Why your shoulders are so important if you’re a gymnast
Gymnasts are known for being strong and flexible. There are many things about gymnastics that make it such a unique sport. One of these is how much time gymnasts spend bearing weight through their arms – something that is usually reserved just for the legs. Because of this, shoulder strength and flexibility are incredibly important for a gymnast.
Why flexible shoulders matter
Any skill in gymnastics where you bear weight through your hands (like handstands, back walkovers, and back handsprings) requires proper shoulder flexibility to be performed correctly. If someone lacks shoulder flexibility and does a handstand, it will look something like the picture below on the left. In that picture, you can see how my elbows are bent, my wrists are more bent, and my low back is arched. This all has to happen to compensate for a lack of shoulder flexibility, and puts more strain on the wrists, elbows, and low back. In the picture on the right, my form is much better because I am able to open my shoulders all the way.
Why shoulder strength matters more
While it is important for gymnasts to have flexible shoulders, it is even more important for them to have strong shoulders. As I mentioned before, gymnastics is unique because gymnasts spend so much time on their hands. The shoulder joint is an inherently unstable joint, especially compared to the hip. It was not made for holding us up like it has to do in gymnastics. Because of this, it is incredibly important that gymnasts strengthen the stabilizing muscles in their shoulder to avoid a shoulder injury.
Our shoulder muscles also help us push off of our arms for tumbling skills and vaulting. If our shoulders are weak, we will end up relying more on our wrists, elbows, and backs to help us push off of our hands. This puts more strain on those areas and puts them, as well as the shoulders, at risk for injury.
How to have shoulder strength through your full range of flexibility
It can be challenging to get a certain body part to be both strong and flexible – it is much easier to do one or the other. But, it’s so important to achieve both for your shoulders if you are a gymnast.
So, here’s the number one tip on how to do it:
Make sure you are strengthening your shoulders throughout their entire range of motion. The shoulders are more vulnerable when they are all the way overhead, or – in gymnastics terms – “by your ears”. So strengthening your shoulders in overhead positions and in handstand positions is important to stay strong throughout your full range of flexibility and to prevent injury. Exercises like hanging shoulder shrugs and handstand shoulder shrugs are great for this.
If you need to work on your shoulder flexibility, make sure you always follow up stretching with some overhead strengthening, to stay strong through your new range of motion.
Checkout our related instagram post (@girlfitrocks) for videos showing the importance of strong and flexible shoulders in gymnastics and other exercise ideas. If you are a gymnast and think you need to work on your shoulder flexibility, strength, or both, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 617-618-9290 to schedule a Wellness Visit or physical therapy evaluation. With an extensive background in competitive gymnastics on our staff and the attention of one on one visits, we will provide the safe, supportive, and knowledgeable sports medicine physical therapy care your gymnast needs.
Jess Danahy, PT, DPT
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