26 Sep The Climb: Coming Back – Biles, Lee, Douglas
Inside Gymnastics will be on the scene in Antwerp, Belgium bringing you all the action from the 2023 World Championships! Make sure you’re subscribed to our YouTube Channel and following our social media pages (X, Facebook, Instagram & Threads) for news and highlights throughout the weekend.
For the full competition draw and rotation order, click here.
UP NEXT FOR THE WOMEN:
Sunday, October 1
- Qualifications Subdivision 1 |Italy, Netherlands, AS1 & AS2 | 10 a.m. ET
- Qualifications Subdivision 2 |Taiwan, USA, AA4 & AA7 | 11:45 a.m. ET
- Qualifications Subdivision 3 |Great Britain, South Korea, South Africa & AA2 | 1:30 p.m. ET
Monday, October 2
- Qualifications Subdivision 4 |Spain, Belgium, Romania & AA1 | 4 a.m. ET
- Qualifications Subdivision 5 | Mexico, Sweden, AA3 & AA9 | 5:30 a.m. ET
- Qualifications Subdivision 6 | Australia, Brazil, AA6 & AA12 | 7 a.m. ET
- Qualifications Subdivision 7 | Austria, Canada, AA5 & AA10 | 10:15 a.m. ET
- Qualifications Subdivision 8 | Germany, Hungary, Finland & AA13 | 11:45 a.m. ET
- Qualifications Subdivision 9 | Japan, Czechia, Argentina & AA8 | 1:45 p.m. ET
- Qualifications Subdivision 10 | France, China, AA11 & AA14 | 3:15 p.m. ET
As we watch the incredible display of physical and mental athleticism in Antwerp over the next two weeks, let’s remember exactly what it takes to be the very best in the World, in the toughest sport in the world, what keeps these athletes going and how you can apply it to your own gymnastics growth!
The Climb: Coming Back
By Gina Pongetti Angeletti, MPT, MA, CSCS; with Christy Sandmaier contributing
Time heals all wounds, or so they say.
Time can help decrease stress, it can allow us to rethink a situation, and as with absence from anything, or anyone, our hearts are supposed to grow fonder… as cliché’ as that is.
Many of our famed Olympians were never really done with the sport after climbing to the echelon of success known as the Olympic podium. After all, once one has worked a lifetime – some in their teens, and some well into adulthood – why stop at only one Games? Gymnastics is the most difficult sport in the world on one’s body and mind, and tends to leave most athletes after an Olympic Games seeking at least a bit of R&R. For some, it’s a welcome life change to focus on family, friends, relationships, head to college, start a job or even start coaching. For others, the weeks following the Games offer a way to participate in a tour, enjoy life without a competition or season looming, and capitalize on endorsements or new business opportunities. There is no right or wrong path.
Simone Biles, 7-time Olympic medalist, 25-time World Championships medalist and now 8-time U.S. National All-Around Champion orchestrated one of the most entertaining tours in the history of post Olympic accolades with Gold Over America in 2021. She also focused on her mental health and happiness, relationship and marriage to Jonathan Owens, and spent time resetting from her unexpected turn of events at the Tokyo Games. Simone never announced that she was officially done, like so many that do. Seven-time Super Bowl Champion and five-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady showed us that he wasn’t quite ready and squeaked out an additional year. So for someone who has endorsements, medals in stacks, and seemingly a healthy body to exit the sport (which is a feat in and of itself!), what would drive a professional athlete in their adulthood to keep going?
(For More See: The Layer of Fear: Biles Changes the Conversation)
It may be a personal accomplishment. At times, proving to oneself how far the body can be pushed mentally, and physically is what drives an athlete forward. And as we have seen in recent history, our Olympic and World Championships teams are getting older and competing longer (the average age of the U.S. Women competing in Antwerp is 20.1 and at the U.S. Championships the average age of the women’s All-Around podium was 22.3 compared to the men’s at 19.3).
In San Jose at the U.S. Championships, despite being pressed by the media multiple times to state her goals going forward, Biles kept them close, stating: “I still feel like I have some personal goals, I still feel like I’m capable of doing it and I’ve kind of proved to myself that I can still go out there and compete to the same level as before … Personal goals, sometimes I think it’s okay to sometimes keep it to ourselves just so that nobody can throw it in your face, ‘Oh, this was your goal and you didn’t hit, or you did,’ or any of that stuff. I’m kind of at the age where I’m just like, ‘let me be in peace.’ So, one thing at a time.”
Beginning Sunday in Antwerp, Biles will go for her sixth World Championship All-Around Crown and the world will be watching as she chases more magic and continues to solidify her status as a legend not only in gymnastics but in all of sports. 10 years ago she made her World Championship debut in the very same arena where she’ll make her return to international competition for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics.
It’s been just over two years since Suni Lee beautifully rose to the occasion in Tokyo and grabbed the most coveted title there is in gymnastics, inspiring the world and a new generation of athletes ready to follow in her footsteps and ignite their own dreams of Olympic glory. With the title came the headlines and Lee’s face was everywhere as everyone celebrated new gymnastics royalty. A lot has happened since then. In February, mid-way through her sophomore season as a Tiger, a kidney-related health issue forced Lee’s career at Auburn to come to an early end. Ever since, she’s been fighting to get back to full strength. Having already won the most prestigious medal there is to win in the sport, Lee could have decided to hang up her grips. However, she still feels she has more to give. “I feel like there’s a lot more in me,” Lee said. “Before the diagnosis I was doing really good. I was coming up with new combinations and new skills … that’s definitely what is inspiring me because I already know I can do it, so if I can just get myself back to that place, I’ll be right on for the Olympics hopefully.”
Following the U.S. Championships Lee announced she is still working her way back from her health issues and opted not to try for the U.S. team this year.
Gabby Douglas, the 2012 Olympic Champion is also back in the gym, announcing her return to the sport officially in July.
“For many years I’ve had an ache in my heart but I didn’t want to keep carrying anger, pain, sadness, or regret,” Douglas, who also won team gold in 2016 alongside Simone Biles, wrote on Instagram. “And through my tears and hurt, I’ve found peace. I wanted to find the joy again for the sport that I absolutely love doing. I know I have a huge task ahead of me and I am beyond grateful and excited to get back out on the floor. And even more grateful for all of your support and love. It truly means so much. There’s so much to be said but for now, let’s do this! #2024”
We’ve also seen the likes of 2008 Olympic team silver medalist and 2005 World All-Around Champion Chellsie Memmel (now the U.S. women’s technical lead) and 2016 Olympic team gold and beam silver medalist. Laurie Hernandez attempted to return – Memmel was one of the oldest to attempt (and succeed!) competing Elite in 2021, 13 years after her 2008 Olympic success.
As we watch these incredible athletes return to the highest stages, how does the top .01% parallel the rest of the 99.9%?
Coming back after a one-week vacation versus a two-month injury versus over a year without touching equipment are all vastly different mountains to climb. As any athlete knows, rest and recovery are a very important part of our sport. But when rest is too long, weakness ensues. When muscles are not used, atrophy enters into the picture. When your heart is not pushed, your cardiac endurance slides. When the body is not stretched to its literal limits on a daily basis, having this excessive pliability retreats. So, as in any small injury, return to the mat needs to be with a huge ‘proceed with caution’ sign that hangs in line with the incredible motivation.
All of our World Championship and Olympic hopefuls are lauded and looked up to for their tenacity, diligent efforts in the gym, and for their strength, flexibility, recovery, and overall fitness. These need to be the base of all preparation for entering back into a gym no matter one’s age or ability level. Of course, with maturity comes at times additional challenges in body, structure and stress. And with anything in life, one must walk before running. And as they say, handstands before giants. Back tucks before doubles.
So, what can you do as an athlete to stay physically and mentally healthy during a break? Here are a few pointers! (Remember, every athlete is different!)
- Keep up with your body; aerobic fitness, nutrition, and recovery, and overall balance of strength.
- Keep the joints above and below as strong as possible as long as it is safe. This will help support the injured area when returning.
- Continue with basic body, shaping and conditioning as well as tolerated. Muscle memory needs to be maintained because it’s harder to get some motions back from scratch than to tend to it gently.
- Remember that if overtaxed, the body will take steps backward and not forward. Of course, in order to build muscle, one needs to create stress to create change. But when signs of overworking appear, such as fatigue, poor sleep, habits, change in hunger patterns, dehydration, lack of focus, random joint swelling, bloating or an inability to continue to increase strength or aerobic tolerance, your adrenal system may be stressed. This doesn’t mean that you are overtraining from the sense of the sport, but overtraining in relation to what your body and mind can handle relative to the recent past. The bigger picture, related to timeline needs to be considered – not just the week or month at hand. Sometimes one has to step backward for a moment of recovery to move forward.
- Be mindful of your timeline. Often when working with our Elites and highest-level athletes, we set attainable goals and work backward for chewable bits of achievement. If there is not ample amount of time to prepare for a meet you may get lucky and make it to and through, but you also may create other injuries in the process. Some of those can include landing short, because of lack of endurance and plyometrics strength, strained muscles from pushing their limits with overly zealous expectations, or tendon, muscle, and joint issues from doing too much too soon. In addition, bone growth, plate, and or stress reaction issues from loading and pounding at too quick of an increase, can be a side effect of motivation over patience. Even kidney and liver issues from overtaxing a system without proper recovery (rhabdo category issues) can present themselves. Unfortunately, there is no exact prediction given that every person and their workload and recovery tolerance vary.
- Your body and health can also suffer from taking anti-inflammatory medication or pain medicine in order to push through it and come back too quickly. This can put a strain on your kidneys and other organs, as well as increase the potential of further orthopedic injury because of masking symptoms. The best laid plans sometimes need alterations. Temptations to push limits and to value plans and motivation for workouts over aches and pains can progress too quickly. Make sure to build in some wiggle room for some ups and downs along the way.
- It’s helpful and healthy to be back in the gym, even if skills are not necessarily being performed in their entirety. Of course, enticement is looming, because of your desire to want to flip and twist like before. But entering into the gym and simply doing basic skills, strength, and body shaping can help an athlete maintain or regain a semblance of schedule and routine and additional benefits like toughening your hands and feet And slowly re-capturing air sense.
- Mentally, routines can be done through visualization, which will also help athletes regain timing, skill, connection, and body awareness. This can also be done with skills that you are going to attempt within the next day or week, to prepare your mind for what you will see, and experience.
- Lastly, be in close communication with your body. What that means is to check-in on a daily basis as to how you feel from sleep – your quality and amount – how tired or powerful your muscles feel, how well your nutrition is progressing, and understand that in the comeback process, each day is a little bit more stress mentally and physically. Be patient with yourself.
- Get a calendar out and work backwards from a goal, including routines, hours, routines, skills on soft surfaces, skills on hard surfaces, and any other goals possible. All variables need to be considered and recorded.
- Keep track daily of your fatigue level from one through 10. Some refer to the Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale (RPE) to summarize how hard the workload was on that given day. These reports, together, can tell a story of how any day may affect the next, or trends. Keep a journal of any pain or aches that come about. Being able to go back and track, if you increase things too quickly will be very helpful in hindsight if needed. Nutrition support for the amount of work one is doing is key as well. Fatigue can be from a caloric deficit and can result in RED or Relative Energy Deficiency. Remember, fatigue may be a result of days prior. You’ll wish you had this in regular training let alone any comeback process.
- Keep a rough track of numbers. How many times you arch. How many times do you have high impact insert (i.e. hitting a springboard, taking off for a double back, landing, a tumbling pass, landing of our dismount, etc.) Be mindful of joint specific concerns like how many touches or impacts you have on your hands, if dealing with a shoulder, elbow or wrist injury.
- You can even get some help with a heart rate monitor during conditioning to see how high your body gets and how quickly you recover. Smart watches of all kinds, have apps and programs to let you know your quality of sleep based on your heart rate. Many professional athletes, including some gymnasts use heart rate variability testing (HRV) which essentially is the body‘s way of telling us if it is properly recovered or overstressed.