Soreness, pain, and injuries are just seen as a regular part of the sport of gymnastics.
But lately, it feels like major injuries - broken bones, back injuries, knee and shoulder ligament tears, achilles ruptures - are happening at an even higher rate than ever before to gymnasts of all ages and levels.
As a gymnast growing up, I too struggled with my fair share of aches, pains and injuries and it definitely held me back from being my best and achieving my goals.
A 2019 survey of NCAA athletes even found that 77% of NCAA gymnasts had sustained a major sport-related injury prior to college!
But, did you ever stop to think that maybe this sport didn't have to be this way. That while this sport is dangerous, that maybe there are things a gymnasts can be doing to reduce their risk of injury?
This week, I asked my friend Dr. Sara Ferruzza of Perfect 10 Physical Therapy "Why are gymnasts always getting hurt?"
We even went live in my free Facebook group for gym parents and coaches about this topic!
While there is really not a one size fits all answer to this question, these are the 6 most common causes of injuries in gymnasts:
1. Poor Movement Patterns
Bodies are meant to withstand load (like skills and landings) in a particular way. If they way a gymnast moves or lands is outside of that normal range, this can lead to injuries of joints, tendons, ligaments, or bones.
The sport of gymnastics seems to be stuck in the "more is better" mindset -- more hours in the gym, more skills performed, more repetitions of each skill. This is a huge load on the body. However, gymnasts often don't spend time working to increase how much load the body can tolerate. For example, gymnastics conditioning and drills are often done with body weight only BUT the landing from a double back can equal >10x bodyweight.
When the "Actual Load" (the load on an athletes body from a particular skill or workout over days, weeks, months, or years of workouts) exceeds the what the body can handle ("load tolerance"), pain or injury is likely to occur.
More recent studies in gymnasts have shown the benefits of:
Quality over quantity of movements, skills, routines, and hard landings in the gym
Strategic weight training for gymnasts (in the off and pre season)
A better periodized training plan, including a rest or "off" season
3. Not enough rest (both sleep and recovery days)
For athletes and non athletes alike, recovery in the short and long term is important.
For day-to-day recovery, gymnasts 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 enough 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.)
4. Improper Nutrition and Hydration
To hear Dr. Ferruzza say this makes my dietitian heart so happy! All of the strategic training, strength and conditioning, physical therapy, and other recovery strategies will not be nearly as effective without the nutrition to support it. Additionally, dehydration can also increase the risk of injury.
Foods and drinks are the building blocks of the body. As a gymnast, this means eating:
Enough overall energy (aka calories)
Unsaturated and Omega-3 fats
A rainbow of fruits and vegetables
Bone health nutrients (including Calcium and Vitamin D)
Drinking > your body weight (lbs) in ounces of fluid daily PLUS more fluids, carbohydrates, and electrolytes during training
Well fueled gymnasts recover faster and are less likely to get injured in the first place.
5. Genetic or systemic condition
There are a few medical conditions that increase the likelihood of injury. Being diagnosed with conditions like Celiac Disease to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and hyper-mobility can increase the likelihood of getting hurt. Having one of these conditions is not a guarantee that you'll get injured, BUT it does mean that you may need to take extra care and precautions.
Gymnastics is an inherently dangerous sport. We cannot expect to prevent 100% of injuries...BUT prioritizing the "controllable" factors like rest, recovery, nutrition, hydration, movement patterns, and appropriate strength and conditioning can help reduce the risk.
If you or your gymnast are frequently getting injured and you want help searching for the cause, connect with Sara today for a free consultation 973-556-8465
Remember gymnasts, nutrition is not something you have to figure out on your own.The Fueled Gymnast Academy is now OPEN for enrollment for our March 2022 post-season group! This small group nutrition coaching program for competitive gymnasts ages 13+ is the simplest way for gymnasts to learn how to fuel their body to stay healthy and perform your best THIS SEASON!
And this March 2022 group is designed to help you learn and implement high-level nutrition strategies BEFORE states, regionals, and nationals! Secure Your Seat Today!
Fueling your body doesn't have to be a guessing game. And you don't have to figure it out on your own.