Gymnastics and All-Star Cheerleading

Hello and a happy day to you. I’m pleased that you have decided to stop by and spend some time with me at this corner of the internet. Today is going to be a little bit of a different exploration into the world of athletics. Make that a lot different, but in a good way I assure you. Today I am diving into a subject that until recently I knew very little about. The only reason I am aware of it now is due to the research I have done in preparing this story to bring to you. As you know inclusion is the name of the game here, and as such when someone takes the time to talk with me about a sport that they are passionate about I’m all ears. Before I get into where I’m going with this, let me start this at the beginning.

A little while ago I ran the #abs: The Money Muscles series. If you are interested in understanding the musculature of the abdominal region, and the most effective methods to train said muscle region, then I suggest you look under the Training Header and read all three. One such person who took an interest was a guy by the name of Roy Spiekerman III. The name alone made me sit up and take notice. That name has some weight to it, and I was intrigued by what he had to say. He was explaining how doing standing tucks for ten sets of ten is a great way to get your abs some definition.  I explained that standing tucks – backflips for the rest of us – are pretty hard to do. He wrote back that everyone he knows can do them. I knew at that point that this was heading somewhere good.

So we talked via twitter quite a bit, and I got to know a bit about how Roy trains. Essentially Roy does HIIT training, but uses standing tucks as his training stimulus. That’s pretty unusual. He then went on to explain to me that he does all-star cheerleading and has a background in gymastics, which he did previously for 12 years. Athletics is athletics in my eyes, so I wanted to learn more about the training that a gymnast does. As you know core strength is a pretty big deal with me, and gymnasts have some of the strongest cores humanly possible. Needless to say, this is when I got really interested.

From what I understand, gymnastics training is basically a full time job. From a very young age Roy would train in the evenings every day after school for three hours each night. I don’t have all of the information regarding this next statement, but I’m assuming it was something that he loved to do, and he had parents that supported him in his pursuits. The focus and determination that Roy showed at this young age is something that all athletes possess. The drive and desire to constantly improve. They understand that the only way this will happen is through hard work. This is what makes an athlete, the understanding, acceptance, and the drive to constantly strive for improvement at the cost of increasing workloads.

Gymnastics is a sport that relies heavily on strength, explosiveness, flexibility, conditioning, and agility. Roy explained to me that the main exercise used to train for a good majority of the events was holding a handstand for five minutes or longer. These handstands, along with what Roy describes to me as his own method of doing high intensity interval training, using standing tucks and alternating with a less intense exercise, formed the foundation of his training. Getting back to the standing tucks HIIT, essentially Roy did sprints, but instead of sprinting he did backflips. Unusual yes, but apparently very effective.

He tells me that the different events that gymnasts compete in are actually methods of testing their strength, stamina, agility, power, and flexibility. The high-bar is focused on power generated from the gymnasts body to swing, as well as strength and agility. The rings are more of a measure of brute strength. The pommel horse and parallel bars are similar to each other, in that the gymnast must generate power to move while using strength and agility to rapidly move their hands throughout the exercise. Floor and vaults are similar in that the are a good measure of explosive power. Of course there is a high degree of athleticism in any of these events, as there is much timing, coordination, agility and mental focus necessary in order to be successful.

Stretching was of course a large component of his gymnastics training. Gymnasts do long sessions of primarily static stretching, deepening the stretch further as their body warms up and becomes limber. The deepening of the stretch is accomplished through a second person applying pressure to force the stretch further. This of course has to be done by those in the know, as the risk of injury is great when trying to do assisted stretching without the proper background and education.

Weekends were for recovery, and the gymnasts were encouraged to eat lightly due to the fact that there was no training. I was curious about diet, and apart from watching what they ate on weekends they were also encouraged to stay away from fatty foods. From my perspective the competition events look like the ideal body composition would be a fine balance of having enough muscle and strength, but remaining as light as is possible at the same time. Roy didn’t ever mention that this was necessarily the philosophy, but I think it goes without saying that a delicate balance between strength and body weight would best serve a gymnast in any competition.

This is what Roy spent 12 years of his youth engaged in. As his gymnastics training was wrapping up, Roy’s desire to continue in some competitive avenue took a turn in a logical direction – all-star cheerleading. This sport began in the early 80’s as a competitive platform for the cheerleading teams that represented schools and sports leagues. In the early stages there were many different competitions, each with their own rules and judging criterea. This became a concern for many coaches who were forced to constantly adapt their programs to fit the ever changing competitions. Safety standards were somewhat lax and as a result some of the stunts were dangerous due to the expanded set of rules used by the many organizations and companies hosting the competitions.

In 2003 there was finally a national governing body formed to create a standard set of rules and judging standards to be followed. This served to lead the sport further, expanding competitions to a world wide platform. As a result the training for these competitions has become a serious undertaking for the athletes involved. For this reason squads prepare year round, even though the actual performance of their routine is only two and a half minutes or less. The carefully choreographed routines involve stunting, tumbling, jumping and dancing to their own customized music. Precise timing and synchronization is drilled constantly during practice sessions, as it is scrutinized by the competition judges.

All in all, this has been an interesting study for me. I know that I will appreciate the hard work that the gymnasts have done to get there even more when I watch the upcoming Summer Olympics. Gymnastics has always had a personal appeal as it is such a unique sport that blends both brute strength and art. Although very different from the martial arts, it is in a similar category in my mind. They are both sports that require an immense amount of dedication and physical devotion, but that also have an artistic component to their presentation. Probably not coincidentally, my five year old son has completed nine semesters of gymnastics at the University of Toronto (he started at 18 months old), and is a yellow belt in Karate.

I want to say thank you to Roy for sharing this information and getting back to me with answers to everything that I asked. I wish him the best of luck in future competitions as well. As a bit of a bonus, later today there are a some recipes going up here. The kitchen of MattToronto has been an active one of late, and the recipe department is eager to share their creations. Tomorrow of course is even more recipes to be found in The Sunday Quickie, which will be recipes from the food featured in the post Super Food: Garlic. Until later today my friends,

Happy Lifting!

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