Updated: Jul 31, 2020
By Sarah Huppi Campbell ATC, LAT
Primary: Sport: Gymnastics
Secondary: Injury Prevention
Tertiary: Injury Management Strategies
Most of us have experienced the struggle of knowing how to navigate an injury, but in the sport of gymnastics this seems especially prevalent as it leaves many athletes, parents, and coaches questioning and stumbling around in the dark. When should I rest or take a break? How much training is too much? How do I modify practice around my injury? When should I seek professional medical help and who should I go see? As a competitive gymnast for 13 years, a coach for 12 years, and an athletic trainer for 7+ years this 3 part blog series shares the top things I believe every parent and coach should know and be talking about to improve your gymnast’s safety and longevity.
Gymnastics is a unique, full body sport with multiple events. It requires developing massive amounts of strength, power, and flexibility. It also requires attention to the details of movement mechanics and proper technique in order to safely perform amazing tumbling passes, release moves, acro-series, and powerful vaults thousands of times. Although acute injuries (damage from a single episode) do occur, due to the amount of repetitive training required to perform tricks as perfectly as possible, overuse injuries are commonplace in the gymnastics community.
1. You are your Gymnast’s #1 Advocate
World-wide gymnastics is most commonly known as a time and physically intensive sport for young athletes. With many gymnasts training before the age of 5, a vast majority leaving the sport in their teenage years, and the few college & elite gymnasts in their teens and 20’s, gymnastics is primarily a sport made up of minors. With that being said, this group of minors are relying on the experience and knowledge of their coaches and parents to know how to manage their pain and injuries.
Bottom line is the more educated the adults are in the equation about recognizing injuries, emergencies, recovery, nutrition, proper training, etc. the more we can advocate for proper medical care, safety, and long term health of our athletes.
Parents supporting and speaking up in favor of advancing their gyms safety training, emergency action plans, and access to an athletic trainer to quickly & correctly assess injuries and begin treatment plans will be one of the best ways you can advocate for your gymnasts! If you are interested in learning more about how our sports injury specialists at WaveOn can support your gym or individually please contact us at www.waveon.care.com.
2. Proper Progressions & Timing Matter
A huge proponent of injury prevention is proper physical preparation. Developing the strength, control, and proper movement planning of complex tricks is important and is worth taking your time! Our bodies can adapt to handle incredible loads, but only to the level that we prepare them and maintain them. Too often coaches, parents, or athletes themselves push to train and compete tricks that quite simply their bodies are not ready for. Taking the time to teach and master proper strength and technique progressions (parts of skills) before adding all the parts together greatly reduces the number of overuse and acute injuries.
For example pushing a kid to add another backhand spring to their tumbling pass, when the tricks before it are not landing with the right technique to maximize power in the pass, nor reduce the stress they are putting on certain joints and muscles of the body. Another example of an extremely important yet sometimes overlooked progression is teaching gymnasts proper landing techniques. Correct landing technique helps disperse the forces on the knees and ankles thus providing better protection for ligaments, cartilage, and bones.
3. Volume & Load Matter
Take Away Parents and Coaches play a key role in teaching, preparing, and caring for your gymnasts safety and well being. Take some time this month to explore how you can enhance your injury prevention and management strategies both in and out of the gym. Try applying the 3 principles we discussed today-advocate for safety, proper progressions and timing, and discussing appropriate volume and load- and look for our upcoming blog for more injury prevention and management principles and tips!
When it comes to training smarter and safer it is crucial to be aware of the principles of volume and load. Volume is the total number of reps performed and Load is the amount of force the muscles, bones, joints can carry individually and as a system. Injuries, especially chronic overuse injuries, happen as we repeatedly place the body in debt. Over spending on volume and exceeding the total load that the body has been conditioned to handle.
Planning and adjusting practices using the volume and load principles will help you look at practice as a whole and prioritize where you want to spend the body’s resources for the day, week, year. Tracking the volume for wrist impacts, extreme back extension (arching), hip flexor use (leaps & jumps), and landings in one practice will quickly give you an indication of where some of your athletes are getting over loaded and where you could make adjustments.
One of the easiest ways to reduce the total load we’re placing on the body but still provide sufficient reps of turns (to solidify technique) is by changing more of the reps to softer or bouncier surfaces such as tumbling on the rod floor, vaulting into the pit, landing on mats, and spending more reps on trampoline.