Strength

Valentines Day

I wanted to make a video about the dogs anyways, but Valentines Day seemed appropriate to me for some reason so I did it. Check it out!

I also have been putting in a great deal of work to be better at editing and creating videos. There are so many intricate details to videos. So much to think about and do. I hope you like it!

The Old And The New

So… Here it is. Before I show everybody the new gym, I thought it would be more appropriate to show everybody the place that we have been in for the past five years.

And now… the new gym. It isn’t totally complete. I didn’t take pictures of the preschool area or the parent area, but I will. I need to install three more low rails and do some more maneuvering of equipment. It will be completely and totally finished very soon.

I want to say thank you to a lot of people. Thank you to the people in the gymnastics community in the state, region, and nation that have helped me to grow and develop as a coach. There are tons of you and I hope that all of you know who you are. ¬†Thanks to all of the parents and athletes. Without you all none of this would be possible. Thanks to all of my co-workers. I can’t do this alone and I know that. Thank you to my wife for not killing me over the years, and especially this week. Love you! Also… Thanks to everybody that has helped with this project. From the backers that put up the money for it to the people who have cleaned, moved, and helped the gym for the past six months.

Without all of you, this gym wouldn’t be possible. So thank you to everybody involved, near and far. All of you are greatly appreciated.

What’s New

Well… It’s been a long time. I haven’t been on here for several reasons. I was just down in Charlotte, North Carolina again last weekend for the camp at International Gymnastics and I had some good conversations with people down there that told me they still read my blog. I was surprised at that because I see the numbers, but it was encouraging to hear and made me want to start getting more information out. I also confessed to some people that I felt like nothing I did on here would ever be as important or relevant as what I was able to do in the wake of Andrea’s accident. Seventeen-thousand people viewed that blog post in about a week, which was incredible for me and for her friends and family. Not that I want to one-up that, but it just doesn’t feel as important.

I have also had my fair share of struggles recently. We have two level tens, two level nines, and a level eight boy. I have been working with several kids in the afternoons, which has kept me really busy. This is my first experience with having athletes at this level in my own gym and there has been some learning I have had to do. I have started to do TOPs with my kids and that has me pretty excited. My level eight boy finished third at Future Stars Regionals with a bad showing, but still qualified to Nationals in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He did well there, but ended up finishing just barely in the bottom half of his age group. On top of all of this… I have been devoting almost all of my free time to golfing. I have gotten to the point where I can shoot even par or several over just about every time I go play. The other big thing that has kept me busy is the best news of all. We purchased the building, property, and equipment from the other gym in town and we are in the process of renovating it to be a world class facility. It won’t be huge, but it will be laid out perfectly with pits and resi mats for every event, boys and girls. We will also have a trampoline into a pit and a resi mat, which I am excited about. I will hopefully get to flip again like I use to!

Here is a little bit of what we have been doing…

I haven’t done a very good job of videoing everything that I want to. The two nines have been doing well and so has my other ten after being out of the gym for another sport. The boy has been working on, and getting, a bunch of skills that will stick with him for the rest of his career. Tippelts, Yamawaki, Diamadov, Stutz, ect. It is an exciting time for me and for my gym. We have several youngsters that I am excited about and all of the kids have been working hard for the season. I have also begun to work every week with all of the coaches in the gym to share my knowledge and experience with them and try to make them better at what they do. We are going to continue to meet every week to try and make SOGA the best facility for gymnastics, tumbling, and cheerleading that it can possibly be.

I mentioned before that I was in North Carolina again… The camp was amazing. They added Alex Bard, a Canadian National Team coach and repeated Olympic coach, to the roster of great coaches this year. I met Alex several years ago at Woodward and he is amazing. Camp was great for all the kids and the coaches and I look forward to going back next year. The week before I was in Cincinnati at Gym Nation to work the Region Five Forward Progress camp. That was also great. The region looks strong and ready to do great things. It was wonderful to be able to work a high level camp with so many friends and I learned a lot from them while I was there. I am finally home for a couple weeks and then I get to go back down to the TOPs A camp at the Karolyi Ranch.

So… I am posting this and then I am going to work on bar changes and the tap swing in every flip, possibly some other posts. I know I have a lot to learn and I am extremely far from the best coach around, but I want to share what knowledge and experience I have with everybody. So… here goes. I guess since it is cold I have time to devote to this instead of golf.

Quick Thoughts

I have a ton of things I needed to get out of my head in out into the world. Here they are.

Education is not an option. It is a requirement. Not just gymnastics. Nutrition, psychology, kinesiology, exercise physiology, teaching, coaching, and everything else that is related to our sport. Can you ever get too smart? Can you ever know too much? Uhm… No! So keep looking for new information, training plans, ideas, and anything else you can find to help make you a better teacher, mentor, coach, and person.

Use your brain. Just because somebody said it or did it, doesn’t mean that it is best or right. Not all information is good information. You have to filter what you see and hear. For examples, I got a ton of information from a congress this summer and I set up a bunch of drills everyday. The kids did the drills really well, but I found that their vaults were getting worse. They were getting really good at doing all these drills and not at vaulting. I cut all the drills out and had them do their vaults and a couple drills that simulated the actual vaults. Since then, our vaults have gotten much better.

Organization is not a good idea. It is necessary. Every rotation, every day, every week, every month, every year, and even years down the road. You have to be organized. I don’t want my kids to get bored by doing the same thing, but I want them to know the plan for the event, day, and week. They should know what is expected of them and how they are going to get to where they need to be. My kids all know the rotations each day, the length of the rotations, and how we will work during the rotations. Most of my kids even know what the other groups are going to do as well. We are consistent and we are organized.

Having a plan isn’t something you do when you have time enough to think about it. Failing to plan is planning to fail. See above. Planning and organization make everything so much easier. Every kid, every skill, everything. It all needs to be planned. And after you have a plan, you need need to have a backup plan. And the backup should have a backup plan. There are so many uncertainties in this sport. Plan it out and then have backups. Follow your plan, but be flexible enough to adjust as needed.

Strength, flexibility, and basics are the most important thing in gymnastics. I believe that pain is weakness… If it hurts, it is weak and needs to be strengthened. Many injuries come from a lack of strength and/or flexibility. Every muscles and joint needs to be strong and flexible. Also… For me, bad basics is bad gymnastics. Period. Bad basics usually lead to some sort of injuries as well. Put a lot of time and effort into strength, flexibility, and basics and I am certain you will see better gymnasts and better gymnastics.

Scary gymnastics should result in at least a five point deduction. Coaches should be fined… Or maybe thrown out of the meet. I understand the occasional silly mistake, but kids should not be allowed to continually practice or compete scary gymnastics. For instance, I saw a girl do a really, really horrible tucked yurchenko vault. She nearly missed the landing mat entirely. Her next turn she did one of the prettiest layout full twisting yurchenkos I have seen. She messed up and it scared some people, but she obviously didn’t do scary gymnastics all the time. That same meet I had to tell my kids to turn away and not watch the other team warm up or compete their events. Scary doesn’t begin to describe what these girls were allowed to do. Dangerous comes to mind. Hideous does as well.

If you teach “chuck it” gymnastics, you should be chucked off a bridge. That is kind of harsh, but I really hate the whole “chuck it” mentality. There are a few “do it” skills in gymnastics, but there are no “chuck it” skills. For example, double fronts. Especially into pits. There have been many times that I have given kids instructions on how to do double fronts into a pit, what they will feel, and what they should avoid. I have then said… Do it and then we will talk about what you need to change and do better. These kids have all had the ability to do double fronts into a pit and they have always been successful on their first try, as well as every try after. I have always made sure to give them as much information as possible before they try it. “Space for your face” is a concept I always teach. I tell them to spread their knees a little bit so if they hit their feet first they don’t smash their face on their knees. I have never had a kid “chuck” a skill, but I have had them do some skills to get the fear and nerves out of the way. On a side note, I believe that pits and resi mats have helped to further the whole “chuck it” mentality.

I could be wrong, but I don’t see any of the best coaches in the world saying they don’t spot. Get your hands on the kids and work with them. I am really curious to see if I am wrong about this. Every great coach I have ever met or seen has spotted, or at least been able to spot. I believe it creates trust and helps create a bond with the kids. I don’t mean you should always spot or that is all that is important, but I do believe that it is a huge tool that should be in your tool box. I know a few coaches that don’t spot at all. I know a few coaches that don’t spot on certain events. I also know coaches that spot everything, all the time. I have a previous post about spotting that I think you should read if you are interested in spotting. Simply put… I believe you should know how to, when to, and why to spot. And be able to do it!

I don’t believe that injuries are okay, ever. Aside from the random freak, uncontrollable accident, most injuries can be prevented. I said before that strength, flexibility, and basics can prevent a lot of injuries. I believe that proper organization and planning can help as well. Knowing your kids, reading their body language, and communicating with them will help also. Chucking skills is never safe. Allowing scary gymnastics to be practiced or competed is asking for injuries. There is so much that goes into keeping your kids safe and healthy. I get really tired of hearing people say that it is just the sport or shrugging and saying… “What are you gonna do?” I do think that there are some random, freak accidents that will happen in this sport and any other sport. But if your athletes are strong, flexible, have good basics, are mentally conditioned and prepared… Don’t you think they will tend to be healthier?

Just because you have been coaching gymnastics forever or you coached one or two good kids, that does not mean you are good. I believe that you are only as good as your worst kids. I read that after winning a world all around title, a coach and athlete both said that they knew they were only as good as their next meet. I absolutely loved hearing that, especially after winning a world all around title. At the risk of over sharing my thoughts…. I want to have a kid sweep every event in all around and event finals in the Olympics. I want to have an entire Olympic team come from my gym. I have lofty goals and they are probably out of reach. If I ever do reach them… Then I have to repeat! My point is this. I have met tons of coaches that hang their hats on what they have done in the past. I have respect for previous accomplishments, but what have you done lately? Keep putting everything you have into your athletes and your staff. Always try to get better and make your athletes better. No matter what you have done in your career, there is always something more you can do.

If you are in this sport to make money, you are in it for the wrong reasons. I believe that you can make a good, maybe even great, living in this sport. If money and profits are the main concern, I don’t believe you will be successful. Focus on your plan, organization, and coaching the kids. I am willing to bet that you will start to see more profits when you have a good plan, organization, and good coaching.

I was told once that it didn’t matter what you said or did to kids as long as they made nationals. Take a second… Digest that. Think about what that statement really says. I can verbally, emotionally, or physically abuse kids as long as they make nationals? I can have them vault or tumble onto hard surfaces when they are exhausted, even though I think it is dangerous? I can have them do skills that they aren’t ready for or haven’t had proper instruction on? I can sit on my ass and drink coffee while three groups work unsupervised? No… Everything you do matters. Every day. Results are a product of the process. There are so many things wrong with that statement and that mentality.

I might just be young and naive. I might just be idealistic. It is entirely possible that I am way off the mark. But I believe that the status quo in this sport isn’t where it should be.

Strength Plan

This is the way I think of and do strength work in my gym. We have four hour practices and at least fifty minutes of it is directly dedicated to strength work. First of all… strength is one of the most important things that the gymnasts do in the gym, in my opinion. The stronger the better, but it should be with their own body weight and I believe you should condition certain motions more than others. For example, pike ups, presses, casts, ect. The strength work that the TOPs program uses to test physical abilities are great, in my opinion.

For ease in my gym, and in my own mind, I have categorized different muscle groups to work. We do pushing, pulling, legs, and core. Examples of pushing muscles would be triceps, pectorals, and deltoids. Examples of pulling muscles would be biceps, latissimus dorsi, and the trapezius. Core muscles include the abdominals, lower back, and obliques. There are different ways the muscles can be worked but the main thing you should be trying to achieve is muscle contraction. Examples of different ways to work would be holds, sets, or a combination of set-hold-set or something of that nature. For the legs you should work on jumping and punching, or bouncing.

We follow a schedule in our gym. Monday is pulling, Tuesday is legs, Wednesday is pushing, Thursday is a combination of all three. Every day we work on core muscles. I try to incorporate exercises that include the abs as much as possible, such as a piked chin up hold or a piked support hold on beam. Two days a week the girls push five mats back and forth on the floor, twice each. Two days a week the girls do an upper body plyometric warm up on the tumble track. After the first rotation with me every day the group does ten minutes of strength also. They have two rope climbs, five half presses, five elevated jumping presses on the tumble track, five full straddle presses with a partner, ten half pike ups, ten full pike ups, and twenty five pike ups on the floor.

This is what we are currently doing for strength work each week. Number might vary, but they are usually what I will present.

Monday – Pulling
Fifteen chin up levers on a bar
Fifteen chin up pull overs on a bar
Fifteen levers on the floor
Fifteen assisted chin ups
Six twenty second piked chin up holds on rings
Two rope climbs

Tuesday – Legs
Two sets of fifty straight leg punches up and down on panel mats
Fifty switch lunges on each leg
Two sets of twenty-five pike ups on the floor
Fifty squat jumps up onto the tumble track
Fifty squat jumps
Two sets of twenty-five tuck ups on the floor
Fifty straight leg punches up and down on panel mets
Twenty-five squat jumps up onto the tumble track
Twenty-five squat jumps
Twenty-five arch ups on the floor
Twenty-five arch rocks

Wednesday – Pushing
Fifteen elevated jumping presses onto the tumble track
Fifteen half presses on the floor
Five sets of ten perfect push ups
Three thirty second pike holds on beam
Three thirty second tuck holds on beam
Five sets of ten perfect push ups
Two thirty second handstand holds

Thursday – Combination
Two sets of fifty straight leg punches up and down on panel mats
Fifty squat jumps up onto the tumble track
Ten elevated jumping presses onto the tumble track
Ten half presses on the floor
Five sets of ten perfect push ups
Ten chin up levers on a bar
Ten chin up pull overs on a bar
Ten levers
Twenty-five pike ups on the floor
Twenty-five tuck ups on the floor
Twenty-five arch ups on the floor
Twenty-five arch rocks

My wrist hurts just typing all of this out, as does my head trying to remember what we do and how many. I am completely sure that my athletes are hurting after they do all of this but there are a few things that help them along during the week. Number one is that I preach to the kids about the importance of their strength work. I always tell them that it would be easier for me to not work them very hard and then have to go to meets and fall on their faces because they aren’t conditioned properly. But I tell them after that I am giving them the gift of success. Of strong muscles and bodies. Because of the hard work they put in, the gymnastics is easier. They understand it now, but they didn’t always. Strength is success and they might not like it, but they are going to do it and do it properly and in a timely manner.

Another thing I preach to the kids is that strength, along with flexibility, keeps them healthy. Gymnastics is hard on the body and they take tons of pounding and abuse. Wrists, ankles, lower back, neck, and knees are common problem areas. I try to do as much pre-hab as possible. Wrists and ankles have been the most common problem areas for us, but low back has started to creep up now that my kids are starting to get older. So… as soon as I hear somebody complain I will implement some sort of strengthening exercises for those areas. We do what I call “rollers” for forearm strength and it has virtually eliminated the wrist pain in our gym. It is a pipe or stick with a rope attached and a five pound weight on the end. We do toe raises of every variation for calf strength to keep ankle pain out of the gym as well. And of course, the back muscles need to be strengthened as much as possible. Any time of arch rock or arch up will help to strengthen the back and should help with back pain some.

I said earlier that the main goal is muscle contraction. This is where we get the “tension” from. I teach the kids the names of their muscles and where they are and what they do. We also spend time here and there trying to flex certain muscles. I think just about everybody reading this will know how to flex their biceps or their quads, but do you know how to flex your triceps to lock the arm out? Do you know how to flex your lats? What are your lats even used for? These two, along with the abdominals, are the main muscles used in a kip. I try to make sure that the kids know things like this.

The kids learn how to contract their muscles and the names and all that, but the main goal of muscle contraction is during the exercises. Holds are a great way to ensure the muscles contract. We all want our kids to know different positions such as tucks, pikes, or hollows. I try to build in some of these into our workouts to make sure their muscles have the memory of these positions.

Second day soreness is something else I look for. There are all kind of physiological reasons why it happens that I won’t go into, partly because that class was a long time ago and you can simply look it up in a text book if you like. When a muscles or muscle groups are worked well they will swell and feel tight almost immediately. The next day they will be sore, but shouldn’t be super sore. The second day after the workout the muscles will be more sore than the first day. I am constantly communicating with the kids about how the muscles feel and their tight or soreness levels. I never want to hurt my athletes but I do want them to be the strongest they can possibly be. We communicate before, during, and after practices.

There is a lot that goes into your gymnastics program, but I believe that the strength, conditioning, and flexibility that you do in the gym are one of the most important things. There is a balance that must be struck, but you have to do it and you have to make sure that the kids are doing it to the best of their ability. I deal every week with the kid that thinks she can bend her legs on her chin levers. She is capable of doing them with straight legs… but they are just easier when she bends them. You have to stay on them, always. Once is a mistake, twice is a trend, and three times it is becoming a habit. Always watch them do their pre work out stretch, their strength, and their flexibility at the end of the workout.

I hope some of this helps, because that is my goal. Focus a some more of your effort into the details of your strength and flexibility and you will see the benefits.

Update 11/04/11
As we get ready for meets I was reminded that our plan changes the week of a meet. I want my athletes to be strong and fit, but not really sore. We adjust our numbers the week of a meet. Often times we half our numbers, but it just depends on what we are doing and where they are weak. A little soreness won’t hurt, but I don’t want them to be hurting a lot during a meet. Especially when it comes to legs. We tend to cut more of the leg strength and keep the same amount of upper body. When we cut legs, a lot of times we add more core and/or shaping work.