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.
By Karen Goeller, CSCS