The gymnastics world can be a harsh bully. We’re forced to fuss over so many details, from our strength, artistry and most annoyingly, our appearance--but what about flexibility? Think about it: we need to morph our bodies into extremely difficult positions, all the while, making it seem effortless and graceful (according to the judges). So, in a sport where no matter how perfect you are, you’re still not perfect enough, how do you manage? I’ll tell you.
Balance! And I don’t just mean physically; I mean mentally, the ability to balance your gymnastic skills and mindsets. We may not always be perfect, but if we work toward perfecting one skill at a time, be it endurance or style, we get closer each time. Today, we’re focusing on flexibility. Here are 5 ways to be more flexible as a gymnast.
Stretchy muscles need to be massaged. Current research shows that self-messages starts increasing flexibility within 2 weeks. When I'm training young gymnasts at the Gold Medal Camp, I always tell the girls to massage their muscles. Since this treatment helps relax soreness, gymnasts can continue improving their flexibility more easily. And besides, who doesn't love a good massage?
Here are the areas that need the most massaging:
Quads and around the knee
Hamstrings and calves
Lats and biceps
Put your back into it
From backbends to arches, our backs need to be super stretchy. I swear by yoga, which is fantastic for gymnasts who want to improve their back flexibility. In the bow pose, for example, you’re lying flat on your stomach, while bending your knees toward your head and grabbing your ankles. Push it!
There’s also the cobra pose where you lie on your front in a push-up position and arch your back as your pelvis stays on the ground. Practice these yoga poses often to get more bendy.
This type of stretching lets you work on flexibility as you move. It’s one of my favorites because it's a practical application for the skills we need -- aside from a good gymnast diet. The key here is to stretch your body to its maximum range of motion (safely). It also helps your body warm up and prepare for your routines.
Here are some motions for stretching.
Upper body flexibility
Equally important to everything else, gymnasts need flexible upper bodies. This skill allows gymnasts to perform with more expression and style for those extra points.
For the arms, you can can reach behind and touch your shoulder blade, while pressing against your elbow with your opposite hand. There's also shoulder, hip and neck rotations which I find are underrated, but they’re good for making you more limber overall.
Chest stretches are another big one. They can be done by linking your hands behind your back and straightening your arms, giving your upper body a good pull. Or if you’re more advanced, you can work on chest stands-- be careful, though.
Being a good gymnast doesn't mean you need superhuman flexibility, but you should always aim for your best. Never stop improving on being more flexible--it's an ongoing process for gymnasts. Not only does it improve our motions, but it allows us to perform them more beautifully.
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