Flexibility is such an important part of gymnastics that I find it is often overlooked because most athletes don’t enjoy it and would rather train skills. In the past couple years I have noticed that flexibility overall has decreased in gymnastics. Is that just a coincidence? Is there not enough time to practice it? Flexibility training is not very fun and any athlete can relate to this testament. If you are interested in raising little pre-comps into higher level gymnasts you must train flexibility no matter how much it does not interest them. At a lower level they can get away with less flexibility training but there will come a time where they will be limited in their higher level jumps, turns, leaps and skills if their flexibility is not good enough. As a coach, if you want higher level gymnasts in the future, limiting them will cripple their future in gymnastics.
What About The Tears?
As professionals in gymnastics we all know that when getting little ones to stretch their splits, there will be tears. They will often cry when first learning how to hold a split, but nevertheless. Of course, you will still have those few that will cry after multiple splits. I try very hard to teach my athletes that crying is not helping them feel any better. It is normal for young kids to cry when they are in pain so if you have a pre-comp who cries every time during split stretching don’t worry about it right off the bat. Give them some time to adapt to the feeling of stretching their splits and doing other flexibility training. Generally, once you do something enough times, your body will naturally know what to expect and the exercise will become less stressful and painful.
So How Can We Make It less Stressful?
I find most kids work better if they know exactly WHY they have to do something. If the exercise hurts or is rather difficult, getting them to do it properly is like trying to open a locked door. Once they have the key (knowing why the stretch is important), it is much easier to open the door or in this case easier to get through stretching with a better attitude. I have come up with the 3 most important reasons as to why flexibility training is an essential part of gymnastics. I encourage you to educate your athletes on them so that they will have a more positive attitude while training flexibility and also see a purpose. Training with a negative attitude will hinder progress.
So Why Is Flexibility So Important?
1 – Safety
Flexibility helps to reduce injury during falls and landings. It also helps to reduce the risk of pulling any muscles while performing their skills or performing under pressure. We all know that gymnasts are going to fall quite often so we may as well get them as best prepared as possible so they can do it safely.
2 – Aesthetics
Flexibility helps to clean up the look of their skills and also helps to give develop a sense of beauty, gracefulness and poise in their performances or routines. This reason is simple but important if you are looking your athlete to do well at a higher level.
3 – Helps Develop Skills Faster
Flexibility helps to develop new jumps, turns, leaps and skills much faster and also makes them easier to learn. Some examples could be:
– More flexibility helps make skills like a bridge or some type of handstand easier to learn.
– When starting to train harder leaps or jumps that require a significant amount of flexibility such as the “Sheep Jump” or a type of “Switch Leap”.
I find that these 3 reasons help athletes make stretching less of a chore and more of a useful tool towards their progress in the sport. I encourage the athletes to encourage one another and to attempt these stretches without tears. Gymnastics is a very individualized sport so incorporating a sense of team whenever possible is a great motivational aspect for them. If they work as a team to stay strong during flexibility training they are going to get through it better than if they had to do it themselves.
“You are your own most powerful motivator and critic. Which will you be?”