Posture and Gymnastics

Ethel Gonzales

For athletes participating in sports like swimming and gymnastics, there is a need to assume a totally different body posture compared to other sports to be able to complete well. This posture can carry over to their personal lives as well, and one can easily identify a swimmer or gymnast by the particular way they stand, walk or carry themselves. While football and basketball are “leg based” sports, swimmers and gymnasts have assimilated a decidedly hunchbacked posture because of the “hand based” orientation of their particular athletic activities. The hunchbacked posture in gymnastics is part of the sport’s proper form and is known as “hollowing out”. Constant training in this posture can lead to the athlete’s assuming the same form in the daily course of his or her life, which is potentially a cause for serious injuries in the knee, shoulder, neck and lower back.

The Fundamental Athletic position in most land-based sports requires the athlete to assume a medium stance with the hips back, and the chest and head aligned with the spinal curves. This posture enables swift movement forward, backward or sideways. It is the basic position assumed for squatting, deadlifting and executing Olympic lifts, as well as to maximize leg, hip and back power during leaps and jumps.

A gymnast assuming the proper position hollows out the chest, push the head forward, tucks the hips in and contracts the spine. The only instance when a gymnast takes on the fundamental athletic position is during landings or dismounts.

Athletes beginning their gymnastics training at a very young age while their bones are still undergoing growth and development will encounter problems with the gymnastic posture. This is especially true when they reach puberty and the end of their growth cycle. The “hollowing out” posture, and even the specific manner gymnasts are required to run, can become a fixed poste for young gymnasts, and this can cause serious and long-lasting side effects when they are older.
Most gymnastics programs aggressively cultivate this peculiar posturing in young gymnasts. Strength and conditioning exercises have been geared to develop exactly that: training gymnasts in the required stance, thereby generating imbalance. This is a great disadvantage for female gymnasts who are made to forgo upper body conditioning altogether.

Former parallel bars gymnast, Mark Alexander, having worked with fellow athletes for more than 30 years, has observed that most female gymnasts from the Elite level are unable to perform push-ups or maintain a sturdy handstand. Most gymnastics clubs have misguidedly neglected to encourage flexibility exercises among their gymnasts, instead leaving them to fend for themselves.

Alexander’s first sport was gymnastics, and at the age of 14 started a mostly skill-based training. He remembers having experienced mastering tricks before being aware of any inherent weakness, and without even attempting to develop basic strength. The sport principles require that a gymnast lands and remains grounded, or “stuck” in the same landing position. For this reason, most gymnasts executed landings with rigidly straight legs, bending only at the hips to establish balance. The result of this is an L5 – S1 fusion that could go undetected for a great number of years. Because of a lack of leg strength or proper lumbar curve positioning, dislocated knees were a frequent occurrence during attempts to “stick” a full twisting back.

As an analogy, consider gymnastics training as jumping off a roof and landing motionless with legs straight. Jump over and over, dozens of times each day, six days a week, over a period of several years. The impact generated by these landings are way beyond the gymnast’s body weight. And the higher the altitude of the jump, the more force is involved. Landing mats are a mere token, and seldom help. Floors in gymnasiums act as mini-trampolines, allowing young athletes to soar to ill-recommended heights. Although there are foam pits available to cushion landings, they prevent the athlete from actually learning how to steady their bodies for actual competition.

Without the needed leg, hip and back conditioning allowing a gymnast to assume the correct position during landing, instead of diffusing, the impact is centered into the joints and bones. This is the explanation behind the never-ending injuries sustained by Elite and lower-ranked gymnasts. Most of these injuries last long into retirement.

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