Trust the process. I have heard that statement so many times in gymnastics. And many times it applies. Skills are not gained quickly. Many times basics have to be reinforced before higher level skills can be learned. But it is important to understand the role, training, and scope of practice of your coaches. Most of them are not trained to fully evaluate the mobility, stability, and strength necessary to do gymnastics. For Biggs, physical therapy made all the difference.
Why we explored physical therapy without an “injury”
The content in this post is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is mearly opinion based on personal research and experience.
Biggs has always struggled with leaps and split jumps. She always worked hard during strength and conditioning in practice. She tried to make the corrections her coaches gave her. But check out my post here on why scores may not be improving. During her second season of level 5, her scores were not in the ranges her coaches expected of the girls that were in their second season. We started trying to target things at home that I hoped would have the maximum impact on her scores. However, without much guidance, the progress was minimal.
After advancing to level 7, a combination of factors started to cause back pain. Many teammates complained of this, and coaches seemed unconcerned, so at first I thought it was part of the process. However, slowly putting the pieces together I found this video on back mobility. I also discovered many common pieces such as glute weakness, core instability, etc. I decided to pursue the back pain, and get a PT evaluation to get faster results for skill progress, pain reduction, and injury prevention. Skills at that level advance quickly, and having all of the muscles working together properly is vital for injury prevention.
Why a physical therapy evaluation is important
An evaluation from a trained professional was invaluable to understand what mobility limitations there were. It identified exactly what muscles were weak. We found some instabilities and imbalances. Gymnasts are generally “righty’s” or “lefty’s”. Many of their skills are one sided. This can lead to core instability, even though they look like they have killer abs.
Physical therapy evaluation can pin point things like tight shoulders really being limited upper back mobility. Identifying where stronger muscles have compensated for weaker muscles gives the ability to target muscles correctly for injury prevention.
What we got out of physical therapy
Physical therapy identified all of the mobility restrictions and weaknesses I had suspected, plus more. The focus started out with reducing her back pain and improving overall back mobility rather than “hinging” at the path of least resistance. In just a few months there was also a huge improvement in the leaps and jumps that had been a struggle for years. At the beginning of season, the split angle of the jump pictured above was 100 degrees at best. Despite hard work she just didn’t have the proper tools to improve. Look at her now, and I expect it will only get better!
And as new pains arose during the PT journey, we are able to tackle them immediately rather than wait for it to get really bad before seeking help. Within the first few months we added in work on shoulder stability, another foot sprain, and the beginning of Osgood Schlatter’s related knee pain. Man! Growth spurts during an intense sport is hard.
Tools for PT exercises at home
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I have discovered that there are somewhat standard PT exercises. Everything in the body is connected. There are common areas of weakness and imbalances at the root of many pains.
We were fortunate to have many of the tools for the needed PT exercises at home already. We love these resistance bands for “monster walks” as they call them at gymnastics. They are great for adding resistance safely and without bulky equipment for many exercises. These sliders are great to challenge the muscles and help maintain form during many exercises. A foam roller is great for working on soft tissue, and helping with mobility exercises. And these exercise balls can be a great tool for a ton of core exercises! Simple, space friendly, and inexpensive equipment to use at home can be so beneficial!
Look for more posts soon on our experiences with physical therapy and gymnastics. Working on some fun videos for gymnasts to work on some common weaknesses at home.