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
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, NSAIDs and osteopathy. 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, immobilization and osteopathy. 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, anti-inflammatory medication and osteopathy 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 osteopathy.
- 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 fibres, to major, that involve large numbers of fibres and a larger area of the muscle. Treatment usually includes rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medication. Osteopathy may be beneficial for muscle strains, and stretching and strengthening exercises, may help speed healing.
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.
Three Gymnastics Stretches
- 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.