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Few sports can boast to have the level of physical fitness, muscular development and flexibility as gymnastics. To be successful in gymnastics requires strength, power and flexibility. Gymnasts must develop the lean muscle tone to hold their own body weight in inverted positions and to maintain control of the body during complicated skills such as floor exercises and maneuvers on the beam and bars. A gymnast must also possess the power to lift her body into the air during flips and mounts and the flexibility to perform skills such as Y-holds and levers.
Upper- and Lower-Body Conditioning
Upper- and lower-body conditioning are best performed on alternating days for a minimum of 20 minutes at a time. Upper-body conditioning is done to strengthen the arms, shoulders, chest and upper back. Strength in the upper body is essential for supporting a gymnast's weight in inversions and pushing off the floor during skills such as handsprings and round-offs. Exercises to strengthen the upper body should include, but are not limited to, pushups, handstand pushups, pullups, triceps dips and handstand shoulder shrugs. Lower-body conditioning develops the muscles of the legs for use in jumps and rebounds and to protect the knees from injury. Exercises that target the lower body are mountain climbers, calf raises, running stairs, squat jumps and wall sits.
The muscles of the core include those located in the abdomen and back. A strong core is vital for the execution of gymnastics skills. Gymnasts must be able to tighten and hold their core muscles in order to control their body and hold it in position while executing gymnastics skills. The muscles of the abdomen help to lift the legs in a number of skills, particularly those performed on the bars. Strong back muscles can also help to prevent injury to the lower back from strain or overuse. A routine to develop the core muscles should include situps, V-situps, crunches, leg lifts, seated straddle lifts, seated pike lifts and standing leg lifts.
Cardiovascular exercise is key for developing the type of endurance necessary during long training sessions and competitions. First and foremost, a gymnast will need to achieve and maintain a healthy strength-to-body-weight ratio to be successful practicing gymnastics. High-intensity cardiovascular exercise, such as aerobics, running, cycling and dance, will help gymnasts slim down if necessary and maintain an ideal weight for their body and strength. An effective cardiovascular routine is seven to nine sets of 60- to 90-second sprints followed by three to four minute walks, repeated one to three times per week.
A high level of flexibility is important not only for gymnastics skills such as splits and walkovers, but also to increase range of motion in joints and reduce muscle tightness, decreasing the risk of injury. Flexibility also increases the speed at which gymnasts are able to learn new skills. Gymnasts should use both static stretching, such as stretches that are held without bouncing including splits and Y-holds, and dynamic, or active stretches, such as split leaps and kicks. It is important that gymnasts train both sides of their body to develop flexibility in both legs and arms and don't forget to use stretches such as shoulder pulls to increase flexibility in the shoulders, which is vital to the execution of gymnastics skills.