve your balance. Even though a V-sit will improve all those aspects further, it is NOT a progression for the manna, just a very useful auxiliary exercise. The V-sit is a leg raise with protracted shoulders, and the manna involves a pushing forwards of the hips and scapular retraction, which is why they are different moves.
#3. Straddle-L: The straddle-L will do the same as the L-sit, but this time with active straddle flexibility.
The support hold should be done preferably on rings, that allow external rotation to happen, and the L-sit and Straddle-L should be done on the floor, that demand you to compress and depress more. However, you may start on a dip station and then move to these other apparatus.
The fact that you have moved to harder variations doesn’t mean that you leave these first three progressions behind. In fact, keeping and improving them will greatly benefit your manna journey.
#4. Middle split hold: Here is where you’ll take you hands behind your hips and do a straddle position. The hands should now be pointing backwards, and you should strive to keep the back flat while you push the hips forwards. You could always do it in a pike as in the advanced L-sit, but the obvious start is the straddle, as it it easier. The legs are currently just horizontal with the floor, and you start to condition all of your muscles for elevation.
#5. Butterfly hold: This is where the fun begins. After you’re able to push the hips forwards with a flat back and straight arms in the MSH, you will do a sort of straddled tuck.
#6. Tuck hold: The next progression would be to hold the legs as high as possible but with a tuck. The elevation of the legs will depend on how much you can keep the retraction and push the hips forwards. You start to feel the balance.
#7. Straddle high hold: Just as with other movements like the front lever or the planche, the straddle is hold after the tuck. Of course, one can add as many intermediary steps as one needs, but the big jump is to a high hold with straddled and compressed legs.
#7. Pike high hold: You have now brought the legs together and elevate them more and more. This is not called V-sit for the reasons previously stated.
#8. Manna: The jump from the Pike high hold to the manna might seem broad, but you can always include other steps like a manna with straddle legs, one leg or tucking. The idea is that you keep elevating, compressing and pushing your hips forwards, and at some point you reach the manna.
I have seen many exercises for this one, like putting some mats around the mid level of your forearms to help with support, having a spotter or looping your legs around a strap. As with any other move, you must be cautious on making sure that these other aids are actually building your ability to do the real thing, and not giving you a false sense of achievement.
Now, what happens after the Manna? You may have heard of the high manna, where you put your legs high at a 90 degree angle with the floor. This means that the High manna is just the middle road for a Reverse planche and, after that, the most obvious place to go is the Victorian hold.
For now, make a priority to keep building the balance, compression, retraction and straight arm strength on each progression, no matter which one it is. If you focus on making each step of the road as beautiful as possible and don’t force progress, I believe you will reach higher from what you were told you could. No matter where the road ends, it is the process of challenging your limits what really creates a new you, and this can only be found by trying.
If you’d like to know more about these topics, I recommend the work of Christopher Sommer and Steven Low
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