Posted tagged ‘Conditioning’

Bridges – How to spare the back…

March 5, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, a reader asked me to drop some comments on bridges.  It was asked something along the lines of why do coaches insist that gymnasts straighten their legs and keep their feet together when bridging?

I don’t know.

As I noted in my last post, repeated bouts of lumbar flexion are believed to be a potential risk factor lumbar spine disorders such as a herniated disk.  Just the same, the lumbar spine really is not made to excessively arch or hyperextend as is seen when gymnasts perform skills such as bridges, backbends, and back walkovers.  Aside from these skills, when does a gymnast actually assume this type of a position?

Quite honestly, I cannot think of any other skills in which a gymnast assumes this position with so much lumbar hyperextension.  Some may argue that this type of bridge development is necessary for a successful performance of a back handspring.  Or, that’s an argument that I’ve heard a few times over the years.  Is it really?  Below, are three screenshots taken from Shawn Johnson’s first tumbling pass at 2008 National Championships.  Notice that she never gets into the position that we see above and if she did, she wouldn’t be very successful.

Beginning of the BHS After the RO

Flight Phase of BHS - Just Before Hand Contact

During Hand Contact of BHS

Does any gymnast ever assume the position (as shown in the bridge picture above) in a back handspring or any other skill except for bridges, back/front walkovers, etc. ?  The important factor in bridge development is shoulder flexion or often – hyper-flexion.  In other words, we want the arms to be able to be lifted up by the ears or even past without the chest/ribs poking out.

As I discussed in an earlier blog posting, there are other factors that we must consider when a gymnast has “tight shoulders.”  Maybe the issue is not flexibility at all.  Maybe the issue is too much rounding of the upper back that which places the scapula in a poor position.  Maybe it’s a matter of poor scapular stabilization or an imbalance of the scapula musculature.  The key muscles that would limit shoulder hyperflexion are the latissimus dorsi and the pec major/minor.  There are other stretches specific to these muscles that do not stress the low back.

With that said, here is a better way to perform a bridge.  I first came across this suggestion from David Adlard in an old USAIGC publication called STEPing UP.  To minimize the excessive hyperextension of the low back, elevate the feet to above shoulder height and put the emphasis of the stretch on the shoulders.

In the picture below, a trainer colleague, Becky (who used to cheer and tumble in high school) demonstrates.  Thanks Becky!  She’s a little tight in the shoulders, but now this position can better emphasize the muscles that need to be stretched without putting the low back at as much risk.  Afterwards, she even commented something to the effect of – “Wow, that really stretched my upper back…it felt good…”

Feet Elevated Bridge


A Comment about Basics and Conditioning

February 2, 2010

Josh submitted this comment about basics and conditioning:

I love the philosophy and mindset that you have, I just wish that everyone thought the same way. I do have a couple questions though. I really like conditioning and love to do it at the end of class, however my classes are very short and there is not much time. What are some things that you can do during class to “make-up” for this? Another thing is how can you make the kids feel like they are not being punished? I try being upbeat about it, even join them every once in a while but they seem to still act like it’s because they have done something wrong. Thank you!

As to your first question – – – If you are coaching a class that is only 1 hour, it is very tough to get in any great amount of conditioning (especially if it is a tumbling or cheerleading type class with teenagers), so your options are limited.  One thing that I have done in the past is to try to come up with drills that involve much more strength, so that they get some conditioning as we are rotating through a circuit.  This can be as simple as doing a handstand against a wall for 30 seconds, or roll and jumps 12-15 times in a row, or jumps to the back on to a resi several times in a row.  The success in this comes from the fact that these are all things that the student understands to be important to their acquiring certain skills.  This is completely dependent, however, on how great a salesperson you are, which brings us to your second question…
How do you get the students to feel like they are not being punished by conditioning?  The answer to this is that you have to change their mindsets as to what conditioning is.  You have already done step 1 by being upbeat about it.  The next step is to continually re-enforce to them how great they are going to be at the skills they want if they continue to condition properly.  Your excitement and their belief in your sincerity are the big keys here. 
One of the things you can do to emphasize this importance and how successful it will be is to use examples among your students.  Find the kid in your group who is excelling at something and point out how her strength is helping her to this result.  Or, even better, find the student who is finally making a skill, and point out how her conditioning and strength has helped her to have this success.  Every time a student has success with a skill, it is an opportunity to promote your agenda.  This is true not only about conditioning, but drills, flexibility, mental dedication, hard work, etc.  Use the girls’ (or boys’) successes as a tool toward future successes for them and their classmates or teammates.  DO NOT POINT OUT ATHLETES WHO ARE FAILING BECAUSE OF A LACK OF STRENGTH!!  This does nothing but alienate that student and make her feel like giving up.  The stress should be on the success that can be had by all of the students by doing something as simple as consistently working hard at a few exercises.  Again, it is the “selling” of this idea that is the key.  Your challenge is to get the students to want to do conditioning because of how much they want a certain skill.
Also, a huge key to the students “buying in” to the idea of conditioning is your consistency with it.  If they know what is coming every week, then they start to prepare themselves for it, rather than having it tossed on to them randomly.  This is when it feels like punishment or just a coach trying to “push me around, because he can”.  There was a great quote last year (and very funny, I think) on the awesome show “Glee” by the cheerleading sponsor.  It is very extreme, but kind of sums up this idea:
I empower my Cheerios to live in a state of constant fear by creating an environment of irrational random terror.
Obviously, this is an exaggeration, but I think it makes the point that things that are random create questioning and uneasiness on the people who are targets of it.  Also, I just always wanted to share that quote with everyone, and so I took my opportunity.  A benefit of blogging, I guess.
So, be consistent, and be a great salesperson, and you will be fine.  Thanks for the great questions, Josh!  I hope this helped.