Like many things in the sport of gymnastics, there are an incredible variety of opinions about how young gymnasts, their weight and the strength-to-weight ratio should be handled, especially by coaches. One thing that has become a hallmark of dealing with this problem is that coaches should not weigh gymnasts. But even if coaches do not not weigh gymnasts, but they keep making negative comments about their weight, this could be a problem for some young gymnasts.
Weight is a Sensitive Subject
What makes this a sensitive subject is that young female gymnasts, just like young females of any type, are vulnerable to eating disorders as a result of being sensitive about their weight. The words, actions and attitudes of gymnastics coaches can have a powerful impact on gymnasts and coaches need to be sensitive to the potential effect of what they say. Eating disorders and exercise bulimia or anorexia athletica can be literally deadly. Everyone involved in the sport needs to be very careful about what they say and do.
There are Many Other Influences on Young Gymnasts, Not Just Coaches
Of course, coaches are not the only ones who can have this impact on young gymnasts and it is naive and unwise to attempt to regulate what coaches do and say and do nothing to fix any other problems or not prepare gymnasts mentally to deal psychologically with whatever anyone might say to them. Comments from teammates, schoolmates, other gymnasts and even strangers can have an equally negative impact to anything a coach might say. And there is not much that can be done about about what they say (other than coaches training and insisting team members only compliment their teammates).
Gymnasts Without a Good Strength-To-Weight Ratio Risk More Serious Injury and Injuries More Often
Since gymnasts are vulnerable to comments from other than coaches, curtailing only their coaches words and actions is no guarantee that gymnasts will not have a problem. There is another aspect to this situation and it has to do with gymnast safety. At some point, additional weight can put gymnasts at higher risk for injury. Empirically, it is easy to see that this is true. And while most of those injuries are likely to be the common wrist, ankle and knee injuries, there is the chance that additional weight could cause or increase the severity of a more catastrophic neck or back injury.
Fix the Problem
In my opinion, coaches becoming passive about their gymnasts’ weight and strength-to-weight ratio is not the solution either. Ignoring the potential for an increased injury rate, to possibly in some vague way guard against a future psychological event, that may or may not occur is not a good trade-off.
Weighing Gymnasts Not Necessary and Negative Comments are Definitely Out
Now this does not at all mean that I think coaches should weigh gymnasts all the time and as a firm advocate of positive coaching, I do not think coaches should be making negative comments about gymnasts being overweight. But I do think coaches have a responsibility to train gymnasts, physically and mentally.
Coaches Should Do Their Job and Correctly and Successfully Train Their Gymnasts
So my solution to the problem of a team gymnast, who may not be at an ideal weight, is for the coach to physically train them with a training program that solves that situation. There is really no need for a coach to even mention what they are doing or why, but simply to increase the aerobic component of their conditioning to deal successfully with the problem. The addition of 6 – 9 sets of high intensity 60 – 90 second “vault” speed sprints to a team gymnast’s workout should take care of any problem, in short order, without any need for additional comment from the coach.
Introduce More Fun Aerobics into Gymnastics Classes
More aerobics in the gymnastics classes, including the above “vault” sprints or a few thousand bounces on the trampoline or tumble tramp, also might not be a bad idea if there are gymnasts in classes with this problem.
Gymnasts Require Custom Conditioning
In either case, not all gymnasts need the same conditioning program. There are three body somatypes – ectomorphs, mesomorphs and endomorphs. Ectomorphs are usually characterized by long and thin muscles and limbs, low fat storage and might usually be referred to as slim or having a dancer’s body. Mesomorphs are distinguished by medium size bones, solid torso, low fat levels, wide powerful shoulders with a narrow waist and are usually referred to as muscular. Endomorphs are characterized by increased fat storage, a wide waist and a large bone structure and might cruelly be referred to as fat.
Testing and Weighing In Is Not Really Necessary
I have always been relatively confident that I would always know which program a gymnast on my team should be on, without weighing them. If a coach is not sure that they know, and feel they have to test gymnasts (there are a number of electronic scales out there now that give, if not totally accurate measurements, at least relative measurements, of BMI, body fat %, density, in addition to just weight. If a coach feels like they have to test a gymnast more than two or three times a year to know what is going on with their gymnasts, I think they should consider recording the measurements without comment and without even letting the gymnast see what they are. But I personally really think all of that is unnecessary.
Vary Gymnastics Conditioning To Match Body Type and Individual Needs
To assume that all three body types should have the same aerobic, strength and conditioning program in a gymnastics program or on a team seems to be a ridiculous assumption. Ectomorphs need a high degree of strength training, usually especially upper body strength training. Endomorphs need a high intensity aerobic program to fix or control their weight. All three categories need some mix of both aerobics, strength and conditioning that individually matches their particular training needs.
Need At Least Two Basic Conditioning Programs
A coach needs to have at least two programs – one slanted more toward strength and one slanted more toward aerobics. Ectomorphs and endomorphs each have a training program slanted toward their needs and mesomorphs can be switched back and forth. Now this is a somewhat simplistic analysis, when considering strength training over a whole season and through the various training stages of a season, but it illustrates my solution to the problem.
No Negative Comments, Just Do your Job and Train Them
Team gymnasts need to be individually trained according to their needs. Programs to meet those needs can easily be established. There is no need for coaches to comment on gymnasts’ weight. A tough physical training program (and both programs should be tough) may help gymnasts build mental toughness as well.
Get and Keep Them in Shape Physically With Conditioning and Mentally with Positive Comments
Let’s provide positive feedback for our gymnasts, but let’s also make sure they are in shape in terms of strength-to-body weight ratio, so they are at the most minimal risk of injury possible. I think both are priorities for gymnastics programs and coaches.