Lower Body Strength Training

A quick note on Sport Specific Training & Strength Training for Gymnasts

     Sport-specific training refers to training that mimics and improves sports performance. The more similar an exercise to a sports activity, the more likely there will be a positive transfer to sports performance [11]. This can be as simple as selecting the back squat over the leg press to improve vertical jumping performance, as the back squat more closely resembles a vertical jump [11]. In gymnastics and other youth sports, however, many coaches take the SAID (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands) principle to extreme levels of “specific” in their attempts to directly mimic sports movements [26].  Most athletes already spend numerous hours per week at sport practice, working on specific skills and abilities needed to perform well in gymnastics. In reality, all athletes will benefit most from slightly different training, and all athletes need general training, at least at some point in their season [26]. Coaches must look at the training program in its entirety and examine the long term results rather than just focusing on how a particular exercise may appear to mimic the sport [26]. 

 

     For gymnasts to produce and absorb forces more efficiently and safely, resistance training programs focused on strength and power are imperative for injury prevention and performance success [25]. It is important to remember that many female gymnasts have not yet experienced puberty as they progress into higher gymnastics levels, and training programs should account for this. Traditional gymnastics training relies exclusively on bodyweight “calisthenics” type exercises, such as pull-ups and rope climbs [25]. While these exercises are undoubtedly appropriate for young gymnasts and should be staples in gymnastics training programs, building overall strength and power will require coaches to venture outside of bodyweight exercises [25].

 

     Muscle tissue and bones must be stressed beyond bodyweight loading to build strength and prepare the body to handle the impacts experienced during tumbling and other gymnastics skills [25]. It is also worth addressing the fact that the landing position chosen for gymnastics is based purely on aesthetics rather than proper landing mechanics [25]. While young athletes may not appear to suffer from the sub-optimal landing positions, when accounting for the increasing skill difficulty, physical growth, and increasing training volume throughout the training career, landings may not continue to be so well tolerated. Training optimal landing mechanics early and training to strengthen the necessary musculature will result in gymnasts who can better tolerate the sport’s demands, rather than waiting until injury strikes. Landing mechanics and strength training are addressed in subsequent sections of this paper.

     An estimated 30% of the movements performed by female gymnasts are supportive tasks of the upper or lower body (requiring supportive holds, momentary support, and passing through a support moment during movement), all of which require large amounts of muscular strength and power for their successful execution [7]. The ability to quickly produce power is also an essential component of the execution of leaping, jumping, and tumbling that influence scoring in gymnastics [9]. High-level gymnastics skills require athletes to produce extremely high power output coupled with high force production in an extremely short time when performing competitive skills and routines.  Research has shown that relative power is also a decisive factor of gymnastics performance [9]. Gymnasts must possess sufficient explosive strength in the lower body musculature to carry out competitive skills [1,9]. To have the strength to generate this power, some level of muscular development is required, though it is often a taboo topic within the world of gymnastics training. 

An elite national champion male gymnast showed improvements in strength, skill difficulty, and ability to tolerate longer and more difficult skill training workouts with the addition of a periodized strength training program in the year leading up to his national title win [6]. Including strength training in gymnastics training programs has also been proven to reduce the risk of training-related injuries [6,8,14,21,25]. Resistance training is an effective tool for increasing strength in children and adolescents when appropriately prescribed and supervised [14,25]. The addition of resistance training increases the rate of force development in gymnasts to consequently improve performance, especially benefitting explosive strength [14,25]. 

     Periodized strength training programs should be designed to replicate muscle patterns observed within the sport [7,9], and should occur 2 to 3 days per week separated by 48 to 72 hours [4,6,9,14].  Exercise selection should aim to improve mechanical power [14],  general muscular development, skill-specific strength [6,7], and complement high force production [9]. Emphasis should be placed on the performance of closed kinetic chain high-velocity resistance training with specificity to movement speed in gymnastics --athletes should focus on generating as much force as possible in the shortest amount of time [9].  Loading should be consistent with a weight that the gymnast can successfully move for no more than 8-12 repetitions [6,9,14,16]. The design of the training program should be effective but also take care to avoid injury from overtraining [6]. Lastly, the primary goal of gymnastics-specific strength training must be maximizing muscle strength from minimal muscle size, as the power to bodyweight ratio is an essential factor affecting performance [7].   

Essential Movement Patterns and Special Considerations

     Several essential movement patterns that must be included in gymnastics training programs to maximize effectiveness. Each of these patterns should be trained both bilaterally and unilaterally. The table below lists essential movement patterns and example exercises for each. Keep in mind that gymnasts new to these movement patterns may need regressions from those listed in the table. For example, gymnasts will often struggle with hip hinge patterns at first due to the sport’s heavy hollow/arch influence. Regressing to butt taps, foam roller RDLs, three-point contact hinges, etc. are useful teaching tools that coaches can employ to teach gymnasts to hinge correctly. Pairing these unloaded regressions with supine hip hinge variations (glute bridges, hip thrusts, etc.), which are often easier for gymnasts to learn and load reasonably early on in their training journey, allows gymnasts to train these movement patterns while learning more advanced variations. The table below includes strength movements only. These movements form the base for more advanced power movements, though there is excellent carryover for power generation from these strength exercises alone. For power exercises, consult the lower body power page. 

References

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  2. Batatinha, H. A. P., da Costa, C. E., de França, E., Dias, I. R., Ladeira, A. P. X., Rodrigues, B., & Caperuto, É. C. (2013). Carbohydrate use and reduction in number of balance beam falls: implications for mental and physical fatigue. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1), 32.

  3. Bompa, T & Buzichelli, C. (2019). Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

  4. Buckner, S. B., Bacon, N. T., & Bishop, P. A. (2017). Recovery in level 7–10 women’s USA artistic gymnastics. International Journal of Exercise Science, 10(5), 734.

  5. Burt, L., Naughton, G., Higham, D., & Landeo, R. (2010). Training load in pre-pubertal female artistic gymnastics. Science of Gymnastics Journal, 2(3), 5–13. Retrieved from http://www.gymbc.org/files/Coaches/SoGYM_2010_vol2_num3.pdf#page=7

  6. Chu, D. A. (1994). Strength exercises specific to gymnastics: a case study. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 8(2), 95-102.

  7. Daly, R. M., Bass, S. L., & Finch, C. F. (2001). Balancing the risk of injury to gymnasts: how effective are the countermeasures?. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 35(1), 8-19.

  8. Durall, C. J., Udermann, B. E., Johansen, D. R., Gibson, B., Reineke, D. M., & Reuteman, P. (2009). The effects of preseason trunk muscle training on low-back pain occurrence in women collegiate gymnasts. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(1), 86-92.

  9. French, D. N., Gómez, A. L., Volek, J. S., Rubin, M. R., Ratamess, N. A., Sharman, M. J., Gotshalk, L…. & Hakkinen, K. (2004). Longitudinal tracking of muscular power changes of NCAA Division I collegiate women gymnasts. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 18(1), 101-107.

  10. Gateva, M. (2014). Investigation of the effect of the training load on the athletes in rhythmic and aesthetic group gymnastics during the preparation period. Research in Kinesiology, 4(1), 40-44.

  11. Haff, G. G., & Triplett, N. T. (Eds.). (2015). Essentials of strength training and conditioning 4th edition. Human kinetics.

  12. Lloyd, R. S., & Oliver, J. L. (Eds.). (2019). Strength and conditioning for young athletes: science and application. Routledge.

  13. Major, J. J. (1996). Strength training fundamentals in gymnastics conditioning. Technique, 16(8), 1-15.

  14. Marina, M., & Jemni, M. (2014). Plyometric training performance in elite-oriented prepubertal female gymnasts. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(4), 1015-1025.

  15. Marina, M., Jemni, M., Rodríguez, F. A., & Jimenez, A. (2012). Plyometric jumping performances of male and female gymnasts from different heights. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(7), 1879-1886.

  16. Michel, M., Monèm, J., & Ferran, R. (2014). A two-season longitudinal follow-up study of jumps with added weights and countermovement jumps in well-trained pre-pubertal female gymnasts. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 54(6), 730-741.

  17. Mcneal, J. R., Sands, W. A., & Shultz, B. B. (2007). Muscle activation characteristics of tumbling take-offs. Sports Biomechanics, 6(3), 375-390.

  18. Panzer, Victoria & G.A.Wood, & Bates, Barry & Mason, Bruce. (1987). Lower Extremity Loads in Landings of Elite Gymnasts. 

  19. Ramírez-Campillo, R., Andrade, D. C., & Izquierdo, M. (2013). Effects of plyometric training volume and training surface on explosive strength. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(10), 2714-2722.

  20. Ramsbottom, H. STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING FOR GYMNASTICS.

  21. Rhea, M. R., Peterson, M. D., Oliverson, J. R., Ayllón, F. N., & Potenziano, B. J. (2008). An examination of training on the VertiMax resisted jumping device for improvements in lower body power in highly trained college athletes. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(3), 735-740.

  22. Russell, K. W., Quinney, H. A., Hazlett, C. B., & Hillis, D. (1995). Knee muscle strength in elite male gymnasts. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 22(1), 10-17.

  23. Sands, W. A., McNeal, J. R., Jemni, M., & Delong, T. H. (2000). Should female gymnasts lift weights. Sportscience, 4(3), 1-6.

  24. Sands, W. A., Irvin, R. C., & Major, J. A. (1995). Women's gymnastics: The time course of fitness acquisition. A 1-year study. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 9(2), 110-115.

  25. Shinkle, J., Nesser, T. W., Demchak, T. J., & McMannus, D. M. (2012). Effect of core strength on the measure of power in the extremities. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(2), 373-380.

  26. Tilley, D. (2018). Changing Gymnastics Culture: Reflections, Lessons, and Visions for the Future (1st ed.). Retrieved from https://shiftmovementscience.com/freeresourcelibrary/

  27. Valle, C. (2019, February 25). Why Sport-Specific Training Is a Red Herring. Retrieved from https://simplifaster.com/articles/sport-specific-training-debate/