Gymnastics at The Sports Training Academy
Everyone has a different reason for putting their child in gymnastics. Some parents want their children to stay fit. Some children have a natural ability and love for gymnastics, and their parents would like them to learn skills in a controlled and safe environment instead of on the family room sofa. Some parents simply need their children to burn up all that energy they have! Regardless of the motive, gymnastics is a fun and physically active sport with many benefits. Children learn coordination by controlling their body movements. They develop aspects of fitness such as strength, power, flexibility, agility, balance and stamina. Gymnastics requires patience, determination and focus. Even the tiniest gymnast has to learn to overcome that fear factor of trusting your body to perform certain skills that defy gravity.
There is way more to gymnastics than just flipping around. Gymnastics is a sport that requires practice with proper form and technique. These are not only required to perform skills, but to stay safe. It is extremely important to learn gymnastic skills in the proper progression. Gymnasts should not be attempting difficult skills until learning the appropriate lead-up skills and conditioning drills. Gymnastics is the learning of habits built upon other habits. Moving ahead too quickly without the proper basic skills is not only unsafe; it leads to bad habits that interfere with the learning of higher level skills. As much as your little gymnast wants to learn a back walkover or back handspring, they have to learn the proper basic skills which build up to the back walkover or back handspring such as the bridge, back bend and handstand. We need our budding gymnasts to be patient, attentive and disciplined in order to get them to the stage where they want to be.
Conditioning is one of the most important aspects of gymnastics, no matter the level, but unfortunately the least fun. In gymnastics, a certain amount of strength, flexibility and power is required for someone to even attempt certain skills in a safe manner. The stronger you are, the less likely you are to get hurt. With safety being our biggest priority, it is necessary to make sure our gymnasts have the strength to attempt certain skills and gain the momentum to keep progressing in a safe manner. Gymnastics requires upper body and core strength in order to hold your own body weight up and to remain tight enough to flip it through the air in a controlled manner. We will keep conditioning fun by varying the conditioning program and making it so the kids don’t really realize they are conditioning. This is where circuit training becomes our best friend. It is the perfect fit for gymnastic conditioning as it provides variety and skill specific training. The conditioning skill can replicate the exact gymnastic movement with added resistance. Circuit training can be modified to fit all ages and levels. It can also squeeze a significant amount of training into a short amount of time.
As in any sport, conditioning will begin with simpler exercises and progress to more difficult ones. Exercise stations permit each athlete to participate at all times. Downtime is limited; however, the demonstration and explanation of proper form and technique are critical. If not performed properly, an exercise may be unsafe and/or useless to the athlete. Gymnastics conditioning is comprised of seven fundamental movements:
- Shoulder flexion – casting, press handstands, planche
- Shoulder extension – kipping, up rise, downswing phases of in-bar work
- Upper extremity pushing – handstand, handstand push up, rebounding during hand contact phases
- Upper extremity pulling – pull up, pullover, withstand the bottom of swinging skills
- Jumping and landing – tumbling, vaulting, mounts, dismounts, dance movements
- Torso and hip flexion – piking, tucking, leg lifts, forward somersault take offs, hollow body positions
- Torso and hip extension – arching, back bends, walkovers, flic flacs, most backward take offs
All of these conditioning movements should be integrated into gymnastic programs to some degree whether competitive or recreational. Most children want to learn all the “fun” and usually difficult moves that impress others, but also require a great amount of strength, skill and technique. Anyone can flip their body through the air and land on a soft mat. The trick is keeping your body in the proper position and to stay tight so as to not nock your nose into your knees upon landing. These skills are not achieved over night and require the learning of the basics before jumping into the more difficult skills.
Flexibility is important in gymnastics for obvious reasons and must be practiced at every session. Simply, there are certain gymnastic skills that cannot be done if you are not flexible enough. There is no sense spotting someone in a back walkover when they are not flexible enough to do a back bend. Flexibility makes certain gymnastic moves prettier. And most importantly, the more flexible you are, the less likely you are to get injured. Muscle pulls and strains are less likely when the body is flexible. The nice thing about flexibility is that it is one of the few fundamentals in gymnastics that you can work on at home. The more time you spend on flexibility, the easier your gymnastic skills become, and the quicker you will move to more difficult skills. We encourage all of our athletes to practice flexibility at home.
Body type does play an integral role in gymnastic performance. Smaller gymnasts with a high strength to weight ratio are better able to handle their own weight during gymnastic moves. A small frame, short limbs, broad shoulders and narrow hips are ideal for gymnastic performance. With this in mind, children will progress at different rates and achieve different levels at different times. The strength to weight ratio plays an important part in one’s ability to perform gymnastic skills, which is why conditioning is so important. Another point to keep in mind is that growth spurts will throw off a gymnast’s ability to perform certain skills until they have adapted to their new body size. While most kids tend to have growth spurts at times, it is not unusual that a skill that they perfected last month will be more difficult after their growth spurt. After some practice, those skills will again return. It is important for parents to be aware that gymnastics will come more naturally to some children than others. All children will progress to their potential at different rates. And some children’s may have more potential than others.
The main thing to remember when it comes to the sport of gymnastics is that safety comes first. Safety is always a coach’s main concern. Safety does have to come before fun. Spotting is necessary until a skill can be performed without an inherent risk. Another thing to keep in mind is that conditioning plays a key role in gymnastics. Without proper strength to weight ratio, the risk of injury in gymnastics increases. A coach is required to add some type of conditioning aspect to their class which includes strength training, flexibility, balance and coordination. Lastly, remember that not everyone has the same body type, so skills that are easy for one child might not be so easy for another. So as a parent, just keep in mind that gymnastics does need a certain amount of conditioning, skills are not mastered overnight, and the basic skills are needed before the difficult ones can be attempted. This takes strength, focus and determination. If your little one gets frustrated, just remind them that with patience, some hard work, practice and tips from their coach, they will be mastering skills in no time!
Necessities for a Successful Gymnastic Class:
- Certified Instructor(s)/Coach(s)
- Safe equipment & environment
- Attentive and respectful students
- No more than 8:1 student to coach ratio
- Proper warm-up & stretching
- Conditioning (strength training, & flexibility)
- Skill techniques (in progression)
- Spotting of skills until necessary
- Encouragement from coaches
- Supportive Parents