Archive for December 2009

Thinking Not In Terms of Just Skills, But Movement, Too…

December 31, 2009

Physical therapist Gray Cook and his partner, Lee Burton, have designed a seven-movement screen based on neural-developmental patterns that exist from birth. Commercially, this is known as the Functional Movement Screen (FMS). The basic premise of the screen is to identify asymmetries in basic movement patterns as these are an indication of either poor mobility or poor stability. Originally produced for athletes, this is now being used in other settings as well. The end goal is to identify those who might be at risk for injury and to work towards correcting the poor movement quality.

The research on the FMS is rather limited. But, from what little is out there, it shows promise. Now, I’m not writing to endorse this product. If you’re interested in it, then go check it out.

So, why am I discussing the FMS? Well, I want to apply the same concept to gymnastics. While we teach “skills,” essentially we’re truly movement specialists. Thus, if it is possible to have poor movement quality with innate movement patterns that have existed since birth, then imagine the wreckage that we can create when we develop poor fundamental gymnastics movements.

While poor gymnastics movement may not be a potential pre-cursor to injury, it can certainly be debilitating in the sense that your gymnast cannot move forward in their skill development. As Gray Cook likes to often point out in his seminars, if those fundamental movement patterns are not corrected in general athletes, then they are continuing to build poor movement habits on top of already poor movement habits. Or, I think I have heard him comment that “you” are building dysfunction on top of dysfunction.

So, what am I trying to say with all of this rambling? Simply put, if you do not spend the time teaching very good fundamental movement skills (i.e. the basics…basic handstand, rolls, glide swings, hip circles, walking on the beam, etc.), then you will continue to build dysfunction on top of dysfunction and your gymnast will most likely hit a lot of frustrating obstacles in his/her skill development. Sure, they may still get the skill that they are pursuing, but it may take longer and it may be far more frustrating than it should have been. Why not spend the extra time and develop the proper movement patterns? Or, if you get an athlete from another club, go back and fix/correct those poor movement patterns before moving forward.

Lastly, I challenge all to keep in mind that we’re not just gymnastics coaches. We’re movement experts. Forget the idea of a “skill” and think in broader terms as you are developing your gymnast. Consider how the patterns of movement that you’re allowing are going to affect future patterns of movement that you are hoping to achieve.

Another Thought on a Standing Back Tuck with a 1/2

December 30, 2009

Paul E. has responded to our Standing Back Tuck with a 1/2 dilemma with this comment.  I, personally, think this is dead-on.

Troy, I was thinking about one more thing that would hinder someone from this skill. This skill is commonly being taught to cheerleaders who have not had 10 years of gymnastics training before they try this skill. My point in this is not in the technique being used but in the athletes core strength. Usually at around 14 my boys decide to try these skills just playing around, as we have no event to use them on. I would have to say that 100 percent of the boys who have tried them learned them that day. They perform them really with no technique to speak of, but I think they are making them because of two things. First as you mentioned before they have a very strong understanding of a standing back, and secondly their core is strong, which helps them pull their knees through the twist. So to add to what you mentioned earlier, build the core muscles and I think you will get some great results.

I have to agree, as we don’t really use this skill much either, but when we do, it is usually with a gymnast that has already been doing standing back tucks and tumbling with multiple twisting for several years, and the results are similar to what Paul has mentioned.  Great point, Paul, and thanks for commenting!

Cause and Effect-Standing Tuck Full

December 30, 2009

Debbie S. has asked about a Standing Tuck with a full.  She wants to know whether the same general rules as the 1/2 apply.  She also says that some of the athletes that she has doing it are a little “out of control”.  She comments also that some of her athletes become fearful when attempting the skill on the floor after doing progressions up to this point.

Does anyone have any comments or ideas for Debbie on this?  Again, I will wait a couple of days before posting my ideas.  I would love to get everyone’s input on this first.

Also, I got a request from another person about very basic skills.  She felt that some people might be embarassed to ask about skills that are much more basic.  I think she is probably right about that, but I want to let everyone know that I, for one, am extremely interested in learning more about even the simplest of skills (those of you that know me would probably agree that this is true to the point of being obsessed).  So please, don’t be afraid to ask about any skill.  Just post it as a comment, and we will see what kind of feedback we can get.  Thanks everyone for all of the positive feedback so far.  This is fun!

Feel Better for Ten Bucks…Well, $20 actually…

December 30, 2009

Here’s a great article from two of my heroes in the fitness industry that I follow and read religiously… Mike Robertson and Eric Cressey .

This is an article about foam rolling and the awesome benefits of self-myofascial release (SMR).

SMR will help to improve the overall flexibility and mobility of your gymnasts. It will also help in alleviating some associated aches and pains that may be lingering due to poor tissue quality.

Looking to purchase one? I typically send people to Perform Better . I’d start with the one deemed most popular and retails for $19.95.

There are various degrees of stiffness and if you are new to foam rolling – trust me…this is the best place to start. Some of your more restricted areas can be awfully tender!

It’s a great way to loosen up some really difficult areas that tend to really tighten and that stretching alone seems to do little for – at least anecdotally speaking – such as the IT Band on the side of the leg and the Piriformis/Gluteus Medius region of the hip.

Happy Rolling!

P.S. Don’t quit if it hurts. Grit your teeth and keep it at. If you do it faithfully, it will improve quite a bit within a week or two.

Late Toe-On Drill

December 30, 2009

Here’s a drill that I found while surfing around on YouTube. I have done the drill with a floor bar, but why didn’t I think of doing it as such as a first progression? This is like a “Duh” moment.

The video is from another website that you should definitely check out There is also a blog associated with the website.

Cause and Effect-Standing Back Tuck with 1/2: My Solution

December 25, 2009

Well, we haven’t had anyone chime in on this yet, so I will give you my ideas for the causes and solution to this fairly common problem with twisting.

So, to start out, let’s figure out what causes this symptom.  This is a good example, in my opinion, because it is a classic case of what I want to address with these “Cause and Effect” scenarios.  I think that it is very common that coaches and athletes with limited experience may look at this much differently than coaches and athletes with more experience.  In my explanation of this error, I am going to address a back tuck with a half that is done late in the flip.  There is a whole different dynamic to a standing Arabian (1/2 turn to front tuck), and if someone wants more information on that, then they can comment, and I will respond along with anyone else that has thoughts on that.  

I am going to begin by addressing the most likely cause, in my experience, and then I will move to what I consider a less likely, but still possible cause.

In a back tuck with a 1/2 turn, it is easy to assume that, “If I can do a good standing back tuck and make it every time, then falling on my butt when adding a half must mean that the half is causing me problems.”  On the contrary, I believe that it is the standing tuck that is the true cause of this problem, and to be more specific, it is a case of  “adding the cart before the horse”. 

There are a few scientific principles at work here, but the one that is most appropriate is that “a body in motion will stay in motion until acted upon by an outside force”.  Since we are assuming that no one is kicking you in the middle of the flip, and twisting is an “internal” force, we can be assured that the act of twisting itself, cannot change our pattern of flight.  In other words, twisting alone, cannot “knock” someone out of the air. 

What this really (usually) comes down to is the fact that the athlete does not initiate (or finish the act of) hip rotation in the flip before beginning to twist.  The athlete, when adding this twist, will usually “get ahead” of herself and put the majority of her focus on the twist, and therefore, not do the same back tuck that she has been consistently (we hope) doing already.  Because she does not initiate this rotation, the skill itself is destined to be under-rotated before even getting to the twist.  I always tell my athletes when this problem occurs on any kind of twisting, that, if they had not twisted at all with that rotation, they still would have landed on their hands and knees.  This usually makes sense to them, and can sometimes be enough to solve the problem.

If it does not solve the problem, then I take them back to the core skill (in this case a standing back tuck), and have them work on doing it with a little bit of over-rotation or up to a panel mat, etc.  Please take note, though, that I am not talking about tumbling and certain other aspects of twisting.  This is not necessarily the appropriate action for those situations due to other variables, including angles of take-off and the increase of rotation due to the shortening of the body when twisting, etc.  Those are things for later subjects probably, but in the standing back tuck scenario, I find that when the athlete reminds her body of this act of rotation, she will tend to initiate it more fully prior to adding the twist.

Another option for solving the problem (and I use this method for everything from tucked and piked or laid out and twisting yurchenkos to fulls on floor to release moves on bars) is to go back and forth between the core skill and the new skill.  The ratio can start at somewhere around 3:1 and then work toward 1:1 and then to just the new skill.  In other words, I would have them do 3 standing back tucks (most likely up to a panel mat or trapezoid block) and then 1 back tuck with a 1/2 (to the resi probably).  In this type of training, I only lower the ratios if the athlete starts having success with the new skill (usually making 3 or 4 in a row first).  If an athlete can do the back tuck to a panel mat and has done some work on twisting drills, then this should work at some point, unless she has a 2nd possible problem.

This 2nd possible problem is that the athlete is initiating rotation at the beginning (and this takes a lot of experience to be able to identify as a coach), but she “opens up” her body or comes out of the tuck position when she initiates the twist, which effectively stops the rotation that she had started earlier.  The reason for this, usually, is that the athlete is a little disoriented and trying to stand up the skill unaware of where she is.  This does happen, but I would caution that it is the easier answer, in my opinion.  It is the equivalent of an untrained eye assessing a double back tuck that under-rotates, and then telling the athlete to pull harder.  In my opinion, if you watch 20 athletes under-rotate a double back, maybe 1 or 2 of them need to “pull harder”.  The rest of them are committing errors way before that, and “pulling harder” would be like putting a band-aid around a dismembered finger.  The symptom is corrected, i.e. the finger may stay on, but the person won’t be using the finger anymore unless there is surgery done to re-attach it.

But I digress.  One solution to the “opening up” scenario is to have the athlete do the skill into the pit, and stress to her to stay in the tuck shape when she twists.  This way, the athlete doesn’t have to worry about standing the skill up and can focus on the other things that are going to lead to success.  Another option is to do the skill off of the end of the tumble-trak or on the trampoline or off of a springboard or mini-tramp to give more air time, and thereby more confidence, so the athlete doesn’t feel the need to open up out of the tuck shape.

I really hope this has been helpful.  I assure you that these are just things that have worked for me, and though I may sound very confident about what I am saying, I promise all of you that I am the type of coach who would change drills or training tomorrow if I found a better way.  So, please, add your opinions to this blog, as I am always interested in learning more.  Thanks again, Valentin for your help in kicking off this idea.

Cause and Effect-Standing Tuck with 1/2 Twist

December 23, 2009

So, we have our first challenge, everyone.  Valentin Uzunov gave us a hypothetical when he wrote,

“why is it that i can’t get around on a standing back with a half. I keep falling back onto my bum”

I am excited to see what everyone has to say about this!  Thank you so much, Valentin for starting us off!  Please leave a comment if you have some experience with this or some ideas on the causes for this and the solution.  I will give this a couple of days to hear everyone else’s ideas, and then offer my own.

I think this can be a great tool for everyone, so be sure and give us your challenges when you think of them!

Cause and Effect

December 22, 2009

I got a great idea from a team coach from another gym recently, and thought I would take it a step further than just doing an article, and attach it to this blog.  The idea is to just start a banter back and forth with coaches from any aspect of our great sport regarding “Cause and Effect”. 

As we all know, many times in gymnastics, or any sport for that matter, when something goes wrong in a skill or a technique, it is very rarely the main problem with that skill or technique, but more often the result of an error earlier on in that skill.  Some of these errors are very easily identified and dealt with and some can be much more complicated depending on the level of the experience of the coach, the ability of the athlete, and the amount of time the athlete has committed this error (how much of a habit it has become). 

So, the idea is to have you, as commenters, challenge all of us, as bloggers and other viewers of this blog, to come up with the true causes of symptoms that you see with your athletes and then in turn, some possible solutions to those causes.  I think this can be a very useful tool for all of us to grow as coaches, as long as we are all open-minded to all of the possibilities available.

To participate in this idea, simply take the time to leave a question or scenario, etc. on the comment page.  Then, I will take those off of the comment page and create a post on that particular situation, and comment myself as to my take on it, and then ask anyone viewing it to post a comment regarding their idea as to causes and/or solutions.

This will be lots of fun, and I believe, a tremendous help in strengthening our incredible sports!  Thanks to all of you in advance for your time and effort regarding this.