A gymnast in action appears to have remarkable flexibility, turning and twisting in extraordinary ways. Gymnasts do not necessarily possess unusual muscle strength or elasticity, rather they develop their flexibility through a regimen of regular stretching and flexibility exercises. The discipline of gymnastics requires these types of exercises to reduce injuries and perform at optimum levels.
When to Practice
It is important to stretch and repeat flexibility exercises on a regular basis while practicing gymnastics. You will stretch your muscles more by practicing a small amount each day than you would by stretching for longer periods only once or twice a week. Practice dynamic moves such as jogging on the spot or jumping jacks before working out as a method of warming up. Additionally, you may gain more from stretching after a workout and as part of a cool down regimen. After a gymnastics routine, the muscles will be warm and limber, and may stretch more easily, promoting overall flexibility. The Stretching Institute states that gymnastics flexibility exercises are important for reducing potential injuries that could occur during events. Injuries can be devastating to gymnasts, causing pain, deformity or even an end to a budding career.
No other sport requires an athlete to be as flexible as a gymnast. It is a high-flying, dazzling sport with moves that have to be perfect and executed with split-second timing. So it may seem odd to turn to the serene practice of yoga for training, but many gymnastic moves mimic certain yoga poses. Hanumanasana, or Monkey pose, is the splits -- a move that every gymnast must perfect. King of the Dancers is another yoga pose that is executed by almost every gymnast that performs on the balance beam. Cobbler's pose is beneficial for stretching the inner thighs, lengthening the psoas muscles and opening the groin. Look to other disciplines like yoga for ideas on how to improve your flexibility.
Lower Body Exercises
Flexibility exercises that use the muscles of the lower extremities will loosen muscles but also provide support for jumps, runs, round offs, cartwheels or handsprings. A pike stretch uses the gluteal muscles and the hamstrings at the back of the thigh. Stand with your feet together and your legs straight. Bend at the waist and grab your ankles, pulling your upper body down and bringing your chest in close to your knees. Another stretch that works the back of your legs involves placing your foot on a table or stool that is almost the height of your waist. Bend at the knee and lean into the stretch, feeling a pull down the back of your leg. Repeat this stretch with the opposite leg as well.
Upper Body Exercises
Stretch the muscles of the upper body to help improve your balance and increase your strength for handstands, walkovers, parallel bars or rings. To stretch the shoulders, sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Place your hands on the floor behind you and lean back into your hands. Slowly "walk" your hands further away from your body until you feel the stretch in your shoulder. To stretch the triceps muscles in the back of the arms, raise both arms straight above your head. Bend one arm and grasp it at the elbow using the other arm. Pull the bent arm in toward your head until you feel a stretch in the back of the arm. Repeat on the opposite side.