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Coming through the rigor

BY CHARLIE GREEN | DECEMBER 12, 2014 5:00 AM

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JD Reive designed a recent December practice in July. The Iowa men’s gymnastics coach knows the intensity level, the focus, and what his gymnasts will need to be ready for their next competition.

“Our competition isn’t months away, it’s right now,” he said. “What we are doing in the gym at this very moment is what were going to be feeling months from now in the heat of the season.”

In July, Reive created a basic layout for practice for the entire season, featuring cycles based on the type of training that would best prepare the gymnasts for competition months down the road.

The first two cycles, hypertrophy, designed to rapidly increase muscle growth, and maximal, for aerobic endurance, spanned the first six weeks of the season.

The next seven weeks consisted of power cycles until this month rolled around, which focused on maintenance for the Dec. 6 Black and Gold intrasquad meet.

The schedule demands intense physical exertion, which is why Reive implements light weeks into the cycles to give the gymnasts time to recover.

“JD knows exactly when our bodies are going to feel crappy and when they’re going to feel great,” senior Lance Alberhasky said. “When I get run down, I look at his schedule and know that when it really matters, I’m going to feel great.”

Routine and rhythm becomes second nature in and outside the gym. Inside, the gymnasts move from one task to the next wasting little time. Each exercise is designed to protect, improve, and eventually perfect their bodies.

Morning Routine

For junior Cyrus Dobre-Mofid and his teammates, the day starts with taking care of the body outside the gym through rest, nutritional eating, and hydration. A demanding 12:30 p.m. practice is on their minds; mental and physical preparation is in the works.

“In the mornings, I eat lightly,” Dobre-Mofid said. “It’s important for us to stay light going into our practice.”

A lot of the athletes focus on light but filling foods good for energy. Chicken and vegetables are a staple in a sport where one’s body is flipping, twisting, spinning, and flying all over the place.

“For one, you’re moving around so much that you’re going to get sick if you eat too much,” senior William Albert said. “Second, it’s going to weigh you down in routines.”

Warm-ups

At 12:30 p.m., the gymnasts’ line up and begin warm-ups. It begins with a light run led by team captain Alberhasky. They go through the basics, palms to the floor where most non-gymnasts struggle to touch their toes. Then they do some splits — middle split, left leg split, and right leg split.

After that, it’s on to the 60-second handstands as a group, followed by a series of back and front flips completed one-by-one across the circle.

Then they move onto injury prevention — one of the few times they use weights to train.

“Gymnastics is a little different from other sports,” Albert said. “It’s more focused on pound-for-pound strength than it is on lifting.”

For this reason, lifting weights is not required outside of warm-ups. Simple bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups, and leg lifts are common.

Not so simple routines, especially on the still rings, are a staple of conditioning in the sport.

This warm-up lasts approximately 45 minutes, with every aspect contributing to what Reive has in store for the gymnasts later in practice.

Stretching loosens muscles, injury prevention protects wrists, shoulders, and ankles for routines that can be highly stressful on joints. Pre-strength workouts prepare muscles for the strenuous exercises to follow.

Strength

After the warm-ups, injury prevention, and pre-strength, the Hawkeyes set their sights on more physically taxing exercises. This portion of practice is meant to get the athletes ready for competition — both physically and mentally.

For mental preparation, a gymnast does a very specific routine as flawlessly as he can for the coaches. The goal here is to hit all the skills, transition between them, and keep good form, rather than doing the exercise for the purpose of building muscle.

“Even though you’re just doing it once or twice, it’s not just going through the motions,” sophomore Caleb Fischle-Faulk said. “You’re nervous, you concentrate on doing every skill right.”

Physical preparation is more about the numbers. The gymnasts are assigned a certain number of exercises, skills, and routines in a practice for conditioning. Repetition improves the body; focus improves the mind.

Depending on the time of season, the team will typically do ring strength twice per week, core and back strength twice a week, a lighter day on Wednesdays, and upper body strength on Saturdays.

Endurance

While every event requires a high level of strength, endurance is an aspect not lost on the Hawkeyes. Especially for all-around gymnasts — those who train and compete in every event — stamina can make or break their seasons.

As a result, they have circuit training once or twice a week, which consists of a set of stations the gymnasts need to complete one after another with just 10 seconds of rest in between each.

Thirty circles on the pommel horse and handstand holds on the rings and parallel bars are just a few of the stations.

This portion of practice lasts approximately 30 minutes. Some of the exercises build strength, but its fast pace creates an intense cardiovascular workout.

“My mindset during it is, ‘How many more stations are there?’ ” Fischle-Faulk said.

The struggle lies between the fifth and 10th stations, when the gymnasts’ initial burst of energy is gone and they are still in the midst of the workout.

“I like to think of it as a marathon,” Albert said. “Halfway through, you might wonder how you could possibly finish. But right around mile 20, you can see the end is near.”

This quick-moving training also serves as a simulation for routines in competition.

“You have to utilize the points of pause to catch your breath so your muscles can recover properly,” Fischie-Faulk said. “It teaches you how to catch your breath when you only have a couple seconds.”

After practice

After a physically taxing day, the gymnasts hit the trainer’s room to handle any injuries or discomfort. Icing and massages from the trainers are common, but the recovery does not stop in the gym. Albert takes ice baths two or three times per week, and Fischle-Faulk takes Epsom salt baths.

Others hit the sauna in attempt to cleanse the body after the heavy workout.

Then the refueling process begins. Taking vitamins and protein helps with muscle recovery, and rest is key. Of course, replenishing fluids is also vital.

“We’re on such a fast level in practice, so it can be hard to drink water,” Alberhasky said. “I usually chug a glass when I get home and then sip on some until I go to bed.”

When the athletes sleep, they are mentally preparing for the next day of workouts, class, and everything that goes into succeeding in both.

For Fischle-Faulk, planning is the best way to make sure his schedule accommodates his sport.
“I research how much work certain classes entail before I sign up for them,” said the health-science major. “I’m thorough to make sure school works with my energy levels."

The day ends the same way it began, with preparation. When they wake up, the process repeats.

At first glance, Reive’s long schedule can be overwhelming to think about for the gymnasts, especially everything else that college life entails. Structure is what keeps the machine running, and it extends from Reive’s planning into the mentality of the athletes.

“If there’s anything that gymnastics teaches you, it’s self-discipline and organization,” Dobre-Mofid said. “Especially under JD’s staff, we need to approach things in a very technical and fashionable way.”

For Alberhasky, the key is to approach things one day at a time.

“You can’t look at it too far in advance,” he said. “It’s about keeping your goals in mind for each practice and approaching everything as efficiently as you possibly can.”

Efficiency, discipline, and organization are programmed into the gymnasts’ minds. They move one day, week, cycle, and season at a time, because being ready is the first step to becoming a successful gymnast.

“When a lion goes after its prey in the wild, it’s always prepared,” Dobre-Mofid said. “Much like an animal and its prey, we need to be prepared to attack our events.”


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