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
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.
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 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25345071