Gymnastics is a sport for all includes movement activities that can be practiced by everyone regardless physical capability. Many children do gymnastic type activities as a part of their school physical education classes, while others enroll at gymnastic clubs for fun and or fitness. Some choose to go down a pathway to competitive disciplines like artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline, tumbling, sports acrobatics, aerobic sports and parkour. Preparing for gymnastic competition requires an increase in training hours to develop the physical, mental and technical skills to perform safely and to a high standard in competition.

Lindsay Nylund, former Olympic gymnast and coach of many national champions with specialized knowledge in biomechanics, physiology of exercise, and sports psychology, unleashes some important foundations when preparing for completion success.. He has qualifications in fitness, training, physical education, human resource management and advanced accreditation in men's and women's gymnastics. He was Australia’s first individual international medalist in gymnastics, winning a Silver medal in the all-around when gymnastics was first included in the Commonwealth Games in 1978. We asked him for his advice on preparing for gymnastic competition.

Develop your physical capabilities

Learning gymnastic skills requires, a number of important physical capabilities and many skills cannot be achieved without pre-requisite flexibility or strength. In general, gymnasts must develop their passive flexibility before developing other capabilities. Without the full range of motion, such as the ability to extend one’s shoulder angle to 180°and slightly beyond, it will not be possible to perform skills in or through the handstand position with the correct technical execution.

After flexibility, comes muscle conditioning for strength. Anaerobic capability will follow as a natural result of improving strength so there is no need to do specific training for this capability beyond improving the strength to body weight ratio. Strength exercises must be specific to the skills being performed. Studying videos (in slow motion) of gymnasts performing the skills you want to learn is a good way to identify the key movement patterns and strength capabilities that are needed.

Include a regular regime of exercises for injury prevention.

While gymnastics is not as high risk as some other more extreme sports for serious injury, it features significantly as a sport where soft tissue and overuse injuries are prevalent. Typical injury sites for gymnasts include the ankle and knee (as a result of high impact take-off and landings), the lower back (as a result of repetitive and excessive flexion and extension), the wrists (repetitive and excessive impact forces), and in men’s gymnastics the shoulders (from the discipline of rings).

Gymnasts can mitigate their injury risk by including a few simple exercises in their weekly training regime (two sets two times per week), including

  • Practicing landings with the ankles slightly turned out at an angle of 45° (adduction). This will reduce the risk of ankle sprain due to rolling the ankle (supination) upon landing.
  • Ankle resistance exercises on all directions to build the strength of soft tissues.
  • Knee extension and flexion exercises to build the strength of tendons and ligaments.
  • Lower back (to reduce hypermobility and improve strength of the lower back)
    1. Hamstring and hip flexibility exercises
    2. Thoracic extension exercises
    3. Shoulder extension exercises
    4. Abdominal strengthening exercises
    5. Lower back extensor strengthening exercises
  • Shoulder flexibility exercises in all directions
  • Bicep, triceps, and deltoid strengthening to support the tendons and ligaments of the shoulder
  • Wrist resistance exercises (using dumbbells) in all directions

Build your technical skills sequentially

Learn and practice basic skills until they become second nature. You won’t be proficient in performing a round-off if you can’t perform a cartwheel series at increasing speed. Consult your coach to make sure you understand the correct sequence of learning for each skill in your routine.

It is also important not to include skills in a competition gymnastics routine before being mastered with a high level of technical execution. Prematurely including skills in a routine will only serve to consolidate any bad techniques and execution errors. Gymnastics is a sport requiring high levels of precision and technical execution, so there is no room for compromise.

"Gymnasts like most athletes regularly favor one side, so it is imperative to work the two sides when preparing and molding posture to remain in balance. So make sure you practice jumps leaps and turns on the both sides to improve symmetry and muscle balance in the body," says Lindsay Nylund. 

Communicate with your coach

Pain is our body's method of disclosing to us; something isn't quite right. In the event that your muscles are truly worn out, or you feel pain in your hamstrings, fatigue due to training is a normal part of the learning and strengthening process.

Minor overuse injuries are common in gymnastics, and talking about these with your coach is important. Sometimes only minor modifications to training will be required, and these modifications can reduce the risk of developing more serious or chronic injuries. “If you are injured during training it is important to see a medical practitioner to ensure the best treatment methods are prescribed and so your coach can best modify to your training program,” says Lindsay Nylund.

Have a clearly defined training plan leading up to competition

Performing well in competition requires well developed skills and also mental preparation. Your training needs to be planned to progress from building the requisite physical capabilities (flexibility and strength), technical capabilities (skill learning and good execution), and competition preparedness (routines and competition simulations).

In the 4-6 weeks prior to a major competition, it is important to increase the volume of training on competition routine practice. Make sure that you taper your training program at least one week before the major event. This means reducing the volume of training. It is a big mistake to train too hard in the week prior to competition – you will not be at your physical or mental best. This should also include a session where you train under the simulated conditions of competition, including your warm-up regime, dress rehearsal, performance and rest intervals as you would experience in competition, and also inviting judges to evaluate your performance. By doing these simulation exercises, when you perform in an important competition you will feel confident and prepared.

But most importantly, when you get to the competition, don’t take it too seriously and have fun . . . it was the reason why you started gymnastics!

Author's Bio: 

Brooke Whistance is a passionate health and lifestyle blogger who loves to write about prevailing trends. She has been living in Los Angeles, California with her family including, her parents two siblings and her cats. She is a featured author at various authoritative blogs in the health and fitness industry. Follow her @IamBrooke94 for more!