The start of the school year also means the end of summer training and the start of pre-season for gymnasts - time to get serious! Competition season may only be a few months away still, but it'll be here before you know it...
The shift to pre-season means training shifts away from singular skills and upgrades toward parts and routines--hopefully with some upgrades added in. Pre-season also means the number of hard landings increases in preparation for season.
Pre-season takes a great deal of smart training in the gym as well as supporting behaviors outside the gym to set you up for success heading into competition season.
Think about it this way:
You have two jars of coins: one jar that's completely full and one jar that's only half full. Every time you need to pay for something with coins, you take out an equal amount of coins from each jar. For example, if you need 20 cents, you take 10 cents from each jar. The half empty jar of coins is going to run out a lot sooner than the completely full jar.
How you treat your body during the pre-season can be thought of just like the jar of coins. If you feel like your body is only at 50% at the start of the season, you'll likely have a much more difficult time making it through the long competition season feeling good than if you started the season with your body feeling 100%.
So, what steps can a gymnast take to feel their best this pre-season and set themselves up for a healthy and successful competition season?
Build Your TEAM In and Out of the Gym
While each gymnast does perform individually, the reality is that there is such a huge TEAM that goes into making the most successful gymnasts! So, who should be on yours?
Teammates: your fellow gymnasts by your side day in and day out. They're the girls you commiserate the hard days with and become life-long friends
Coaches: the people guiding you through training and pushing you to reach your goals
Parents: who else is going to provide all of those rides, meals, and hugs?
A Registered Dietitian: a licensed nutrition professional can help you fuel your body to have the energy you need to practice your best and stay as healthy as possible!
A Physical Therapist: a professional who will guide and promote your recovery from injuries so you can return to training at 100% safely
A Sports Psychologist or Mental Performance Coach: a professional who can lend support and strength for the critical but often overlooked mental side of gymnastics, helping you trust your training and break through mental barriers in the gym
All the members of your team, whether they're in the gym or outside of it will help you train to feel and be your best so that you can have a successful season and reach all of your gymnastics goals!
Eat Enough Food to Fuel the Increased Demands
As always, a huge key to your success this pre-season, season, and essentially all of your gymnastics career is eating enough food in order to keep your energy levels high since gymnastics (on top of school, growth and development, and everyday life) requires SO MUCH ENERGY every single day!!!
The shift during pre-season into parts and routines and an increase in hard landings in preparation for season will require even more energy than training single skills and soft landings during the summer, so you'll likely need to eat more to keep up with your body's demands! Make sure to listen to your body's hunger and energy level cues, as well as things like your sleep, your mood, and other signals from your body! Be prepared for each day, packing snacks and preparing food or meals ahead of time to take with you during the day so you can meet your fueling goals even with your on-the-go schedule due to school and practice.
Remember, gymnasts who don't eat enough are at an increased risk for injuries--especially stress fractures. Recovery takes energy, so if a gymnast isn't eating enough (aka giving her body enough energy to use), then the body's ability to recover and repair itself is compromised. This increases injury risk, particularly for overuse injuries, such as muscle strains and stress fractures, which compounds as your body continues to take hard landings and be subject to full routines while still receiving too little energy to compound. Gymnasts who underfuel generally struggle to remain healthy throughout pre-season and season due to their lessened ability to recover.
And remember the jar analogy from above? Gymnasts who underfuel are setting themselves to start the season as the half empty jar...
Instead, gymnasts make sure you're eating every 2-3 hours, planning and preparing meals and snacks for your busy day, and overall eating enough to fuel properly and start off the season with a full jar of coins so you can be successful and reach your goals after all your hard work this summer and pre-season!
Focus on Rehab and Prevention
The goal of pre-season is to prepare for the demands of season, which can be pretty intense, especially for high level gymnasts. Focusing on rehab for nagging aches and injuries as well as adding in preventative exercises can help gymnasts start the season feeling their best.
And don't forget about recovery techniques such as dynamic and static stretching, foam rolling, icing, heating, and options such as cupping, Normatec, or a Theragun (if you have access to them) that you can do at home. These can all help your body recover and heal so you can feel your best in the gym everyday, but you need to commit and go all-in to taking the necessary preventative and recovery techniques for you.
Check out some of these gymnastics-focused practitioners to help you be your best:
Dr. Sara Ferruzza, DPT - Perfect 10 Physical Therapy
Dr. Jenny Borda, DPT - Built By Borda
Listen to Your Body
Your body is really good at giving you signs and cues about what it needs in response to what you subject it to (aka gymnastics training). However, it's important for you to notice and understand these cues in order to give your body what it needs (often more food for energy and time to recover) to feel and perform to the highest level.
Too often, gymnasts push themselves too hard in preseason. They don't fuel properly, and they don't listen to their bodies' cues for more energy and recovery. By the time season rolls around, they're either burned out and hurt or unable to perform their best at meets because their body isn't at 100%.
Gymnasts, DON'T LET THIS BE YOU!!!
Be sure to pay attention to your body's cues for what it needs:
if your energy levels are low throughout the day, you need more food and more sleep to restore your energy
if you constantly feel sore, you likely need to focus more on recovery and likely need more food to help your body fuel its recovery processes
if you're dealing with a nagging ache or injury, focus on rehab for the issue and modify assignments and routines as needed instead of trying to force yourself through the injury - your body won't be able to handle this all the way through pre-season AND season
Have Confidence in Your Ability
You've put in all the work throughout the summer to get stronger, gain new skills, and feel your best heading into pre-season. Head into your pre-season with confidence and trust in your gymnastics ability! Trust in your training and believe in yourself and your gymnastics to head into season feeling your best, mentally and physically. Gymnasts, having confidence in your gymnastics ability and trusting that your training can will help you reach your goals is the first step in reaching those goals that you have both for this season and your whole gymnastics career!
The increased demand on a gymnast's body and mind during preseason can be potentially stressful, but with the right training in the gym, self-care outside the gym, and a strong support system, pre-season doesn't have to be so stressful.
Still not sure if you're fueling enough? Take my Gymnast Fueling Quiz to see how you're doing!