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Jeremiah Torres
Jeremiah Torres

Flexible Young Gymnasts



I meet many well-intentioned gymnastics coaches and parents who are simply looking for an easy to use, but scientifically-backed flexibility program to help the gymnasts they know to increase their flexibility, reduce the risk of injury, and increase their performance.




flexible young gymnasts


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Unfortunately, this leaves the gymnast feeling very defeated as if something is wrong with them, not to mention still struggling with skills and possibly at an elevated injury risk. Hip and shoulder flexibility limitations are one main contributor I see clinically to wrist, elbow, shoulder, lower back, and hip injuries in gymnasts.


While genetics and luck do play a little bit of a role when it comes to flexibility, as a whole I tend to disagree that these are the main reasons thousands of gymnasts struggle with flexibility, particularly at the hip and shoulder joint.


Flash forward 7 years from that point, with much more education to use and well over 1000 gymnasts treated for medical issues. I now look back to how I coached and trained as a gymnast 10 years ago, and am blown away with all the things I was doing that were not backed by scientific support.


We will start with some background anatomy, term clarification, and discuss some of the theoretical reasons certain flexibility methods seem to work. From there I will take a deep dive into some cultural issues that exist in gymnastics, and then conclude with step by step flexibility examples for each main region of the body that gymnasts struggle with including the shoulders, hips, ankles, and wrists. I will then end with some important notes on other joints like the knees, elbows, and spine. I hope that this guide can be a place for everyone in gymnastics to find some useful information without feeling so frustrated and overwhelmed.


Lastly, I have made a Gymnastics Pre-Hab Guide that includes daily soft tissue work, stretching, and weekly circuits to help with reducing the risk of injuries in gymnasts. It provides full guides for male and female gymnasts to use.


The passive structures include things like the bones, ligaments, joint capsules, and the inherent boney alignment we are born with. For the most part, these structures cannot change too much unless surgery of some nature is performed, or through adaptation across many years as is seen when children grow or participate in overhead throwing sports from a young age.


This is typically why these gymnasts from a young age enjoy recreational gymnastics. Their hypermobility, along with any underlying talent or great coaching they obtain to control this range of motion, allows them to be quite successful at an early age. They can easily perform flexibility drills, achieve tumbling or bar lines, create basic gymnastics shapes and proceed through lower-level skills. This is not always the case, but the vast majority of young gymnasts fall into this category once you move past the recreational level.


These children are often detected through an early talent identification and are quickly put into competitive team tracks. Coaches notice their flexibility or ability to perform lower-level skills well. These gymnasts typically have natural flexibility but may struggle to build strength and power during training. Coaches understand that with more strength and technique training in a more structured environment they can progress quickly.


There are some cases where young children do not have natural hypermobility but are gifted in their bodyweight strength abilities. They tend to be more biased towards strength or power and less towards inherent flexibility. These cases are much less frequent in gymnastics but do exist. I have worked with many athletes that tend to be stiffer, but because of their incredible natural power, they succeed early on in gymnastics.


Even if a young athlete does fall into the category of being not naturally hypermobile but powerful, we still should gravitate away from putting excessive stress on the passive structures like bones, joint capsules, and ligaments. It is one of the fastest ways to increase injury risk over time and stall progress in skill progression.


We all must understand and apply the best available science for hip and shoulder research to avoid excessive strain being placed on the passive structures of gymnasts. Without this knowledge, it is impossible to know whether reported discomfort during stretching is a safe and expected result or an unsafe atypical response.


There are very predictable locations of stretch discomfort that athletes may feel, and other areas that are warning signs of more serious injuries. Stretching the hamstrings typically produces discomfort in the middle of the back of the thigh, not high up in the buttocks where the hamstring attaches to an open growth plate in pre-pubescent gymnasts. Stretching the shoulders overhead typically produces discomfort in the underarms where the lats and teres major are, with some possible chest tissue stretching where the pecs are. They should not produce discomfort on the top of the shoulders, which is more indicative of rotator cuff or soft tissue impingement under the coracoacromial arch. You can read more about hamstring apophysitis here ( ) and shoulder impingement syndromes here ( )


However, I have seen these types of problems snowball into huge injuries quickly in gymnasts I treat. I have seen what was thought to be a pulled hamstring end up being a pelvic growth plate stress fracture that required six months of time off and rehabilitation. I have seen what was thought to be sore shoulders turn into rotator cuff damage and shoulder instability, requiring surgery to correct. I have also seen what was believed to be a hip flexor strain turn into a large labral tear and career-ending injury.


The research in the world of hip micro instability, labral tears, hip stress fractures, and other injuries commonly seen in gymnasts has been rapidly developing in the last decade. It has been great to see so many great surgeons, healthcare providers, and strength coaches share their thoughts and describe what still needs to be considered. (7-9, 17)


These gymnasts were born this way. This is usually why they were noticed as a good candidate for competitive gymnastics, as they naturally had full splits and bridges. Like in the shoulder, natural mobility of the hip allows them to move through a greater motion. As mentioned we have to be cautious not to overtax their already hypermobile hip capsules and ligaments during flexibility training.


When you combine these three areas, along with the already discussed points about not having the best science behind flexibility methods to stress muscular tissue and spare joint capsules, it certainly makes sense why gymnasts may struggle with their flexibility. While puberty can make a big negative impact on flexibility, I feel that the cultural norm of gymnasts just automatically getting tighter as they age is overexaggerated. If better flexibility, strength, and soft tissue care was used, I feel a lot of this could be avoided.


If the ligaments and joint capsules are already hypermobile, and have trouble dealing with high force, and then we add more laxity to them over time, we are likely asking for disaster regarding instability- based shoulder and hip injuries. (30-34). This is especially as recent research has shown that shoulder and hip injuries are one of the most common problems all gymnasts face. (25)


I do not mean to suggest that this shoulder stretch will cause injury in a gymnast and should never be used. For choreography or specific drills, this may be very appropriate when not pushed quickly to extreme ranges of motion. Skills like Shaposh releases for female gymnasts, Tipelts for male gymnasts, and other extreme overhead motion demands require this amount of mobility. When correctly applied certain stretches into this position can augment skill development.


While it is true that male gymnasts need extreme behind the back shoulder motion for pommel horse and pbars, I think there are much better ways to get it than being aggressive with behind the back stretch. Soft Tissue care, specific stretching, and eccentrics can help male gymnasts get where they need to be. I will dive into this more below.


There are times after a hard training session or light training day where I will have gymnasts perform a whole body soft tissue session and follow it up with more passive stretching. There is some research available that this assists in the perceived recovery process. (36-38)


I feel gymnasts should be doing regular soft tissue care routine to combat excessive stiffness that may negatively impact flexibility. Some research has suggested it can also be helpful to reduce perceived muscle soreness, enhance blood flow, and make an impact in recovery (41-43) I encourage all athletes that I work with to do some form of light, soft tissue prep before every workout. This becomes more important as the athlete gets older, starts training higher-level skills, or are spending more hours per week in the gym.


I typically have gymnasts perform moderate pressure that does not cause pain, for 10-30 seconds per muscle group, away from bony areas. This is because a large body of manual therapy and self-soft tissue work does not recommend very intense/painful pressure, or extremely long bouts of foam rolling are needed to gain the positive benefits. (41-42, 44-45)


From all the science I have read, and conversations I have had with medical professionals on stretching or self-myofascial work, when correctly applied the positives effects of foam rolling on performance largely outweigh the negatives. In support of this, my experiences working with hundreds of gymnasts to improve flexibility also supports the use of regular stretching and foam rolling for the range of motion, perceived soreness, and perceived recovery, with minimal negative impacts on performance. I recommend these tools be used alongside full dynamic warm-ups and technical drills commonly seen in gymnastics. 041b061a72


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