For the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, stretching is as effortless as breathing. At the beginning of each training session, competitors complete a 20-minute warm-up to prepare them to take on the beam, the vault, the uneven bars, the rings, and the floor. And according to some of the world’s foremost coaches, gymnastics stretching is indispensable.
“Most gymnastics coaches would agree that flexibility is an essential aspect of gymnastics training and performance,” wrote William Sands, PhD, USA Gymnastics director of research and development, and Jeni McNeal, MS, of the United States Elite Coaches Association for Women’s Gymnastics (USECA). “Flexibility is frequently included in talent identification and screening measures for gymnasts, divers, and dancers.”
To find their balance, gymnasts spend a great deal of time strengthening in the warm-up as well. In fact, some people might consider the stretching sequence a workout in and of itself. Ready to try it?
The USA Gymnastics stretching sequence the team does before every practice
To follow the full warm-up and gymnastics stretching routine, visit USA Gymnastics.
Round 1: Prep
This section includes five minutes of either jumping rope or jumping to get your heart rate up at the start.
The right way to jump rope:
Round 2: Walk around the mat
While you’re walking around the mat (or, you know, some other surface), you’ll complete mobility movements like toe stretches, shoulder circles, and trunk twists to get all your muscles warmed up.
round 3: Cardio
In this section, you’ll alternate between running, skipping, and prancing (really). This will raise your heart rate and make sure you’re sweating… as if you weren’t already.
round 4: walks
Walk it out! This section asks gymnasts to switch between walking on the heels and walking on their toes. Again, to prep those feet that need to grip onto a bar.
Round 5: stretching
This sequence gives a new meaning to stretching from head to toe. Special attention goes to stretching out the spine with every kind of twist imaginable. (Trunk, plié, alternating, diagonal—you name it.)
Even more stretching:
round 6: Floor stretching
This is where you’ll get to do pike stretch (which is basically downward dog), straddle, and side bends.
round 7: Feet
Your Achilles tendon and ankles get some love here, so your feet will feel brand new after.
round 8: splits
Gymnasts can do the splits in their sleep, but in waking hours, they like to warm up first. They do so with lunges, leg lifts, and bridges.
round 9: Conditioning
The word “conditioning” should strike fear in the hearts of anyone who’s ever played on a sports team. In the case of gymnastics, this means tuck jumps, V-ups, pushups, and many more hard moves.
round 10: kicks
The whole warm-up concludes with kicking your way to the finish line.
Here’s what it’s like to get professionally stretched:
As for ballerinas, here’s the sneaky way they strengthen their calves in their free time. Plus, a full dancing workout.