What It Takes to Be an Olympic Gymnast
After an additional year wait, it's almost time for arguably the biggest event in the sport of gymnastics: The Olympics!
The countdown to Tokyo is coming to a close, and I don't know about anyone else, but I'm super excited to tune into the Olympic Trials this weekend after a 5 year wait!
Many of the biggest names in U.S. gymnastics are currently in St. Louis to try achieve arguably the biggest accomplishment in the sport: a spot on the Olympic team!
All the buzz surrounding Championships, Trials, and who will make the Olympics is quite exciting. Current and former gymnasts, along with parents, gymnastics fans, and people who pay attention to gymnastics every 4 (or 5 in this case) years, will be awaiting the announcement of the Olympic team. I know I can't wait to see who is selected (and I'm glad I'm not on the selection committee for the United States😅)!
While the general public usually only pays attention to gymnastics during the Olympic year, gymnastics is a year-round sport that takes a great deal of strength, dedication, and passion.
Whether you want to make the Olympics or have your own big goals, every gymnast can train like an Olympian and take the same steps to reach their best performance and achieve their gymnastics goals, big or small.
So what do you have to do to train like an Olympian?
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? Here's 5 simple steps to help you on your own journey to greatness:
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.
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
Dr. Ian Crider, DPT - Elevate Physical Therapy, The Gymnastics Doc
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. 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.
Check out some of these gymnastics-focused practitioners to help you be your best:
Rebecca Smith, MA - Complete Performance Coaching
Stacey Herman, NLP - So Connected Mental Strength Coaching
Dr. Alison Arnold, PhD - Headgames World
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.
Simone Biles has said that she enjoys going out to eat and listens to her body, both in terms of how much she needs to eat and what she wants to eat whether it's a traditionally "healthy" food or not. The greatest gymnast of all time enjoys some pizza or a cookie if she wants them; so can you!
So, weather your goals are The Olympics or not, you can still be "all in" as a gymnast to be the happiest, healthiest, and highest performing version of yourself.