Why Stretching is Important
As gymnastics coaches, we all understand that stretching is important. Our gymnasts must be flexible in order to do the skills and positions we ask them to do. Flexible muscles that can freely move through a wide range of motion are not only great for leaps and splits, but are essential to avoid injury.
Some gymnasts are naturally flexible and don’t mind stretching. Other gymnasts, however, are somewhat limited in this area and dread stretching time in the gym. An active flex program is a great way to let each gymnast progress at her own pace without any frowns, screams, or grimaces. Are you ready for giggles that this program will surely bring?
Active vs Passive Stretching
Active stretching is just like it sounds, we are actively moving a muscle through its full range of motion. Passive stretching is just the opposite. Passive stretching is statically holding a muscle at it’s longest point where it is stretched. Active stretching may look like kicks, while passive is sitting in splits either on the floor or with a leg up on a panel mat.
Beginning or End of a Workout?
Stretching should be done at the beginning and end of a workout. Although, the purpose of each stretching time are different. The purpose of stretching at the beginning of a workout is to warm the muscles up and prepare them to be worked. At the beginning of a workout do active stretching. At the end of the workout, the purpose is to lengthen a muscle’s full range of motion. For example, at the beginning of a workout have your gymnasts do kicks both while laying on their backs and while walking across the floor. At the end of workout, go ahead and have your gymnasts sit in their splits for a giving time (say 1-2 minutes) making sure to challenge them. If they can comfortably sit flat in splits on the floor, have her sit in splits while her front or back leg is on a panel mat.
Active Flex Stretching
Although, generally I put passive stretching at the end of workout, occasionally active flex is fun. One to two times a week at the end of workout would be ideal. The idea is to be actively stretching the muscle as opposed to just statically sitting in splits. Are splits involved? Yes! However, the gymnast is actively moving through the splits or consciously engaging and disengaging particular muscles to promote muscles, like the hamstrings, to relax and lengthen; thus, increasing flexibility. Are you ready for it? Here it is…
This program can either be done by lining your gymnasts up in several lines and moving across the floor or, as I prefer, simply spread out over the floor with each gymnast having her own space.
Arms Up Splits
Have the gymnast sit in her splits (as far as she is able) with her hands up. This is probably the least fun part of the program so either do it at the beginning to get it over with or at the end. You decide what will work best for your gymnast.
- While in splits with arms up, flex the front foot and try to lift the front heel off the floor five times. She is not actually going to lift her heel up (unless she is flat in her splits, then it is possible), but the action of trying engages the quadriceps and lengthens the hamstrings. Will this be easier for those gymnasts who are already flexible, yes, but the technique will still help those who are less flexible.
- Try to lift the back knee off the floor five times. Remember the hands are still in the air.
- Repeat with opposite leg.
Tight Pike to Splits
Have the gymnast sit in a tight pike with chest up, tall and lengthen back, with arms out to the sides.
- Without moving the chest or arms (ideally) quickly move one leg back to finish in a split position.
- Move back leg to the front to return to the starting pike position.
- Repeat with the other leg.
- Do a total of five repetitions on each leg.
Here comes the really fun part! Have the gymnast sit in her split then lay down on her front leg and grab her ankle (or as close to her ankle as she can get).
- Without letting go of her ankle have her roll to the side and land back into her same leg splits. The roll should start in splits, roll to her side then her back, and finally back into her split. Repeat five times rolling in each direction and on each leg for a total 20 rolls. (For example: sit in right leg splits and hold ankle, roll to the right five times, then while still in right leg splits roll to the left five times. Repeat while in left leg splits).
- The focus should be on pulling the front leg to her nose and keeping her back leg straight and on the floor as she rolls.
Active middle splits can be tricky, but here is what I have done. The gymnast does a forward roll and without using her hands (or using them as little as possible) she moves through her middle splits as she finishes the forward roll and ultimately ends on her belly with her arms stretched out above her head. I called this ‘swimming’ through the middle splits.
Finally, with the chest up and arms out to the side start in good leg splits. Rotate hips to end in middle splits (keeping the chest up, so unless a gymnast is really flexible this will not be a true middle split. Rather, she will be sitting on her bum with legs out to the sides). Finally rotate again to finish in non-dominate leg splits. All this is done without the aid of her hands on the floor.
What Do You Think?
My gymnasts loved this stretching and begged to do it! When I would say that it was time for active flex instead of passive stretching cheers rang out. It was fun and brought giggles to the gymnasts and coaches alike. I bet you your gymnasts will even do this at home. What ideas do you have for active stretching? Leave a comment below.