Here are some principles of gymnastics strength training, some of which are well understood and some which are unknown, unused or misinterpreted by many gymnastics coaches.
The Principle of Stress
This is the basic principle of physical training, which proves that the body responds to reasonable muscle stress by becoming stronger. Physical and strength training, which does not stress the body, will have little to no effect on increasing strength. Choosing low intensity “so-called” strength exercises, like small numbers of repetitions of ball exercises, often do not create any stress for highly training gymnasts and therefore have little to no training effect. While these exercises might have value for untrained individuals just starting to exercise at health clubs, they most do not create enough muscle stress for trained gymnasts to increase strength.
The Principle of Overload
This is one of the principles of physical training which too many gymnastics coaches get wrong. Stress on the muscles must be enough to create a need for the body to adapt to the stress. Some coaches have their gymnasts doing exactly the same workout every day. Doing the same strength workout every day stops overloading the muscles, as the body has by then adapted, and needs a new level of stress to continue to increase strength. Continuing to do the same workout, not only leads to a halt in strength increases, but actually can lead to a decrease in strength, in as little as six weeks. Coaches and gymnasts must continue to overload the muscular system for strength increases to continue.
The Principle of Use and Disuse
The principle of use and disuse means that when it comes to strength training, you must “use it or lose it.” This simply means that your muscles grow in strength with use and shrink in strength with disuse. Lowering exercise frequency and intensity can cause a detraining and deconditioning effect. Coaches must pay careful attention, especially during the most critical parts of the competition season to maintain strength levels, even while they are focused on training routines. Research shows that if gymnasts maintain some high intensity exercise on a weekly basis, they can maintain their fitness levels through competition season.
The Principle of Recovery
This is another one of the most misunderstood and misused training principles. Strength improvements come when we rest and recover, not while we are exercising. Muscles must be given a suitable rest and recovery period in order to grow stronger. The errors that coaches make, in regards to this principle, include strength training right before important competitions and doing strength training every day. Strength gains can take up to two weeks to appear and, certainly, no strength gains will occur from strength training right before an important meet, that will positively affect that meet. And soreness and being over-tired could interfere with achieving maximum performance.
The Principle of Specificity
The principle of specificity means that exercising a certain body part or area of the body primarily develops that part. This principle means that to get better at a particular skill or event, you must perform that skill, that is, good vaulters train by vaulting, etc. The error with specificity, that gymnastics coaches make, is that by adding weight to certain gymnastics movements, the body’s timing and balance can be thrown off. This is particularly true, about doing something like wearing wrist and ankle weights, during balance beam training during the season.