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Gymnastics vs. Other sports

Are we really that special?

Ok, ok, I probably just got the whole community fired up with that line. Obviously I am a big fan of gymnastics. I competed through college, and now my life's work and my business is centered around it. If I didn't think it was special, I wouldn't have done any of that. Phew! Now that that is out of the way, let me tell you a little more about what I mean.

Throughout my career as a physical therapist and strength coach, I've had quite a bit of exposure to other sports at many levels. Something I have noticed, is that many other sports follow a similar pattern, everywhere from the pee wee level to the pros and it looks something like this.

While I don't expect those of you reading to immediately make sense of this graph, I do want to point out a few things. Volume and intensity are relatively inverse (as one goes up the other goes down), there is a peak period, followed by a period of active rest. This would generally cover the period of one year.

Now in gymnastics, we've been somehow led to believe that this does not apply to us. That volume and intensity can be at an all time high year round, and after the year is up they just increase. There are new skills to be learned. There are routines to practice and perfect. The next year means the next level, more skills and more hours. No time for rest. We can train technique at a high intensity and a high volume year round.

But can we? Not this year.

We have been thrust into this "active rest" period that is completely new to us.

And yet, for the most part it looks like a period that is familiar to those in other sports. Now this may not apply to 100% of gymnasts. Some of the lower level gymnasts whose most difficult skill is a back walkover or back handspring may be training at their full capacity at home. Others have carpenters for family members who have erected nearly full gyms in their backyards. And a few others are the lucky children of gym owners who may still be training.

Yet for the vast majority of gymnasts I interact with, they are involved in this "active rest" period. This means they are working on GPP (general physical preparedness) including fitness, strength, endurance, mobility, etc. Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Well, for better or worse we are about to find out.

Overall, injury rates and dropout rates in gymnastics are nothing to brag about. It comes with the territory of the sport. Yet, I have long wondered what would happen if gymnastics moved to this periodized or cyclical training. Would these rates drop? In a pre-pandemic world, this is something a bit frightening to think about, much less try. Since the peak ability in our sport is so young and short-lived, and injury is always a possibility, trying this with a group of kids could effectively ruin their career if my hypothesis is wrong. Maybe gymnastics is special. Maybe we cannot take an offseason. Maybe skill technique work takes precedence over GPP all day every day.

Well, now this experiment has been forced upon us. And I think we would be smart to look to the other sports who have experience with this "off-season" and "active rest" period for advice on coming back. Yes, it will have to be adapted a bit to account for high level skills, multiple events to participate in, etc, but the framework will be the same. We will have to come back slowly and methodically. If we jump into things too quick, we are only making the disaster that was this competition season worse. If we just decide each day what "seems like a good idea to do" we will never know where we went wrong or right.

My suggestion is to plan ahead. Even if you don't yet know your opening date start with "day 1" and go from there. Look at the different aspects of gymnastics (skills, routines, ground contacts, landings, etc) and look at where we have been (close to 0) and where we want to go and when we want to get there, and program our slow climb. Other sports generally abide by the 10% rule, so that may be a good place to start. If you want to read about the 10% rule and how I believe it can be applied to gymnastics, click here.

Gymnasts and parents, I am running a special for movement and mobility screens for your athletes. I only have 10 spots available to make sure I give each athlete the attention they deserve. Click here to see if there is a spot available!

This is a great time to form a team around your gym or your athlete. Coaches, owners, medical providers, strength coaches, and form a comprehensive plan for returning. If I am correct, and I love to be correct, this idea of an off season may be good for our athletes. Their bodies and minds will be rested. They will come back ready to work. Either way we need a plan because failing to plan is planning to fail.

If you want to build your team to plan your return by working with a PT, strength and conditioning coach and a registered dietician specializing in gymnastics, click here.

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