Updated: Jan 6, 2019
Gymnastics has historically been an early specialisation sport, with children as young as 8 years old spending 20+ hours a week training. The majority of that time has been skill training, or very skill specific physical preparation, with little time devoted to general physical preparation or strength and conditioning.
With very high injury and drop-out rates combined with evidence that early specialisation in sports is detrimental, is it time we re-evaluated our approach to gymnastics training?
"The most dangerous phrase in the English language is 'we've always done it this way' ".
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper
Technical training alone is unlikely to provide adequate strength and power required for the demands of competitve gymnastics and whilst there is definitely still a place for traditional physical preparation, a multidisciplinary evidence based approach utilising s&c coaches to provide periodised s&c plans for well balanced athletiscism could be the future for gymnastics, as with other sports, to create not only strong, resilient athletes with career longevity but more importantly healthy young adults.
What role can, and should strength and conditioning (s&c) coaches play in this?
S&c plans are designed to complement, not replace traditional gymnastics training, and can be used to enhance strength and power, improve landing mechanics and mobility, for injury prevention, and to assist with injury rehabilitation as part of multidisciplinary approach, bridging the gap between physiotherapy and a full return to gymnastics. Strength and conditioning coaches can also screen and assess athletes to help guide training plans.
With the high injury and burn out rates in gymnastics, we have a responsibility to ensure the health and welfare of the athletes we coach, by using the research about early specialisation and applying it to gymnastics. This doesn't mean our gymnasts need to stop training so young, but maybe we should just be considering the type and quality of the training we are doing, promoting more general strength and athletiscm and less gymnast specificity at certain periods of time throughout a gymnasts career via periodisation.
Periodisation & shorter competetive season?
Gymnastic specific physical preparation will always be required, especially approaching and during the competetive season. The problem is that gymnastics, unlike many other sports, does not have a clear 'off season' when the emphasis would be on making general strength gains. Thus a clear off season would mean easier periodisation of s&c so gymnastic specific strength and power could be emphasised during the competetive season and more general strength and power emphasised in the off season.
What can we do?
Work together to create a multidisciplinary approach to gymnast care. Utilising the knowledge of s&c coaches to write periodised plans, to screen and assess athletes and to aid injury prevention. This combined approach allows gymnastic coaches to utilise their skills and knowledge, concentrating on technical training and specific gymnastics physical preparation. We should communicate, continue to learn from each other, be open to new ideas, read and share opinions. This means together s&c coaches, gymnastics coaches, sports scientists and healthcare providers can ensure gymnastics is a sport we want our children to participate in at any level, creating robust athletes and more importantly, healthy, well balanced young adults, along with career longevity.
"Strength & resilience for life"
Although not as common as in other sports, this multidisciplinary approach is not a new idea, there are coaches who have been succesfully implementing the ideas for years, especially in the USA, causing the beginning of an apparent shift in philosophy and coaching. Therefore, together, using the combined expertise of gymnastics coaches, s&c coaches, physiotherapists and nutritionists, the future for gymnastics is exciting and filled with promise.
Let us know your thoughts and you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how we can help a multidisciplinary approach to gymnast care.