Strength is important on every gymnastics event. On the vault, a gymnast uses the strength in her legs to power down the runway and then uses her upper body strength to flip and twist off the vaulting table. On the rings, a gymnast holds his body still, all with the strength of his shoulders and arms. In some cases, gymnasts lift weights to acquire this strength.
When Weightlifting Helps
Unlike strength exercises such as push-ups and sit-ups, weightlifting is not included in every gymnastics program. Beginning level gymnasts rarely lift weights. If a gymnast begins to struggle because of lack of strength, the coach may recommend weightlifting under adult supervision, either with weightlifting machines at a gym or with free weights. Some coaches, however, prefer other forms of strength training, such as using resistance bands, climbing ropes, and focusing on pull-ups on the bars. If a gymnast does not struggle with strength, exercising all of the muscles equally through gymnastics skills and gymnastics conditioning is preferred to weightlifting.
How Weightlifting Helps
Through weightlifting, a gymnast can develop the stronger muscles needed to perform intermediate-level and above gymnastics skills. For example, female gymnasts often struggle to learn the kip on the uneven bars because of lack of strength in the shoulders and triceps. Weightlifting can target these muscles, giving a gymnast the strength to master this common roadblock. During practice, coaches can only devote a limited amount of time to conditioning and can’t always provide individualized attention to a gymnast struggling with strength. Weightlifting outside of scheduled practice helps in this situation.
Disadvantages of Weightlifting
Body proportions are important in both men’s and women’s gymnastics. Many gymnastics coaches discourage weightlifting in gymnasts due to the risk of hypertrophy -- an exaggerated growth of the targeted muscles, which distorts the gymnast’s figure and adds excess weight, making skills harder to perform.
Procedure to Prevent Hypertrophy
To prevent hypertrophy, a gymnast should focus on lifting heavier weights, in small repetitions of just one to five reps, with long periods of rest in between sessions. The gymnast’s coach should approve the weightlifting regimen, and the gymnast should only target the specific muscles needed to accomplish skills within the sport.