Stretching is a very important part of gymnastics, especially before training and at the end to cool down. While there are so many different stretches that you can do, there are a couple of important things to keep in mind. The first of these things is that it is important to stretch the muscles that you will be using, and the second is that you should also take extra care to stretch the areas that you are the least flexible at.
In other words, if you can do the splits easily but your back isn’t nearly as flexible as you would like for it to be, then you should give extra attention on the stretches that you are doing for your back. Stretching your problem areas will really help them to improve over time.
1. The Inverted Leg Stretch
An inverted leg stretch is a great way to start out and it stretches the muscles of a number of different areas if you do it correctly. One of the hardest parts of this one is to keep your legs perfectly straight, but with a little practice this is not too hard to do.
Take up your position with your feet firmly planted flat on the ground a little bit more than shoulder width apart. Keeping your legs perfectly straight, reach down with one hand and place it on the outside of the knee that is on the same side of the body as the hand you are using. Slide your hand down the outside of your leg until you are grasping your ankle.
While you are doing that, take your other hand and stretch it up as high as it will go so that by the time you are grabbing your ankle this hand is pointing straight up into the air. When you are comfortable in this position, start to rock slightly back and forth from your heels to your toes. You should go as far back on your heels as you comfortably can, hold it for a moment, and then rock forward onto your toes as far as you can and hold that for a moment.
You should rock back and forth around three times or so. After you do that, then place the arm that is in the air down and somewhat behind you as you slide your other hand back up your leg so that you are standing straight up again. Repeat this process on the other side.
2. Hollow Body Hold
The hollow body hold is also another great stretch that affects a number of different muscles. In particular it affects the muscles in your core and helps to build these up, making it great for gymnastics since you use these muscles for a lot of the different maneuvers. The most difficult parts of this stretch is holding it perfectly still without swaying in any direction.
Start this stretch by lying down on the floor with your legs straight and together on the ground and your arms straight on the ground pointing above your head. Once you are in this position, tighten the muscles in your core to lift your feet and your hands up off the ground. Gradually lift these as high as you can, keeping them as straight as possible but allowing a slight curve as you form a crescent shape with your body.
You may not be able to go very high at first, but over time and with practice your goal should be to eventually get to the point where your legs all the way up and including your hips can be lifted up off the ground as can your arms all the way down and including your shoulders and your head.
Once you get comfortable and are able to hold a full crescent position for at least 30 seconds, you can add more to the stretch. This involves holding your crescent shape as you rock your body back and forth like the bottom part of a rocking chair. Start off very slow with the rocking when you first try it, and gradually build up to as much as you feel comfortable doing.
Since this can be a pretty intense stretch, try to limit the time that you do this to around 30 seconds. If your muscles start shaking at any point before then, you should fully relax and you may then try to get into position one more time before you should stop.
3. High Leg Hamstring Stretch
The hamstrings are very important to stretch before you attempt to do your split leaps and other things that give these a sudden stretch. This can be more or less difficult, depending on how close or how far away you are to being able to do your full splits, but if you can do a complete split this is still a good stretch to do.
To get into position, stand in front of something stable like a table that is close to being hip high for you. Place one of your feet onto this so that the bottom of your foot is flat on the table and you are standing straight up on the leg that is on the floor. Place your hands on your lifted knee and tilt your whole body forwards towards your knee without moving either of your feet.
If you can get your chest all the way up against your raised thigh, then you can press down with your hips until you feel that you are stretching your hamstrings. Hold this for a several seconds and then switch to doing it with the other leg. You should ease into the stretch, not quickly jump into it.
4. Bridge Or Backbend
Perhaps you never thought of it before, but a backbend is essentially the same thing as a bridge. The main difference between these two is that with a backbend you do not start by laying flat on the ground, instead getting into position from a standing position. Also, with a backbend you r body forms more of an arch.
If you cannot yet do a backbend, then do a bridge for your stretch. On the other hand, if a bridge is too easy, then you should do a backbend. To get into a bridge position you should first start by laying flat on the ground. Bend your knees so that you can put your feet flat on the ground and lift your elbows so that you can place the palms of your hands flat on the ground beside your head.
Lift with up with your hips and shoulders, arching your back as much as possible while you do so, as you push your whole torso up off the ground to form an arch shape. If you are only starting to do this you may not be able to get your body very far off of the ground, but with practice you should be able to get a nice, high arch.
For a backbend you are making the same arch form with your body, only in this case you are starting from a standing position and simply bending over backwards and without moving your feet while you place your hands on the ground. Whichever of these you choose to do, remember that you are using it to stretch, so you should keep your movements as slow as you can.
5. Downward Shoulder Pull
This is a great exercise for your shoulders and is really simple and easy to do. Start by standing next to a table, a balance beam, or something around that height that is sturdy so that you are facing the table with your feet shoulder width apart. Lean forwards and place your forearms on the table so that your elbows are resting on it and your forearms are crossed to let you grab your opposite elbow with each hand.
Now lean forward and down from your hips up, pushing your shoulders down as far as you comfortably can until they are level with your elbows or lower. Putting a mild amount of pressure on them, hold them in that position. Then move your shoulders up as high as you can by arching your back without moving anything else.
Hold this for a moment or two and then push your shoulders back down. Go back and forth a couple of times, holding each one, and then you are done.
6. Backward Hand Clasp
This is another simple stretch that is good for your shoulders and works on them in a slightly different way. While there is no particular position that your feet need to be in for this one, it is best to have them flat on the ground and shoulder width apart since otherwise you might get slightly off balanced.
Reach both of your arms behind your back and clasp your hands together where they will stay clasped the whole time you are doing this stretch. To start this stretch you should pull your shoulders forward as far as they will go, hold it, and then pull your shoulders back as far as they will go.
While you are still in this position, bend over at your waist as far forward as you can while you point your clasped hands vertically up into the air above you. Hold your head down for a while and pull your clasped hands first over to one side and the over to the other side, holding each for just a moment. Then you can stand back up and repeat all of the steps over again one or two more times starting from pulling your shoulders forward again.
7. Doorway Arm Stretches
This is the last of the stretches that are focusing on your arms, but it is also a great stretch that you can do, even during your cool down time. The position that you need to start in for this one is right inside a doorway or beside the corner of a wall. Place one forearm flat on the wall right at the corner so that your hand is pointing straight up above your elbow and your forearm is in line with the rest of your body.
Now push your body through the doorway while you push back with your forearm on the wall. You should be sort of swaying back and forth some in the doorway as you do this for several seconds and be able to feel some of the muscles in your arm. Then turn yourself around and switch arms to repeat the process on your other side. Remember that this is a stretch, so you should not be jerking anything and your movements should be slow and smooth.
8. Pike Stretch
A pike stretch is really simple to do and, though it also is good for the muscles in your back, it is also good for the muscles in your legs as well. The position that you should start this stretch in is standing straight up with your legs together, your feet flat on the ground, and your arms down at your sides.
Slowly roll your back as you stretch your arms down to touch your feet without moving your arms or shoulders away from your body at all if you can help it. If you are someone who cannot touch your feet, then simply stretch down as far as you can go, hold it, roll back up, and then repeat this a few times.
If you can touch your feet then do so, and if you can do so easily then once your hands reach your feet you can also stretch your hands out in front of your feet as far forward as you can still touch the ground without putting any weight on your hands. The main thing that you want to get in this stretch is the rolling movement of your back as you go slowly up and again as you go down.
9. Heel Drop
The heel drop is a great stretch for the muscles and tendons in your calf at the back of your leg. You can either do this up on the edge of a balance beam that is in the air, or on the edge of something that is only a few inches off of the ground if you do not feel comfortable doing this stretch while you are further up in the air.
Stand on the edge of the beam or whatever you are using for this exercise so that the heel of one of your feet is hanging over the edge. Press down on the heel as much as you feel comfortable doing while putting weight on the front part of that foot. Hold this for a moment and then lift you heel back up again. Do the same thing with the other foot before you go back to the first foot again and do this a few times.
10. Butterfly Stretch
A butterfly stretch is also a really good one for the muscles in various parts of your legs. To start this one you first have to get down onto the ground in a sitting position with your legs in front of you. Put the bottom of both of your feet together in front of you, holding them there with your hands if you need to.
With your feet in this position your knees will likely be poking up to the sides diagonally, but now you should try to push them as far down as they will go towards the floor. Use your hands to help with pushing them down if you can keep your feet together without them. Once you have your knees as far down as they will go, hold them for a moment before letting them back up. Do this a few times.
What Are The Important Parts That You Need To Do Stretches For?
While those top 10 stretches for gymnastics are the ones that I recommend, there are a lot of other kinds of stretches out there. Should you prefer using different ones than the ones I have listed, then that is fine and many professional gymnasts have developed their own routine of stretches that they do as they warm up that they like best.
Should you choose to pick out your own stretches, there are a few key areas that you will want to make sure that you stretch well. The first of these areas is your arms into your shoulder joints in particular. Then there are the muscles in your legs, especially your hamstrings, up into your hip joints. Finally you also need to warm up the muscles in your torso.
So, basically you need to do stretches that affect your whole body. This is because gymnastics is a sport that uses your whole body, unlike running which uses almost solely your legs and for which you therefore only need to really stretch your legs.
When, How, And Why Should You Do Stretches For Gymnastics?
While most people are at least aware that they are supposed to do some stretches to warm up with, fewer know anything more than that this somehow supposedly helps to prevent getting pulled muscles or something. However, there is a lot more to it than that, in addition to the fact that you should also do some stretches after you exercise as you cool down.
Some of the most common injuries in the sport of gymnastics besides broken or fractured bones are dislocations, sprains and muscles strains, and joint pain. Stretching before a training session or competition and doing some of these stretches as you cool down is a great way to help prevent these injuries. Stretching out your muscles around joints in particular is something that you should be especially sure to do both in the warm up and the cool down.
Not only are warm ups an essential part to help you avoid pulling a muscle, but by getting a head start on getting blood to the muscle you are also increasing how well you can start your training session. This means that instead of starting off poorly when you are training and then getting a little better as you go along you should be able to start with doing your best from the very beginning. This gives you more time to actually work on whatever it is you are trying to learn.
If you are careful to warm up your joints as well, then this will have another benefit too. When you stretch your joints you limber them up a bit, making them more flexible and pliable for whatever maneuver you are trying to do with them.
The reason why doing some simple stretches during your cool down is so important is that doing so will assist your body to start recovering from the training session that you just finished. When you do a strenuous exercise of any kind a number of things happen in your muscles. Your muscle fibers are being pulled, the oxygen that your muscles need is being used up, and your muscles are burning up your calories.
A proper cool down will also help your body by relieving some of the effects of what is referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness, which is often simply abbreviated to DOMS. Basically DOMS is best described as that time when you felt just fine after a tough training session, perhaps much to your surprise, but then somewhere around 24 to 48 hours later the soreness kicked in with a vengeance.
When that happens, what you are experiencing is the delayed onset muscle soreness in all off its unpleasantness. Most of the time DOMS is even more pronounced if you have taken some time off with your training, but it can happen anytime you train harder than usual or when you use some of your muscles that you don’t really tend to use as often.
Sore muscles, and especially DOMS, are caused by two main things. The first one of these things is referred to as micro tears. Like you might guess from its name, micro tears are literally tiny tears in the muscle that can happen while you are exercising. This causes swelling in your muscles which puts pressure on your nerve endings that are in your muscle and make it hurt.
At first you might not feel this hurt so much because this swelling will not be instantaneous. This can be due to the fact that your blood is trying to play catch up and put oxygen back into your muscles and to give them some needed nutrients. This brings me to the second main thing responsible for delayed soreness which is sometimes called blood pooling.
Blood pooling can best be explained by the fact that while you are exercising your hardest your heart is working hard to pump large amounts of blood to the muscles that are being used. This blood is not only carrying the vital oxygen and the calories that your muscles need, but also a few nutrients as well.
When this rich blood reaches its final destination in the muscles, all of these different things are used up by the muscles where they are needed the most. As your muscle then contracts while you are exercising, the force of this then helps to pump the blood back to the heart and lungs faster. While it is getting another load of oxygen and other things, your blood is also carrying away the waste from the muscles.
This waste is made as your muscles use up the nutrients that are brought to it. If when you are done exercising you do not spend some time stretching as you cool down, this sudden cessation of movement on the part of your muscles means that the last of the waste that is in them will not have the opportunity to get pumped out.
When the waste stays in your muscles for any length of time this is called blood pooling. One of the waste products that is made is lactic acid, this causes swelling and pain in your muscles, not to mention simply being bad for them. This is where stretching during a cool down at the end of exercising really becomes necessary.
A cool down will help to keep your blood circulating after your exercise and help your muscles be cleaned of the last bit of their waste by using these muscles mildly, yet not enough so that they are making a lot of new waste that will need to be removed. It will also help bring the fresh oxygen and nutrients to the muscles that they might need to repair any micro tears.
An effective cool down should be comprised of three parts which are all equally important. The first thing that you should do when you are through exercising is to simply make sure that the last of the exercising you do is not quite the same intensity as it was during the rest of the training session. This lets you heart rate start slowing down some.
The next step in a good cool down is to do your stretches; the same stretches that you use for warming up are perfectly fine. Do these slowly as you hold each stretch out for a little while and feel free to rub your muscles some as you are doing them. Finally, the last step in a good cool down is to drink plenty of water to re-hydrate yourself and to eat a snack of some kind to help replace the calories that you just burned off.