GymHawks avoid injury with 'prehab,' not rehab

BY ALEX FRENCH | MARCH 07, 2012 6:30 AM

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The members of Iowa's women's gymnastics team aren't strangers to daily aches and pains.

Women's gymnastics has the third-highest injury rate of any NCAA sport, behind only football and wrestling.

Iowa gymnastics team trainer Jon Fravel knows this, and he and the coaching staff developed what they call "prehab" as a result. This training, he said, is modeled after a program created by U.S. Olympic gymnastic trainer Larry Nassar.

"Every day, they have some type of prehab they're required to do," Fravel said. "[We focus on] knees, shoulders, core strength."

Three out of the four events — balance beam, floor exercise, and the vault — work the muscles and joints in the lower half of the body, making it more susceptible to injury, assistant coach Caleb Phillips said.

"Three events involve tumbling, so [the lower extremities] are taking high impact often," he said. "There's only so much a tendon or ligament can take if not properly strengthened."

That's where Fravel and his staff come in.

The fourth-year trainer said he targets the areas of the body that are more subject to high impact; those include the ankles, knees, quadriceps, shins, and calves in the lower body. Upper-body work focuses on shoulders, elbows, and wrists.

Based on his program, the team has implemented a detailed training process and works on such things as fine motor movement with single lower extremities.

Senior Jessa Hansen said this type of training is beneficial because it strengthens often-used muscles and joints.

"We're working on the same motions we do when we perform our skills," the former Daily Iowanemployee said. "It makes our bodies a lot stronger."

The team does prehab in addition to strength and conditioning to combat the large number of impacts each athlete's body takes every day.

And while the injury rate is high in gymnastics, the severity of maladies varies. Phillips and head coach Larissa Libby both said athletes deal with minor aches and pains on a daily basis.

But the number of severe injuries has decreased significantly since Fravel partnered with the GymHawks. Iowa dealt with eight season-ending injuries a few years ago, Phillips said; over the past three years, there have been four.

Libby said she doesn't know where the team would be without Fravel and student athletics trainer — and former Iowa soccer player — Emily Moran.

"They know it's on them to keep [the athletes] in the gym, and they do a fantastic job of doing that," she said. "They're what keeps us going. We feel very lucky; behind every great team is a great athletic trainer."

Keeping the Hawkeyes out of the training room is what's most important, Phillips said — and that involves prehab, not rehab.

"The ultimate goal is to keep them healthy," he said. "Some people wait to get sick while others work to stay healthy. We're one of those teams who works to stay healthy."

Follow DI women's gymnastics reporter Alex French on Twitter.

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