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Gymnastics Training: Gymnastics Advice Column

By Karen Goeller

We will post a new question and answer periodically in an effort to help gymnastics parents, gymnasts, and coaches better understand gymnastic skills or issues that arise while training in gymnastics. If you would like to send Karen a question you can do so by using the email address at the top of this page. All names, gym names, towns, and identifying information is removed from the question before it is posted. Karen will not answer any questions from those under 18 years of age. Athletes under 18 must have their parent send the question. We sincerely thank you for your interest in our gymnastic products and services.
You may also enjoy the articles, training programs, and books.

 

Read more gymnastics questions.


One  ((More Questions.)
Question
I am a competitive gymnast. I am doing a research paper for school, and it is about causes of eating disorders in gymnastics. I was wondering what your take on this issue is, what do you think the cause is. So far I know they are often caused by coaches influence, but I need a first hand account for my primary sources. Thank you for any help or information you can give me!

Answer
    I do not normally help with homework, but you chose a very important topic.
    My personal experience with eating disorders...  I studied health and nutrition in college so I already knew the signs and symptoms. In 30 years of coaching I have only PERSONALLY seen one gymnast with an eating disorder. This one girl's eating disorder was NOT influenced by any coach. It was influenced by her best friend in school with the desire to diet. This girl was following her friend right into the trap of anorexia. I detected this problem with this gymnast because she was performing all of the conditioning and was the only one on the team who was not getting stronger. She was actually getting weaker, really fast. She quickly began to lack the energy necessary for the workouts too. I contacted her mother and initially asked if her daughter was dieting because she was becoming weaker. The mother became angry and hung up the phone. The problem became more apparent to me so I contacted the mother again a week later and told the mother that her daughter did not have the energy for the workouts. Again, I mentioned that she may be dieting unnecessarily. Her mother became embarrassed, denied a problem existed, and suddenly pulled her daughter out of the sport. Our gymnasts were encouraged to eat plenty of healthy foods. I found out a few months later that I was 100% accurate with detecting the problem early and that I did help her mother catch on to the problem. Again, this one girl's eating disorder was a result of supporting and copying her best friend at school who was going into the downward spiral of anorexia.
   
There are still some terrible coaches out there that do not care about their gymnast's health, but now the majority of coaches are aware of healthy eating. Any coach who asks a gymnast to step on a scale to be weighed should not be coaching. Of course, there are some gymnasts who are overweight, but the coaches should discuss healthy eating habits with the entire team rather than "dieting" with any gymnast alone. Many coaches now discuss healthy eating with a positive attitude on a regular basis and that helps the athletes learn healthy habits for life. Gymnastics coaches have been made aware of eating disorders through many channels in recent years. USA Gymnastics has educated coaches through Technique Magazine and coaching conventions.
    Eating disorders are not very difficult to detect for a coach who is well educated, informed on the issue, and knows their athletes. Again, I have personally coached thousands of gymnasts since 1978 in a variety of settings including my gym, other gyms, and camps. I have only personally seen one gymnast with this problem as a coach and I am very, very good at detecting problems with gymnasts. The kids at the camps ate a really good amount of food. An eating disorder would be detectable very fast in a camp setting.
    There are gymnasts who sometimes do not eat enough calories, but they do not necessarily have eating disorders. Some simply do not realize that they need more calories than people who do not exercise. When a gymnast is going downhill rather than progressing there is a problem. When an athlete is often fatigued much easier than she previously was there is a problem. Weight loss, low blood pressure, dizziness, poor skin coloring, a change in personality are all reasons to be concerned that there could be a health problem. A doctor should be seen if the athlete has these signs or symptoms. Osteoporosis, stress fractures, organ failure, and other very serious health issues do occur with eating disorders that have not been diagnosed and controlled early enough, including death in the most severe cases.
    To all parents reading this: Please discuss healthy eating with your children. If you feel that your child has a health problem, including an eating disorder, bring them to a doctor immediately. For more information on eating disorders do a Google or webMD search for the phrase, "athlete triad."
    Please be sure to eat plenty of healthy foods. And visit www.MyPyramid.gov and www.EatHealthy.org for safe and accurate nutrition information. Nutrition plays a large role in your health, athletic performance, growth, and healing from injuries and illnesses. There are a few good health and nutrition articles on this website. Take a look at the calcium and the Osteopenia articles. Be sure to read our nutrition articles.  


Two

Question

    My daughter is 12 and training for level 9/10. She has very good strength but lacks some flexibility. She has been having horrible pain in her Achilles tendons. We have seen numerous doctors and they say tendonitis/tendonosis/sever's disease may be the cause of the pain. When she backs off the tumbling her feet/calves get better quick but as soon as she returns to tumbling the pain comes back. Do you know of any stretches or conditioning that would help her besides the normal Achilles stretch with both straight and bent knees. Thanks for your help, she does not want to take time off but at this point it is my only suggestion

 

Answer

    You should take your daughter to a physical therapist or sports injury professional for individual advice. Rest and ice are common ways to deal with both problems. If your daughter is tumbling (with doctor's permission), she should be using VERY soft and forgiving surfaces for at least four weeks to allow healing time and deal with this injury correctly. Tendonitis is an overuse injury. Your daughter is likely performing too many repetitions of something that is causing this pain or she is working on surfaces that are too hard. To resolve this, she should NOT be running or tumbling on any hard surface (including the floor ex area) for AT LEAST a month. All of her landings (if she has doctor's permission) should be soft. She should also be icing her heels AS SOON as she starts to feel pain and at the end of every practice. The ActiveWrap works well. Your daughter should be stretching her heels and calves as soon as she is done performing each event. Just make sure she does not stretch within 15 minutes after icing because it is not safe to stretch a cold muscle. Remember, the more your daughter performs on this injury, the longer the healing time and more risk of permanent damage. You can buy foam heel cups so that your daughter can either put them inside gymnastics shoes or tape them to her heels during practice to absorb some of the shock. Even walking barefoot may irritate this condition. Heel cups are NOT a cure, they just offer a little relief. PATIENCE is the key with overuse injuries. Please try to find out which one (sever's or tendonitis) it is because the treatment may be different. Either way, your daughter should be resting and icing, but beyond that she should be doing exactly what the doctor and/or therapist has prescribed. She should not stay out of the gym. She should not doing anything that irritates the problem for at least 4 weeks. Please bring your daughter to a sports injury professional for a thorough assessment.

    You may want to ask your daughter's coach to make sure there are no extra jumps or tumbling skills (other than the requirements) in her routines for now. Even one extra jump can cause severe problems for some gymnasts. One jump sounds like such a small number, but if a gymnast performs ten routines a day, 5 days a week, that is an additional 50 jumps per week or 200 jumps per month which may be too many for your daughter's lower body.  And if there are too many jumps on two events (beam and floor) then the number of unnecessary jumps is doubled. Sometimes only a minor adjustment, such as removing an unnecessary jump, can make a world of difference.

    An important point about overuse injuries... If three or more gymnasts on a team of ten or fewer gymnasts have pain in the same general area (lower limbs or upper limbs) then a change should be made in the training program or with the equipment being used. Sometimes only a minor change is necessary. If only one gymnast on the team has pain then it is likely an individual weakness, injury. If she is performing the deep frog jumps she should stop doing them immediately. That jump puts enormous stress on the ligaments and tendons. Some of the less experienced coaches imitate things they see on a video clip of elite gymnasts and they assume it is a safe exercise for every gymnast. That exercise is not and it is counter-productive for gymnastics. Gymnasts need eccentric strength to stick landings and the tumbling and vaulting is a very different type of jump. Tumbling and vaulting require rebounds which involve a very small knee bend, a quick action of the ankles, and a very tight body to produce the rebounding action. There are no skills in women's gymnastics that require a gymnast to take off or land in that deep frog position.

    Here is a pretty good website for injury information... www.sportsinjuryclinic.net. If you visit that website please return to our for gymnastics books, apparel, gifts, and supplies.

    I offer training for gymnasts, in person and through the web. Please feel free to contact me directly if I can help your daughter. The information on my training services is at the training link on this website (Personal Training).


Three

Question

    My 7 year old can't hold a handstand. This has prevented her progress toward team. Her coach had her work on kicking up to a handstand and them holding it against the wall. The problem with this was she sways her back terribly when doing these against the wall. So her coach had her do handstand with her belly on the wall. She can't hold and handstand like this. She can't hold the handstand with her belly in and so she pushes her shoulder blades out to try to balance. What can she do to work on tight handstand positions with a straight back if she can't yet do it with belly toward the wall. Please help.

 

Answer

    Great question... It sounds like your daughter needs body tightness drills. The coach should be helping her with this. It is the coach's responsibility to provide appropriate drills, conditioning, and instruction with technique for every skill that is introduced, especially the handstand. You would find my handstand article to be very useful. It offers two drills, one is for body position that would help your daughter. I included that one below. The handstand involves so many muscle groups working simultaneously. It is often difficult for the new gymnast to fully master the handstand prior to being expected to perform even more difficult skills.

Here is one drill that should help your daughter learn to pull in her lower abdominal section while elongating her lower back for a more straight and tight handstand position.

 

Belly Button Lift

    Have your gymnast lie on their stomach, face down. Have them place their arms up by their ears, keeping their arms straight and hands (palms) on the floor. Instruct your gymnast to keep everything on the floor, including their hands (palms), arms, chin, armpits, chest, hips, thighs, and (pointed) feet. Once your gymnast is completely flat, instruct them to lift their belly button off the floor, leaving everything else on the floor. Remind your gymnast again to keep their hands (palms), armpits, chest, hips, thighs, and feet down while they lift their belly button up. Once your gymnast lifts their belly button you should see their lower back elongate into the correct position for a handstand. Their buttocks should be under once their belly button is lifted off the floor. Your gymnast has just begun to learn the "pelvic tilt!" Have your gymnast relax and then repeat this drill with enough frequency so that they completely understand how to pull in their belly button and elongate their lower back. Make sure your gymnast keeps everything on the floor with the exception of the belly button area once lifted.

 

    There is another drill on the page with the handstand article. You may also find the Handstand Book to be very useful,  www.HandstandBook.com If you are in or near NJ, I can help your daughter in person. I offer training for gymnasts that includes handstand work. Feel free to contact me directly if you would like some additional help for your daughter. My contact information is on the top of every page of this website I hope this helps...


You may also enjoy Karen Goeller's gymnastics articles, training programs,  and books.


Four

Question

    My daughter is hoping to complete the necessary skills to compete Level 7 this upcoming season. My question is regarding her strength to weight ratio. She is by no means heavy but is not a petite gymnast. We have always felt she was quite strong as a child because she could do things such as the monkey bars independently at age 3. Just yesterday she completed 55 push-ups which I thought was pretty good. The problem is that she struggles more then some on bars with cast handstands and free hips where she is not getting much higher then 30 degrees beyond horizontal. What is your take on this issue and is there anything we can to do help. Should her coaches be doing anything extra or differently for her? I have also just read a Technique Magazine article regarding the fact that we in the USA train too bulky of gymnasts.

 

Answer

    Great question! Many coaches assign inappropriate conditioning exercises and their gymnasts are bulking up, slowing down, and taking forever to learn skills as a result of this counter-productive conditioning. Coaches should be assigning sport specific conditioning so that the muscles are trained to perform the skills. Just like the mind must be trained, the muscles must be trained to perform skills, contract in the correct sequence and with the correct intensity. Many of the exercises that coaches are assigning are really counter-productive. You may want to read my article on sport specific conditioning. It explains that straight arm conditioning must be used because there are no skills in girl's gymnastics that require the gymnast to perform the exact push up or pull up motion. The article includes a specific conditioning exercise for the cast handstand to show the difference between general strength exercises (push ups) and sport specific exercises (planche drills). There is an illustration of one of the exercisers below and the explanation is on the conditioning article page. Your daughter's coach should be offering exercises that simulate the cast handstand such as planche drills. Pushups are just slightly useful for the cast handstand because the gymnast does need some chest strength in order to pass through the middle phase of the skill, but the push up is not really a sport specific exercise and will not be an indicator of a gymnast's success with skills. You may also want to read my article on the cast handstand. There is a sport specific conditioning exercise in this article. I have many training programs specifically for the cast handstand, glide kip, and other skills in gymnastics. I offer sports conditioning for gymnasts in NJ and can help your daughter with sport specific strength in person.


You may also enjoy Karen Goeller's gymnastics articles, training programs,  and books.

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Five

Question

    My daughter is 6 years old and training level 4.  She is amazing on bars, scored a team record of 9.70 during the last season, and was a state bars champion this past year. She has all of her L4 skills, including the cast squat on jump to high bar.  Her coach introduces grips at this level and ordered them for the whole team.  My daughter was excited at first but then within a couple of days,  she peeled off the high bar and got really scared.  The grips she was wearing were pretty big on her (that brand doesn't come any smaller than a size 0) so we ordered different grips that are designed for smaller hands.  These fit her much better but she still hates them and is scared to swing with them.  She likes working without grips, never rips and never complains that her hands hurt or anything.  Her whole team is using them (except for her) and I'm worried that she'll end up needing them as she progresses and then she won't be used to them. She has said she'd rather quit than have to use grips and I'd really hate to see that happen as she seems to have a lot of natural talent. What should we do?  Is it better to insist on them now, at the risk of completely blowing her confidence on bars, or should we let her go without and risk her having to learn to use them on harder skills at a higher level?  Or is it possible, in the USA, to never have to use them?  Please help.

 

Answer

    Your daughter DOES NOT NEED GRIPS at level 4 or at age six. Grips became popular as a fun accessory, but this is a potentially deadly accessory. If a child peels off the bar she can get seriously injured with broken bones, sprains, or even a broken neck resulting in death. Many parents do not read the warning and instruction page that should be enclosed with each pair of grips or they may not be aware of these hazards until after they have already made the purchase. Unfortunately, many coaches do not take grip strength seriously enough and gymnasts ARE getting injured. Too many children peel off the bars because they have neither developed appropriate grip strength nor have they learned how to hold the bar. Many coaches do not teach the gymnasts that their life is literally in their hands.  If gymnasts peeling off the bars, three or more from one gym within one year, then it is possible the coaches are not teaching the gymnasts to hold onto the bar and the gymnasts are getting grips too early. You may be thinking only three, but the injuries can be severe.
    When I owned a gym for 10 years my gymnasts did not wear grips until level 9, when they started to perform release skills. I only had one gymnast peel off the bars out of all of the gymnasts that trained in my gym over the course of ten years. (That's less than one in one thousand gymnasts peeling off the bar.) That one gymnast was very young and it did not even happen in my gym. That's an amazing record compared to many other gyms and EVERY gym can have that same track record.
    One gym I have been consulting with has had way too many gymnasts peel off the bar. In less than one year they have had at least 5 of their team gymnasts that I know of (possibly more) peel off the bars, one with a broken arm and another landed on her head but did continue to workout all that week. I was not near the bars during any of these incidents. Not one gymnast at that gym has peeled since the day I gave them a lecture about holding onto the bar. It is imperative that the coach teach the gymnast to hold onto the bar (for dear life!) and that they train grip strength on a regular basis for many years BEFORE they get grips. Silly putty and play dough are great activities for building grip strength when not in the gym. One simple grip strength exercise during gym time is to have the gymnast hang on the bar for 15-30 seconds at a time. That gives the gymnast a much better awareness that she MUST hold the bar. Gymnasts of all ages MUST be made aware that they could get SERIOUSLY INJURED if they do not hold the bar securely. On the other hand, if they hold too tight as they circle around the bar that could also cause serious injury to the wrist and arm. Years ago we did many grip strength exercises on the bars before the gymnast was even allowed to begin learning the pullover. Exercises such as hanging and traveling across the bar while hanging was a standard exercise for young gymnasts. Now coaches are so quick to rush these children into routines that they forget about the fundamental skills such as hanging and being able to hold their own bodyweight. Grip strength should be developed before the child learns any of the skills where their safety relies on their little hands holding the bar.
    One problem is that the girls are competing outside the gym at a much younger age now than just ten years ago due to level four becoming a competitive level. The younger gymnasts see the older gymnasts with grips and then want them. Unfortunately, it only takes one gymnast on a team to get them before the entire team has them. The grip companies have aggressively advertised the grips to the parents of the younger children too. I DO NOT recommend grips for any gymnast below level seven or below age ten. I personally feel a gymnast should be able to perform giants with AND without grips. My gymnasts, gymnasts from many other gyms, and most of the elite gymnasts from other countries did not wear grips. Grips do not determine a gymnast's chance of success so please do not force your daughter to wear grips.  The grips on this website have been discontinued for several reasons, including our opinion on grips for lower level gymnasts.


You may also enjoy Karen Goeller's gymnastics articles, training programs,  and books.

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Six
Question
    I have a 14 y o level 10 gymnast who is having the worst mental block she has ever had on bars. 6 weeks ago she had great success at a meet on bars, was state champion, and broke a state record. She has not fallen or seen anyone fall. Coaches are getting very concerned because she's never been this bad. Any suggestions on how to help her. It pains me to see her so frustrated!

Answer
    I am so sorry to hear that your daughter is having a difficult time right now. Mental blocks happen for many different reasons including fatigue, dehydration, and too much pressure to perform from the coach or parents. Sometimes when gymnasts are expected to learn too many new skills at once they develop mental blocks. The best thing to do is allow your daughter to relax enough so that she can re-focus and then begin to perform well again. If there is a problem with one skill she must be able to visualize herself performing the skill over and over again. She must also perform many drills, the proper conditioning, and she must be spotted by the coach until she feels comfortable again. The worst and most dangerous thing to do is to push her more or add pressure because that is when injuries occur. Simply discussing this mental block can add pressure, depending upon the gymnast and tone of the conversation. A gymnast must be relaxed in order to focus properly and perform safely. To be sure she is getting enough of the nutrients she needs visit www.mypyramid.gov, www.eathealthy.org, and www.gssiweb.com for safe and accurate nutrition information, hydration information, nutrition tools, and sports science articles. Please make sure she is getting high quality sleep too because that greatly effects an athlete's performance too.
If you are in or near NJ I may be able to help your daughter in person. I offer private sports conditioning workouts and conditioning classes. If you think there is anything I can do to help her you can contact me directly.


You may also enjoy Karen Goeller's gymnastics articles, training programs,  and books.

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Seven

Question

    My daughter is 11 and competed level 9 last season. She is a very talented gymnast - very strong and powerful. Our gym just began an "elite" program and she is part of that, but her coach has some concerns. Mainly, my daughter cannot press to a handstand. Not on the floor, not on the beam, not on the little parallel bars. I'm thinking it might be due to her body type - she and her muscles are long and lean instead of short and compact, and there just seems to be too much leg to raise. I know it's not her strength - she can shimmy up the rope with no legs in just seconds. Maybe this is something she will never get. But my 2-part question is this: Is there some radically alternative way to try to teach her how, and if she never learns would this alone prevent her from competing at the Elite level? Thank you.

 

Answer

    I cannot tell you what your daughter’s coach will require for their elite program. I can tell you that climbing a rope uses different muscles than a press handstand. I personally would not allow a gymnast to compete level 6 or above without that basic strength and flexibility for safety reasons. A press handstand says a lot about a gymnast. The skill requires hip flexor, triceps, shoulder, abdominal, and chest strength. It also requires hamstring and low back flexibility.  It is often the coach’s fault if their gymnast is lacking in basic strength and flexibility because it is the coach who has written and implemented the training program. That is of course, unless all of the gymnasts except for one gymnast can perform the required skills. It is those times when it is often the gymnasts fault for not giving their best effort each and every time they perform a skill, a combination, a routine, a drill, warm-up and conditioning exercises. I would suggest your daughter really give the idea some thought of whether she is giving her best effort all of the time. If she is, then please discuss this with the coach and ask the coach why your daughter does not have this basic skill at level nine. You may want to purchase my drills and conditioning book or the press handstand poster so that your daughter can perform many conditioning exercises specifically for this skill. If she wants the drills to be effective she would need to perform 2-4 sets of 10 repetitions of each exercise at least 3 times each week.


You may also enjoy Karen Goeller's gymnastics articles, training programs,  and books.

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Eight

Question

    My 10-year-old (Level 7) daughter is testing for TOPS.  What she really needs to work on is her left leg splits.  Can you recommend any exercises to help her with her flexibility in this area.
 

Answer
    Your daughter must perform stretches for her hip flexors, hamstrings, hips, and buttocks.  There is a stretch that USAG requires all gymnasts to perform, the quad/psoas stretch.

 Gymnastics Drills and Conditioning Books

    The gymnast must kneel in front of a wall. She then places one foot in front as if she is about to perform a split. the foot must be further out than her knee because once she bends her knee the knee will be directly above her foot. She must shift the back leg so that her knee is on the floor against the wall and her shin is on the wall. Once in the starting position she must press her hips down and forward by bending her front leg. She will feel the stretch on the quads and hip flexor muscles of the leg that is against the wall. The illustration shown is the stretch performed without the wall.

       She must also stretch the hamstrings and muscles of the buttocks. One stretch that is great for the hamstrings is the supine hamstring stretch. The gymnast lies on her back and places a towel over her foot. With the towel around her foot the gymnast straightens that leg and uses the towel to increase the stretch. The bottom leg remains on the floor.
    Another great one is a split on the wall. The gymnast stands with her back to the wall, about 8-12 inches from the wall. She then places her hands on the floor and lifts one leg up behind her to literally perform a split with her legs on the wall. She remains supported by the bottom leg while the other is above her against the wall. Her hands remain on the floor. She can push on the floor to get a better stretch. This will actually press her legs against the wall and increase her split.
    There are many other stretches, but space is limited here. There are stretches in a few my books including, Gymnastics Drills and Conditioning Exercises, ISBN 9781411805799 and Fitness on a Swing Set, ISBN 0615147887.

I may be able to help your daughter in person.


You may also enjoy Karen Goeller's gymnastics articles, training programs,  and books.

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Nine

Question

    At what point do you know it's time to switch your child to a more serious competitive gym? Do you lose anything switching from the small gym to the "next step"?  What signs do you have that your child is talented enough to make the necessary sacrifices vs. just making sure she's having fun while competing?

Answer
   
That is a great question. It is always best to go to the gym that has the most knowledgeable coaches, unless the coaches are disrespectful to the children. Your daughter's safety, health, and happiness are most important. Her gymnastics goals come after that. Talent is not the number one indicator of whether a child will reach a high level of competition. Dedication, motivation, and lifestyle are better indicators. If a gymnast is dedicated and works hard in the gym she will progress at a good rate. By lifestyle I mean the amount of sleep, good nutrition, ability to manage time, and parents that can get her to the gym for every workout. These are just as important as the time she spends training. A gymnast's rate of progress is effected by her overall health. Without the proper sleep and nutrition a gymnast could be more prone to fatigue, injury, or illness.
    The best thing to do is try a class at the other gym, talk to the other parents in the lobby, meet the owners, ask your daughter if she had fun, and go with your gut feeling. Look at the whole picture. Look at the gymnasts to see if they are working hard and happy or if they are unhappy or on the sidelines icing injuries. If 3 or more gymnasts from one team have pain in the same area of their body there is something wrong with the training. Make sure you watch recreational classes and the highest level gymnasts train before you make your decision. They should be doing plenty of conditioning, drills for the skills, and stretching.  The gym must be clean, the equipment must be well maintained, and the coaches absolutely must respect the children, even if they are demanding. Make sure you choose a place that suits your daughter's personality and goals.
    Again, you must keep your daughter's safety, health, and happiness in mind every minute, every day, and each year she spends in the sport. Keep in mind that you may have to travel pretty far to a gym, but if it is the right one for your daughter it is well worth the trip. Keep in contact with the coaches and watch as much of her gym time as you can.
    I sincerely wish you the best of luck with your decision...


You may also enjoy Karen Goeller's gymnastics articles, training programs,  and books.

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Ten

Question

    My daughter has tried for so long to get giants and she just cant seem to get them. Her coaches tell her all the time that she has really good tap swings and there should be no reason as to why she cant get over. If you have any advice can you please help!!!!   

Answer
    She must think of it as a giant swing over the bar. In other words... A cast handstand, push through her shoulders as she falls, look at the low bar, kick her feet under the low bar, open her hips, see the wall and ceiling, kick (tap) as aggressively as she can toward towards the wall behind her. That is much different than what many gymnasts think and do. Many gymnasts think they should stop in a handstand at the top. When they attempt to stop in the handstand, which is not correct, they end up falling because they did not make it to the top. A great way to learn and practice giants is to perform them in a tuck position as a warm up. The gymnast usually begins to understand that she must tuck her buttocks under and kick her knees and shins over the bar. Once a gymnast understands that she must kick over the bar rather than stopping at the top she can perform the skill more consistently. Once she is comfortable she can begin to open her tuck. Another great way for gymnasts to become more comfortable and efficient with the skill is to perform more than 5 each time they are on the bars rather than the 1 or 2 at a time. A coach should spot your daughter for the long sets of giants. She should try to see if she can add one more giant to the long set each week. By the time a gymnast can perform 10-12 giants with spot she should be able to compete 1-3 in a routine.


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Eleven

Question

    Many of my level 5 and 6 gymnasts are complaining of back pain during back walkovers. As you know they must be able to repeat them many times during a practice. What do you advise to minimize the pain?

Answer
   
It is sad to hear that such a high number of gymnasts have pain in the same area of their body. A good rule of thumb is that when 3 or more gymnasts have pain or chronic injury to the same area of their body there is something wrong with the training. It could be that the gymnasts are performing too many repetitions of the same motion or it could be technique.
    I would strongly advise every single gymnast that is in pain be seen by a sports doctor immediately. The coach may be assigning too many back bending skills, may not be stretching the girls efficiently, or is not teaching the skill correctly. I know it sounds crazy for me to say that, but I owned a gym for 10 years and never had a gymnast with back pain. And in all the time I have coached I have only come across a handful of gymnasts with back pain, mostly in one gym. There are thousands of gymnastics facilities without any gymnasts who have pain in their back. It is very possible to train and compete several years without pain or injury to the back.
    The gymnasts in your daughter's gym may not be learning basic skills with the correct technique and/or may not be warming up properly. With the walkovers, much of the work in the skill should be performed through the shoulders, not the lower back as many people think. If a gymnast's shoulders are tight or just not stretched enough, their low back will take the pressure.

    For the back walkover the gymnast must stand as tall as possible with her body weight on one foot to start, squeeze her buttocks, pull her abdominal area in, keep the supporting leg straight until it is impossible, place the hands on the floor or beam with an open shoulder angle, push through the shoulders, then pull in the armpits to bring the first foot to the step down position. Many children droop in the low back pressing their hips forward. That puts an enormous amount of pressure on the low back in the beginning of the skill.
    Please take your daughter to a doctor as soon as possible for the back pain and please relay this message to the parents of other girls with back pain. All gymnasts must be seen by a doctor when they feel pain. I do not want to scare you, but these girls need their backs for the rest of their lives. I was in one gym where an optional gymnast was given her new floor routine. I took one look at the beautiful routine and told the gym owner this gymnast would have stress fractures in her back within a few weeks if she performed the routine during every practice. They only trained 4 times each week. This gymnast did have pain, went to a doctor and found out that she had stress fractures. That was the end of this gymnast's gymnastics career, all because the choreographer and gym owner did not think of this gymnast's health. They would not listen to me.
    So again, take your daughter to a doctor for her back pain. Instruct your daughter to stop performing anything that hurts her back as soon as she feels pain. If the coach gives your daughter a hard time please find another coach immediately. I do not want you or the other parents to think this back pain is the nature of the sport because it is not. There is something wrong with the training in the gym your daughter attends if so many girls have pain the the same area of their body.
    There are many useful drills in my walkover-back handspring book.


Twelve

Question

My daughter struggles with wobbling on this turn move.  What can she do to improve that specific element?

Answer
Many gymnasts wobble on turns because they are not tight. Gymnasts must think of squeezing their thighs together even though one foot is at the ankle or knee. If a gymnast squeezes the top of her thighs together it will help keep the foot attached to the other leg which will help with stability.  A gymnast must also squeeze her buttocks while turning. This again will help with stability and will prevent her from bending in the hip area. Another important technique with turns is that the gymnast must be very high on her foot. There will be less friction between the foot and the floor making it easier to move. And finally, the turn must be initiated with the shoulder, no matter where the arms are positioned. If the gymnast does a very quick small motion of moving the shoulder and elbow back the rest of the body will follow, as long as the gymnast is tight. When done correctly, the shoulder motion it is not noticeable.


Thirteen

Question

My nine year old daughter is a level 4.  She is having difficulty doing her dismount from the higher beam, she can do on the lower beam.  Is this just fear?  If so is there anything I as a parent can do to help her?  Also she is having problems with the front hip circle.  She can do the stride circle, but continually comes off the bar when she does the front hip circle.  Any suggestions?  Her coaches have tried so many different things with her to get his skill.  Why I am concerned is she is progressively getting more upset and has even started to cry.  I asked if she wants to continue and she says yes.  What can I do to help?

Answer

   This is very common, fears and problems with certain skills. Just keep encouraging your daughter to relax and listen to the coach. Tell her that every gymnast gets skills at different times and sometimes it can take 6 months to a year of consistent effort to master a skill. She'll get the skills she needs as long as she makes great efforts every time she attempts them. Every gymnast progresses at a different rate and each has difficulty with different skills.
   If there is another coach in the gym that can join her regular coach for a few minutes it may make a difference. Sometimes when another coach comes over to the event for a few minutes to offer a different explanation for a skill it helps a great deal.
   The front hip circle is a timing skill. Your daughter may be bending too soon which is extremely common. The gymnast must remain straight until horizontal then bring their nose to their knees. Once the body is compressed the gymnast must kick open with her legs to end up in the front support. Another common mistake with that skill is the gymnast is too high or not high enough on her thighs to start.
   Do not let your daughter give up if she truly loves the sport. This is the nature of the sport and this is how gymnasts learn persistence, determination, and that hard work does pay off in the long run. She'll get through it...
 


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Read More Questions

One: Eating Disorders / Two:  Sever's & Tendonitis  / Three: Handstand / Four: Sport Specific Conditioning / Five: Grips / Six: Mental Block-Fears / Seven: Elite-Press Handstand / Eight: Splits / Nine: Switching Gyms / Ten: Giants / Eleven: Walkover Back Pain / Twelve: Turns and Tightness / Thirteen:  Level 4 Beam Dismount / Fourteen: Practice Bar / Fifteen: Shin Splints / Sixteen: Gym Hours / Seventeen: Bruise from Cast HS on Bars / Eighteen: Stretching / Nineteen: Cartwheel-Beam / Twenty: Ankle Weights / Twenty One:  Height-Tall / Twenty Two: Clear Hip Circle / Twenty Three: Multiple Injuries / Twenty Four: Wrist Supports / Twenty Five: Bridge / Twenty Six: Back Handspring / Twenty Seven: Full Twist / Twenty Eight: Conditioning / Twenty Nine:  Routine Fatigue /

Thirty:  Knee Pain Thirty One: Bored with Routines



 

 

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