Updated: Jun 23
I'm going to start off by saying as I was looking back at my previous posts I was astonished that I have not written on this subject yet. Anyone who knows me knows I love to have great ideas twice, so usually when I think "THAT IS WHAT I NEED TO WRITE ABOUT THIS WEEK" I look back to find I have already not only written a blog on the subject, but also a live video, an email and a podcast as well.
With all that being said, this is one of the topics I am most passionate about and one of the central tenants in my treatment approach with gymnasts at Perfect Ten Physical Therapy. I believe that NOT weightlifting, actually led to the end of my gymnastics career (you can read more on that here).
The common objections I hear to gymnasts in the weight room are 1. I don't want them to get bulky, 2. they use bodyweight only in gymnastics, so we should only use body weight conditioning. 3. It's unsafe for kids to lift weights and 4. I don't know how to teach them.
I am going to help dispel those myths in the rest of this blog, but if you are already bought in and want the "tier 2 info" Click here to get exclusive access.
1. Being worried your gymnast will get bulky from lifting weights is like being worried you will turn into a NASCAR driver by hitting the gas pedal on your car. Gaining true muscle bulk takes time, attention to detail and true effort including workouts and diet specifically set up to do this. And don't we want our gymnasts to be strong after all? This makes them resilient to injury and muscle is highly metabolic tissue, so I don't see the problem. An appropriate lifting program will not make your gymnast bulky, and will improve rather than decrease their performance.
2. While its true gymnasts only use body weight in their sport, when you add speed and rotation, you increase the forces they are incurring by many multiples of their body weight. Let's think for a minute about football players being tackled. Yes, it is only by another persons body weight, but do you think side planks and crunches are going to make them resilient enough to absorb that force? Right, me neither. Landing a tumbling pass can lead to forces equal to 16x bodyweight, so if we take a 100lb gymnast, and we want to recreate the force from 10 tumbling passes, we can do 160 body weight squats or 16 squats with a 10lb weight. Which sounds more efficient and less "hard on the joints" to you?
3. I am not sure where the idea that it is unsafe for kids to lift weights came from. Is it unsafe for kids to lift weights improperly? Yes. Is it unsafe for kids to lift weights they are not ready to lift? Absolutely. Do we need to do 1RM lifting with prepubescent athletes? Probably not. Are any of these saying it is unsafe for kids to lift weights? I don't think so. With proper coaching from someone who understands the basics of lifting and how to truly teach the movements and safety measures required, it can absolutely be safe and highly beneficial. We have no problem with having our kids help carry the groceries or carry their books to school, but it seems as soon as the load is metal it gets scary! Again, doing appropriately monitored and programmed lifting can help our athletes improve performance in the gym.
4. Having proper guidance when implementing or planning weightlifting in gymnasts is critical. First, you need someone who understands the movements required for gymnastics and how we can both replicate them, and balance them with opposing movements to prevent injury. Second, you need someone who knows how to teach the movements from scratch and decide when is appropriate to progress, and what if any limitations needs to be placed on athletes due to age/injury history/learning ability/ concurrent training, etc. I listened to a Shift Movement Science Podcast recently where it was discussed that the idea that coaches should be "masters of everything" is impossible. While athletes need guidance on their skills, nutrition, mental health, sleep, injuries and conditioning, it doesn't have to all come from one person. Outsourcing this to an expert is the best way to make sure there are no unwanted outcomes.
On a final note, I also here some objections regarding equipment availability - I truly believe you can equip a gym with what is needed to perform safe and effective lifting for 200-300 dollars, and there are some shortcuts you can take to cut that cost. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get more info on this.
At my college, every team was entitled to a strength and conditioning coach and time in the weight room. My coach declined this - feeling his body weight training was superior and for many of the reasons listed above was afraid to accept this help. By my sophomore year, there were 15 girls on the team and 8 of them had torn their ACL since arriving at college. I am not saying these all could have been prevented, but I do believe this number would have been significantly less if we had a qualified strength and conditioning coach create a program for us.
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If you are interested in learning more about Perfect Ten's individual and team, in person and remote strength training options email me at email@example.com with the subject line "strength training" to get more info.