Understanding Flexibility in Gymnastics
Have you ever noticed how gymnasts flip, spin, and jump so effortlessly? The reason they’re able to perform all their cool stunts with ease is because of their incredible flexibility. If a gymnast is not as limber as they should be, they may end up hurting themselves and even losing out on some points during a competition. Should those in gymnastics visit a stretching gym from time to time? Absolutely! Stretching increases flexibility, which means a better score on the board!
What is Flexibility?
What exactly does it mean to be flexible? It’s having the ability to effectively move your joint or a group of joints through a complete range of motion without dislocating it. People can achieve flexibility by performing various stretching exercises to lengthen the muscles. As a result, you should move comfortably throughout the day.
A lack of flexibility can have many negative effects on your body. If your joints cannot move through a full range of motion, it starts to impact the cartilage in that area. The blood supply and synovial joint fluid will start to decrease from not being able to move freely. Inflexibility can also cause your muscles to get tired quicker, which increases your chances of getting injured. This happens because you put more stress on the tissues near the area where you lack flexibility.
The Importance of Flexibility in Gymnastics
Not having the proper range of motion will prevent a gymnast from performing many of their stunts or learning new ones. Good whole-body flexibility allows the gymnast to easily do splits, leaps, jumps, backbends, and much more. Did you also know that judges will deduct points if a gymnast can’t reach or maintain certain body positions in a gymnastics competition? If you want to perform your moves with ease, reduce your risk of injuring yourself, and get all the available points during a competition, make sure you’re maintaining your flexibility!
How to Increase Your Flexibility
One of the best ways to increase your flexibility is to perform various stretching exercises at a stretching gym and on your own. Two of the most common kinds of stretches that give you results are static and dynamic.
A static stretch is when you go into a position and hold it without moving–think toe touches, for example. These kinds of stretches are perfect for cooling your muscles down after a workout. The many benefits of static stretching include increasing your muscle tone, relieving stress, and helping you maintain or improve your range of motion.
Dynamic stretching involves movement and is designed to go through your body’s full range of motion. Arm and leg circles are good examples of this kind of stretch. The key to effectively doing a dynamic stretch is to keep your movements slow and controlled. It’s a great warmup exercise, as movement gets your blood circulating and ready for physical activity.
Upper Body Stretches
A good gymnast needs good full-body flexibility, but we want to break down some of the best upper and lower body stretches to help in gymnastics. If you’re doing some upper body stretches, you’ll want to focus on the areas that are used repeatedly, such as your shoulders and laterals. Taking care of your back and core are also essential!
Below are some good stretches to keep your upper body nice and limber. We also recommend looking for a stretching gym near you have guidance from a professional for the best results.
Everyone should take the time to stretch their necks, especially gymnasts! Neck rolls increase your cervical muscles’ strength and flexibility, and they’re also great for reducing headaches and shoulder pain. It’s an easy move to perform–all you do is make circles with your neck by moving it from side to side. A stretching practitioner will guide you the entire time to ensure you’re properly stretching all the muscles in your neck.
Most gymnasts do the bridge pose to help relax their back, stretch the abdominal muscles, and easily perform a backbend. It’s a great full–body move as well, as it improves your entire body’s strength, stability, and flexibility. You’ll start on your back with your feet shoulder–width apart, back straight, shoulders relaxed, and arms straight in line with your shoulders. A stretching coach will guide you in arching your spine up until you’re in a backbend position.
The pike stretch targets your hamstring muscles while increasing your hips’ mobility and your knees’ stability. Both of these are necessary for a flawless gymnastics performance! Begin on the floor with your back straight and your shoulders relaxed. Your legs should be extended straight in front of you. A stretching coach will guide you forward by gently pushing you until your fingers touch your toes. They’ll help you keep your back straight the entire time.
Gymnasts need to have strong backs to achieve the perfect back– and front–flip. The candlestick pose is the stretch for you if you want incredible back strength. Lie on your back with your legs straight out in front of you. When your stretching coach slowly raises your legs off the ground, keep your knees straight. Next, lift your lower half off the ground so that you’re balancing on your upper back/shoulders. Your stretching coach will help get your spine, glutes, and legs to form a straight line.
Flexible shoulders are also important in gymnastics, and windmills move your shoulders through their whole range of motion. Your stretch practitioner will hold your arms out in front of you and swing them around like windmills.
Lower Body Stretches
Now that you know some good upper body stretches, it’s time to learn the best lower body ones. In gymnastics, flexible legs, ankles, and hips are musts. Keep reading to learn some of the best stretches to keep those muscles in great shape.
Gymnasts do a lot of splits, so it’s good to practice them and stretch the inner thigh muscles. Doing a straddle is the first step to archiving a full split. Start by sitting on the floor with your back straight and your shoulders relaxed. Your legs should be straight out in front of you, and then your stretching coach will guide you into spreading them out sideways as much as you’re comfortable with. Make sure to keep your feet flexed to protect your knees. Once you’re in that position, your stretch practitioner will slowly push your body forward to get you as close to the floor as possible. Your back should be straight the entire time.
The butterfly pose is another incredible stretch that targets your inner thighs as well as your quadriceps. It’s also a good move for increasing your hips’ range of motion, which is vital for gymnasts. To do this stretch, sit on the floor with your back straight and your shoulders relaxed. Your knees should be bent, and the bottom of your feet should be touching each other. Your stretching coach will gently press down on your knees, getting them as close to the ground as possible. You should feel the stretch in your inner thighs and hips.
Another great hip stretch is the pigeon pose. It’s a great warmup for your hips you can do before start your gymnastics routine. Start in a downward dog position, bring one leg forward, and gently lower that knee until it touches the floor. Extend the other leg behind you and keep it lying on the floor. For a deeper stretch, your practitioner will gently push your back and hold that position for a few moments before switching to the other side.
Downward Dog Pose
The downward dog targets the hamstrings, which gymnasts need to keep flexible. Start by standing and let your stretching coach guide you down until your hands touch the floor. Your body will be in an A shape, and your back and legs should be straight. Your stretching coach will guide you in moving your hips up and your heels to the ground.
Let’s not forget to stretch those quadriceps! They’re responsible for helping you walk and leap with ease during a gymnastics routine. Start by standing, and you can hold onto a table or wall for balance if you need it. A stretching coach will grab your leg and gently pull your foot toward your buttocks. You will feel a gentle stretch in the front of your thigh. After holding that position for a bit, you’ll switch legs.
Common Gymnastics Injuries
The repeated movement and stress on the joints in gymnastics could lead to common injuries, sprains, and pain. Getting a full-body stretch at a stretching gym can significantly reduce your chances of getting hurt since you’ll improve your flexibility. If you aren’t careful, you could end up with one of the following injuries:
- Dislocated elbow
- Sprained wrist
- Achilles tendon strains
- Anterior cruciate ligament tears
- Foot and ankle sprains
Other Activities to Improve Your Flexibility
Stretching does increase your flexibility, but you can also take some other steps to ensure a more effective stretch session. Having a healthy mind and body can make stretching and gaining flexibility much easier. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Drink more water
Yes, being well hydrated improves flexibility! By drinking enough water, your body will be more relaxed, increasing your mobility during a stretch session. After all, your body is made up of 70% water. When you’re dehydrated, your muscles become dehydrated as well, making them unable to extend and contract the way they’re supposed to. Not only that, but dehydrated muscles lack electrolytes, which cause them to cramp and not give you as much physical strength.
Proper breathing is important while you stretch. When you hold your breath, your muscles tense up and will make your stretches ineffective. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth to get more oxygen to the brain and muscles. It’s the best way to keep your mind and body relaxed for a good stretch.
Try Using a Foam Roller
Foam rollers can work wonders for a tight, sore body. This device breaks up all the lactic buildup in your body, taking away tightness and making you move much better. You’ll end up with smoother muscle contractions and more flexibility as a result. You can perform a self-massage with a foam roller before and after a gymnastics class to ease any soreness. Some great areas gymnasts can massage are the calves, quads, hamstrings, and lateral muscles.
Don’t Stretch too Far
Stretching shouldn’t hurt. If you’re holding a stretch and feel a sharp pain, you need to let your stretch practitioner know. There is such a thing as overstretching, and that can also cause injuries to your muscles. Forcing yourself to stretch farther than you can handle won’t improve your flexibility any faster. It’s a slow and steady process. Start by reaching as far as you comfortably can. When you keep up with the stretching, you’ll notice over time that you will naturally begin to reach farther than what you used to.
Maintain Your Overall Health
You want to be healthy overall to get the best benefits. Eat plenty of nutritious food and find ways to relax. Some foods that will give your body all the nutrients you need to reach your flexibility goals are lean protein, vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. Stay away from processed foods and sugar, as those can cause inflammation in the body and lead to stiffness and bloating. That alone will make it even harder to increase your flexibility!
The more you practice, the better results you will have. You can’t expect to be more flexible if your stretching schedule is irregular. To prevent it from becoming too tedious, make sure to switch up some of your stretching exercises. You’ll be less likely to quit if your stretching routine becomes too repetitive and boring. Visiting a stretching gym is another way to get some of the best results since you’ll have professional guidance.
Are You Looking for a Stretching Gym to Improve Your Flexibility?
We want gymnasts to perform their best, get a perfect score during a competition, and reduce their chances of getting injured. At Stretch Zone, our team can help those in gymnastics to improve their flexibility and range of motion. As we all know, those are key for giving it your all during a performance. Give us a call to schedule your 30-minute stretch session with us today!