The goal every year working with the University of Florida Gymnastics Team is to win championships while minimizing injuries. My role as their strength and conditioning coach was to help each athlete improve in strength, conditioning, mobility, speed, and confidence. In order for this to happen there needs to be a solid plan in place. One of the most important aspects is thorough communication with the sport coaches and the performance team. The performance team consisted of the strength coach, athletic trainer, nutritionist, and team doctor. Creating a positive relationship with the gymnastic athletes is the key to the entire program.
As I recently concluded a 26-year strength and conditioning career at the University of Florida, I can reflect on all the amazing advancements in the field. During my tenure at UF, I have worked with almost every Olympic sport. Women’s Gymnastics was one of my teams from 2005-2023. Along with winning three back-back-back National Championships from 2013-2015, the team won multiple regular season and tournament SEC titles.
Women’s Gymnastics at the collegiate level has evolved and transformed quite a bit over the last several years. The amount of elite level gymnasts entering and competing in college has grown, giving the sport some amazing scoring and parody. Gymnasts don’t enter the university setting the same way as most other athletes. A lot of them aren’t traditionally schooled because of all the hours that they spend in the gym as young athletes. The connection the strength coach has with a gymnastics athlete must be very supportive and understanding. Most of the elite athletes have not done any type of strength training with weights.
Traditionally the athletes would arrive on campus in early July for the second semester of summer school. They go through a complete medical screening before being cleared to train with the strength coaches. During this phase of training each athlete is taught proper form for trigger pointing, warm-ups and mobility, jumping and landing, Olympic lifting, speed development technique, and free weights. Gymnastics is a speed, power, and technical sport, so that is how I designed their training program.
Before every lift, practice, and individual training session I would have the athletes focus on corrective exercises. We would incorporate foam rolling with grid rollers and lacrosse balls to inhibit overactive muscles with self-myofascial release techniques. Next, the athletes focused on elongating shortened muscles and increasing range of motion by utilizing static stretching. Each trigger point and stretch were held for 20-30 seconds. Then we activated underactive or weak muscles with the use of various bands and weights. Finally, the athletes used dynamic movements and exercises to integrate all these coordinated patterns. This “pre-hab” has been a huge part of the success in maintaining the health of the athletes throughout the entire season.
Throughout the years of training the gymnastics team, I was able to incorporate more sessions in the weight room not only in the off-season, but in the fall term (preseason) and spring (in-season). Coaches and athletes have asked for the increased efforts of the strength and conditioning program because of how much it increased athletic performance while minimizing injuries. Bridget Sloan, a member of the Gator squad from 2012-2016 was a huge proponent of strength and conditioning and of how I coached. She was a former elite gymnast that had one of the most successful collegiate careers, winning 3 national titles and 2 Honda awards. Speed was a huge part of our program and Sloan reinforced to her teammates and coaches of how important short sprints and correct running form are for high level gymnastics.
The fall term, or preseason, was the focus of building strength, power, speed, and increased loads and intensity to match the energy systems of the sport of gymnastics. Periodized intervals of heavy back squats, Olympic lifts, upper body work, and single leg movements are completed during this phase of training. The training days were Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning. The Saturday training session was the most metabolic session of the week since the athletes would have 52 hours to recover until their next practice. These sessions had moments of struggle and triumph throughout the semester, but always had the building blocks for team building purposes.
The winter and spring are the competitive season for collegiate gymnastics and management of athletes becomes the primary objective. The team trained with me twice a week, with the second session the day before competition. We focused on “pre-hab” and preparation for each practice including trigger point and mobility work. The workouts consisted of speed work and various strength circuits. Load, volume, and intensity were coordinated with gymnastics training and athlete wellness
In conclusion, the best part of the week was always the competitions. I truly loved watching them grow and witnessing their amazing confidence, grittiness and relentless effort. Florida Gator Gymnastics will continue to strive for greatness and new ways to improve.