It’s no coincidence that gymnasts who have gotten to the top of their sport share certain key habits. In fact, successful elite athletes in all sports have learned how to focus on the things that will bring them massive success, in lieu of getting sidetracked by the things that produce little to no tangible results. Undeniably it’s these habits that have helped elite athletes earn the success they’ve achieved despite many of these habits seeming trivial when looked at individually.
In this article we’ll break down 5 habits of elite gymnasts that you can do too. But first, a quick note on habits. There’s been much debate on how to successfully form habits. Everything from the number of days it takes for a habit to stick to how to go about implementing new habits has been questioned. While there might be no hard and fast rule about habit formation, one thing is for sure. Habits form best when you do them everyday, especially when first starting out, and are best tracked. Even though some of the habits we mention today are not necessarily actions you can practice daily depending on your practice or competition schedules, they are still things you should focus doing your best on when possible.
Now, let’s get to the 5 habits of elite gymnasts that you can do too to help you become more successful at gymnastics.
Habit #1: Elite Gymnasts Envision Their Success
All elite gymnasts know the power of visualization. They know how important it is to spend time envisioning the success they want to achieve. And they make this a nonnegotiable part of their daily routine. Whether in the morning after they wake up or before they go to sleep at night, they take the time to mentally focus on their goals. Many elite gymnasts create Vision Boards to help them visualize their success (Nastia Liukin is famous for this) while others visualize their routines right before competing them (Morgan Hurd is a great example of this).
While it’s hard to believe, your mind is a powerful tool in helping you achieve success. More specifically, your mind is made up of about 100 billion neurons (you read that right!) which are teeny tiny cells that transmit information to the rest of your body. According to brain imagery, during visualization the brain creates an impulse that tells the cells of the body to “perform” an action. Amazingly, this then creates a new pathway in the body which gets the body ready to act in a way that is consistent with what the person has imagined. So by spending time envisioning what you want to happen, you can actually create new neural pathways in your body!
Visualization is a very real concept and elite gymnasts use it to get ahead in gymnastics. If you haven’t incorporated visualization techniques into your daily routine yet then you need to start now. Start simple by spending 5 minutes with your eyes closed thinking about an outcome you want to experience in gymnastics, such as winning a medal or learning a new skill. When you visualize this outcome, try to tap into the way you would feel if you achieved this goal and really take the time to feel those feelings. The point is to make the visualization feel as real as possible. As you get better at this you can try more advanced visualization techniques, but for now it’s best to keep it simple. Practice this visualization technique everyday to make this a habit.
Habit #2: Elite Gymnasts Work on Their Weaknesses First
Have you ever heard the phrase “You’re only as strong as your weakest link?” Well in gymnastics you’ll only ever be as good as your weakest event. As a result, elite gymnasts are constantly evaluating their weaknesses and working to improve on them everyday.
Early on in her career, Simone Biles really struggled with bars. In fact, at one point she even begged her coach to let her be a specialist so she could just compete in the events she was strong in, which happened to be every event other than bars. But her coach refused to let her give up on bars because she knew that if Simone could improve her bar skills, she would have a good shot at becoming a successful All-Around gymnast.
So what did Simone do? She got to work on bars.
Did she want to? No.
Would it’ve been easier for her if she had decided to become a specialist and focused on improving the other events that she enjoyed doing more? Yes.
But her coach knew that Simone was only as good as her weakest event and she also saw tremendous potential in her ability. Thank goodness for Simone’s coach because we know what an amazing all-around gymnast Simone has blossomed into, partly because of all the time she spent improving her bars.
So it’s time to ask yourself – what event are you the weakest on or what skill are you struggling to get? Whatever it is, spend extra time training on this event or working on that skill. Remember, it’s easy to train the skills you like while skipping the ones you don’t like. But you won’t become a better gymnast by avoiding the skills you’re weak at. Those are the skills you need to spend more time on.
Make it a habit to work on your weak skills first so you’re sure to make time for them before practicing the skills you’ve already mastered. And if you know you have a weak event, be sure to touch base with your coach to find out what else you can do to improve on it. She or he might have some conditioning exercises or gymnastics drills you can work on each day at home to help you get better.
Habit #3: Elite Gymnasts Take Conditioning and Flexibility Seriously
It’s no question that elite gymnasts are incredibly strong and flexible. Yet they didn’t get that way by chance. One of the biggest habits elite gymnasts do is take conditioning and flexibility seriously. They know how important strength and flexibility are to their success as gymnasts and they treat those components as sacred parts of their workouts, often spending extra time on them.
While working on conditioning and flexibility might not seem as glamorous as practicing new gymnastics skills, these aspects of gymnastics are vital components to your ability to learn new skills and compete your routines successfully. In fact, strength and flexibility are the building blocks of a gymnast’s success. Elite gymnasts, therefore, know that the quality of their conditioning and flexibility training is just as important as its quantity. While they often put in extra reps for good measure, they also try to make every single repetition count.
To emulate the habits of elite gymnasts, start by treating conditioning and flexibility as seriously as you do your gymnastics training. Instead of talking with your teammates during conditioning or giggling during stretching, try focusing all your energy on what you’re doing and even pushing a little bit harder. For every little bit of effort you put into these two aspects of training, you’ll see massive results. You can even make it fun by keeping a training log and tracking the conditioning exercises you do and the minutes you spend stretching. All great athletes track their workouts to measure progress.
Habit #4: Elite Gymnasts Set Goals and Regularly Evaluate How Close They Are To Those Goals
All successful gymnasts are well aware of where they want to go and where they currently are in relationship to their goals. Goal setting is one of the most important things that elite athletes do to be successful. Goals give elite gymnasts something to focus on in both practice and competition and help guide their actions. But goal-setting is not just something elite gymnasts do at the beginning of a meet season and then forget about. Instead they are continuously setting new practice and meet goals for the week and then checking in to see how they did.
There are two main types of goals that elite gymnasts focus on. The first is called a product goal and it refers to the end result of what a gymnast wants to achieve such as “I will be a Level 5 gymnast by next season.” The second type of goal is called a process goal and this refers to the actions the gymnast will take to get to her product goal. These process goals might be daily activities such a “Do 40 pushups” or “Stretch each of my splits for 10 minutes” or could be weekly activities such as “Train my new vault 4 times this week.” Process goals are the actual plan the gymnast will follow in her daily work habits and thus are a vital part of the goal setting process.
While elite gymnasts may set product goals at the beginning of their season or off-season training, they focus on process goals continuously throughout the season. Not only are they setting these process goals, they’re also constantly evaluating themselves along the way in regards to these goals and making tweaks to their training regimen to reflect that.
To develop this habit for yourself, grab a blank notebook and write down some goals for your season. Then think about the things you need to do everyday to get to those goals. You can create a daily or weekly goal tracker in your notebook so you can check off the activities as you complete them. The best part about this is that you can look back in your notebook and see all that you’ve accomplished throughout the season! Staying on top of your goals will help you know how you’re doing and will help inspire you to get closer to your end or product goals.
Habit #5: Elite Gymnasts Use Their Mistakes As A Learning Tool
Making mistakes is part of the journey of becoming a successful gymnast and elite gymnasts are not immune to mistakes. In fact, most have made really big mistakes and quite often in the public eye. You might remember when Nastia Liukin fell off bars during the Olympic Trials in 2012 when she was trying to make her second Olympic team. She’s since said that making such a big mistake in front of a crowd of 20,000 people taught her a lot and was a pivotal moment in her life. When fans gave her a standing ovation after she’d finished her routine (the first one she’d ever received in her gymnastics career) she realized she could still feel loved and supported by her fans even if she wasn’t always the best. While she could have sulked over the fact that she didn’t make the Olympic team, she instead used that experience to help her move forward with her life.
Nastia is not the only one who’s made mistakes in gymnastics. Many elite gymnasts have fallen in competition or in practice situations when it really counted. Most, if not all, elite gymnasts were once in a position where they’ve made really big mistakes in competition yet continued to show up after those mistakes. The difference between elite gymnasts and many other gymnasts is that elite gymnasts use these mistakes as chances to grow and get better. Instead of letting their mistakes hold them back, they find a way to learn from them and move forward.
To incorporate this habit into your routine, start evaluating each mistake you make in practice or competition for any information it might give you. The point is to get better by learning what caused you to make the mistake and by finding a solution. For example, let’s say when you compete on floor you rush your routine and end up off the beat of the music. If you do this every time you compete then it’s time to figure out what’s happening and to make a change. You might think about why you’re rushing your routine (most likely you’re nervous which makes you move faster) and then you can practice something that might help you stay on beat in the future (like taking deep breaths before you go to compete on floor or telling yourself to slow down during your routine). Chances are, if you keep making the same mistake then you need to make a change. Remember, elite gymnasts always learn from their mistakes.
There you have it! Those are 5 habits that elite gymnasts do to help them be successful at gymnastics. First off, elite gymnasts know how important visualization is to their daily routine and they use this important tool to help them get ahead. They’ve also learned to work on their weaknesses first and to make conditioning and flexibility an important part of their training regimen in order to see more success. In addition, no elite gymnast has seen success without setting product and process goals and consistently evaluating their progress towards these goals. Finally, all successful gymnasts learn from their mistakes so they can improve in the future.
Of course, this list isn’t comprehensive as elite gymnasts have many more habits that they do on a daily basis to help them achieve success. To help you learn these habits, which include things like sleep, nutrition, and time management habits, we’ve created an entire theme month in our SkillTrakker community around it! Find out more about our Habits That Stick theme month here.