How many hours should a pre-competitive gymnast be training? This seems to be one of the most popular questions I get from coaches. What is reasonable at what age and level?

Through trial, error and many years of experience teaching pre-comps, I have come up with a standard list of weekly training hours that I find the most effective as they progress through my programs towards higher level gymnastics. Every gymnastics centre is going to have their own beliefs and to be honest there is no right or wrong answer here. Success is more about how effective your program is. The number of training hours plays a much smaller role over quality of programming and coaching. Nonetheless, it is still an important part because let’s face it, in order to learn higher level skills, they need to train more hours.

With pre-competitive athletes, I like to move them up rather quickly. I do not like to hold them back and therefore as soon as they are ready both with the physical requirements and have the emotional strength to handle the intensity of the training, I move them up. Pre-comps tend to learn skills and build muscle very fast which allows for a more rapid pace of development. Once they get around roughly 12-14 years old you will start to see a slower pace of progress. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a reality because their bodies start to change. You may get athletes that are exceptions to this, but over all this tends to be a pattern in girls. That is one reason why I like to make sure all the basics are solid in their younger years of development so that higher level skills are much easier when they are older and not able to handle as much physical stress on the body.

My full pre-comp program (which will be available in the near future) is a total of 4-5 years long, but I have only listed 4 categories of training hours. I promise this is not a mistake. I do it this way because at some point most athletes will need to stick with one or two of these categories for more than one season. For example, sometimes one category will need a season and a half whereas another category will only need three quarters of a season. I have outlined an approximate age and years of experience beside each category but keep in mind that it is not always accurate as some gymnasts start earlier or later. You may need to modify based on the ages and abilities of your gymnasts.

Keep in mind that I use this type of program is for athletes that have potential for high level gymnastics only. I would not keep an athlete training this many hours if they did not have potential for elite or higher levels in the future. There are so many other great programs that get results that could be more suitable. Every child is different so it is important to know your athletes so that you know what type of program would be best for them.

So Let’s Get On With The Training Hours…

First Year Or 4-5 Year Olds

I recommend 4-6 hours per week and move to 9 hours by the end of that season or year.  A 4 hour program should be twice per week at 2 hours per practice. A 6 hour program can be 3 times per week at 2 hours each practice or twice per week at 3 hours each practice. My own personal recommendation is to get the kids in there for more days per week with a smaller amount of time per practice, especially if they are younger. If they are first year pre-comps but a little older sometimes two days is enough because they can mentally handle the longer training times. By the end of the season a 9 hour program should be 3 days per week at 3 hours each practice. I am writing age 4 but I generally like to start at age 5. A 4 year old would be an exception to a very talented child. I would not have them at 9 hours until they are 5 year old, almost turning 6 at the earliest.

2nd – 3rd Year Pre-comps Or 6-7 Year Olds

A this age and/or level of experience I suggest training 9-12 hours at 3-4 days per week. A 9 hour program would be 3 days per week at 3 hours each practice as I outlined in the category above. A 12 hour program could be 4 days per week at 3 hours per  practice or 3 days per week at 4 hours each time. As I mentioned above, if they are younger it is better to get them in the gym more days per week but for smaller periods. As long as they are progressing well according to your long term plan, you can pretty much guarantee that they will be ready to move up before the end of the season.

3rd- 4th Year Pre-comps Or Ages 7-8

I generally recommend 14-16 hours at a minimum of 4 times per week. A 14 hour program would be two days at 3 hours per practice and 2 days at 4 hours per practice. That would be a total of 4 days per week. A 16 hour program would simply be 4 days per week at 4 hours each practice. The difference from 14-16 hours is very small so my decision maker is usually their age. The 14 hour program allows younger kids to get home early on week nights so they can get to sleep earlier. The other two days can be put on a half day out of school and/or a weekend so they do not have to get to bed so late.

4th -5th Year Pre-comps Or Ages 8-9.

In the 4th-5th year I would recommend 20 hours per week, training 5 days per week. I have seen many gymnastic centres train 4 days at 5 hours per practice so they have a few more days off but if you are looking for high level athletes in the near future I strongly suggest getting them equipped for full weeks of training.  I find generally this category needs at least one full season training and sometimes a little more.

Now What?

By the end of my pre-competitive program they should be at a level where they can enter into the U.S.A.G. J.O. level system around at a minimum level 7 or move into an optional, pre-novice, aspire or pre-high performance program. At this point they should also be ready to start training 25 hours or more per week.

Of course each gymnastics centre is going to be different and have different philosophies and opinions on training hours but please keep in mind that I follow these types of hours for gymnasts that I see with potential to be high level only. If at any point throughout the program they start to lean away from a high level potential, I like to move them to a more suitable program immediately. If I see that they cannot handle the intensity I move them right away. That way they don’t lose interest in the sport because no matter what level they are, gymnastics is a great sport for any child physically, emotionally and has benefits later on in life.

There is no need to rush. Rushing causes bad habits and bad habits will give you yucky gymnastics. As I mentioned before, success comes more from how effective your program is and not the number of training hours your gymnasts train. That being said, always check back on your own work as a coach and make sure your gymnasts have achieved as much as they can in that number of hours before moving them up. You want your athletes to take advantage of the time they have in a positive way and not waste their time, your time, or their families time and money.

If you are interested in more information on developing pre-competitive gymnasts into higher level gymnasts, see Top 3 Tips To Raising Pre-Competitive Gymnasts.

“You are your own most powerful motivator and critic. Which will you be?”

-Coach Brittany-