Strength for Cartwheels

Ask The Gymnastics Coach
Subject: Strength for Cartwheels

Sex: female

Well, basically my question was in regards to my daughter’s Strength. She’s a Level 2 – 7yo training 9hrs, doing Great in what she trains, but has recently voiced her concern (this after many years of my noticing that her Upper body Strength, is lacking). She Stuck her cartwheel on the Gymnova and was encouraged by her coach to attempt an unspotted Cartwheel on a lowered beam w/ mats. She started getting fidgety (my view from the outside) and the Jumped right off. Speaking with her later, she voiced her concern of Collapsing because her “arms are not strong enough”. She’s quite intuitive and she knows what she strives for on her own… All that being said, I know she definitely needs to grow some more (as she’s still baby proportioned – larger head smaller body) But I felt that she needed to work on strengthening her upper body a bit more…

Well and update to this Q. above, we do have an extremely approachable coach, but she’s not in charge of training management. Back to the “Approachable Coach” I did speak w/ her and she voiced the very thing I knew “Adriana is not ready for heavy strength training, and requires a lot of repetitions in Handstand, Wheel-Barrels and Push-ups if I want to do some at home on the side!”..

My Q. has essentially changed to: “do you feel this is right? & is there any other adv. you could give me in order to help her gain that confidence to try the Cartwheel unspotted on that beam?

Thanks so much for your time!

I will start with the strength question and them move to some advice on teaching and learning cartwheels and other beam skills. “Adriana is not ready for heavy strength training, and requires a lot of repetitions in Handstand, Wheel-Barrels and Push-ups if I want to do some at home on the side!”

“Heavy” Strength Training?

It is true that young children should not do heavy weightlifting, since their bones are not yet formed and extremely heavy weights can actually “bend” their bones. However, light to moderate weight training and body weight exercises do not fall in the category of heavy strength training.

Start with Strength Training

Most high level coaches here agree that gymnastics training should START with strength and flexibility training. There are a number of reasons for that, but in this case the primary reason is that before you teach young gymnasts skills, they must have the physical competencies (sufficient strength and flexibility) to do so them. Without sufficient strength and flexibility, gymnasts may adapt by building in compensatory movements (poor technique) and build forever after on a compromised foundation.

Either Flexible or NO Skill

A primary example of this is doing back walkovers on either the ground, but certainly on the beam. Without sufficient shoulder flexibility and strength, a gymnast will attempt to turn to make up for the lack of flexibility and develop a bad habit and poor technique.

Trained or Untrained?

Strength training for young gymnasts is somewhat complicated. Some young gymnasts are naturally strong, but many girls are naturally weaker and often lacking in the upper body strength required to do some gymnastics strength skills, like press handstands and planches. Before puberty, young athletes simply do not have the necessary hormones to make real strength gains, from heavy weight/strength training. But there is a difference between trained and untrained athletes. While young athletes may not be able to build strength beyond their current natural strength level significantly, they can become trained to be at their maximum natural strength level.

Just Like Gymnastics Skills, Strength Training Must Follow Proper Progression

Other than heavy weightlifting, there is no strength training exercise that your daughter shouldn’t be able to work on (or work the progressions for). If your “Approachable Coach” is saying her strength progression level is at the in “Handstand, Wheel-Barrels and Push-ups” level, that is probably correct. But if there is some belief that more ambitious strength training is inappropriate, that is certainly counter to the training that the Elite coaches here are doing and to what I recommend.

Do Weight Training to Strengthen Ligaments and Tendons to Prevent Future Injury

I actually recommend light to moderate weight training for young gymnasts your daughter’s age. Not specifically to build strength (although it will certainly do that), but to strengthen the ligaments and tendons and reduce the risk of potential future injury in normal gymnastics training. It is also the most efficient method of strength training and is measurable, which is useful for tracking progress.

Weight Training is Great, But Where Can You Do It

The primary problem with weight training for gymnasts at this age is that it is difficult to impossible to find a place to train. Here health clubs do not allow young gymnasts in the clubs, even with adult supervision (12 is usually the youngest they let them in). Gymnastics facilities do not usually have weight training equipment (either weight machines or free weights). Gymnasts, especially young gymnasts, often find that weight machines do not fit their small bodies, creating another problem.

Body Weight Strength Training Has Its Drawbacks

Body weight strength training, which is the primary method of strength training in the sport, has three major problems. One, the training programs for young gymnasts often are not allowed enough hours to run both a suitable strength training program (what is best for gymnast, but not as fun) and teach skills (what both parents and gymnasts are usually interested in and want).

Body Weight Strength Training Is Harder to Make Progressive and Measure Pogress

Two, body weight strength training is sometimes hard to make progressive. Gymnasts can progress from one chin-up or press handstand to 2, 3, 4, etc., but if they cannot do even one, then often they are stymied. Individual spotting or special equipment set-ups need to be done, but in an ordinary gym program it is often hard to impossible to find the time to do that, especially when the parental and gymnast push is to learn skills.

Endurance Training is NOT Real Strength Training

Three, many coaches do not really understand the differences between strength training and endurance training. While endurance exercises build some strength, they primarily build endurance and gymnastics is not an endurance sport, except for floor routines to a small degree. Endurance exercises can also be used as a prelim or progression to more difficult strength training, but doing primarily or only endurance work can actually be detrimental to real strength gains.

Do Strength and Flex Work on Days Out of Gym

I am currently writing a new book on strength training for gymnasts, but that won’t do you any good now. I recommend that your daughter do strength and flexibility training at home on the days she does not have practice. If she normally has three days of practice for three hours, she should do strength training on two of her days off, in between the practice days. I would recommend flexibility training, in particular partner flexibility training, for her splits and shoulder flexibility every day.

 

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