Flexibility is fortunately one of those physical attributes that can be improved simply by spending time working on it.
Most top level training programs require that you meet minimum gymnastics flexibility (and strength) requirements because it speeds the learning process when you are flexible enough to learn any skill and keeps gymnasts from developing bad habits from working skills incorrectly.
There is no point in attempting or being spotted on any skills requiring flexibility, like front and back walkovers until you have acquired the required amount of flexibility.
There are two types of flexibility – static and dynamic – and those are also two of the ways you can work on your flexibility. An example of static flexibility is sitting in splits. Split leaps are an example of dynamic or active flexibility. Other examples of static and active flexibility are kicks (active) and scales (static).
In splits, not only are you static, but the weight of your body can also help push down your splits. A backbend is also a static flex position but your body weight doesn’t help the stretching effort.
Strength through the whole range of flexibility is often important in gymnastics. Even if a gymnast is able to kick their leg to a 180 degree split to the back does not mean they are strong enough at that degree of flexibility to hold their leg at 180 degree separation in a scale.
While leg flexibility primarily contributes to the appearance of dance skill on floor and beam, shoulder flexibility is important in the correct execution of acro skills on every event.
Judges will take special notice of gymnasts who have 180 degree plus split leaps and jumps, even though 180 degrees (or less in compulsories) is all that is usually required. So if you to not only want to avoid deductions, but want to gain general impression points for being extra flexible, work your splits.
In both shoulder and leg flexibility, even bi-lateral (left and right side) flexibility development is a requirement. Inflexible gymnasts sometimes develop habits like turning to their more flexible side when they do front and back walkovers. This habit is a disaster for beam consistency, not to mention an unattractive way to do those skills.
Flexibility is one of the few aspects of gymnastics you can work outside of the gym. Many gymnasts have found interesting ways to work on their splits and flexibility. Some gymnasts sit in splits whenever they watch TV. Some gymnasts never bend their legs when they bend over to pick up things off the floor to improve their pike flexibility. We have even heard of gymnasts who have slept in their splits.
However flexible you are now, you want to get to the required or optimal flexibility level as soon as you can in your gymnastics career just like you want to get as strong as you can.
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