Gymnastics Coaches – Lets talk Conditioning

Recently I returned from an international experience in Slovenia. As part of our trip our hosts wanted to take advantage of the US Coaches in attendance so they organized a gymnastics coaches education clinic. (If anyone has noticed the number of times I use GYMNASTICS COACHES EDUCATION it is purely an attempt to drive goggle traffic to THE GYMNASTICS COACH web site …. hope it works).

One of the questions that was asked basically centered around the curiosity of how the USA Gymnastics program has pulled itself from the bowels of mediocrity to become the most medaled country in the world since 2000 (and 1996 wasn’t bad either). It was pointed out that Romania, Russia and even China had been producing forever and yet the USA seemed to close that gap with remarkable speed.

My answer contained three major contributing factors.

1- The massive growth of the sport of gymnastics in the USA produced a very large base of talent. In the initial period of growth, however there were only a few clubs and coaches that truly could be considered capable of coaching international quality gymnasts. THUS there was considerable club hopping to the “chosen ones” and at the time the USA underachieved in international competitions.

2- The pure economics of the numbers involved with the growth of our sport dictated the need for advanced coaching education, and our national governing body, USA Gymnastics, took a leading role. More and more coaches started producing excellent quality and gymnastics successes. More accomplished clubs meant less need for athletes to club hop, and in turn the USA expanded it’s elite talent pool and began to make it’s mark internationally.

3- The final, and probably most important boost to the USA Gymnastics program and related international success, was the impact and legacy of Bela and Marta Karolyi on training in the sport of gymnastics. They set the standard of excellence. No longer could coaches just get by with a quality athlete. Now they had to be rock solid in competition, more focused, more dedicated to excellence … Every detail mattered. The backbone of the aforementioned was the undeniable fact that their athletes were simply stronger and more flexible. They simply conditioned harder than those that were chasing their program at the time.

Once national team coaches started to get that message… that the “SECRET TO SUCCESS” was in the advancement of the gymnast’s physical abilities, the USA soared to unprecedented heights of glory. This message forms the backbone of the USA National Team Program and is driven home consistently by Marta Karolyi, USA Gymnastics National Team Coordinator at every elite training camp throughout the year.

This of course may sound very simplistic in nature, but the fact of the matter is, the sooner your club places a greater emphasis on the physical preparation of it’s athletes, the sooner you will start seeing better quality results.  Now lets assume you buy into this “stronger is better” philosophy, (it certainly shouldn’t be a tough sell.) Where do you go from here? How do you develop a conditioning program that will serve to propel your program to greater heights? This is a more complex issue.

I consider myself a student of the game of coaching. I take advantage of every possible opportunity to pick the brains of fellow colleagues, steal (borrow) conditioning ideas and programs in an attempt to constantly tweak our program. In doing this over the years there has been one thing that consistently slaps you in the face and that is that there IS NOT a ONE SIZE FITS ALL SYSTEM. You can watch the top 10 clubs in the country and their conditioning programs … virtually every one will be different. This is mind boggling to someone that puts great emphasis on education and professional enhancement. NO NATIONAL CONDITIONING PROGRAM??? WHY???


  • The wealth of information on the science of conditioning athletes is overwhelming so there are many roads to take.
  • Different intensities at the different clubs dictate a core starting point as to what is acceptable conditioning for their particular programs.
  • Different facilities have different limitations when it comes to supplemental conditioning equipment (ropes, stall bars, weights, weight machines, etc)
  • Space availabilty and time constraints make a uniformed national program much more difficult.
  • No National Direction, No leader selling a specific idea or concept.

So coaches are left stumbling through a trial and error system, tweaking, implementing, adjusting until they find something that fits their needs. Can this work? Absolutely, provided we keep a few things in mind.

  • Your conditioing program should be all inclusive in that it covers all areas of the body.
  • It should become progressively more intense as your athletes adapt to the demands.
  • It should always emphasize quality of movement and body shapes as opposed to tortuous numbers.
  • Conditioning programs will need to progress through phases depending on the time of the year (post season, pre season, pre competitive season, competitive season and championship season.)
  • The expectations of your conditioning program must match your program goals and aspirations. (you can’t condition like a level 2 and expect level 10 resutls).
  • Conditioning programs should encompass nearly 25% of your total training time (based on a 23-25 hour per week training program). Less hours would have a slightly higher persentage alotted for physical ability training.

In future blogs I will be presenting our (Twistars USA) conditioning program ideas in conjunction with a Gymnastics Coaches Educational DVD that outlines the specific exercises (everybody’s terminology is different) and the executional expectations.  Stay tuned.


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