The Olympic Games bring excitement and inspiration to sports fans and athletes. The world’s leading sporting event brings together thousands of athletes from more than 200 nations to participate in a variety of competitions.
Gymnastics is one of the most popular sports competitions during the Summer Olympic Games and is overall one of the hardest to master. Olympic Gymnastics has four categories – Artistic Competition, Perfect 10, Trampoline Competition, and Rhythmic Competition.
The calculated yet graceful twists, turns, and landings featured in this sport captivate fans and aspiring athletes. World professional athletes do make it look easy, but it really takes a lot of hard work, discipline, and talent to make it to the top. Here, the USA Gymnastics Olympic Team will show you how to be a medalist in this sport.
Olympic Champion Gymnasts
The United States National Gymnastics Team is a very strong team and consists of world champion gymnasts. Over the years, the national team, particularly the women’s team, brought pride to their country by bringing home medals upon medals.
The USA Women’s Gymnastics has conquered the Olympics by winning gold in the coveted team all-around category three times.
The first gold was in 1996 with the team dubbed ‘Magnificent Seven’ comprised of gymnasts: Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Dominique Dawes, Kerri Strug, Amy Chow, Amanda Borden, and Jaycie Phelps. During this time, Strug gave one of the most remarkable landings of a vault while being injured, which helped secure the team the gold.
The second gold medal of the US Women’s Gymnastics Team happened in 2012 with the ‘Fierce Five’: Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross, and Jordyn Wieber. The team members also brought home numerous individual medals of gold, silver, and bronze.
Recent Gold Medalist
The most recent USA all-around gold medalist team was at the last Summer Olympics in 2016, won by the team called the ‘Final Five’.
The team comprises of Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, and Aly Raisman, with MyKayla Skinner, Ragan Smith, and Ashton Locklear serving as three alternates.
The nickname was inspired by this being the last team to have five members, due to a change in Olympic rules for 2020, and the last team formed by long-time team coordinator Márta Károlyi.
Not Your Ordinary Sweats
Gymnastics is a sport that requires great physical strength.
It deals with balance, flexibility, strength, agility, coordination, and endurance of the body’s whole muscle groups.
Gymnastics training is a precise activity specially-designed for the physical attributes needed for the sport.
Upper body strength is a fundamental component for gymnasts. The arms and shoulder strength of a gymnast determines all other movements and routines. Gymnasts allot special time and dedication on this aspect.
Bodyweight exercises are one of the best ways to go. These kinds of exercises not only increase the upper body strength but also help develop balance.
Bodyweight exercises include push-ups, handstand push-ups, tricep dips, and chin-ups. Bar shimmy is a special exercise for gymnasts that helps develop their grip. Training athletes spin themselves round and round on uneven bars to improve their grip.
When we first think of gymnasts, we automatically relate it to flexibility. Gymnasts are highly flexible athletes that can withstand different movements that stretch their whole body. From splits, tumbling, handsprings, and round-offs, a great deal of gymnastics flexibility is required.
Stretches to Increase Flexibility
Stretches are important in every sport. However, this is especially essential in gymnastics since it is the primary key in gaining flexibility. To ensure maximized movements and prevent injuries, warm-ups and stretches must be done before any routine.
One of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ in the 1996’s US Olympics Champion Team, Shannon Miller, shared that stretching starts with knowing your body and developing personalized stretches that your body needs. Having specialized stretch and flexibility training depends on what a specific gymnast needs to improve.
To improve flexibility, gymnasts need to stretch at least once a day or multiple times if possible. Stretches that are short and repetitive are more effective than one long stretch routine. While stretching seems to be a simple exercise, it is actually a long-term commitment aimed to improve flexibility.
Drills and Skills Training
Drills are a set of routines to practice gymnastics skills. During training, gymnasts perform various drills on an apparatus to prepare them for real competitions.
These also enhance their mastery of gymnastic moves. Gymnasts devote hours of practice on drills to achieve perfect forms and movements.
Multiple Olympic gold medalist, and member of the Final Five, Simone Biles, who is already a gymnastic legend at the age of 22, shared some of the basic floor drills that training gymnasts can try.
Floor Drills from the Gold Medalist
Floor exercises are essential in gymnastics as floor routines make up one of the four events in women’s gymnastics competitions. The other three include balance beam, vault exercises, and uneven bars.
Floor drills serve as warm-ups for gymnasts to prepare for more complicated exercises. Some of the floor drills mentioned by Biles are Cartwheel Drills like Cartwheel Wall Drills and Knee Fall Cartwheel Drills. Biles emphasizes keeping your movements straight so your body can get used to performing routines in a straight line.
Other floor drills that aspiring US gymnasts can try are Tunnel Drill, Knee Floor Roundoff Drill, Standing Roundoff Wall Drill With Snap, Cat-Back Block Drill, Front Handspring Drill, Back Handspring Drill, Back Handspring Wedge Mat Drill, and Handspring Eight-inch Mat Drill.
Gymnasts need the overall strength of the body to perform high-level skills during their routines. This is also essential in staying safe while doing it.
While bodyweight exercising and core work are fundamentals in gymnastics training, weightlifting is also essential in body conditioning for gymnastics.
Many people would think that training to be a gymnast only revolves around flexibility and upper body strength.
However, studies have proven that a gymnast’s body should be exposed to non-traditional conditioning exercises such as weightlifting for a complete body workout.
Weightlifting for Gymnasts: Debunking Myths
Weightlifting exercises like dumbbell workouts, deadlifting, weight pressing, and other various equipment can add a significant amount of gymnastic strength.
Weightlifting training on gymnasts is often frowned upon because of some myths like it causes gymnasts to get too bulky. While this is partly true, weightlifting can enhance female gymnasts’ performance with increased strength due to muscle hypertrophy.
It is also not true that gymnasts can lose their flexibility with this type of workout. With a proper training program, gymnasts benefit a lot from weightlifting training from strength conditioning to increased muscle endurance.
Determination Fitting for a Gymnast
Training like a USA gymnastic medalist requires a lot of skill and body workouts. Having an understanding of the technical aspects of gymnastic movements is also essential in joining the US Team.
But above all the nitty-gritty details of gymnastic routines is the determination of every athlete to perform the best routines, to one day be the best in the world.
Great Discipline Begets Great Routines
Every great athlete could attest that without discipline, they could never be great. Discipline is a core principle being taught and developed in young gymnasts. It is key to their success and execution of the best routines.
Gymnasts would practice for at least 30 hours a week just to perfect a specific routine. They devote all their free time to the gymnasium where they can stretch and build body strength.
Aside from body discipline, gymnasts also possess a great deal of mental discipline. Their goals are very clear even when it is not competition season: to condition their mind and body to be the best athlete they could ever be.
Call for Members
In July 2020, the USA Gymnastics announced that the US Olympic Team will be opened for trials in June for the 2021 Tokyo Summer Games. The full US Olympic gymnastics team for the Tokyo Olympic Games will then be announced during the conclusion of the event.
Why Teams Are Kept Small
It has been a trend for the US Olympics Gymnastics Team to focus on a minimal number of members. Bruno Grandi, the former president of Federation Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) and former member of the International Olympic Committee from 2000 to 2004, proposed this idea in 2015.
Grandi believes that by forming an elite group, the coaching team will have all their time and resources to train the best of the best gymnasts. While this selection process was seen to take away the opportunity to some skilled athletes, it can assure the filtering of only the most talented gymnasts.
However, getting to compete in such a prestigious contest would still require a lot. While the US Olympics Gymnastics Team’s glam, fame, and grace are great deals, behind the scenes are all the sweat, injuries, and bruises that earned them an elite spot.
The US National Gymnastics Team is most famous for their Olympic medals from exceptional routines. Now you know some of the fundamentals of what it takes to become a US Gymnastics medalist.
While Team USA conquers the world stage, it is the training, hard work, and discipline that define their championship more than any medals could.