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A day in the life of an MSU gymnast: Summer conditioning edition

July 26, 2022

MSU Gymnastics trains at the Jenison Field House on July 18, 2022.

The Michigan State gymnastics team has made its return to the gym to begin preparation for the upcoming season, focusing on strength and conditioning as well as events training.

To the average spectator, gymnastics is a sport in which athletes effortlessly fly and tumble through the air in incredible feats of strength. What they don’t see, however, is the work that goes on behind the scenes to build the muscles and stamina needed to make it look so effortless. 

The team is currently focusing on building that stamina by getting into the gym months before the competitions begin.

“Right now we're focusing mostly on strength building, getting them back into basic fitness, so they can pretty much hit the ground running once the school year starts,” trainer and director of Jenison Fieldhouse Jon Smith said.

Here’s a breakdown of what a typical day of conditioning looks like.

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Strength and Conditioning Training (8 a.m.)

The day begins at 8 a.m. with either weightlifting on Mondays and Wednesdays or running on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Both last for about an hour.

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Running

Before the team begins to run, they prepare with a dynamic warmup, which consists of stretching combined with light aerobics. 

Once they’re ready to go, the team does about 20-30 minutes of interval sprints, which helps build their cardiovascular endurance. This comes in handy during long floor routines in which gymnasts must have the stamina to sprint into tumbling passes.

“I kind of programmed different running workouts in different intervals based off of the week before and where they need to end up,” Smith said. “The most demanding is a floor routine, or a long bar routine, to be able to withstand that.”

Junior Baleigh Garcia spoke to how the interval sprints help condition the team for more cardio-centered events such as vault and floor and how cardio training has benefited her the most in competition.

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“We do those (sprints) a lot with Jon in the morning and then once preseason starts Whitney (assistant coach Whitney Snowden) has a cardio circuit for us, but because we have short sprints on the vault and floor, it really helps to do short sprints,” Garcia said. 

Freshmen Nikki Smith and Sage Kellerman both agreed that running is what has set training at the collegiate level apart from the high school level.

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“I think lifting is more common than running, so I think running was the thing that set college apart from club because I've never done running to train for gymnastics,” Kellerman said. 

Weightlifting

On lifting days, the gymnasts do whole body lifts for about 45-50 minutes. One day may focus more on upper or lower body lifts, but Smith has them working their full body every time they walk into the weight room. 

”Every day is full body, so it's kind of an equal demand of each workout,” Smith said. “We’ll kind of focus on different things, each lift is a little bit different, but it's still full body.”

The lifts also focus on strengthening different muscles they use in competition. For example, an overhead press is similar to a handstand, a split squat helps develop the power needed for a layout, and a single-leg squat helps with landings, especially if a gymnast needs to land on one foot.

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“We're working on power and power training type stuff, and I think that's really important because we need to be really powerful in this sport,” said sophomore Gabrielle Stephen.“It's not so much endurance as you would see in other sports but power in the moment.”

Gymnastics Events Training (9 a.m.-12 p.m.)

After strength and conditioning training, the team heads to Jenison for events training. 

They begin with a warmup and stretch as a team to maintain the flexibility needed for the sport. When they’re finished, they then break into different groups to work on the four different events: bar, beam, vault, and floor.

Since summer practice is currently voluntary, the gymnasts can rotate between each event as they please and choose the skills they want to work on. However, coaches are in attendance to give suggestions and for safety purposes.

“Because we have voluntary practice right now, we can stay longer if we need to or want to, or if we're done early, we typically will wait for everyone to be done so we all leave as a team,” Garcia said. “Get here as a team, leave here as a team.”

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