Who is Cheating on Gymnastics Conditioning?

It is always disturbing to me when coaches calls gymnasts cheaters at conditioning and often even more disturbing when I look at the gymnastics conditioning assignments the gymnasts were given.

One Size Does NOT Fit All

I have been researching gymnastics strength training for decades and one of the first things you realize when you study this field is that there are many misconceptions and poor training practices. One of the most common of those is that gymnastics strength training and conditioning mistakes is that one program fits all.

One Strength Assignment Cannot Be Suitable for a Whole Team

If a coach gives a single gymnastics conditioning assignment, like 50 chin-ups, to the whole team, especially if that assignment is given to the whole range of team (say, from Level 5 to Elite), then the coach should not expect the performance of that assignment to effectively condition more than one or two gymnasts on the team.

Match Gymnastics Conditioning Assignments to the Individual

That conditioning assignment will be too difficult for some percentage of the team and too easy for another percentage of the team. Somewhere in the group may be a very few gymnasts for which the assignment is the appropriate level of conditioning. But that leaves the assignment wrong and inappropriate for the majority of the team.

“Cheater” is a Label. “Cheating” on Conditioning is a Behavior

I recently saw a coach chastising a group of gymnasts for being cheaters in regards to their conditioning. He told the young compulsory gymnasts on the team that he expected them to keep up and do the same conditioning that the older optional gymnasts on the team did without cheating (and if they didn’t, he wouldn’t work with them because he didn’t work with cheaters). Labeling gymnasts as cheaters, for not performing on an inappropriately assigned gymnastics conditioning task, is also inappropriate.

Inappropriate Assignments Encourages Cheating on Gymnastics Conditioning

As it turned out the assignment of 50 consecutive chin-ups was a fantasy on the coaches part was there was no one on the team (even the one or two “Level 9’s”) able to come close to completing it without “cheating.” The coach’s assignment did not fit anyone on the team and then certain team members, including young Level 4 gymnasts, were publicly called cheaters.

Too Often, It is the Coaches Who are Cheating Their Gymnasts on Conditioning

When coaches set unreasonable strength or conditioning requirements that only fit the top of the team and expect all of the team members to keep up, it is the coaches who are creating a training environment that actually encourages cheating. They are cheating their gymnasts by not creating a really effective strength program and tracking it individually so that each gymnast has the opportunity to successfully progress.

Coaches Should Not Cause Cheating

A single strength training and conditioning program for every level of gymnast is unreasonable and the only way to keep up for some gymnasts below the curve is to “cheat.” Coaches should never put their gymnasts where cheating and lying about cheating is the only way they can appear to have succeeded.

Punishment Rarely Has Positive or the Desired Consequences

Adding further conditioning, as punishment for failing to complete the first conditioning assignment, especially when the whole team is given more conditioning because one publicly named gymnast (or more) is blamed for cheating, is always counterproductive in one or more ways. Using conditioning as punishment can lead to gymnasts who hate conditioning, instead of love it.

Gymnasts Love Tough

Some coaches may think that tough conditioning cannot be something gymnasts love, but strength training is actually a perfect way for gymnasts to make step after step after step of progress. And gymnasts love to make progress. A properly structured and tracked strength training program is most effective type of program and “cheating” is never an issue if only progress is tracked.

Coaches Should Not “Cheat” Their Gymnasts on Conditioning

There are a couple points that I am trying to make:

  • Strength and conditioning assignments should be individually matched to the gymnast’s current level.
  • Gymnasts should not be negatively labeled.
  • Conditioning programs should be designed as opportunities for success and progress.
  • Conditioning should not be used as punishment.
  • Coaches must do all the work necessary to create, administer and track an effective strength training program.

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