It's time!! The 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games are here!
While most people only pay attention to gymnastics during the Olympics, us in the gymnastics community may be a little more invested than that! We know how hard these athletes have worked to get to this point - their sacrifice and dedication is incredible! And as a gymnast, you know that gymnastics is a year-round sport that takes a great deal of strength, dedication, and passion.
Whether you want to make the Olympics some day or have your own big goals, every gymnast can train like an Olympian and take the same steps to be their best and achieve their gymnastics goals, no matter how big or small.
One of the most overlooked aspect of success in gymnastics is the TEAM behind each gymnast. While gymnastics is largely an individual sport, a gymnast can't succeed without the support of so many others. Teammates, coaches, and parents all have such critical roles in a gymnast's career. However, many others can and should be on each gymnast's TEAM so she can train for her goals like an Olympian. Registered Dietitians, physical therapists, and sports psychologists all can help a gymnast level up her training to perform her best in the gym since nutrition, recovery, and mental health are an important yet often overlooked aspects of gymnastics.
How you do anything is how you do everything.
As a gymnast, of course it is important to work your hardest in the gym. But it is also just as important to be invested in what you do outside of the gym too. Gymnasts that reach the highest level of the sport are "all-in", both in and out of the gym!
This "all-in" mindset takes dedication and hard work in order to be your best both in gymnastics and other aspects of your life, but it will make the payoff of the journey and achievement of your goals all the more rewarding.
So what does it really mean for a gymnast to be "all-in" in and out of the gym?
Commit to Recovery
Get Enough Sleep Every Night
Find Time for Other Passions
Take Care of Your Mental Health
Prioritize Performance Nutrition
1. Commit to Recovery
Gymnasts, you have to feel your best to perform your best in the gym. Whether you're currently injured, coming back from an injury, or trying to prevent an injury, physical therapy and preventative mobility exercises can help you stay strong and healthy.
Doing these kinds of exercises will help you do skills with proper form (as opposed to improper form which can lead to injury) because you are less likely to compensate for weak muscles. Additionally, mobility training can increase your flexibility and lessen your chance of injury (for example, if your ankles are stronger and more stable, you're less likely to be injured by a short landing).
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.
2. Get Enough Sleep Every Night
Gymnasts, you need to get enough sleep every night!! Sleep is the best time for your body to rest, recover, and repair itself so that you're ready to train your hardest and get better in the gym the next day.
Gymnasts should aim to get adequate sleep each night:
6-12 year olds: 9-12 hours per night
13-18 years old: 8-10 hours per night
18+ years old: 8+ hours per night
If you're not getting enough sleep every night, you will feel tired, sluggish, and not at 100% in the gym. AND athletes who sleep less than 8 hours per night are at a 1.7x higher risk of injury, compared to those that get enough! If you're not at 100% in the gym, your goals will be more challenging to reach.
Commit to a sleep schedule that maximizes your sleep and stick to it. Even schedule in short naps (20 or 90 minutes) when needed!
Prioritize getting enough sleep by going to bed early enough! If you have trouble falling asleep, building a bedtime routine can help. This may include things like:
Using blue light blocking glasses for screen time
Setting a tech curfew 60-90 minutes before bed
Taking a hot bath or shower
Writing daily gratitudes
Preparing for the next day (pulling out snacks, setting out clothes, making to-do lists, etc.)
3. Find Time for Other Passions
The sport of gymnastics is a time-consuming commitment, and it may feel like the only that matters in a gymnast's life. But, it's important to remember that gymnastics is not your only identity - you will have a life after gymnastics some day.
Luckily, there are SO MANY life amazing lessons--such as time management, trusting your ability, and the value of hard work--in gymnastics training that you can apply to other aspects of your life both when you're still a gymnast and once you retire from the sport.
Gymnasts, don't sacrifice your school work (and future) for gymnastics. During the school year, remember to dedicate yourself to school work just as you dedicate yourself to your work in the gym. Reach out to your academic and personal support system as needed because they want to help you succeed in and out of the gym. The "all-in" mentality of an Olympian extends outside of gymnastics to all aspects of your life--school being one of the most important aspects.
4. Take Care of Your Mental Health.
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Gymnasts who neglect the mental aspect of the sport cannot expect to succeed in the sport, just the same as gymnasts who neglect their physical health.
In gymnastics, your brain is as much a muscle as your biceps or your abs. Top gymnasts train their brains as well as their bodies. They visualize routines and success; they have confidence in their abilities; they use mental cues; they have techniques to overcomes their fears.
Additionally, do not be afraid to reach out for help if you need it. Sports psychologists can be very helpful. Many top level elite gymnasts have sought out the assistance of a sports psychologist and likely couldn't have reached the levels they have without this help. Many collegiate gymnastics teams also have a sports psychologist for the team who councils individuals as needed and the team as a whole.
Gymnasts, do not neglect your mental health and seek help from others--especially a professional--if you're struggling. You won't be able to reach your goals and perform your best in the gym if you don't take care of your mental health.
5. Prioritize Performance Nutrition
Gymnasts, prioritizing your nutrition will help improve your training and performance in the gym. When you are eating enough and getting all the nutrients that your body needs, you'll feel energized, refreshed, and strong in the gym, which will help you practice your best and reach your goals.
However, please remember: "prioritize" DOES NOT mean "exclusive" or "always". Going "all-in" on proper nutrition and fueling is NOT the same as having an all-or-nothing mindset when it comes to nutrition.
An "all or nothing" mindset can be detrimental to your health and training in the gym. You risk not eating enough food and therefore not having enough energy in the gym. Additionally, the "all or nothing" mindset can lead to a binge and restrict cycle and feelings of guilt if you don't eat "perfectly"
A gymnast who has an "all-in" mindset surrounding nutrition understands that food is fuel for both the body and mind. They commit to eating enough (gymnasts you need A LOT of energy) to support training. They know that a gymnast can easily find balance and eat both nutrient dense AND fun foods. A properly fueled gymnast will have the energy and strength to feel good in practice and train hard toward their goals.
As important as your training in the gym is, remember that what you do out of the gym is what can truly set you apart as a gymnast and help you reach your goals! Focusing on recovery, sleep, other passions, mental health, and performance nutrition outside of the gym will help you be better at practice, so you have the energy, strength, and mindset to reach your goals! The "all-in" mindset truly extends beyond the gym, and YOU can train like an Olympian, no matter what your gymnastics goals are, by committing to this mindset and being at YOUR best!