Gymnastics Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Gymnastics stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with gymnastics injuries for good.
Gymnastics’ start in history is a little hazy. It is believed that some forms of tumbling, jumping and swinging movements were used since early human history. The first records of gymnastics-like movements appear around 7000 B.C. in Egypt. Women were depicted performing acrobatic stunts for nobility.
If you’re looking to improve your gymnastics or just seeking to prevent gymnastics injuries it is important to follow the information in this article. In addition, adding a few simple stretches to your fitness program will also help. To get started on a safe and effective stretching routine that’s just right for you, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility.
Vaulting was added in 2700 B.C. on the island of Crete. These depictions showed both men and women doing acrobatics over a charging bull. The vaulter would run at a charging bull and grab the horns. They would flip into the air as the bull tossed and do flips and twists, landing on the bull’s back. Then they dismounted and landed on their feet. This was not a sport with a great safety rating.
The spread began and by 800 B.C. the Greeks, Chinese, Persians, and Indians began using gymnastics in their military preparations. The first Olympics were held in 776 B.C. These first Olympic Games consisted only of a foot race. Later games included many forms of gymnastics.
The word “gymnastics” is derived from the Greek word “gymnos” meaning naked. Greek men trained and competed in the nude and that is why women were not allowed at the competitions, as participants or spectators. Gymnastics have long been considered a great strengthening and toning regimen. They have also been considered great tools for developing the mind and body.
The Greeks built the first gymnasiums, where students learned reading, writing and other scholarly topics from Grammatistes. They also learned music from Kitharistes. And finally, paidotribes taught physical fitness concepts. The physical activities were performed in the palestra, which was a large, walled, open air square, and were often set to music, like modern day routines.
The Romans, during their years of conquest, took in gymnastics and made it their own. They used it to train warriors and as entertainment. The fall of the Roman Empire almost led to the demise of gymnastics. Gymnastics held on during the Middle Ages through gypsies and traveling troupes. The circus continued this tradition and carried the tradition forward. Gymnastics were soon found to be beneficial for the body again and began to gain more recognition and acceptance.
Gymnastics are still a big part of the Olympic Games. World championships put the best gymnasts in front of international audiences. Today, gymnasts can start at very early ages and many are groomed for competition as early as 4 or 5 years old. Competitors compete in floor exercises, parallel and uneven bars, vaulting, rings, beams, and the pommel horse.
Gymnasts have to be strong and agile to perform the moves on the floor or the various apparatus. Although most routines are short in duration, the gymnast must have a good deal of muscular endurance to avoid fatigue and ensure good form.
Gymnastics encompasses many different activities and each involves a varying degree of muscle use. A balance between upper and lower body strength is important for the well rounded gymnast. The legs must be strong to jump and flip, and provide a solid base for the beam and other activities. The upper body must be strong enough to support the body during flips and rolls, and lift the body during bars, vaults, and rings activities.
Gymnastics use the following major muscles during the various events:
- The upper torso; the deltoids, pectorals, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi.
- The core muscles; rectus abdominus and spinal erectors.
- The hip muscles; the gluteus maximus, hip flexors, adductors and abductors.
- The muscles of the legs; the quadriceps, hamstrings and the calf muscles.
- The muscles of the arms; the biceps, triceps and the flexor and extensor muscles of the forearm.
It is important for a gymnast to follow a good strengthening and stretching program for these muscles to keep them ready for competition and practice.
Most Common Gymnastics Injuries
Gymnastics is a high flying, high impact activity that often requires split second timing. Any miss and the entire body can come crashing down. An awkward turn or twist and the joints are subjected to excessive force. When elevated off the ground a fall could mean serious injury.
The most common injuries experienced by the gymnast are dislocations, ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis, joint pain, and muscle strains.
- Dislocations: Dislocations in a gymnast often occur from a bad landing or a fall when the arm is extended. Shoulders are the most common dislocation, with elbows and wrists next, and knees occasionally. A dislocation happens when the bone in a joint is either pushed or pulled out of the normal range of motion and separates from the joint. It may return to normal on its own or it may require medical attention to reduce it. Treatment for a dislocation includes immobilization, ice, rest and NSAIDs. Recovery time for a dislocation depends on the involvement of the ligaments, tendons and bones of the joint and how much total damage occurred.
- Ankle Sprains: An ankle sprain happens when the joint is rotated through an extended range of motion, causing tears to the ligaments that support the joint. It can occur from rolling of the joint, either in or out. Jumping and running put the ankles at risk of sprains. Landing from a dismount or other activity can easily result in an ankle sprain. Common treatments for ankle sprains include rest, ice, and immobilization. Time to full recovery may be as long as 8 weeks depending on the amount of damage done to the ligaments.
- Plantar Fasciitis: The plantar fascia is subjected to a lot of stress during gymnastics floor moves and during the landing of a dismount. The plantar fascia is a strong ligamentous band that runs along the bottom of the foot and supports the arch of the foot. This band can become inflamed when it is under constant, excessive stress. This inflammation usually occurs at the heel end of the fascia. Rest and anti-inflammatory medication are the best treatment for this injury.
- Joint Pain: Gymnasts are constantly pounding their joints during jumps, tumbles, flips, and other activities. The cartilage in the joints helps cushion some of the impact; however it can only do so much. The joints, and the bones of the joints, can become inflamed and cause pain. This pain is usually the body’s first warning sign that it is time to take a little rest. With rest and NSAIDs the pain will usually subside. If it does not then there may be another, underlying, problem that must be addressed with medical intervention.
- Muscle Strains: Muscle strains are common in gymnastics. The muscles must contract forcefully to push the body through the movements of a routine. This forceful contraction may result in excessive tearing of the muscle, a muscle strain. This causes inflammation and pain in the muscle. The tears may be minor, with tears in a small number of fibers, to major, that involve large numbers of fibers and a larger area of the muscle. Treatment usually includes rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medication. Massage may be beneficial for muscle strains, and stretching and strengthening exercises, may help speed healing. (For more treatment information, visit R.I.C.E.R.)
Injury Prevention Strategies
A gymnast must be conditioned to ensure injury prevention.
- Practicing the form of each new move to ensure proper form and correct body position will help reduce injuries.
- Learning the proper form of each new move before trying it; and then practicing it to perfect it will help ensure proper form.
- The use of spotters when learning a new skill will also reduce the number of injuries.
- The use of well maintained equipment and a safe practice area is essential in injury prevention.
- A strengthening and stretching program that covers the entire body, making sure the body is strong and flexible enough to perform the various moves will help the gymnast reach peak levels and avoid injury.
The Top 3 Gymnastics Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for gymnastics; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions beside each stretch.
Arm-up Rotator Stretch: Stand with your arm out and your forearm pointing upwards at 90 degrees. Place a broom stick in your hand and behind your elbow. With your other hand pull the bottom of the broom stick forward.
Standing High-leg Bent Knee Hamstring Stretch: Stand with one foot raised onto a table. Keep your leg bent and lean your chest into your bent knee.
Squatting Leg-out Adductor Stretch: Stand with your feet wide apart. Keep one leg straight and your toes pointing forward while bending the other leg and turning your toes out to the side. Lower your groin towards the ground and rest your hands on your bent knee or the ground.
Looking at photos and watching videos on your computer is fine, but to really take advantage of all the stretching exercises on offer, grab a free copy of my Stretching DVD & CD-ROM.
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The Stretching DVD will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly. Check out my free Stretching DVD & CD-ROM for yourself.
About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the Stretch Coach and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.