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“What am I going to do with my life now?”
This daunting question is what most gymnasts ask themselves after they retire. When you’ve spent years dedicated to your sport, you’d think gymnasts would finally allow themselves a well-deserved break. Instead, they can usually be found planning their next step. Who can blame us? It’s that competitive athlete that lives inside all of us that's goal-oriented and driven to never stop progressing.
The transition from being coached, to coaching yourself, can be a confusing time. This is typically a period where many formerly competitive athletes find themselves stuck unless they turn to training or coaching as a career. Learning how the equipment at a “normal-person” gym works, creating an effective workout regime for yourself, and staying motivated often presents a significant challenge. Even elite gymnasts can feel intimidated by entering a foreign workout environment like a fitness gym. As a result, going to “workout” suddenly becomes a stressor, not the fun release that it used to be.
Rather than asking yourself, “What am I going to do now?,” consider asking yourself, “Why do I need to step back from competitive gymnastics?” While you may decide to end your competitive career (or not – there are still adult competitions out there!), you don’t have to stop training like a gymnast. For some reason, there is an unspoken stigma that retirement means eliminating all aspects of gymnastics from your life. This couldn’t be further from the truth. You can always train like a gymnast. No matter what age. As long as you have your body, you can use it.
Why use machines when you can be the machine?
Why stop something that you enjoy?
The most important part about living an active lifestyle is choosing movement that you enjoy doing rather than choosing exercises that you think you should be doing.
Why force yourself to do something that is not fun?
The less you look forward to it, the less likely you are to do it.
The more you look forward to it, the more likely you are to do it.
The more you do it, the better your results and maintenance.
I can’t tell you how much harder it is to get back in shape after retiring for a few years as opposed to transitioning and maintaining your health. That’s why I created a company called Train Like A Gymnast. We aim to be the go-to destination for formerly competitive gymnasts, cheerleaders, and dancers who want to continue to train like a gymnast with a group of other supportive teammates around the world.
We provide ways for adults to condition for physical health, improve their emotional intelligence, and learn personal and professional life skills for holistic health. Whether you’re recently retired, decades out, a coach, a curious parent, or a movement enthusiast, you’re more capable than you think you are. Just let us show you for free.
And while we’re at it, here are 10 out of 20 of our favorite gymnastics drills you can do at home.
Dragonflies: This exercise is crucial for core chain strengthening and overall body awareness. Grasp a solid surface, then lift your toes up to the ceiling until the candlestick position is achieved. At the top of the candlestick, your body may feel a feeling similar to a back layout of the front of a tap swing on bars.
Handstand Clocking Splits: Passive flexibility is nice, but active flexibility is better. During the Handstand Clocking Splits, start in a handstand about a foot away from the wall with your stomach facing the wall. Then with your favorite leg first, pretend your leg is like the hand of a clock. Proceed to make time fly as you bring your foot to each hour stop until a full day has been achieved.
Handstand Negatives: In either a freestanding handstand or a handstand using the wall, straddle down slowly with control to the floor using as much core and hip compression as possible to eventually reverse this movement and achieve or improve a press handstand.
Press Handstand From Block: During any press handstand, it’s imperative that you keep your arms straight. Lean forwards with active pressure in your fingers until you feel the weight in your feet lessen. At this point, straddle and compress in a deep pancake until your hips are over your head. To finish, simply bring your legs together.
Candlestick Jumps: Starting in a number one position, keeping your arms by your ears, squat and roll back to a candlestick shape. Reach your toes to the ceiling, hips flat, then use the momentum to roll back to a stand and explode up in a straight jump.
Cartwheel to Lever: Practice your tumbling entrances and exits by slowing down and getting back to the basics. Perform a regular cartwheel and once your first foot lands, transfer the weight to that foot and maintain your balance as you lift up into T or lever shape and hold.
Lunge Switches: Try your best to fly while keeping your hips as square as possible. Lunge until your knee almost touches the floor, explode up and switch legs. A simple mental technique to keeping your hips square is to imagine there are flashlights on each of your hip bones. You want the lights to be in the same place at the same level on the wall in front of you!
Tick Tocks: Gymnastics Tick Tocks were around long before the app was conceived. For these, no knowledge of technology is required. An homage to old style grandfather clocks - to start, kick up into a split handstand. Extend your shoulders and arch your back until your foot touches the ground. Next, push off that foot as if doing a bridge kick-over. When you’ve finished the bridge kickover, kick right back to the starting position and repeat.
V-Ups: The V-Up is standard core conditioning known all too well for any former competitive gymnast. While keeping your legs straight goes without saying, many forget to focus on keeping the lower back on or as close to the floor as possible. Doing V-Ups while keeping this in mind is significantly healthier for the lower back, and will engage more of the abdominal muscle chain.
Bulgarian Squat Jumps: These plyometric drills are perfect for drilling explosivity. Starting in a standing lunge with your back leg elevated, lower down into a lunge with your hips as low as your front knee. Then, push through your toes and jump up. To add extra difficulty, try to tuck the knee of the front leg to your chest on each jump.
Try doing 5-10 of each of these drills after warming up and see how you feel.
Want all 20? See them here.
Gymnastics allows anyone and everyone to challenge themselves, discover their untapped potential, and find their passion and ability with bodyweight movement. It is a lifelong sport meant for everyone, regardless of age, skill level, or experience. So, to every retired athlete or anyone looking to change up their exercise program: if you are asking yourself, “What am I going to do now?”, Train Like A Gymnast may just be the answer you have been looking for.