How Many Hours in the Gym?

Subject: Hours in Gym
Dear Ask The Coach,

My concern is “training hours in the gym”. My daughter is training for level 7 and I worry about how much time she spends training in the gym. She trains 4 to 4.5 hours a day, 5 days a week along with going to school full time. I worry about injuries…I realize that the more conditioned a gymnast is the less chance she will have injuries but I also think if a “child” is tired because of too much training there is more chance that they can get injured. I have been told that if my child really wants to succeed that she does require the long hours of training and that I should consider homeschooling her, but I do not want her to miss out on social aspects of school. It just seems like all or nothing…what is your opinion…???

Thank you,

A concerned gym mom

You did not mention how old your daughter is and this is a critical factor in the hours she should be in the gym. We shall try to answer your questions in general and hopefully that will help you.

Those of us coaches who have been coaching for a long time have learned the difficult lessons that gymnasts that are in the gym too much, too soon almost always burn out and quit the sport before they are even old enough to compete internationally at age 16.

There is seemingly, however, a new wave of younger coaches who have not yet learned those lessons. Worse, is that the better young gymnasts are, the more coaches keep them in the gym and the more likely they are to burn out and quit the sport before they reach their potential.

If your daughter is 8 or younger, she still has 8 years in the gym before she is eligible for International competition and is probably in the gym too much at 4 – 4.5 hours per day. If she is 9 – 11, this is relatively typical of the hours optional gymnasts spend in the gym.

If she is older than 11 and she has any desire at all to become a high level gymnast (Level 10 or Elite), she needs all the time in the gym she can get. Many gymnasts will work out six days per week in this situation.

We feel it is only fair to tell you that you should evaluate the gym and coaching level your daughter has available to her. We are seeing many coaches who have never created an Elite gymnast but think they know how, having their gymnasts train long hours, but without offering a program that can actually successfully get gymnasts to that high a level. Certainly before you agree to commit your daughter to any higher level of commitment, you should make sure that her time and effort have some chance of actually paying off. Read our Ask the Coach article, “Finding the Right Gym and Coaching” for a more detailed explanation of that topic.

Basically, if your gym’s coaches have been coaching for a long time (say 10 years) and have never created an Elite gymnast or winning Level 10 gymnasts, they may not be capable of it and you would be wasting your daughter’s time practicing more or home schooling.

We believe that in most cases it is best to keep gymnasts in regular school for the social aspects and all-around experience. From a gymnastics point of view, this depends somewhat on how cooperative a school or teachers are in helping your daughter with her gymnastics career. Letting gymnasts out of school early for practices, allowing her the flexibility to miss and make-up classes, homework and tests when gymnasts need to travel to compete can allow gymnasts to have a relatively normal school experience. If schools or teachers are inflexible, then it can be difficult for a gymnast to advance their career and home schooling may be the only other option.

If and when your daughter is age 12 – 13 or older and is seriously and successfully training for Level 10 or Elite, then perhaps two a day practices (which seems to be the theoretical scientifically ideal practice schedule) might make home schooling a necessity. But unless a gymnast is actively working at that level, it is likely overkill to do two a day practices and home school.

Young gymnasts are amazingly adaptable and can handle what seems to be (and actually is) a very heavy school and workout schedule. Strangely, often the more they work out the better they do in school. Likely something to do with self-discipline. If a gymnast gets injured it is most likely to be some cause other than overwork and being tired.

There is a two to three week period of time in the beginning of the school year, where gymnasts are going to be tired until they adapt to their new gym and school schedule. Don’t measure from that period of time.

We are firm believers in using your daughter as a barometer. If she gives any indication that she wants to take some time off, and has always been a dedicated gymnast and loves to go to the gym, you likely should have her take some time off. (say, one night or take an early weekend). It’s going to be a long gymnastics career (hopefully) and a day or two off here and there, especially early in her career will not ruin her overall success and may well keep her in the sport longer. It may also be a good time to reevaluate and make sure she is not getting burned out.

Make no mistake. There are and always will be gymnasts out there working hours and hours every day and your daughter will be competing against them sooner or later. There is also no substitute for time in the gym. There are certainly gymnasts in China working out two to three times per day year-round.

It is important to identify a gymnast’s real goals and then you can more intelligently match their workout schedule to match their goals. If you want to win at certain levels you have to pay the price in time in the gym and hard work.

Age is the most important factor in length of workouts (and how many). Huge sacrifices (home schooling, two practices a day and long workouts) should only be made if the gym program and coach are truly capable of producing high level gymnasts. Just as important is whether your daughter wants to make these type of sacrifices, she is old enough (age 12 or up) and is talented enough and successful enough in competition to warrant making all of this extra effort.

That gives you an overall view. For a more specific answer, we would have to know more about your gymnast. Age, years in the sport, gym and coaches, gymnastics successes, etc. all help in giving truly valuable personalized advice.

Good luck to you and your daughter and if there is anything else we can do, please let us know.

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