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How to start training your body and mind in gymnastics. Kerri Strug's heroic story at the Atlanta Olympics 96

Artistic gymnastics is an individual sport, both for men and women. The athlete of this discipline, the gymnast, has high strength, speed and joint mobility. Furthermore, it must undergo a very intense training especially as a child and adolescent to perfect the many elements of coordination. To compete in gymnastics means discipline, method and fatigue; you can excel only in adolescence, and not for a long time. An example of the great willpower and dedication needed to compete at the highest gymnastics levels is the story of athlete and gymnast Kerry Strug.
What are the main skills to train in artistic gymnastics? Where do you begin if you are a newbie? How much do warm-up and stretching matter in gymnastics?
Ragazza alla sbarra durante un allenamento di ginnastica ritmica
Let's find it out in this article dedicated to this elegant and historic sport:

Gymnastics: a sport for all

Ready for parallels
According to Prof. Vittorio Baldini in his essay  Ginnastica: Uno Sport per Tuttino matter how old we are, whether we have practiced a sport or not, or whether we perform physical activity only sporadically, gymnastics is good for everyone. It doesn't even matter if we are in poor physical condition. All you need to do to start with artistic gymnastics is to think locally about our body and identify the points where it bends, the joints.

First steps of training in gymnastics: moving your joints systematically

According to the essay, first preliminary movements for artistic gymnastics need to activate the joints for no more than five minutes each. The movements should be slow and should not cause discomfort or pain, with movements made only for a few seconds.

Starting with the feet, you can, for example, flex and extend your toes or your ankles. We can bend and extend the foot, placing it perpendicular or aligned to the leg. We will then move on to the rotation of the foot, drawing circles with the tip of the toes.

We pass to the hands and wrists and in the same way, making rotations with our wrist articulation by flexing and extending the fingers. To activate the knees, it will be sufficient to flex and extend alternative our legs, with wide movements that do not cause discomfort or pain.

An athlete trains on the ground for free body exercise of artistic gymnastics
To work with the elbows, simply hold your arms stretched along your hips, flexing and extending the arms at the same time.  There is still a movement that allows us to articulate the elbow: let's try to rotate the forearm internally and externally while holding the shoulder joint still.
To work with the elbows, simply hold your arms stretched along your hips, flexing and extending the arms at the same time.  There is still a movement that allows us to articulate the elbow: let's try to rotate the forearm internally and externally while holding the shoulder joint still.
Ball for artistic gymnastics
Then we go to the neck. Here there are several joints, those of the vertebrae. We stimulate them by slowly bending our heads forward, backward and sideways. Then, always slowly and without effort or discomfort, we rotate our head from one side to the other. Finally, we make small rotations. We do the same thing with the entire bust: forwards, backward and sideways flexions. Then the twists and finally the rotations.
Well, now we stand up and think about the last remaining joint, that of the thigh and pelvis. We lift our legs alternatively forward, sideways and backward. Then we rotate them with respect to their longitudinal axis and finally, we do a half circumduction.
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Artistic gymnastics, getting warmed up to prevent injuries

In general, one of the main objectives of warming up in artistic gymnastic, as the term itself suggests, is to increase body temperature through the voluntary contraction of skeletal muscles. Because of its peculiarity as a pre-workout phase, warming up often has particular psychological meanings and in some cases can take on ritual connotations. From an objective point of view, it is useful to consider it for its two essential aspects:

  • For the moderate increase in temperature, which favors the speed of biochemical reactions, with favorable effects on performance.
  • For the check up on your skeletal muscles, which defines your level of training and the state of your body before starting, finding any problems where visible.

In gymnastics training, the term warm-up refers to the methods used to prepare the body for the best possible activity session. General warming up carried out at the beginning of training or competition, and specific warming up used to approach high-intensity exercises or particular technical elements.


Stretching in gymnastics

For a gymnast it is very important to reach the maximum joint excursion, which is done thanks to the three types of training that a gymnast must undergo:

  • Stretching
  • Aerobic training
  • Strength training

Among the basic activities of wellness and physical well-being programs, stretching, or flexibility training, is essential for the safety and joint mobility of the gymnast himself.

Stretching is observable not only in humans but also in many animals, which tend to stretch their muscles to feel well with their bodies. In humans, these exercises are now an integral part of the preparation or implementation of many disciplines, such as sports or yoga, but there is convergence among scholars on how it can be practiced.  It, therefore, appears to be absolutely ingrained in the structure and functioning of our locomotor apparatus.
Young Asian gymnast trains with tape

The 4 types of Stretching

In short, stretching for artistic gymnastics can be divided into 4 types:

  1. Passive Static
  2. Static active
  3. Dynamic passive
  4. Dynamic active

According to the Italian Gymnastics Federation, passive static stretching is probably the one that represents the best compromise between effectiveness and safety, and it is certainly the one on which, at least initially, it is convenient to base a flexibility training program.

As far as the choice of exercises is concerned, it is necessary to consider three main factors: the isolation of the muscle or muscle group that one wishes to lengthen, the creation of a favorable lever that modulates in a fine way the tension without requiring particular commitments in other districts, and the degree of risk.

Breathing in stretching

Breathing also plays a significant role in artistic gymnastic. It should be regular and deep, inhaling slowly with the nose and expanding the abdomen, then holding your breath for a moment and exhaling slowly from the mouth.
For each exercise, it is advisable to perform 2 to 5 repetitions of about 20 seconds each and each exercise must be performed reaching (and then abandoning) the position of maximum length (the maximum lengthening allowed to the muscle without exceeding the threshold of pain) in a slow and controlled manner.
Athlete's feet and magnesium on the bar

The heroine of the magnificent seven of artistic gymnastics in the USA in Atlanta '96

Written by Gabriele Ferraresi / LUZ

Full name: Kerri Allyson Strug Fischer. Height: 1.41 meters. Born in Tucson, Arizona, on 19 November 1977. Profession, gymnast. A child gymnast, because artistic gymnastics is one of the disciplines where the precociousness of effort and sacrifice pays off more than in any other field. A short career where you are either at the top as a teenager or you never will be.
First steps in the gym at the age of 8. At the age of 13, the 1992 Olympics were already a realistic goal, but Kerri had to find a coach, someone to turn her into a artistic gymnastic champion. From Tucson, Arizona, she moved to Houston, Texas. For those who are unfamiliar with the geography of the States, it's a 1700 km journey; the two cities are not even in the same time zone.
Kerri Strug @ Atlanta 96

The judges are only a few meters away, they are also disoriented. In the footage of the time you can guess, they know, they feel that they have just seen something that enters the history of sport.

It’s a deal with the devil: Kerri exchanged adolescence for hard work and sacrifice, living as a recluse, training 6 or 7 days a week for 8 hours a day and in June 1992, she qualified for artistic gymnastic trials. At 14 years of age, she was the youngest American athlete in Barcelona '92.

In Spain, the US artistic gymnastics team won a bronze medal; but that was just the beginning, the warm-up. There were another four years of sweat, gyms around America, changed coaches, doubts and teenager’s insecurities.

Girl's getting ready to vault on the stand
That was Kerri’s life until Olympics arrived at home. 1996, Atlanta Olympic Games. Kerri was 18 years old. Kerri was one of the magnificent seven, the US women's artistic gymnastics team. She still did or could not know, but was going to go down in Olympic history. It was near the end of the vaulting test. Whoever won would have gotten the gold medal.

In that competition, Kerri had to recover the mistakes of one of her teammates, Dominique Moceanu. She must also recover from her mistakes, because, in the first jump, she flew and twirled for seconds that never ended, landing badly, falling backward.

On board the platform, the Russian team was looking forward to victory. Keri could not jump in those conditions yet. However, skeptics were wrong. The images of the time showed the real Kerry: she was but a young girl showing much less than her 18 years, perhaps 14, 13, with a bandaged ankle that was about to explode. Half an hour later that would have hurt very badly, looking twice as swollen as the other one.

It did not matter, she began to run, she jumped.

Kerri jumped, flew, turned on herself and landed, perfectly. She still resisted a fraction of a second on the carpet and then fell to the ground. She cried from pain.

The judges were just a few meters away and too disoriented. In the film of the time you can guess, they know, they feel that what they had just seen was something about to enter the history of sport.

Help arrived: the coach, the teammates, took her in their arms. In that moment, she was just tiny Kerri. Then, the vote on the scoreboard arrived: 9,712.

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