When a gymnast initially either starts their gymnastics career or starts a new period of serious gymnastics training, the first thing they need to do is optimize their strength-to-weight ratio. Essentially we are talking about developing the amount of strength it takes to be able to do strength skills like press handstands and planches and powerful explosive tumbling and vaulting movements like high double backs and twisting Yurchenko vaults.
Get Strong and Flexible First
Research and experience show that acquiring sufficient strength before trying to learn gymnastics strength and power skills is the fastest way to progress. Trying to learn skills before the body is physically able to perform them is frustrating and a waste of valuable training time.
Get Strength Training Should Be Individual
It should be obvious that each initial gymnastics strength training program should be as different as the gymnasts themselves. Since they all start in a different spot, they all need to work on different things first to most efficiently get to the point where are gymnasts are headed. Three is no substitute for strength and flexibility for gymnasts. Gymnasts need to be able to move and control their body weight through the various gymnastics apparatus, skills and routines.
Train for Gymnastics, Not for Endurance
Physical fitness is not singular. It is a continuum. You work certain aspects of fitness only at the expense of others – explosive power vs. long distance endurance, strength vs. flexibility, aerobic conditioning vs. maximum strength, etc. Each gymnast should have a strategy for attacking their particular strength and gymnastics fitness needs.
Increase Strength or Decrease Weight
Every gymnast needs to be evaluated or evaluate themselves and make the best choices as to where to start their conditioning. After they achieve one goal they may proceed onto the next goal. The ultimate goal is a sufficient strength-to-weight ratio to be able to do high level gymnastics skills and elements. There are two ways to achieve this goal and they are somewhat on their own continuum. You can either effectively decrease weight or increase strength.
Two Ways Decrease Weight
There are two ways to decrease weight. One is to decrease caloric intake below what the body’s daily caloric requirements are – that is to diet. You can also lose weight by increasing the level of physical activity and increase the number of calories the body burns.
Choose Increased Aerobics
It would seem to be rare that a gymnast chosen to be on a gymnastics team would be overweight enough to require anything but an increase in their aerobic activity (running). In other words, there should be no need to diet (decrease their caloric intake by restricting the eating of healthy food).
Diets are Usually Useless
USA Gymnastics and some doctors and pediatricians believe that telling gymnasts they are overweight and should diet is dangerous and a cause of eating disorders and self-esteem issues. It still remains a fact that a proper strength to weight ratio is essential for a successful gymnastics career (and that being fit and strong will contribute to a positive self-image and positive self-esteem).
A Correct Strength-to-Weight Ratio is a Safety Issue
On the other hand, anyone who has young gymnasts performing high level gymnastics skills without a safe strength to weight ratio is potentially subjecting the gymnast to serious injury and, almost certainly, higher injury rates.
Gymnasts who have too high a fat percentage should initially concentrate their training efforts on aerobic and cardiovascular exercise (running, biking, treadmills, etc.). A successful aerobic program will actually interfere with the development of maximum strength, but is in the long run a more efficient method to train.
Intense Aerobics Required to Decrease Weight
This is not to say that some strength and skill work cannot be done, but the most efficient training method at that point will be to do at least 20 minutes per day of high intensity cardiovascular exercise (fast running) as opposed to longer periods of aerobic exercise (45 – 90 minutes of jogging or very fast walking).
Get to Correct Strength-to-Weight Ratio before Doing Gymnastics Landings
If gymnast have too high a fat percentage, they should first do their aerobic or cardiovascular workout and then work on skills and strength. Please note that we are not speaking in terms of weight here, but of fat percentage and, perhaps, body type. Weight, in and of itself, is not indicative of anything. Only when comparing strength to weight do we get any indication of what is going to help make us successful in gymnastics. Thus, any comments about losing weight are not productive. We wish to burn calories and increase muscle strength.
Always Eat Moderately
It is, of course, possible to sabotage the aerobic calorie burning process by eating or drinking high calorie items which would require more than the time available to burn off. Eating four sodas and four donuts would require running for over 2 and Â½ hours – the equivalent of a marathon – to burn off that amount of calories.
Ectomorphs Need To Work Strength, Not Aerobics
Gymnasts who already have a low body fat percentage and an ectomorph body somatype, will be working on the other end of the spectrum. They will be working to maximize explosive strength and should minimize aerobic and cardiovascular training, which will interfere with building maximum strength. Once they achieve sufficient strength to perform the appropriate gymnastics strength skills, they will go into a strength maintenance phase and then work just enough cardio training to be able to perform strongly and successfully through a minute and half floor exercise routine.
The Correct Progression
Let’s summarize. A gymnast’s first physical requirement is to have minimal body fat. If this is a problem, it is solved by training with cardio and aerobic exercise. Once a reasonable body fat percentage is evident, gymnasts need to train for maximum strength, speed and power. This is achieved by using the 10.0 Gymnastics Strength Training Program, the HOUR-STRENGTH weight training program, plyometrics, speed training etc. When sufficient strength is developed for the gymnast’s goal level of competition, sufficient cardio training to compete floor exercise must be done.
JEDP and TOPs Program are Proof
While some coaches and gymnasts go through this cycle yearly, it is evident from the success of strength and high level skill training programs, like the JEDP, TOP and STEP programs, that a gymnasts career is best served if they prioritize developing Elite level strength and flexibility first and then train high level skills.
Make Good Food Choices
In terms of weight and diet, gymnasts should be encouraged, not to diet, but to eat moderately and to make healthy food and drink choices. Education about the high caloric cost of foods and drinks with sugar and the aerobic workouts that it takes to counter balance them is a good idea.
Weighing and Comments are Unnecessary
Comments about weight and body type are unnecessary, unless they are clearly and totally positive comments. The only effective rationale for weighing gymnasts would be to identify growth spurts, which might require additional strength training to compensate or an increase in height. Emphasizing weight control beyond suggestions to increase cardio or make healthy food choices is unnecessary.
No Comment Please
While concerns over weighing, and the comments of coaches, being the prime cause of food disorders may, or may not, be completely valid, there is really no need to risk that they are. It is easy enough to see by strength testing or silent visual observation as to whether a gymnast’s cardio/aerobic workout percentage needs to be increased.