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Fitness Training for Trampoline - A Coach's View

I was very happy to relinquish my regular trampoline slot in the last issue of GymCraft in favour of Simon Breivik’s article on fitness training for trampoline.  He and I have had many discussions on the subject and I was particularly keen for his knowledge and expertise to be shared with you all.  I will leave the physiology up to the expert but try to place a coach’s perspective on the subject.

The main energy source for a competitive routine is the tong term anaerobic system and as Simon highlighted, a trampoline routine by a national standard senior makes demands roughly equivalent to a 100 metre freestyle race or a 400 metre sprint.  The 400 metre runner must be able to retain that quality of dynamic relaxation down the home straight when the lactate levels are soaring and the 100 metre swimmer too must maintain the ability to retain stroke rate and stroke length whilst under intense physiological pressure.  Surely there can be little argument however, that the skill and concentration levels involved during the latter part of a trampoline routine far exceed that of the swimmer or runner, due to the unique orientation, aesthetic and life preserving demands of our sport.

It was interesting to read Simon’s observation that many gym coaches believe sufficient levels of “engine fitness” can be obtained through technical training alone.  I should like to add weight to his assertion that in gymnastics (trampoline certainly) the “metabolic fitness” required to perform a routine of the highest standard, can best be gained through specific focussed work as opposed to relying on a by-product of the normal technical training.  My own observations and measurements have determined that by the time the trampoline gymnast performs the first skill of a voluntary the heart rate is in the region of 170 bpm and this can rise to over 200 bpm by moves 5 to 7.  These figures will vary greatly from gymnast to gymnast but it is clear there is a requirement to perform the latter part of the routine whilst under severe physiological stress.  The figures I quote relate to a training routine in the home gym and one can imagine that the heart rates experienced in a major final will greatly exceed this!  Are we training our performers to not only tolerate these stresses, but continue to maintain height, control and form whilst doing so?

Many coaches spend much of the pre-season gradually building the new voluntary piece by piece, combination by combination, half routine by half routine until the complete routine can be performed without interruption.  This is a conventional way of working and has much to recommend it, but if the gymnast is not completing between 3 and 5 full voluntaries per session until say, three weeks before an event, they have three weeks at best, to create the physiological adaptations necessary to enable total focus on the purely technical and aesthetic aspects.  In most sports where physiological adaptation plays an important part, a training phase is around four to six weeks!  How can we possibly expect our gymnasts to have adapted adequately in three?

Rebecca Edginton, British Gymnastics Analyst working with the Trampolining World Class Programme, has done a great deal of work on routine height profiles and it is clear that not even the best in the World can maintain anything like consistent height throughout the 10 moves in a voluntary routine. (Fig 1)

Fig 1 - Winning voluntary routine by Rusakov at the 2005 World Championships

Why is this?  Is it biomechanically impossible?  Is it technically beyond the current skill levels of the performers?  Or could it be that as lactate levels rise during the routine, the concentration levels drop and the gymnast is increasingly focussed on that greatest instinct of all — survival!  My view is that all three have a part to play but what is the critical factor?  A biomechanist will tell us that it is technically possible to maintain height from move one to ten, although allowances must be made for the number of somersaults per element.  Coaches will of course spend a lot of time working on the last few elements of a routine with a view to producing high quality right to the end.  So if there is no technical reason why height can’t be maintained and we work with such commitment on the second half of routines, why do we still lose height?  Are we ignoring the physiological aspect and simply hoping the technical work will overcome the problem, or are we ignorant of the physiological implications of what we expect our trampolinists to do?  If you read Simon’s article then ignorance is no longer an excuse!  Might I suggest that Simon Breivik has pointed us in the right direction and we ignore his advice at our peril.

To be fair the modern trampolinist does spend a significant amount of time “conditioning” and this is normally directed towards improving core stability, flexibility, strength and general aerobic fitness.  Most of this beneficial work will be done off the trampoline giving it the added benefit of preserving precious trampoline time for the essential technical work, I make no apology for quoting direct from Simon Breivik.

“Training must overload the Long Term Anaerobic system in the most sport- specific manner possible.  A runner should run, a swimmer should swim, a cyclist should cycle so a trampolinist should trampoline.  Unfortunately, this form of training will require extreme physical effort and therefore a lot of motivation!  A training session should consist of repetitions of 45-60 second bouts of near maximal exercise with a 3 to 5 minute recovery between.”

That sounds like 25 seconds of high straight jumping followed immediately by a high well controlled 10 bounce routine!  What does it suggest to you?  What about 30 straight jumps at maximum height with the aim of hitting a designated target area on the trampoline or even two routines performed back to back?

There is of course an immediate concern when “overloading” trampoline work because of the safety factors and it is crucial that coaches pitch the exercises at the right level for their gymnast’s technical and physiological capability.  Having said that, the very nature of this type of training involves progressively increasing the demand through manipulating the content of the piece and the number of repetitions performed as the gymnast adapts over the weeks.  This calls for strict record keeping by coach and gymnast including comments about mood and feelings in order to facilitate controlled and appropriate progress.

In this type of training the stop watch must be used to strictly monitor the rest interval and as Simon pointed out, this can gradually be reduced from say 5 minutes down to 3 as fitness improves.  The rest period between efforts should be spent in gentle activity (active recovery) rather than in a sedentary manner and one method Simon has suggested to me involves leaving the training diary at the opposite end of the gym so that the gymnast must walk to and from there when recording each bout of activity.  My own article “Thoughts on Time Management” in GymCraft Issue 22 of August 2006 also deals with ways of employing active rest.

Now before anyone gets the idea that I am promoting high repetitions of voluntary routines with scant regard for form to the point of exhaustion, let me make it quite clear that the purpose of this work is to raise the gymnast’s ability to perform with excellence when under extreme physiological stress.  Of course the anaerobic system must be stressed and this will undoubtedly lead to technical mistakes during training, but providing the coach pays attention to appropriateness and has the push-in mat ready, the work can be safe and highly productive.

The use of technical drills comprising between 10 and 20 skills of varying difficulty are particularly useful in developing the twin objectives of “engine fitness” and technical excellence.  It is a task for the creative coach to develop variations on these themes which seem most appropriate to each gymnast.

My final piece of advice is, if you haven’t read the Simon Breivik article, please do so and if you already have, it is well worth revisiting as I believe it holds the key to finding the missing element in our quest to produce routines of consistent height and quality.

Next article.

© Jack Kelly