Gymnasts must be able to do complete splits, 180 degrees. That’s a straight line from ankle to ankle. This is a split leap. It is better than the required 180 degrees a gymnast needs.
A gymnast came to me for help with flexibility and other injuries. I asked her “stretch” on her own before we started. She spent about ten minutes stretching. I then asked her to show me her split on her less flexible side. She was about six inches from the floor. Her hamstrings had decent flexibility, but her hip flexors were very tight. To me it was obvious because her front leg was nearly all the way down, but the gap was between her upper thigh on her back leg and the floor. She was tilted forward.
We then spent ten to fifteen minutes doing many variations of a hip flexor stretch seen here. I had her do the stretch with varying foot positions, leaning forward as seen here and upright. She said her coaches never allow them to do the stretch with their back leg up, but she said she always felt it more this way. Click the link, https://karengoeller.wordpress.com/2020/09/28/from-6-to-split-10-minutes/ to hear podcast and read the full article.
From a sports-science point of view, there are specific training points we must remember when we return to training. I recommend the following for our gymnasts.
We should start slowly. We all want gymnasts to regain all they lost, but it will be a process. The same process as when a gymnast returns from an injury. We must be extremely patient with each gymnast’s limitations and hesitation in performing skills, physically and mentally. Many will have new fears and others will have become very weak. De-training, loss of strength, happens in children pretty rapidly.
As coaches, we must remember that when competitive gymnasts first return to the gym they should not be doing their highest level skills. They must spend time conditioning to regain the strength they lost. That may take six weeks. Most have not been doing effective conditioning at home to maintain or build the strength necessary to perform the skills they competed or were learning.
This really should be an industry-wide recommendation in order to prevent a high rate of overuse injuries within their first six-eight weeks. I recommend assigning conditioning and basic skills on every event in addition to the careful and deliberate warm-up. A rotation of conditioning, flexibility, balance, and visualization may be wise.
And I recommend that every gymnast perform beam complexes, alignment, and balance drills long before asking them to perform flight series, challenging skills, and routines. I would say at least two to three weeks of balance work should be practiced for beam in order to keep the gymnasts safe and comfortable. And then mix in the balance work with skills once the gymnasts look comfortable on the beam again.
Please keep in mind that it may take gymnasts a few weeks just to regain their ability to focus. The last thing we want is an accident, especially due to lack of focus. The training should be structured, but not intense in the beginning.
Most gymnasts likely lost flexibility during their time off. Performing over-splits or doing manual stretching should be avoided. Allow your gymnasts to regain flexibility with careful stretching. Nerve gliding may be useful for many gymnasts to help ease them back into flexibility. For example, in the pike stretch ask them to point and flex five times then stretch. Allow your gymnasts to repeat the point-flex motion in each exercise.
Coaches, we really should allow our gymnasts to ease back into the sport, mentally and physically. Be patient and remember that progress in this sport is faster when the gymnast is well-conditioned and has a good state of mind. Mr. Wang who worked for me when I had my gymnastics club said, “gymnasts must have good emotions.” He was right.
Best of luck to all of the dedicated coaches and gymnasts when everyone returns to the gym. I hope the sport makes a come-back financially and continues to grow in popularity.
Let me know how I can help you. I am available through email, social media, zoom, phone, and in-person when we open gyms again. There aren’t too many CSCS’s in the USA with 40+ years of experience coaching gymnastics.
Well, every coach will say conditioning and stretching. I agree. Maintaining strength and flexibility is very important. The skills will be there if the gymnast continues to perform general strength and sport-specific conditioning through this difficult time. Nearly all gymnasts remember most of the conditioning they do in the gym, but they all have favorite exercises. It is important to perform a variety of exercises. If they have space, they should perform their entire pre-workout warm-up to help stay in shape. A good warm-up with stretching and shaping is at least 45 minutes.
Many gymnasts will need a higher than the desired volume of hip flexor conditioning. I bet many will grow during this time. The hip flexors play an important role in the gymnast’s training. They not only allow the gymnast to lift her leg very high, but they help with posture. And when the hip flexors are weak or tight, the gymnast may feel low back pain. That is because they basically connect the spine and femur. When the hip flexors are tight they actually pull on the spine into a lordosis position. And when they are weak they become stressed when the gymnast lifts her legs such as in a glide kip, kick, or leap. As a coach, I can tell when a gymnast has tight hip flexors by her posture; there is a slight bend at the hip while standing. A well-conditioned, well-stretched gymnast usually stands with no angle and the front of the hip.
To keep the hip flexors conditioned I recommend the pike-sitting leg lifts. The gymnast will sit in a pike position, place her hands next to her knees on the floor and then lift both legs. And for the stretch, I recommend the quad-psoas stretch. Kneeling lunge with one foot out front and hips pressed forward. The gymnast should also do this with the back leg bent and that foot facing the ceiling.
But there are other things that will be helpful. For example, balance drills and visualization. For balance, the gymnast can do simple exercises such as RDL and slow-motion needle kicks with and without light dumbbells. They can also perform arm routines with their eyes closed. The gymnast would stand in place and perform her beam routine with just her arm and head movements. That is for both visualization and balance. When that becomes simple, the gymnast can perform it in a passé leg position, one foot touching the inner side of the knee. The gymnast should do this drill with each leg because most gymnasts have a sharper sense of balance on one side. When this becomes simple, the gymnast can add very light ankle/writs weights to the wrists or hold 1lb dumbbells in each hand. And to bring it up one step as far as challenge, the gymnast can do this standing on a softer surface such as a Bosu or balance disc.
And finally, for a change maybe they can do the Legs Plus or Swing Set Fitness workouts. Many of the exercises in my swing workouts were actually gymnastics conditioning exercises my gymnasts have done using a barrel mat. The Legs Plus workouts are really good general fitness as well as dismount-landing and bars conditioning. My gymnastics drills and conditioning book is useful to all gymnasts as well.
So gymnasts should try really hard to stay in shape and keep their sanity. Athletes can use this time to get stronger and heal any aches and pains they may have had.
As a coach for over 40 years, I have seen many changes. The problem is fueled a few ways-Governing bodies, parents, coaches, and kids with passion for their sport.
Sometimes the child LOVES the sport and does not know when to modify training. They often hide aches and pains from coaches and parents due to fear or so they can keep training. It is up to adults who know the consequences of overtraining and to modify the training for the child who is injured.
A big part of the problem is also that governing bodies of sports such as USA Gymnastics. USAG encourages very young children, starting at age 5. (My opinion, it is a way too young and USAG has likely been motivated by money in membership fees.) By the time some children are only 8, they are dealing with overuse injuries.
As an NSCA-CSCS, I have had to fix many injured gymnasts in the past decade. Some coaches and parents choose to treat these 5 years old children like pro athletes. They are children and many adults forget that with their eyes on that college scholarship. It takes many years to develop strength, speed, endurance, flexibility, an appreciation for safety, and maturity. It should be a gradual process. A child should not be training like a pro athlete at such a young age.
I have met many parents who are overboard, insisting their children train at home as well as the 25+ hours in the gym. I have had to remind a parent that an 8 year old that she should not be training at home on top of her 25+ hour schedule. A few years ago I have several parents of five year olds ask for private training the week before their first competition. I said no to all of them. I’ve had parents discount children’s aches, pains, and fatigue and have seen those kids end up in surgery. There is only so much a coach can do when a parent insists their child train at home or pulls a child from a coach who refuses to have a child reduce training to heal from injury.
Not every coach is aware of injury prevention or rehab. They have spent years mastering the sport, how to teach skills and create routines. Some coaches do not do the math when it comes to training. For example, if a gymnast has 5 jumps in her beam routine and you ask her to do 10 routines a day, that is 50 jumps per day on the hardest surface in the gym. Compare that to a routine with 3 jumps times ten routines to equal 30 jumps per day. That is a difference of 20 jumps in one day. The difference becomes really significant over time. In one week that is 250 jumps vs 150. Over one month that is 100 jumps compared to 600 jumps, a difference of 400 jumps. Coaches should really do the math and learn the breaking point (when gymnasts start to feel aches, pains, fatigue) so they can keep the number just under that breaking point. You can be demanding without overtraining and produce healthy, strong, and successful gymnasts.
Need help with reducing injuries? There are very few high-level gymnastics coaches who also have the CSCS. It is not an easy-fitness certification. It is based on sports science. A college degree is required to sit for the exam, you are given 6 months to study, it covers exercise prescription for competitive athletes, exercise technique, injuries, injury prevention, nutrition, and more. Not everyone passes the first time. And in order to keep the certification, we must continue education by attending events, webinars, self-study, doing presentations, and writing.