Archive for January 2010

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.

Thanks,

Chris

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)

Core

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!

A Response to “Expectations and Their Consequences”

January 6, 2010

The following is a response (partial) to the post “Expectations and Their Consequences” from Valentin Uzunov.  I have italicized the parts that hit me as especially insightful:

I did start doing one thing at the end of training last year that helped me to keep things in perspective and that was to ask the gymnasts what they felt they had improved on during that session (thinking about it more I also should have asked them what they felt they could have done better and how they could fix it next time). I found that helped me to remember that even though things might seem like they are(n’t) where I want them to be (level or performance wise) with each step we are getting closer. The definition of the kind of coach I aim to be is “easy to work for, but hard to please”. I don’t particularly feel that having realistically very high expectations is in any way detrimental to the gymnast or myself, the problem is really always one of motivation and the fact is that intrinsic motivation is more powerful than extrinsic and maybe it’s not that the coach is able to get more out of the gymnast but rather the coach is able to get the gymnast to want to get more out of themselves. I will have to think really hard on this…. I look forward to all replies.

I think there are some very valid points to what you are saying, Valentin.  I appreciate the response.  I definitely agree that there is nothing wrong with realistic high expectations.  The problem that many of us run into, I think, is having the ability to be completely certain, when including all of the variables that come into play in dealing with human beings, what is actually realistic, and what might be unrealistic.  On top of that, for me, is the constant battle to be “okay” with the inevitable failures to reach some of these expectations.

Another point you made that I really appreciate, is taking stock of where you are currently and appreciating the process.  We all agree that we want our athletes to become better and better, and it is important that we have the confidence in our coaching that they will do just that.  But, we (I) need to do a better job sometimes of letting the athletes know how proud I am of where they have come from to get to this point.  Gymnastics is the worst sport for allowing time and opportunity for that, I think.  The sport itself is very much about constantly striving to do another skill or reach another level.  This is different than most other sports in the fact that most of these other sports involve a certain skill or set of skills that, upon being accomplished, are simply refined over the rest of the time that the athlete is involved in the sport.  There are definitely challenges to all sports and other enhancements are added (a new pitch for a pitcher, etc.) along the way, but, for the most part, once you have the skill, then the rest is just making that skill better than all of the rest of the people who do that skill. 

Gymnastics doesn’t operate that way.  Can you imagine if it did?  Your athlete gets a back tuck and then, all she has to do for the next 7-12 years is make that back tuck better and better.  Pretty boring, for sure, but talk about making things easier!  It would also make for much more time to be appreciative of how good the athlete really is, in comparison to others with the same experience.  Unfortunately, the reality is that once a gymnast gets a back tuck, now she has to get a layout, then she isn’t happy with just that, so she has to get a full.  Well, there’s no stopping now, she needs a double full, and on and on and on.  This mentality leads to a constant “what have you done lately” atmosphere, and, while it is what makes our sport the greatest on the earth, it cuts down considerably on the “wow, look how much you have done” mindset.

I took the time the other day to discuss this with my gymnasts, and I feel really good about the fact that I reminded them how much they have accomplished in the last year, last three years, and their careers.  I reminded them that, even though I do have very high expectations, I am very proud of them as well.  I told them that I want them to feel pride in themselves, and to appreciate just how good they really are.  I am not sure how much of a difference this will make in their training, but I guess that’s not really the point.  It made me feel great, and I’m pretty sure it made them feel good as well!  And that, I think is what it is all about.

Thanks Valentin for your very insightful comment, and please keep them coming.  Everyone else, we are anxious to hear what you think as well.

Training with Other Programs…a Response

January 6, 2010

Just Another Opinion wrote a very good comment on the post about Training with Other Programs.  I would encourage everyone to read the entire comment, but here is an excerpt about an issue that I think is comparative and important:

This is one of the reasons I hate private lessons for kids who don’t normally train with a coach on a certain event. What if Coach A has been working with Susie on her high beam backwalkover for a year and it’s just not happening. Then Coach B does a few private lessons with Susie and she gets it. Is Susie (or Susie’s mom) ever going to trust Coach A again? Maybe, maybe not. This is all around a bad situation. If Coach A actually is a weak coach, then he shouldn’t be coaching in your gym, and if he’s not (a weak coach), then his legs have just been chopped out from under him, and resentment will start breeding in that gym (between the coaches, between the parents, between the coaches and parents, coaches and kids, and on and on) and that’s a quick way to nasty-town. And if Coach A is a weak coach in just this aspect and otherwise has potential, then Coach B needs to educate Coach A and they need to get on the same page, which can’t be done if Coach A is in one gym and Coach B is in some alternative facility.

Thanks, JAO, for responding.  I look forward to hearing from others about this or any other topics.

Training with Other Programs

January 5, 2010

This post is in answer to Julie Pickering’s comment below: 

I am a gym owner not a coach. How do you get parents of low level gymnast, say level 4 and 5, that tumbling is a progression? I have a gymnast whos mom takes her to a cheer facility to progress her tumbling. It aggravates me and the coaches. Also in the town we live in most people want to do tumbling at the cheer gym because they are quick to teach a bhs etc. How do you get parents to understand this besides saying it is a safety factor. It really hurts my tumbling classes.

The best way for me to answer this, I think, is to simply tell you what we do and why, and hope that helps you with your situation.

In our gym, the team kids and their parents are told and given literature from the very beginning, that they are not to train or even perform gymnastics outside of our supervision without first gaining our permission.  This includes summer camps, talent shows, and sports performance enhancement specialists.  We inform them of this through the rules that we give out at our annual parent meeting.  The parents are told that failure to follow these rules could result in dismissal from our team program.

The explanation that we give to parents has a few points to it:

  1. All coaches teach a little differently, and this can be confusing to your child.  It is not necessarily about what is wrong or right in terms of this coaching, but more about keeping things simple for the athlete.  To insure that your child has the best possible chance to succeed, it is better to have information coming to her in a consistent manner.
  2. There are, unfortunately, coaches in our sport who take shortcuts, and while this may be appealing in the short-term, it is detrimental to the athlete’s career in the sport.  We have a very specific, proven approach to helping children reach their goals in this sport through a patient, progressive system of coaching.  While this system may be slower than some, it is, in our experienced opinions, better for the long-term career of the athlete.  We have often used the explanation that we don’t want the gymnast to hit a “wall” with her skills, because the foundation was not built the way it should have been.  If the basics are learned correctly and the proper progressions are followed, then learning a double back someday can be just as easy as it was for the athlete to learn her cartwheel.  If this approach is not followed, it is our opinion that the athlete may hit this “wall” earlier than they might have and could find herself stagnating in her skill acquirement.  This can be a very frustrating thing for the athlete, and something that we work hard to help her avoid.
  3. The parents need to make a decision about who they trust to train their child in the sport, and then, by example, teach their child to trust those coaches.  Taking their child to another gym to learn a skill is, in effect, telling their child that they do not completely trust the methodology of the staff that they have chosen.  This is one of the worst things that can happen in the development of the athlete.

Unfortunately, many times, this situation can be the determining factor in whether a child stays with our program or not.  We believe in our system enough that we know that it is what is best for the athlete who really wants to be successful in the sport.  We also know that our program is not for every child, and that this is why there are many programs in our community.  We never hold hard feelings toward any parent or especially the athlete if they decide that they would rather be a part of another program.  This is why we stick to our standards so strictly.  It is what makes our program what it is. 

I hope this helps you, Julie, and anyone else who might be going through something similar.  As I have said before, these are just my opinions.  It is what works for us.  I am still interested in hearing other’s opinions on this and any subject.  Thanks all.  And thank you very much, Julie, for the question. 

Cause and Effect-Standing Tuck Full

January 4, 2010

In my opinion, the same general rules apply for a standing tuck full as apply to a standing back tuck with a 1/2.  So, to find out more about the cause and effect of that skill, be sure to read the article written on it.

I will remind everyone about Paul E.’s comment about strength, before I go on.  None of what I am going to write about now will matter if your athlete is not physically capable of doing such a skill.  I am going to address the technical aspects of the skill itself, however.

To answer the concerns of Debbie S., I think the main reason that athletes are a little “out of control” on the landing of the tuck with a full, is the same as under-rotating the tuck with a 1/2.  A lot of times, in my experience, the athletes that attempt this skill are fairly adept at the standing back tuck part.  Athletes at this level are also usually talented enough that twisting should be a fairly “effortless” movement.  For me though, I think that these athletes are usually almost automatic with the rotation of a tuck, but may sometimes “build-up” in their mind the challenge of adding a full twist to this tuck.    What this leads to, I believe, is that the athlete will try to twist earlier or more aggressively, because of her idea of how hard this skill is going to be.  The earlier the athlete twists, the later the twist will finish, which means that they are twisting when they land, sometimes causing this “out of control” scenario.  The science of this is that the closer an athlete can be to upside down when they actually initiate twisting, the less gravitational force she has to fight with the sides of her body, making the twist much quicker, thus being able to finish the twist earlier.  Obviously, when doing a standing tuck full, there is not a lot of time in the air (usually less than a second), so delaying the twist is difficult to do.  But, in my opinion, if the athlete can at least put her focus more on the flip, and therefore be more confident with the twist, then the likelihood of the twist being in the right place becomes greater. 

To help with the confidence of this twist, I think doing them off of a tumble-trak or springboard, or down to a resi or into the pit are all good ways of helping the athlete to worry less about the twist and more about doing the skill correctly.  Two ways that I can think of to have the athlete “check” herself:

  • Have the athlete do a standing tuck full on the trampoline, rebound straight up and down out of it and then “stick”.  This will insure that she is rotating the exact right amount and doing the twist in that “weightless area” of her flip.
  • Have the athlete work on sticking the skill off of the tumble trak to a level (with the t-trak) mat.  She can evaluate herself by whether she is falling one direction or the other.  What she will find, if she is not getting that ideal combination of flip and twist, is that her “twisting side” shoulder will continue to pull backward as she is landing.  This should help to alert her to be even more confident with her twisting and create an even better flip to make the twisting much more “effortless”, and therefore, hopefully, more “in control”.

As to the fear issue…well obviously, much has been written on this subject, and I am sure that all of us could add countless stories of fear issues with athletes.  So, for this particular issue, let’s assume that the athlete is not one of the irrationally afraid varieties of athletes, and assume that she is just afraid of this particular skill.  In that case, I always believe (or try to make myself remember, at least) that fear is a warning signal.  It, more often than not, is a tell-tale sign that something is not exactly right.  Now, in my experience, this warning signal is unique to the athlete.  Some athletes, who I would call “comfort athletes” (usually of the perfectionist type), are extremely sensitive to even the slightest variance in technique and therefore, will become a little fearful in these situations.  Again, I am not necessarily talking about the normally frightened athlete, but the one that is more aware of her mechanics than other athletes.  Another athlete may “chuck” a skill that has no possible chance of being made, because she is not as “in-tune” with her body’s actions in a particular skill.

In the “comfort athlete” zone all the way up through the “chucker” zone, the athlete who demonstrates fear, should be allowed (and even urged) to continue with the progressions that have led them up to this point of attempting this skill on the floor.  In my opinion, this is where the athlete will figure out the problems in the skill and through more work, the solution.

Again, these are just my opinions.  We are extremely interested in knowing all of yours, so please comment if you have other ideas.  Hope this helps you Debbie, and all, and thank you for the question.  Keep them coming, guys!

Question about Tumbling Training

January 1, 2010

Julie Pickering has asked the following:

I am a gym owner not a coach. How do you get parents of low level gymnast, say level 4 and 5, that tumbling is a progression? I have a gymnast whos mom takes her to a cheer facility to progress her tumbling. It aggravates me and the coaches. Also in the town we live in most people want to do tumbling at the cheer gym because they are quick to teach a bhs etc. How do you get parents to understand this besides saying it is a safety factor. It really hurts my tumbling classes.

This is an excellent question!  Thanks for commenting, Julie.  Once again, I will give this to all of you first, and then add my comments a few days later.  I am really interested in your responses, as I am sure that Julie is as well.  Thanks all.

Super Tight Shoulders…We Must Look At Other Factors…

January 1, 2010

This is in response to recent comments by “Just Another Opinion.” I figured that I might as well make a blog post about it.

Yes, there are other factors outside of merely shoulder flexibility that dictate shoulder range-of-motion. Of particular importance is the position of the scapula as the scapula contributes to upwards of 60 degrees of arm elevation. Thus, when you lift your arm over your head, your scapula must move 1 degree for every 2 degrees that your arm lifts overhead – regardless of whether you are lifting it straight up (shoulder flexion) or bringing up to overhead from the side (shoulder abduction). This is referred to as “scapulohumeral rhythm.” The other 120 degrees of shoulder motion is contributed from the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint itself.

The scapula is controlled actively as it is supported by 17 muscles. Imagine a string that is pulling on an object in 17 directions. It is critical that those forces be functionally balanced so that it can be moved appropriately as the different forces act upon it. When you move your arm in an upward direction, the scapula should upwardly rotate, abduct, and slightly posteriorly tilt on the thorax. If you have certain scapular stabilizers (I won’t get into specifics just, yet…I will in future posts) that are not doing their job appropriately, you’ll get abnormal movement and this can dramatically effect how high one can lift their arm.

Secondly, the degree of “rounding” (thoracic kyphosis) in the upper spine can also have a dramatic effect. Increased kyphosis puts the scapula in the wrong positions and this, in turn, can affect upper arm elevation. Doing regular thoracic mobility, such as foam roller extensions, should be commonplace since gymnasts perform so many pushing activities (casting, pressing, etc.) as well as “hollowing.”

These types of movements really develop the front side of the upper body, but most conditioning programs fail to appropriately balance the upper back and scapular stabilizers. As a result, the kyphosis continues to increase.

Here is an example of thoracic extensions with a foam roller shown by Eric Cressey of Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA.

Lastly, I will talk a little bit more about normal postural development in a future post. Sometimes, in younger children, the resulting kyphosis is a result of a compensation for excessive anterior pelvic tilt – which is actually very normal throughout postural development. In other words, as the child grows, some of those deformities will go away.

So, there is a lot more content on this subject forthcoming in the near future!