Benefits, Challenges, and Future Directions of Monitoring Training Load in Artistic Gymnastics
Key words: Athletic Injuries, Gymnastics, Sports Medicine
At the 2019 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships and 2021 Olympics, an international group of gymnastics practitioners discussed the challenges of monitoring training load and the need for progression in this area.
Optimal methods for monitoring external and internal training load in artistic gymnastics have not been established. External load is an objective measurement of an athlete-performed variable (e.g. speed) whereas internal load is a biological variable within the athlete (e.g. heart rate). Understanding an individual’s response to training and potential reduction in injuries are among the benefits of monitoring training load. This is critical in gymnastics with its sizable incidence and prevalence of injury1. Despite these established benefits, the optimal practice for monitoring training load in artistic gymnastics has not been established.
Some studies have attempted to measure training load in artistic gymnastics. Most of this work has focused on external workload variables. Often training load is quantified by the hours of weekly training2. However, this neglects to account for the variable training intensity or the rest periods between built into training. Studies have also attempted to quantify training load by incorporating variables such as frequency of skills, impact forces, coefficient variables, and advanced biomechanical sensors3 4. While these methods offer valuable information, their utility is limited because they are labor intensive and require access to specialized equipment and analysis.
A few studies have attempted to monitor internal training load variables in artistic gymnastics by tracking session rate of perceived exertion (sRPE)5, 6. One study demonstrated a correlation between daily heart rate variability, sRPE, and psychological stress5, and another showed that higher sRPEs correlated with worse performance during a world championship competition6. More recently, sRPE values were found to be significantly higher for high-level compared to medium-level women’s artistic gymnasts, as a result of greater rate of perceived effort (RPE) and training time7. These studies suggest that sRPE may be a valid measure to monitor workload in artistic gymnasts and could provide beneficial information when planning training.
Artistic gymnastics is a dynamic sport characterized by long and intense training. It includes a wide range of varied events (six apparatus for men, four for women). The complex nature of this sport poses a unique consideration when working to define training sessions variables and measure training load.
The implementation of a load monitoring system also has inherent challenges. The system must be individualized for each gymnast as well as accommodate for the variation in gymnastics events and training and answer gymnastics specific questions1, 8. Athletes and coaches will need to trust that monitoring is beneficial to them8. The system needs to be simple, self-reporting, and discourage parent and coach input to minimize bias. Barriers to accurate self-monitoring include fear that the data will negatively impact their ability to train, motivation to participate, recall bias, and community acceptance8. The intricacies lie not only in how data is gathered, but in having the processes to obtain and analyze the data frequently, as well as provide feedback, and implement changes to training accordingly8.
FUTURE RESEARCH IS IMPERATIVE
Tools to monitor training in gymnasts are currently under in and include gymnastics-specific monitoring tools and internal load tools, such as apparatus specific RPEs, weighting factors for zones of intensity and wearable accelerometers to measure impact loading rates. Future research should aim to test these ideas longitudinally to find reliable, valid and practically useful tools that easily produce meaningful data. This information may assist coaches and medical providers to develop training plans that decrease injury rates and enhance performances. The tools could provide substantial benefits to gymnasts’ physical and mental health, as well as performance and injury risk.
Authors: Patel, Tejal S.(1); Faustin, Marcia (2); Katz, Nicole B. (3); Kruse, David W. (4); Tilley, David (5); Laird, Jason (6); Casey, Ellen (7)
(1)British Gymnastics; University of Bath
(2)UC Davis, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation; UC Davis, Family & Community Medicine
(3)Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
(4)Orthopaedic Specialty Institute; Hoag Orthopedic Institute
(5)Champion Physical Therapy and Performance; SHIFT
(7)Hospital for Special Surgery, Physiatry
Ellen Casey, MD, FASCM
Director of Research, Dept of Physiatry
Hospital for Special Surgery
535 East 70th Street, New York, NY 10021
Competing interests: Not applicable.
Contributorship: E.C. led the coordination of this project. T.P. was the project originator and created the accompanying infographic. All authors contributed to reviewing the literature and writing the published work.
Acknowledgements: Not applicable.
Funding, grant and award info: Not applicable.
Ethical approval information: Not applicable.
Data sharing statement: Not applicable.
Patient involvement: Not applicable. No patients were involved.
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