An important gymnastics and life skill is the ability to relax on command. Life causes stress, in every person, to some degree, at some time and gymnasts are no different. In gymnastics, gymnasts must deal with the stress of competition, the stresses of practice and the stress of dealing with coaches and parents.
Gymnastics Competition = Stress
Gymnastics competitions have their own unique breed of stress. There are no second chances in gymnastics meets (except for vault). Gymnasts get one chance and one chance only to perform, succeed and win. Even minor mistakes put gymnasts out of the medals. A fall, or major mistake on one event, most likely eliminates a gymnast from any chance to win an All-Around medal. A fall at a meet can occur quickly and without warning, can sometimes be extremely painful, but gymnasts are required to recompose themselves and continue within 30 seconds. Dealing with the stress and anxiety at competitions is a major part of the sport of gymnastics.
Gymnastics Practices Can Involve High Levels of Stress
Gymnastics practices have their own stresses and anxieties. Many young gymnasts experience stress in dealing with their coaches. Many gymnasts in the sport must daily face their fears when learning new skills and practicing difficult skills. More falls are likely to occur in practices, because gymnasts are doing more skills. Gymnasts can experience pressure from coaches, teammates and parents to increase their rate of progress in learning new skills or improving their performance. When large and important competitions approach, many coaches, feeling anxiety themselves, often radically increase the pressure on gymnasts.
Relaxation Benefits for Gymnasts
It seems that without doubt, all gymnasts could seriously benefit from learning to relax, whenever they want and need to, and wherever they happen to be. The benefits to gymnasts of learning to relax include:
- Improving concentration and focus
- Reducing stress
- Boosting confidence
- Lowering anxiety levels
- Reducing unnecessary muscle tension
- Decreasing fear
- Reducing pain
- Reducing anger and frustration
Goal = Take One Breath and Relax
Relaxation techniques that are applicable for gymnastic include deep breathing, visualization and progressive muscle relaxation. But I think the primary goal for gymnasts should be to be able to prepare themselves, so anytime and anywhere, that just by taking one deep breath and breathing it out, they can completely relax. Being able to do this enables gymnasts to effectively relax, even while competing their gymnastics routines in meets, as well as in any other situation in their life.
Learning to Relax
Chances are that it will have to be either parents or coaches that take the lead for introducing the benefits and advantages of relaxation to gymnasts and teaching them how to learn to do it. One way to learn to relax with one deep breath is:
- Learn how to deep breathe.
- Learn to relax using progressive tension and relaxation.
- Learn to relax using just progressive relaxation.
- Learn to relax whole body by taking just three deep breaths.
- Learn to relax whole body by taking just one deep breath.
- Practice and learn to relax with one deep breath in any and all situations.
The key to deep breathing is to breathe deeply into and from the abdomen, getting as much fresh, clean air, as possible into your lungs. When you take deep breaths into the abdomen, rather than shallow breaths from your upper chest, you inhale more oxygen. The more oxygen you breathe in, the less tense and anxious and the more relaxed you feel.
- Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your stomach.
- Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise.
- Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale.
- Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls.
- You should balance an equal amount of time breathing in, holding your breath, breathing out and relaxing and waiting a few moments before taking another breath.
- If you have a difficult time deep breathing sitting up, try it lying down.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is another effective and widely used strategy for relaxing. It is a three-step learning process in which you first systematically tense and relax different muscle groups in the body. After you have learned to relax that way, you do the same thing, except you relax without first tensing the muscles. Finally, you learn to relax all the muscles at once instead of progressively.
Sample Progressive Muscle Relaxation Sequence
- Upper Legs
- Lower Legs
Most people learn progressive relaxation best lying down in a quiet room. It is also helpful to relax mentally with each step of progressive relaxation as well.
Mental Imagery for Relaxation
Visualization or imagery is like a variation on traditional meditation. that can help increase relaxation. When used as a relaxation technique, imagery usually involves imagining a scene in which you feel at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety. Choose a scene in your mind that is the most relaxing for you, whether it is a beach, a favorite childhood spot, or a quiet place in the woods.
Relaxation Can Lead to More Gymnastics Success
The ability for gymnasts to relax is a skill, that may take considerable many months of time to learn and even more years to master. The benefits of being able to relax for gymnastics and in other situations in life is well worth the effort for any gymnast.