When you watch Olympic gymnastics it is a rare occasion to see a gymnast make a large mistake or fall. Many spectators have the impression that the gymnasts are perfect and the skills they are performing are easy for them because they are completed so flawlessly. Some may wonder how they achieve such “perfection”. What advantage do these athletes have over most other athletes who participate in acrobatics? They practice all year round!
Like all competitive sports, sports involving acrobatics have specific competitive seasons BUT the season which creates the majority of that competitive success is the “non-competitive season”. In most sports there is a pre-season for conditioning and skill technique, a competitive season, and a period of rest/recovery. In order to be successful acrobatically, you should have a never-ending “pre-season” which runs before a competition season and after so there is never an extended period of complete rest. Now of course the body needs time to recover from training but with a well-organized practice schedule which includes built-in rest days, the body can safely sustain year round training.
Why is it so important to train continually? Acrobatics requires an immense amount of strength, neuromuscular activation, cognitive processing, balance, and the ability to sense where your body is in space without seeing it. All of these things are developed, mastered, and maintained only with repetitive skill, drill, and specific conditioning practice.
Practicing just long enough for an athlete to complete a skill without assistance and then taking a break from formal instruction is actually extremely detrimental to their learning process for a few reasons.
-The confidence needed in order to complete that skill without fear and without flaw is developed in the period after the athlete starts to practice the element on their own over and over again with constant advice on proper technique.
-The strength & flexibility needed to repetitively complete the same skill over and over again or to learn more advanced skills is lost when specific conditioning is lessened or stopped completely. This is when overuse injuries are developed.
-The neuromuscular connections your body makes to be able to do so many complex motions in only a fraction of a second take time to develop and “seal into place”. Good acrobats are able to perform such amazing skills because they have the ability to “feel” where they are moving in space without seeing their body do it. One small example is just being able to feel the difference between their legs being bent or straight – believe it or not, this “muscle memory” take a TON of practice to master. Even the best acrobats will lose the feeling of certain skills they completed thousands of times after not practicing them for long period of time.
-Lastly, the ability to logically think through skills which require so many different mental cues in only 1-2 seconds time and the connection it takes for all of those cues to go from you brain to your body take a lot of time to develop and seal their connections. This is why the same skills are practiced thousands and thousands of times until they become something almost involuntary like walking.
It is so important to the learning and progression process to not have any laxity in practice schedule because the amount of time it takes an athlete to take three steps backwards is three times faster than it takes them to take one leap forwards.