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Gymnastics Article – Simulate the Skills with Straight Arm Conditioning
We all know that there are so many different coaching methods, training programs and coaching personalities. Many gymnastics coaches are successful in getting their gymnasts stronger, but they don’t necessarily incorporate enough sport-specific training into their programs. I have seen gymnasts benefit from the general strength exercises such as push ups, but when it comes time to perform certain skills, the gymnast’s muscles are not always prepared, accustomed to the sequence of movements for the skills, or strong enough in each position required to complete the skill safely.
Gymnasts really need a variety of training to include sport specific training in addition to general strength conditioning to more closely simulate the skills of our sport. For example, many straight-arm exercises, such as front lateral raises, handstand presses, or plank exercises, more closely simulate gymnastic skills than bent-arm exercises such as push-ups, bench presses, or reverse dips.
Here is a straight arm exercise that has helped many gymnasts strengthen their chest, shoulder and back muscles and become stronger in two very important movements. Since the gymnast often needs to be able to open and close the shoulder angle during uneven bars skills, I have included a very useful exercise that incorporates both up and down movements. This should help her learn to effectively transition from one arm movement to the next with ease. Imagine your gymnast performing a slide flip, cast handstand, clear hip handstand. She will have to reverse shoulder movements several times within this short period of time. When you see the shoulder movements necessary to connect these skills, you will see the reasons I had for incorporating two exercises into one exercise more than ten years ago. This exercise actually switches the movements to open and then close the shoulder angle.
Lie down cast/kip drill (barbell / toning bar)
1. Spot your gymnast during this exercise. Give her full instructions before she begins the exercise.
2. Setup: Have your gymnast lie on her back between two folded panel mats with her arms overhead. Her head should remain between the mats, but her hands and wrists should go beyond the mats to allow the bar to almost touch the floor after it is lifted overhead for full range of motion.
3. For safety reasons, the folded mats must be a few centimeters higher than your gymnast while she lies between them. The bar should be long enough so that each end can rest on the center of one of the mats. The bar is lifted off and returned to the mats without touching your gymnast. There must be enough space for your gymnast to slide in or out while the bar rests on the mats. Although you want to see your gymnast, the mats also help prevent the bar from touching her. If one mat on each side is not high enough, use two folded mats on each side. If the bar is brought down too quickly or falls, it must land on the mats, not your gymnast. This is a very safe exercise when the coach and the gymnast have safety in mind.
4. Once the mats are set up, place the bar on the mats making sure it does not fall between the mats or roll off.
5. Starting Position: Once the mats and bar are in place, instruct your gymnast to sit between the mats, slide her legs under the bar, and then lie down. She must position herself so that the bar is above her hips.
6. Once in place, have your gymnast grab the bar and then straighten her arms. Ask your gymnast to keep her arms straight, but not to lock them.
7. Be careful that the bar does not shift to an unsafe starting position.
8. Next, instruct her to lift the bar up toward the ceiling and then toward the floor overhead to simulate a cast to handstand movement with her upper body.
9. Remind your gymnast to continue to hold the bar securely and then have her lift the bar off the floor, toward the ceiling again, and then lower it to the mat above her hips to simulate a flip with her upper body.
10. Have your gymnast continue with more repetitions if she is able to. Tell her that it should be a continuous movement when she feels good.
11. Your gymnast will probably need more spot lifting of the bar off the mat (introduction phase), which involves the shoulders (deltoids), than she will in the return phase, which involves the back muscles (latissimus). Be prepared to spot all phases of this exercise. You can have a trainer spot each portion. To see the lift off the mat, kneel on one of the mats to help your gymnast lift the mat. Kneel close to her head to see the lift from the floor. Make sure you can reach the bar, especially when it is above your gymnast’s body.
12. Start with the lightest pole possible, maybe even a broomstick to ensure proper security and form. Once you are used to this exercise, your gymnast can use weights on a barbell or a toning bar, but this should always depend on her strength and experience. If you are using a bar without weights, you can wrap a thick towel around each end to prevent your gymnast’s knuckles from touching the floor.
The second exercise is more obvious. This one also helps the gymnast with specific gymnastics skills because she will be in and out of a handstand. Planche – Virtual Handstand – Planche Drill is a great exercise for body tension, control, upper body strength and core strength. This exercise is an appropriate exercise for gymnasts of so many levels, including those who are expected to perform cast handstands and clear hip handstands on bars in the near future.
1. Instruct your gymnast to stand with their back to a spot block or mat stack, place their hands on the floor, then place one foot/ankle on the block. When your gymnast has one foot/ankle on the block, she can place her other foot/ankle up on the block.
2. Now your gymnast should be in an elevated push up position with feet on the block. Your gymnast’s legs, hips, and chest must remain off the floor throughout this exercise.
3. Now that your gymnast is in the elevated push up position, instruct her to move her hands closer to the spot block and her shoulders forward to form a slight plank position.
4. Once your gymnast is in plank position with her feet on the block, instruct her to squeeze her glutes and then draw in her belly button. You should see your gymnast’s lower back lengthen into the correct lumbar position. a handstand (pelvic tilt).
5. After your gymnast forms the correct form with her lower body, instruct her to push down on the floor and pull her chest simultaneously. The part of your gymnast’s back between her shoulder blades should rise toward the ceiling. Your gymnast has just performed a protraction / shrug in the plank push up position. To help teach the shrug, touch the part of your gymnast’s back that is between her shoulder blades and ask her to push your hand up to form the rounded back.
6. Instruct your gymnast to maintain tight form throughout the rest of the exercise.
7. To start the exercise, instruct your gymnast to lift one of her legs up to the ceiling, but to keep her other foot/ankle on the block. Your gymnast’s body, with the exception of the foot/ankle still supported on the block, should have moved as one unit up to single leg or virtual handstand. The leg pointing towards the ceiling should be the one that forms the handstand shape together with the upper body.
8. Your gymnast’s shoulders, hips and one ankle should be directly over her hands while the other leg remains supported on the block. Tell your gymnast that her hips and shoulders must remain square with the block. Her buttocks should be under, stomach in, hips open, chest in and shoulders in a shrug/extended position. Staying square and tight isn’t always easy for the gymnast.
9. Once your gymnast is in the correct single leg or virtual handstand position, she can begin the return movement by slowly lowering her free leg back to the block and moving her shoulders slightly forward to return to the plank push-up position. Your gymnast’s body must move as one unit to the starting position. Instruct your gymnast to keep her head in line with her spine, neither tucked in nor tilted back.
10. Next, instruct your gymnast to return to the single leg or virtual handstand position by lifting her free leg back up over her hips so that she is vertical, except for her supported leg. She also needs to open her armpits back up and turn her shoulders and hips with the block. Your gymnast needs to bring her shoulders and head into alignment for the correct handstand form again. Instruct your gymnast to look at the floor directly above her hands for the plank and then at the block for the handstand.
11. Once your gymnast understands the movement of the virtual handstand to plank and back to handstand, ask her to complete a few repetitions before stopping if she is able.
12. Inform your gymnast not to plank too far forward until she builds strength and becomes very comfortable so she doesn’t collapse.
13. You must also inform your gymnast to communicate when she is tired so that you can allow her to rest. This exercise puts enormous pressure on your gymnast’s wrist. You should let her rest when she says her wrists are getting tired.
This exercise, when performed correctly, closely simulates the shoulder movements of the cast handstand and clear hip handstand on uneven bars. You can use a floor bar as long as the floor bar is stable.
The constant change in shoulder angle causes a change in the demand on your gymnast’s upper body muscles. Your gymnast should develop strength in a wide variety of positions after performing this exercise frequently and consistently over time.
As you can see, these exercises are so different from push ups because of the straight arm training that so closely simulates gymnastics skills. Your gymnast’s entire upper body will be challenged with this exercise. If done often and consistently, this exercise should help tremendously with overall upper body strength in addition to specific gymnastics skills.
Although push ups and bench presses are good exercises, they do not really simulate the gymnastic skills of female gymnasts. Gymnastics skills must be simulated in a safe manner to train a gymnast’s mind and body to perform gymnastics skills safely and effectively.
Karen M. Goeller
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