5 Steps to Strong and Healthy Gymnasts

Get It In The Right Order

A Guide to Keeping Your Gymnast Strong and Injury Free

What is the benefit to having injured athletes in your gym? Does it increase performance, bring in additional revenue, and win championships?

Of course not. But many times, our training is upside down and by default, it causes injury. So let’s take our training step by step so that we build amazing athletes and not promote injury.

Just like anything in life, training has priorities. To many coaches, the priority is skills and the development of skills, and skills are how our athletes are judged at competition. But the concentration of skills, without the base is what leads to decreased performance and injury.

When the base is right, skills become less of a risk and more of a result of true performance.

Starting at the bottom5 Steps to Keeping Your Athlete Strong

Nutrition and hydration have to be the base of your training pyramid. They are the cornerstones of recovery and health. Your athletes have to be fueled for performance and they have to know athletes eat to recover and get ready for the days practice of competition.

There is so much pressure on our young female athletes to “look” a certain way and this can be even more important than their performance. But I guarantee this, when an athlete eats the right foods, at the right time, she is able to express her DNA exactly as it was meant to be, and this is amazingly beautiful and builds strong and healthy athletes. Strong and healthy athletes build champions and they stay around for a long time!

A Nutritional Road Map to Success for Gymnasts

Check out our Road Map to Success for nutrition! We start with breakfast and we take in great foods every 2-3 hours throughout the day. The reason we continual eat the right foods throughout the day is to recover from the previous practice and begin preparing for the practice ahead. It also helps are young athletes do better and school and deal with life in a more positive light.

Many gym sports, by the nature of their anaerobic training, do not allow athletes to access fat stores during practice, so it’s critical that they have energy stored up in their muscles to be able to perform throughout the practice.

So let’s walk through the Road Map to Success for nutrition.

Breakfast

Breakfast has to be solid because it’s been 6-9 hours since the last time our athletes have taken in food. Some great foods are things like eggs, steel cut oats, and other foods high in protein, carbs, and fats like avocados.

Mid-morning Snack

The mid-morning snack keeps the recovery going from the previous day’s exercises. Some great examples are greek yogurt with fruit or pitta chips and humus.

Lunch

Lunch is another big one and a great way to get everything in their system that they need. A great way to do this is a sandwich. You can always get great things in a sandwich like lettuce, tomatoes, meat, humus, avocados, spinach, and all sorts of other nutrients. Just make sure you stick your avocados or humus in-between the lettuce and the meat so your bread doesn’t get soggy!

Pre-workout Snack

Like it was said above, most gym athletes are not able to access their fat stores during workout, so the pre-workout snack is the last time they get energy in their bodies before they get to the gym. My personal favorite is a 1/2 of a peanut butter and banana sandwich. It has plenty of carbs, proteins, and fats and is delicious.

Dinner

Dinner acts as both the post-workout meal and the last thing they eat before bed. If your athletes are working hard in your gym, it’s important that they eat dinner even if it’s late. Their bodies are going to be working all night long to recover from practice and they need the macro and micronutrients that dinner can provide. Utilizing superfoods like salmon, broccoli, and kale can be a great way to get all of the nutrients they need after practice.

Concentrate on eating whole foods and stay away from the processed junk that’s out there. Get plenty of sleep and rest and we can start moving up the pyramid.

Hydration

Having a water bottle available and sipping from it is the best way to get the hydration most athletes need. It’s not a gallon at a time, it’s sipping 6-7 ounces of water every hour. It’s also critical that you encourage athletes to drink water or a carbohydrate drink during practice. A skeletally mature athlete needs to drink 16 ounces of water every hour that they are practicing and I recommend 100 fluid ounces daily…but remember,

You CAN’T drink that much water if you’re not eating enough food throughout the day…it’s dangerous. So implement the Road Map and then get the water.

Encourage your coaches to let athletes go to the bathroom without giving them a hard time. Here’s a line we recommend:

We know you’ve been working on your hydration, so we want you to go to the bathroom when you need to. Just let me know and get back out here as soon as possible!

Movement

The number one predictor of injury is a previous injury. The reason why is we don’t address movement and proper return to play after an athlete gets injured.

Movement is also a predictor of new injuries. We have to remember that the body, especially in gym sports, does not move as individual joints. The body moves in patterns and there are optimal movement patterns and their are sub-optimal movement patterns.

One of the best ways to address your athlete’s movement patterns is to have one of your coaches in your gym get certified in the Functional Movement Screen (FMS). Any coach can do this and it will be incredibly valuable to see how your athletes are moving.

The next step is to have a team of providers that your gym has a relationship with in order to address any issues that come up in the screen. With the FMS, if your athlete experiences any pain, they are to immediately stop the screen and be seen by someone who can find out why they are having pain.

It’s also great for your athletes to be seen immediately by someone who understands their sport if they get injured in the gym. Recovery starts immediately when an athlete is injured, but if you don’t have a trusted provider that can get the right diagnosis, healing can be delayed, and injuries can take longer to heal, and chronicity of the injury becomes more likely.

Check out the Gymnast Care Book on Injuries to get easy to use return to play therapy to use with your athletes.

Strength

Building strength the right way is hard. It’s easy for most of our coaches to teach a handstand or a cartwheel because they’ve done it for most of their life, but try to teach a squat or a deadlift and it becomes extremely hard because they are movements unfamiliar to them.

For most gym sports, their strength program consists of building strength by doing the skill over and over again. But the toll that this takes on the body is tremendous. It takes incredible repetitions to build the strength to do the skill and many times the athlete will build bad habits in the repitions because they have to compensate to complete the skill before they have gained the strength.

And it’s the compensation of movement that causes the overuse injuries which are the most costly, and devastating injuries to athletes. The other negative is that repetition of movement (especially when trying to build enough strength to do a skill) causes overuse injuries. If you’re seeing knee braces, ankle braces, and back pain in your gym, it’s time to look at your movement and strength building.

When we build strength through skills we invert our pyramid and our athletes become unstable.

By building strength first, coaches can concentrate on technique and proper skill progression…which is where they shine!

Unless you already have a strength and conditioning coach in your gym, this might be something you have to get help with. Find a great Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach (CSCS) or an Olympic Weightlifting coach that understands your sport and can help your athletes build the right strength.

Skills

This is what your coaches are best at, and now that you have the pyramid in the right order, your gym will shine! There will be decreased injuries and now you can concentrate on performance…which is what we love to see in our athletes.

I hope this helps you understand more about how the body works. Developing great athletes takes time and work, but when done right you can help them build habits that last a lifetime.

You can check out our extensive information on nutrition for gym sports over at gymnastcare.com/nutrition and you have any questions, please email me at doc@gymnastcare.com. I’d love to help you with any questions you might have.

Dr. Joshua Eldridge

About Dr. Joshua Eldridge

Dr. Joshua Eldridge has specialized in protecting gymnasts from injury. He is the inventor of The X Brace, and has developed a treatment protocol for Sever's disease and heel pain that has helped thousands of gymnasts throughout the world. Dr. Eldridge brings practical, easy injury care and prevention that can be done at home.