This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Region 6 Gymnastics Conference in Providence, RI with Anthony Passamonte, of Impact Functional and Sports Training fame, to help bring some Strength & Conditioning knowledge to regional Gymnastics coaches. We had the opportunity to talk about training considerations for the rotator cuff and training considerations to improve landing. This was an amazing opportunity to speak with passionate coaches who I otherwise would not have had a chance to connect with. Truth is I had no idea what to expect from the crowd. Would we, as non-gymnastics professionals, be well received? Would a group of coaches be open to some new ideas? Would people even attend a presentation focused more on research and anatomy as opposed to pommel horse skills, balance beam skills, and vault techniques? I was pleasantly surprised to find the answer to these questions was a resounding Hells Yeah! In fact, much of the feedback we received was that our presentations/hands on sessions were among the best of the weekend due to the fact that they turned into interactive meetings with many smart and passionate people exchanging ideas to help coach their athletes better and improve their durability.

On my way home I was reminded of a workshop I had attended a few years ago with Gray Cook. He was talking about a 1953 Presidential Fitness test initiated by President Eisenhower. The test would be familiar to most people…it consisted of push ups, pull ups, sit ups, broad jump, agility test, sprint, and 1-mile run. This test was administered in the US and UK. The interesting thing is, in 1953, 55% of US students failed the test while 8% of UK students failed the test. The question that then arises is, well, what the heck was going on at that point that led to our students being insufficiently prepared for physical activity? We often blame video games and sitting too much to be a primary cause of childhood obesity, but that didn’t exist in 1953. While we may not fully understand the reason for this drop off we can connect some dots. School gymnasiums before the 20s and 30s consisted of pommel horses, rings, climbing ropes, wresting and tumbling mats, dumbbells and kettlebells, hurdles, etc. Then Dr. James Naismith went and invented basketball. All that nifty stuff was removed and peach baskets were placed at each end of the gyms. As a result, our Physical Education program shifted to one based on movement to one based on sport. We lost that authentic movement capability and became preoccupied with becoming better players.

What’s my point? Our youth gymnastics coaches are our original movement specialists. Gymnastics is the absolute most perfect youth movement development activity/sport. There is running, jumping, landing, swinging, tumbling, flipping, and balance activities. These are all great fundamental movements that will allow any athlete to develop a great foundation that will translate to any other sport. The question then becomes, at what point does the injury potential outweigh the tremendous benefits? I’m not sure exactly what the answer is but I am completely convinced that a solid strength & conditioning program would lead to a dramatic reduction in the injury rate among gymnasts.

During one of the presentations we talked about the “Optimum Performance Pyramid.” Gray Cook developed this pyramid in conjunction with the Functional Movement Screen. It highlights the optimum relationship between Functional Movement, Functional Performance, and Functional Skill. The pyramid looks like this:

The foundation of this pyramid is Functional Movement. This represents the “ability to explore a full range of movement, demonstrating body control and movement awareness throughout numerous positions.” On top of Functional Movement is Functional Performance. This represents an individual’s strength and power. This explanation is taken directly from the FMS Manual:

“…the individual has demonstrated a requisite amount of power. Compared to normative data, this individual also has demonstrated average or above-average general power production. This means the individual utilizes well-coordinated linking movements or kinetic linking. This simply means that during a test such as the vertical leap, the individual loads the body in a crouched position and throws the arms, then slightly extends the trunk, and then finally explodes through legs in a well timed, well-coordinated effort so that no movement is wasted and optimal efficiency is present. This individual has the potential to learn other kinetic linking movements and power production movements with appropriate time, practice and analysis.”

The top of the pyramid is Functional Skill. This represents an individual’s sport-specific skill. The gap between each rectangle is important as well as this represents a buffer zone between each functional zone.

“This buffer zone simply demonstrates the fact that the individual’s functional movements are more than adequate to handle the amount of power that they can generate. Referring to the top of the pyramid, the power generated can more than control the skill that they possess.”

While the above represents the ideal performance pyramid, my guess is, after many years of gymnastics training without adequate strength and power training, the pyramid would like this:

The above pyramid is the “Under Powered” Performance Pyramid. This pyramid represents an athlete who has great movement skill and can perform at their sport at a high level, but lacks the strength and power to remain durable long-term. There is also no buffer zone between each functional zone. This athlete would benefit greatly from power, plyometric, and general strength training.

At the end of the conference I definitely developed a greater appreciation for the gymnastics community. And working together with the Strength & Conditioning community we can help to not only elevate the performance of gymnasts but also dramatically improve their durability!