Gymnastics is a Dynamic Sport

Gymnastics is a Dynamic Sport… So why all the hold exercises?

By Karen Goeller, CSCS

Our sport is dynamic, filled with movements that require precision, speed, strength, flexibility, and power. So, why am I seeing so many coaches instruct their gymnasts to hold stretches and strength exercises? In recent months I have heard and/seen coaches instructing their gymnasts to hold splits/over-splits for over 5 minutes, I have seen wall sits for over 5 minutes, and I have seen gymnasts holding medicine balls in a variety of positions that do not mimic the sport at all. Other than the handstand and arabesque on beam, there really are no hold skills in our female gymnast’s routines. (Men do have a few hold skills.) Imagine what you can do with the extra 4 minutes five days a week if you are not spending time holding positions that will not really help with performance. That’s an extra 20 minutes for stretching or conditioning each week, over an hour a month. It all adds up.

It is very important to only include exercises, drills, or skills that will be directly useful to your gymnasts for performance and injury prevention. Make sure you have a good reason for each item in their training program and you will see steady progress. You should be able to tell your gymnasts what each exercise is for in a simple 2-3 word answer. If you cannot tell them what the exercises, drills, or stretches are helping please rethink whether or not they should be in the training program. Make room for something more specific.

For example, rather than a 5 minute split you can use other flexibility exercises (active and passive) that more closely simulate the sport. Supine (lying) kicks will nicely complement your split work. Or if your gymnasts are serious enough about safety you can instruct them on a few partner stretches.

Supine Kicks: Instruct your gymnast to lie on their back. Once on the floor, instruct them to make sure they are straight then place their arms in a side-middle position, even with the shoulders. Once they look like the letter “t” on the floor, instruct your gymnasts to kick one leg toward the ceiling. Have them perform a series of kicks, each one getting a bit closer to their shoulder. Repeat the kicks with the other leg. After front kicks, simulate the side kick. Ask your gymnasts to keep their arms in the side middle position. Instruct them to kick towards their hand for a straddle/side kick. This will help with any straddle or side leaps in addition to any skill that requires that leg motion.

supine-kicks

Another idea for increasing split flexibility without holding that position is the walking-in/out wall split. Wall Split: Instruct your gymnast to stand in front of a wall, back facing the wall. Next have them place their hands on the floor in front and then place one leg on the wall as high as possible. Your gymnast’s head will be near her supporting leg with her hands on the floor. Once your gymnast is almost in a split on the wall, instruct her to walk her hands in towards the wall and press into a split on the wall. She can walk in and out a few times, each time pressing closer into the wall.

wall-split

In the 5 minutes that you were holding one exercise (split or over-split), you can now perform 3 exercises for even greater flexibility and better sport performance.

Let’s address the landing, conditioning. It is more specific than holding a Wall Sit. How do you substitute the never-ending wall sit? You can use general squats and sticking drills. Remember, gymnasts are not required to hold a squat position other than controlling a landing. They must be able to stop the force of landing for dismounts, jump for dance skills, and rebound during tumbling passes, three unique skills or techniques. That would actually require three different types of conditioning.

The Squat: Teach this exercise without weights first for proper technique. Instruct your gymnast to stand in front of a bench or very sturdy mat stack. Their back should be facing the bench or stack.  Once in place, instruct your gymnast to safely hold light dumbbells. Next have her place her feet shoulder width apart. Instruct your gymnast to bend at her hips and knees until her thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Make sure her ankles, knees, and hips remain aligned as she lowers and rises from the squat. Do not encourage your gymnast to go lower than the parallel (thighs-floor) because she must be able to stop the force of a dismount between the ¼ and ½ squat positions in order to perform a controlled landing. There is a deduction for squatting too low on a landing among other deductions.

squat

 

As most of you know, for a landing the force can be 10-13 times your gymnast’s body weight. Your gymnast MUST be able to safely stop that force. Your gymnast can simulate the landing and correct landing technique with simple sticking drills from a spotting block. In the 1970’s-1980’s it was very popular to teach sticking drills to beginner gymnasts on vault. (We should go back to that.)

sticking-drill

Once the landing technique is correct, ankles, knees, hips in line, bending at hip and knees to evenly distribute the force (front / back of body) you can add weight. You can have your gymnasts perform a sticking drill (drop from a block) with light ankles weights secured on their waist. You may see a big difference in their landing technique with just 2-5lbs added to their body weight. Again, correct the technique.

And be sure you tell them the difference between landing a jump/leap on beam compared to landing from a tumbling pass on floor or from a vault. With jumps on beam and floor the buttocks can be tucked under to land, but when the force is greater, as in a vault or a dismount, the technique must simulate the squat exercise for safety. Tucking the buttocks under on a landing to reduce hip flexion actually adds to the force/stress on the quads, front of the legs which can cause knee pain and damage if done repeatedly. The safest landing is with the hip, knee, and ankle flexed enough to evenly distribute the force between the front and back of the body.

Remember, the sport is not filled with hold positions for female gymnasts. It is a dynamic sport. Be sure to include exercises and drills that will be most useful in sports performance. That will likely also lead to safer training and faster progress. And of course, variety helps reduce overuse injuries.

Let me know how I can help your program, 908-278-3756.

Karen Goeller, CSCS
Gymnastics coach 30+ years, former gymnastics club owner, currently a CSCS.

www.BestSportsConditioning.com

www.BestGymnasticsTraining.com

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