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Why do gymnasts need dedicated strength training?


Fewer injuries

Gymnasts need a moderate amount of stress on their skeleton to build bone density.

Jumps are one part of it, weightlifting with perfect form is another.

Doing too much can be a bad thing, but gymnastics without a base of strength is trouble guaranteed.

The dose makes the poison, but such thing as a healthy, competitive gymnast can exist if treated with care.

The bottom line is this: don’t wait to get hurt to start strength training.


Better movement quality

You’ve seen articles pop up in the news about this: kids are fatter and more sedentary than ever.

The children from the 1970’s supposedly moved very well.

While I wasn’t there to confirm this, it’s true that millennials can’t even get into a deep squat position without falling on their face.

Start with learning how to pick up a weight off the floor with a flat back, followed by lunges and hip hinge variations.

If a gymnast can’t master basic movement patterns, you can’t expect them to do back extensions and pirouettes with impeccable form.

Good movement needs to be the only movement allowed, starting from the basics at an early age.

Sounds easy, but no one does it.


Health and lifestyle

The benefits of having a positive early experience with strength training go far beyond gymnastics.

The competitive life of a gymnast lasts the blink of an eye, and you want to keep on working out after that.

When gymnastics ends, many girls can’t find joy in regular exercise.

This leads to problems managing their health and their weight because of lack of habit or motivation.

Building good manners in the gym and a taste for general exercise can prevent this problem.

Make gym training an enjoyable experience and it’s benefits will carry on for decades.


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Here are a few key points that we can do to reduce knee problems in gymnasts:


1. Improve ankle range of motion.

Typically, gymnasts present a lack of ankle dorsiflexion, as most of their sport specific skills happen in plantar flexion.

The lack of ankle dorsiflexion and internal rotation on the ankle joint will be compensated by the knee, resulting in pain and sometimes serious injuries.

A simple set of exercises with this purpose will benefit you greatly.


2. Increase glute medius activation.

The glute medius primarily does hip abduction, and it is vital in lateral movements and single leg stability.

A weak glute medius means trouble for your knees.

One way to solve this adding exercises like banded monster walks and hip airplanes during warmups.


3. Improve motor control.

Every gymnast should be able to perform basic movements like squats, deadlifts and jumps without compensating with lumbar lordosis or valgus at the knee.

If they can’t do the most basic movements right, don’t expect them to stay injury free when practicing complicated moves like AGG skills.


4. Improve hip mobility.

Lack of range of motion at the hips is a threat both for the knees and for the lumbar spine.

Stretch the hip flexors, hip extensors, hip internal rotators and hip external rotators.

Every day. Every session. All the time.


5. Strength train.

Mobility without stability is a recipe for disaster.

Don’t be that gymnast that is afraid of strength training because you think it’s dangerous or because it’s going to make you muscular: Not doing strength training is dangerous.


6. Do more posterior chain work.

Hip thrusts, deadlifts, single leg deadlifts are your best friend.

Quad dominant gymnasts will have a predisposition for knee tendonitis and other related problems.

Work on the muscles that you don’t see in the mirror!


7. Before going to the physio, think twice about the way you are training.

The physio can’t correct poor training practice.

Physical therapy is an excellent complement to attenuate symptoms but never to solve the root of training-related problems.


8. Go to the doctor.

If you train correctly and knee pain doesn’t improve, find a good sports doctor.

Coaches and physical therapists can’t scan your knee to see if the joint structures are damaged.

The doctor is always the first professional you should visit.


9. Use common sense.

If an exercise hurts, don’t do it: Don’t ignore bad pain.

More often than not it’s your own body warning you that something is not right.


10. Lose fat and keep it off.

Notice I said fat, not muscle.

Stay in shape, otherwise, your joints will have to absorb very high forces in every landing, increasing injury risk.



From acute and chronic low back injuries to knee pain and ankle sprains, no Aesthetic Group Gymnastics team is unfamiliar with injuries.

Look closely at any given team, and you will realize that 3 to 4 girls are injured almost year round.

Coaches want the girls ready for next competition and don’t want to wait any longer.

Gymnasts rush getting back to training because being a teenager and having patience don’t go well together.

Here are some of the reasons why AGG has so many injuries:


Some coaches lack education.

The far majority of coaches decided one day that they like gymnastics, competed in their teenage years, and later decided that it would be fun to coach the sport that they love.

Maybe they even went to a 3-month coach education to complement their practical experience.

Compare this to the “money” sports: football, basketball or ice hockey.

More often than not, you need a 4-year degree in sports science and two years of master studies in a sports specialty to be considered for a position on the team as a biomechanist, physiotherapist, strength coach or data analyst.

I will agree that practical experience is better than academic knowledge, but to ensure good coaching you need to have both.


Not everyone is built for AGG.

In Finland, there’s this idea that everyone should be able to do the sport that they like and have access to it: sports for everybody.

I agree 100% with this philosophy, but here’s the catch: competitive sports are different.

While I am all in for financial support so that everyone can do sports, I’m not so convinced about everyone being “built” to compete in AGG.

I am not talking about the higher levels, not the lower divisions (kilpasarja in Finland).

A specific hip structure is required to be able to perform gymnastics skills at the elite level.

Most spines don’t tolerate rotation and extension very well, and a certain degree of joint hypermobility is required for advanced movements.

On top of this, if the coaches didn’t do an excellent job with flexibility training when the gymnasts were very young, the body will pay the price.

Lack of mobility at the upper back, hips, and ankles will result in low back pain and knee problems.


They specialize too early.

Specializing in on sport too early has been shown time and time again to increase the risk of injury and psychological stress (Jayanthi, Pinkham, Dugas, Patrick, & Labella, 2013).

Sports specialization isn’t recommended at least until puberty is reached.

However, in gymnastics, like in other aesthetic sports, more hours of sports specific training and at an earlier age are required to reach peak performance in the late teens or early 20’s.

Compare this to strength or endurance sports where peak performance is reached at late 20’s or early 30’s.

Furthermore, let’s not forget that flexibility decreases faster than any other physical ability.


What you can do about it

Strength Train.

A review of 25 studies in 2013 that included a total of 26610 athletes concluded that strength training reduced sports injuries to less than 1/3.

In addition, strength training almost halved overuse injuries (Lauersen, Bertelsen, & Andersen, 2014).

Culturally, gymnastics is often anchored to obsolete myths about getting bulky and lifting weights being a bad thing for children.

Not only will it notably reduce injuries but it will help you jump more (Piazza et al., 2014).

Perfect technique and adequate progression is a must, and strength training needs to be done at least 2 to 3 times a week year round.


Educate yourself.

Unless we want to keep on getting hurt, we need to transition to professional coaching.

I am not saying that everyone needs to have a degree in sports science.

However, if you can’t describe what the muscles involved in gymnastic skills do, it is unlikely that you will be able to develop them.

Often what coaches think will help gain mobility and strength and the upper back is damaging the low back and doing nothing for performance.


Putting it all together:

  • Coaches need to understand what exercises are adequate for the level of each gymnast.
  • Asking for an exercise list from the physiotherapist or the strength coach won’t solve the problem.
  • Spend time educating yourself, don’t just ask somebody for exercises.
  • Individualization of training is a must: each gymnast has particular needs, and you may cause damage with standard exercises.



Jayanthi, N., Pinkham, C., Dugas, L., Patrick, B., & Labella, C. (2013). Sports specialization in young athletes: evidence-based recommendations. Sports Health, 5(3), 251–7. doi:10.1177/1941738112464626

Lauersen, J. B., Bertelsen, D. M., & Andersen, L. B. (2014). The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48(11), 871–7. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092538

Myer, G. D., Jayanthi, N., DiFiori, J. P., Faigenbaum, A. D., Kiefer, A. W., Logerstedt, D., & Micheli, L. J. (2016). Sports Specialization, Part II: Alternative Solutions to Early Sport Specialization in Youth Athletes. Sports Health, 8(1), 65–73. doi:10.1177/1941738115614811

Piazza, M., Battaglia, C., Fiorilli, G., Innocenti, G., Iuliano, E., Aquino, G., … Di Cagno, A. (2014). Effects of resistance training on jumping performance in pre-adolescent rhythmic gymnasts: a randomized controlled study. Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology = Archivio Italiano Di Anatomia Ed Embriologia, 119(1), 10–9. Retrieved from