Archive for January 2010

Plyometrics – An Explanation & Appropriate Usage…

January 22, 2010

Plyometric exercise refers to activities that enable a muscle to achieve maximal force in the shortest possible time.  The goal of plyometric exercises is to develop and/or increase power.  To understand plyometrics better, one must grasp the three different phases.  These are the phases that are outlined in the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd edition.  (Human Kinetics, 2008)

Photo from:  Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd edition.  (Human Kinetics, 2008)

Eccentric Phase:  In this phase, the muscle is being stretched and elastic energy is stored.

In the picture above, the calf muscle (gastrocnemius) is being stretched as the ankle moves into a position of dorsiflexion.  (Ankle dorsiflexion is an anatomical movement term reflecting the decrease in the angle between the foot and the shin bone.)

Amortization Phase:  This phase refers to the time between the eccentric phase and the subsequent concentric (“shortening”) phase.  During this very brief instant, nerves from the brain are sending signals to nerves that stimulate the muscles.

Concentric Phase:  In this phase, the muscle is now being shortened.  In addition to the muscle force being produced from the muscle itself and its contraction properties, stored energy from the eccentric phase is also released and contributes to the total force production.

In the picture above, the contraction of the calf muscle during the push-off phase (ankle plantarflexion) would reflect the concentric phase.

So, basically, the muscle functions much like that of a rubber band.  If it is stretched, it can produce additional force because it possesses elastic properties.

So, how do coaches often mess up the application?

The key component to plyometric exercise is ground contact time.  In other words, how fast can the gymnast get off the ground when they are performing these exercises?

What I see far too often in most gyms is that coaches prescribe too many of a plyometric exercise within a set.  As you see in the amortization phase, much of what we’re really training is the neuromuscular system.  By doing too many repetitions in a set, fatigue begins to accumulate.  However, depending on the conditioning level of your gymnasts, that fatigue may not be felt in the muscles.  But, the nervous system itself gets very fatigued.  And, as a result, the gymnasts slow down, ground contact times increase, and you’ve turned a power exercise into a conditioning circuit.

In typical strength training, power is developed by utilizing 1-5 repetitions per set.  I would apply this same concept to plyometrics since they are power exercises.  Total volume is based on the number of foot contacts.  If you desire 20 foot contacts of a specific exercise, then I would perform 4 sets of 5 and allow sufficient rest time between sets for neural system recovery.

While not an official term that I have ever seen in textbooks, if your goal is to develop power endurance (the ability to maintain one’s power over a particular duration), then I think that you have three options.  First of all, you can increase the rep range, but I would not exceed 10 repetitions per set.  Or, secondly, you could perform your plyometric exercises in a more fatigued state. (i.e. end of practice, following a hard strength training/conditioning session, etc.)  Third, you could decrease the rest periods between sets.

Developing power endurance may be useful for the gymnast so that they have enough reserve power at the end of a floor routine to make the final tumbling pass.

Hopefully, this gives all of you a bit more understanding of my opinion of how to best incorporate plyometric training into your strength and conditioning program.

Coaches who Deserve more Attention!!!

January 21, 2010

I am going to start a series of posts on coaches that are underappreciated on a National level.  We always hear about the coaches who are helping to produce athletes that are competitive on the national scene, and, while I do have respect for that, I also know that there are plenty of coaches out there who are just as good (sometimes better), who do not get that kind of attention, simply because they have not been lucky enough to have that star athlete.  If you have been involved in the sport as long as I have (or maybe much less), you have to be aware that there are loads of coaches out there who bust their fannies on a day-to-day basis for very little thanks or attention.  I want to recognize these coaches!  So, I am asking you to send me suggestions for this post, and why you think they are deserving.  Chris and I will sort through these and decide who we are going to profile, and then send them a questionaire and/or do an interview with them, and post it on our blog.

I am really excited about this, so I hope you will all get involved.  Thanks in advance for your help with this.

Why Spend More Time on Basics?

January 20, 2010

There were several comments on my handstand post about coaches not spending time on basics.  You can read these comments, and add to them if you would like, but I wanted to address the other end of it.

I think there are multiple reasons why coaches skip through the basics and jump into more advanced skills sooner than what might be beneficial to the gymnast.  What is important to remember, though, is just that – “what might be beneficial to the gymnast”.  I know that we all have personal goals with our coaching (I do for sure), but I think we have to start by really thinking about where we would like to see our gymnasts “end up”, and more importantly what they are getting from being involved in the sport.

Too many times, in my opinion, I see gymnasts competing “over their heads” and training skills that are beyond what they are physically ready for.  Whatever the reason for this, it is not, in most cases, what is best for the gymnast. 

If we are genuinely concerned with what is best for our athletes, and we really want to see them come out of the sport better prepared for life, then we must weigh all of these things before we start planning our training, etc. 

Some questions that I would ask myself first and foremost:

  • What lessons do I feel are important for my gymnasts to learn through their involvement in the sport?
  • How would I like them to feel about their experiences in the sport when they are through with it?
  • How do I want to be perceived by my gymnasts when they are done with the sport?
  • What is most important to me for my gymnasts: their self-worth, their accomplishments, my accomplishments, their opinions of me, or other coaches’/parents’ opinions of me?

I have always tried (not always succeeded however) to make sure that the decisions I make and the following actions are based on the athletes’ feeling of success in the end.  This does not mean that I do what will make them happy right now.  This is one of the things that leads to doing more advanced skills earlier than we should…it’s more fun for the gymnast and the coach.  I have never been about immediate satisfaction or temporary happiness.  I want to keep the “big picture” in my head.  How many times in our coaching careers have we seen the gymnast that feels like a failure because she can’t get that next skill?  Well, in my opinion, many times this gymnast is frustrated because the foundation wasn’t laid out correctly, and the result is that the next skill can’t be learned.  If we care about our athletes, then this is a very painful experience for us as well as the gymnast.  I don’t want to be a contributor to that frustration and therefore I try my hardest to follow the proper progressions.  I can’t stomach the possibility of my impatience leading to a girl’s thinking she is a failure.  This sometimes puts me into a “too slow” approach, but I have chosen that as an acceptable fault, at times.

I remember an old quote from David Adlard many years ago that I feel is very true, “Learning a double back can be just as easy as learning a cartwheel if the proper progressions are followed.”  I para-phrased this, so I’m sorry Dave, if this is not exactly how you worded it.  I am a firm believer in this, as I have seen it played out through the coaching of myself and others.  It’s not easy to stay dedicated to the basics and the mastery of step 1 before step 2, but it does lead to easier progression to the next skill.

It takes enthusiasm on the part of the coach to get the athlete excited about doing hollow body work or cartwheels from a lunge for the 100th time.  But, it is this commitment to the bigger picture that leads to the greatest success, and the greatest feeling of success in the mind of the athlete.

A few years ago, a coach asked me how we got our kids to be so excited and motivated to do conditioning.  It was funny, because I hadn’t really thought about it, as our kids have always been that way at a certain level.  The reason for this “excitement” by our gymnasts is that WE are excited about conditioning.  It has never been something that we do just because we have to, or a time for us to take a break and get a drink, etc.  It has always been, to us, the most important thing that our athletes will do, so we are very focused on it and excited about the way the kids do it.  We encourage them by telling them how strong they will be and how great they will be at their gymnastics because of it.  This conditions them mentally as well, to look at conditioning as a means to a greater end.  They have, in essence, “bought in” to the idea of conditioning, and are therefore excited about it.  Imagine what this will do for them in their lives later on, when they are done with the sport.  They won’t exercise because they have to, but because they look at it as the work necessary to achieve a desired goal.  Kids who learn and understand what proper progressions are, will also gain the lesson that life is not just about doing what you want when you want, but putting in the time to be able to get what you want down the road. 

Another favorite quote of mine is one I saw on the wall at a Jimmy John’s Sandwich Shop.  It said,

“If you do the things you need to do when you need to do them, then you will be able to do the things you want to do when you want to do them.”

This quote, in a nutshell, is what it is all about.  Thanks all.

Basics, Basics, Basics!!!—The Training of a Handstand.

January 14, 2010

One of the issues that I find the most frustrating when watching people coach in the sport is the lack of work done on the basics.  I know that there are many reasons for this.  Obviously, there are those coaches out there who are just lazy.  Most of them wouldn’t be reading a blog about gymnastics anyway, so I am not talking to them right now.  I think there is a very large group of coaches out there who really want to do the right thing when it comes to teaching basics, but just don’t have the practical experience with these basics to, in turn, trust the process enough to really spend the right amount of time on them.  In other words, these coaches are semi-trapped in the world of “If my gymnast is going to compete a hyperthingamajiggy, then I need to have them doing more hyperthingamajiggys”.  This is understandable, as that seems to be the common sense of it.  I think there is a perception in all sports that, when pursuing greatness, the best plan would be to do the thing that you want to be great at 9 gazillion times.  I would think that most of the people who will read this are aware that this is not the case, and that true success lies in the “breakdown” of these complicated skills and furthermore, the preparation along the way for these skills.

This idea is important all the way down to the simplest of actual skills.  I would like to first discuss the handstand and then proceed to other skills in the coming weeks.  I hope that this helps all of you.  I know it is rather long, but I wanted to really get into detail with my progressions for this “most important of all skills”. 

At first glance, a handstand seems to be a fairly simple skill.  But, I would argue that, even the handstand is a complex skill in terms of all of the things that need to happen to create a perfect (or as perfect as the particular body will allow) handstand, and therefore, strong skills down the road that involve the handstand (and we all know there are tons of these).  Some of the key points to a handstand:

  • It needs to be as straight as possible
  • The ears should be nearly or completely covered while still allowing the gymnast to see her hands, but not her fingertips
  • The weight should be more on the fingertips than the heel of the hand (or at least feel that way)
  • The shoulders should be extended (shrugged up)
  • There should be muscle tension throughout the body, so that, if the coach tried to push a part of the body out of line, it would be difficult to do so

So, as you can see, there is a lot to accomplish in this “simple” skill.  None of this even includes the lunge, or the lever into, or out of, the handstand.  If we add those things, you would probably agree that it is not likely that a human being could concentrate on all of these things in one attempt at a handstand.  Because of this, we need to breakdown this skill so that we can make it easier to accomplish one or two of these things at a time before moving on to other corrections in the handstand.

The way that I most always approach the handstand is by doing two to three different drills in conjunction with each other to achieve the best handstand possible.

The Lunge – – – We work on lots of lunges!  In this position:

  • The knee should be on top of the toes
  • The feet should turn out just slightly
  • The hips should be square by stressing to the gymnast that she squeezes the thigh (quadriceps) of her back leg toward the hamstring of her front leg 
  • The arms should be up and covering the ears (but, at first, I have them do the lunge with their hands on their hips to just focus on the legs)
  • The head should be neutral   
  • The ribs should be in, so that the lower back is not arched
  • The tummy should be tight  

One of the things you can do with a lunge is to do one with the front toes against a wall and then push the knee to the wall, or do the same with a stack of pit blocks.  Walking around and pushing down on the gymnasts arms or palms to see if their cores give in is a good idea, as well.  Just don’t push too hard until you know they are engaging those muscles.

The Body Tension – – – One of the first and best ways of creating better body tension in the gymnast is to have them lay down on their backs and then the coach picks up their feet.  As her feet are lifted she should learn to squeeze her bottom so that her body is straight as the coach holds her feet up at about 45 degrees.  At first, we have to teach the athlete to squeeze in this position after we have lifted her feet.  As we progress with this, she should learn to squeeze before we lift her, so that the body tension is there from the beginning.  This is a great way to get them to understand how tight they need to be in a handstand.  Another body tension drill is to have the gymnast lay across a gap of mats (two panel mats work fine), so that her shoulders are on one mat and her heels are on the other.  She then squeezes her bottom and tightens her body so that she creates a straight line over that gap.  We have to watch to make sure that she is not arching and pushing her hips up too high beyond the straight position.  There are lots of ways to accomplish this body tension, so be creative!

The handstand against a wall – – – I start these by doing what are called “wall-walkers”, and then progressing from there.  The “wall-walker” is done by having the gymnast place her back against a wall, and then bend over to place her hands on the floor.  She then walks her feet up the wall to arrive in a handstand.  At this point, she should walk her hands in a little closer to the wall to get as close to vertical as she can get without falling.  The goal here is for her to hold this position herself, and then have the coach poke and pull on her to get her to use her body tension to hold the handstand.  Ideally, only her toes and maybe her chin should touch the wall.  At this point, I always stress to the gymnast to grow as tall as she can, or as a friend of mine says “Grow another inch”.  There are lots of variations to this drill, including turning around and kicking up so that the back is against the wall, or doing a handstand under a bar so that the gymnast has to “grow” just to touch her toes against the front side of the bar to be able to balance herself there.  Again, be creative.

Bridges, bridges, and other shoulder flexibility – – – Remember that an ideal handstand is perfectly straight.  It is impossible to get a gymnast’s body into a straight line if she is not flexible in her shoulders.  The work must be done to create this shoulder flexibility, so that she has the opportunity to get her body into a straight line.  One easy way to do this is by having the gymnast do bridges and try to get her shoulders out past her hands.  I almost always have the gymnast do these with her feet on something that is at least as tall as her shoulders when she is in a bridge.  This takes the stress off of the lower back and puts it where it is supposed to be: the shoulders.  We also place a mat or block or something out in front of the gymnast’s chest, so that she can push up against that to stretch the shoulders.  As she becomes more accomplished at this, we move it a little further away. 

Build strength in the right places – – – I am a big believer in the fact that a gymnast can build plenty of strength just by doing a handstand and repeating it.  The potential problem with this, though, is that the gymnast can build strength in the wrong places if this handstand is repeated over and over in the wrong position.  I am reminded of one of the favorite quotes of myself and several coaches I have great respect for, “Practice does not make perfect…Practice makes permanent.”  If a gymnast repeats something over and over again, she will become incredible at WHATEVER she is practicing.  If she is practicing a bad handstand, and does it a trillion times, she will be able to hold the nastiest handstand for longer than anyone else (and we have all had this gymnast).  I am sure that you would agree that getting this gymnast to fix this problem after that much repetition is one of the most difficult things possible.  It is because she has developed strength in the wrong places for a correct handstand.  So, every time that a gymnast is doing a handstand, I am thinking to myself, “What strength is she creating right now?  Should I slow her down and have her do the handstand with a spot or against a wall, etc. to make sure she is getting the proper strength work from that handstand?”  This helps me to be more diligent about the correct strength training for the handstand.

The single leg handstand – – – This is my favorite drill for a handstand, because I think it is the most effective for getting the gymnast in the right position on her fingertips.  I have the gymnasts, when doing handstands from a lunge, do these almost exclusively when they are not doing them with a spot.  If a gymnast can “lever” up to a split (a small split) handstand, and hold that, then bringing the legs together and holding that is much easier.  My goal with these is to have the gymnast get the back leg to go up to just a little bit past vertical, and then try to balance that.  We work really hard at maintaining square hips all the way through the skill, by squeezing the same muscles as we did during the lunge.  This drill is important also, in the fact that there are too many times that gymnasts try to put their feet together too soon, and therefore never achieve vertical.  Doing the split handstand helps to guarantee that they will get the back leg through vertical first.  I continue to do these all the way up through our system (as a warm-up), including with my level 9s and 10s.  In my opinion, it makes no sense to proceed to handstands with feet together until they can master this, and hold it for 3-5 seconds nearly every time they attempt it.  After they have this mastered, I will have them still hold the split handstand for 1-2 seconds before bringing the feet together in the handstand.  I have used these progressions in the past for balance beam as well.  I’m sure that we have all felt the misery of trying to get a gymnast to get all the way up to handstand on the beam.  It is probably a little naive’ to think that they will do that if they haven’t even learned to get all the way to vertical with a split handstand first.  We must remember, I think, that bringing the feet together is, in essence, the end of the progress toward vertical.  Once they bring their feet together, they are not likely to go any higher toward complete vertical.  At that point, it is what it is.

Later on…After working these drills for a while, when moving on to doing handstands with feet together, I have another technique I use to help them learn to get their weight on their fingertips.  It involves having them get into a habit of making the handstand fall the opposite direction than the turn prior to it, if the handstand is not held for at least 5 seconds.  In other words, if a gymnast kicks up and closes her feet together and then comes back down to a lunge before holding the handstand for 5 seconds, I make sure that she understands that the next one must go over to a roll or bridge, and vice-versa.  If she continues to train with this mentality, she will eventually “find” her balance point, and have more success with holding this handstand.

This is a drill I have been doing with our level 5 gymnasts:

So, these are my ideas for training a handstand.  Please let me know what you do to help your gymnasts with this skill, or ask any questions about anything that I have written.  I promise you that all I am doing is relaying things that I have learned along the way from coaches that were kind enough to share their experience with me.  I hope to pass on that tradition through this blog.  Thank you for your time in reading this.   


My Goals…

January 14, 2010

I have received some constructive criticism from a couple of readers whom I know and even my blog partner – Troy about the content of some of my posts.  So, I need some reader feedback to see what you guys want me to write about…

I have a BS/MS in Kinesiology/Physical Education and I am in the process of trying to finish off a second MS in Exercise Science/Clinical Biomechanics.  Over the past five years I have developed quite a passion for the fitness world and currently I am working as a personal trainer.  At this point in time, the fitness industry as well as strength & conditioning is evolving quite a bit.  Gone are the days of doing isolated bodybuilder routines out of Muscle Magazine, and more movement-oriented training is becoming commonplace.  In addition, the fitness/strength & conditioning professionals have been dipping into the rehab world as a means of learning more about posture, muscular balance, musculoskeletal asymmetries, functional anatomy, etc. and utilizing a lot of rehab “tools” (exercises, muscle testing, etc.) to try and fix many of these faults in their athletes or clients.  This not only helps the individuals become better “movers,” but also helps to reduce their risk of injury so that they don’t have to make a visit to the PT.

I find a lot of this stuff so very interesting and I think that it is an asset for coaches to have knowledge of it.  And, that’s what I really want to bring to the readers.  While it’s geeky and technical, I think that it’s information that will help coaches better train their gymnasts.

Let me give you an example of some interesting information….the hamstring muscle group has multiple functions.  Its primary function is to bend (flex) the knee.  One of its secondary jobs is to assist the butt (gluteus maximus) in opening (extension) the hips.  A common issue with athletes who have hamstring strains is that they have dysfunctional glutes.  In other words, the glute muscles are not activating properly to create hip extension.  As a result, the hamstrings have to not only bend the knee (their primary job), but take on another primary job (opening/extending the hips).  So, what happens?  Well, the hammies are overworked and this can cause a pull/strain.  By performing some glute exercises, you might be able to prevent this or at the very least reduce the risk.

It’s information like that…that I want to bring to this blog.  I know that it’s geeky and technical, but I think that it is something of benefit.

I anticipate that my partner (Troy) will contribute more of the coaching/gym drills or technique/psychology types of things, while I plan on contributing more science type of stuff with the intent of providing new information to coaches that they may not have seen before.

Anyway, I think that between Troy and I…we’ll have a good balance of content.

But, please offer some constructive feedback.  Tell us what you want!

Also, if you have something to say…and want to contribute a post…just shoot me or Troy an e-mail with your post.  Our e-mail is located in the “About” section on the right side of the screen.  We want the blog to be interactive so that we all can learn.  So, contributions are welcome.



Where To Place Your Strength Training During Practice…

January 9, 2010

This is a response to Lee’s second question…

Do you think conditioning should be done at the end/beginning of practice or included within the apparatus stations? I have made my gymnasts condition at the beginning (they are lower levels) as they seem to build more strength this way, though I should have tested this theory to confirm. I see conditioning as more important than most of the skills they are learning currently, and often include extra shape/handstand work in their stations.

My reply to Lee are the two most frustrating words – “it depends.”

Here is my opinion…I would put the strength/conditioning at the beginning of the workout during the off-season as you should be focused on building strength in order to both enhance and enable skill development.  To maximize strength development, it’s important for the gymnasts to not be fatigued.

During the season, I would put it at the end of practice.  By this time, your training emphasis will have shifted more to technical preparation and trying to make the routines as good as possible for competition.  By this time, your strength should be there and it’s the time to mostly maintain and depending on how you vary your volume/intensity, you might be able to increase strength a little.  In my opinion, the goal should be maintaining adequate strength and doing “pre-hab”/corrective exercises to prevent injury.

In terms of putting it in during an event – I still like having dedicated time.  I think that it allows for more focus and improved quality.  Plus, I feel that it is important to use event time for event training.  If you have no other alternative due to things beyond your control within your gym, then you have to do what you have to do.

If you are training elite athletes, this approach is going to be different because there is no real off-season in elite gymnastics. This is where block periodization becomes critical and is necessary to maintain the physical qualities of the gymnast.  I will elaborate more on my thoughts relative to this in a future post!

Should We Condition Body Parts?

January 9, 2010

The following is a response to one of the questions that Lee proposed with regards to conditioning. I am actually going to start by addressing the third part of Lee’s comment.

If you disagree with the one body part a session approach, what order do you condition each body part? When talking with a personal trainer I was told to work the mid section last. Her reason being that the core provides stability for other areas; therefore an athlete is more likely to tire out by working first/ in between. She suggested working arms/legs then on the core. What are your thoughts?

I do not believe in conditioning body parts in the sense of arms, legs, abs, etc. This is the bodybuilder mentality that still radiates throughout every Gold’s Gym in America. It is acceptable if your goal is to spray paint yourself brown (spray-on tan) and walk around in your underwear on stage while other men rave over the symmetry of your quads or obliques.

But, for athletes, your strength and conditioning program should focus on two things – 1) Performance Enhancement and 2) Injury Prevention. That should dictate your approach first and foremost. My belief is that you must focus on developing strength relative to specific movement patterns. A comment from Nick Winkelman, a coach/trainer from Athletes Performance in Arizona continues to stick in my mind:

If you train the muscles, you forget the movements.  But, if you train the movements, you never forget the muscles.”

For me, this makes absolute sense.  The focus of your strength/conditioning should be on conditioning specific movement patterns.  So, now the question becomes – what are the specific movement patterns?  In a general sense, I use the patterns as set forth by strength coach Michael Boyle in his book Functional Training For Sports with some slight modifications.

Coach Boyle suggests the following patterns:  (I am providing example exercises to give you an idea of each.)

*Hip Dominant:  Deadlift Variations/Glute Bridge Variations

*Hip Dominant would also include hamstring exercises

Knee Dominant:  Squat/Lunge Variations

Vertical Pulling/Pushing:  Pull-Up (Pull) / Overhead Press (Push)

Horizontal Pull / Pushing:  Seated Row / Push-Up or Bench (Push)


The terms “horizontal” and “vertical” reference the plane of movement.  When you move your arms in front of the body as if you mimicking a push-up action while upright, your movement is in a horizontal plane.  When pulling or pushing with the arms overhead, you are moving in a vertical plane.

Now, gymnastics is not quite so simplistic and there are other patterns specific to gymnastics.  To me, those include:

Kipping (Moving Arms from Overhead To Downward)

Casting (Moving Arms From Down To Overhead)

I would consider a press movement similar to casting and use these types of exercises within my “Casting” category.  Elements such as handstands or handstand push-ups, I’d put into the “Vertical Pushing” category.  Other static strength elements specific to gymnastics such as an L-Sit, I may put into a “Vertical Push” or even the “Cast” category if the exercise was to perform an “L-Sit Press to HS,” for example.

I would place hollow body holds, etc. into the core portion of the program.

So, how would I organize my strength program?  Since Lee mentioned that he works with his athletes three times per week, I would attempt to do a split as such:

Day 1 – Pick either Upper or Lower Body

Day 2 – Do whichever you did not pick in Day 1

Day 3 – Full Body

If you have the athletes more times per week, then do the split as such:  2 days of upper and 2 days of lower.  There is no need to exceed this for strength training.  If you want to do something on a 5th day, focus on preventative/rehab (“pre-hab”) and extra flexibility/mobility or corrective exercise.  Hence – very low-intensity activities.  Gymnasts train so much that most are probably overtrained as it is – particularly at the higher levels.  They need to recover!!!!!

Now, depending on your days, hours in the gym, you can adjust this accordingly.  It may work better to do the full body training on the first day of the week as opposed to the last day.  This is just giving you an example of how I’d split the strengthening of the movement patterns.

So, how would I break this down?  This will all depend on your resources, time for conditioning, etc.  But, I’ll offer up a general plan and provide more specifics later.

Upper Body Day (5-7 exercises in total)

  • Vertical/Horizontal Push
  • Vertical/Horizontal Pull
  • Kipping
  • Casting
  • Core
  • If you want to add in something – add another pulling exercise or some type of scapular/rotator cuff exercise – maybe do something with 1-arm instead of two.

Lower Body Day (4-6 exercises in total)

  • Hip Dominant
  • Knee Dominant
  • 1 – Leg (choose either hip/knee dominant, then do other during the full body day)
  • Core (maybe a couple of core exercises on this day)

I feel that it is harder for the lower body to recover.  So, as you increase the intensity, I see no need to go much beyond 4-6 exercises.  Performing exercises with just bodyweight might warrant a bit more volume.

Full Body Day (6-7 exercises total)

  • Vertical/Horizontal Push (Do opposite of what you did on upper body day)
  • Vertical/Horizontal Pull (Do opposite of what you did on upper body day)
  • Kipping or Casting (choose what you may be weaker in during this cycle of the program…maybe do other in the next phase)
  • Hip Dominant**
  • Knee Dominant**
  • Core

** For whichever you did 1-Leg on lower body day, be sure to do 1-leg on opposite movement pattern on full-body day.

I would work at doing a greater volume of pulling than pushing since gymnastics is largely a “push-dominant” sport.  If you recall, I commented about the over-development of the anterior musculature being a causal factor in thoracic kyphosis – which plays a role in not only shoulder flexibility/mobility, but also shoulder pathology.

That pretty much offers a breakdown of how I’d approach strength training these days.  All of these movement patterns have bodyweight variants that can be performed, which would be more specific to gymnastics.  As the gymnasts mature, I believe that doing a combination of weight training and gymnastics/bodyweight training would be beneficial.  Years ago, I would’ve been totally against weight training.  But, particularly for the lower body, I think that weight training is critical.  I do not think that you can load the lower body enough to prepare for the forces that these athletes sustain from landings, etc. with body weight training alone.

Lastly, in regards to doing the other movements prior to the core training – I will respond with this – “it depends.”  If your athletes are very weak in their core stability, it may be best to perform these exercises first.  If they are pretty strong, then I see no issues with them performing this at the end.  With the volume of exercises that I have suggested, I do not think that you will have as much muscular fatigue.  The fatigue will be mostly neural system-related assuming the intensity is high enough.

From my experience, most gyms do way too much volume and way too many exercises.  The volume is overkill and more often than not, the kids aren’t strong.  That’s not how you develop strength.  You develop strength by increasing the intensity, dropping the volume, and increasing the rest/recovery.  Strength is largely a neural phenomenon.

I will address Lee’s other questions/comments in future posts!  Thanks for the great questions, Lee!  Keep ’em coming!