Are the Difficulty Rules the Reason for Gymnasts’ Injuries? – NOT
Cheng Fei’s unfortunate Achilles tendon injury has set the Chinese gymnastics delegation on the war path. China Daily article: China calls for rule changes after gymnast injury. While I certainly don’t agree with many of the gymnastics rule changes from 2007 that govern this quadrennium and the 2012 Olympics, I think federations and coaches may want to look elsewhere for the seeming rash of injuries for gymnasts at the top. Or at least not pretend that the rules (at least as they pertain to difficulty requirements) are the primary reason for Cheng Fei’s or any other gymnast’s injury. There are numerous other potential, and perhaps, more likely reasons for gymnasts’ injuries in Olympic gymnastics.
Returning to the Top More Difficult Than Understood
Returning to the highest levels of competition after injury and a time lay-off is even more difficult than most gymnasts and coaches understand. Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin and now Cheng Fei have found out that it takes more time to return to peak form, regain previous high level skills and catch back up to increased levels of difficulty, than they might have thought. All three started their last attempts to return literally too late to make them happen.
Since Cheng Fei’s injury occurred on a triple full on floor, let’s consider the state of the official floor exercise mats. The main companies supplying FX mats to National and International competitions are limited in number and in competition. They are essentially national, and even international, monopolies, because they are designated as the only companies that can supply equipment to the most important National and International meets. This has led to minimal technological and safety innovation on the part of most of the major International equipment companies and makes it hard for smaller companies that are innovating to get their “safer” equipment evaluated and approved. Safety innovation and research should be an FIG priority and they should mandate it be a priority for any equipment company allowed to supply equipment to National and International meets.
Gymnasts’ Injuries from Over-Training
Various national country coordinators, over the years, have been accused of having a “survivors compete” mentality, where gymnasts are physically trained very hard and must compete right up until the last moment, and whoever is still healthy enough competes at the Olympics. The Karolyi’s and the Chinese both seem to believe that there is no limit to the idea that the more you practice the better. At the last minute, coaches try to make up for execution errors and consistency problems in training that should have been corrected much earlier in the coaching process. Over-training occurs, often visibly, and one of the well-known results of over-training is injury. So many of the injuries in the sport, especially training at the highest levels, is the result of last-minute over-training, which so often causes injuries and is unnecessary, counter-productive or even useless in improving meet preparation.
No Psychological Over-Training
While coaches are in the process of physically over-training, they are massively under-training in psychological terms. There are no effective widespread psychological training programs going on in any National or International federations, much less in the individual gyms, where Elite gymnasts come from. Confidence levels, control of emotions and emotional arousal levels and attitude control are critical factors in gymnast performance and therefore safety. Embedded belief systems, of both gymnasts and coaches, if not corrected and improved are often the reason for success, safety or the lack of it. While I can’t expect coaches to have as much sport psychology experience as I have as a gymnastics sports hypnotist, they should learn what they can be doing and what they should and should not be doing. But it is possible to use psychological training to make gymnasts better and safer.
Gymnasts’ Injuries from Lack of Peaking
In the US, the number of Elite qualifying meets, International meets used as tests, and the almost monthly qualifying camps in the few months before the Olympics is literally ridiculous. Scientifically, we know it impossible for athletes of any kind to peak that many times in that short a period of time, physically or mentally, and attempting to do so increases the possibility of gymnasts’ injuries. Peaking and tapering are well-known and well-researched athletic training concepts, that are ignored by many, if not all, Elite gymnastics coaches.
Wrong Strength Training
There is a particular type of strength training, not commonly used in gymnastics, which science has proven to build the strength of ligaments and tendons. The right kind of strength training program would take a minimum of time, be eminently trackable, would increase performance, but most importantly would lead to significantly fewer injuries for gymnasts. If you don’t know the type of strength training program, I am talking about, you need to go back and study and learn some more. If you do know, then you should have already implemented such a program or be doing everything possible to implement such a program as soon as possible.
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