To Bounce or Not To Bounce? Trampolines for Gymnasts

There is probably no piece of home gymnastics equipment more popular than the trampoline.  They are widely available and heaps of fun. In the gym they are a valuable and much-used training aid, drill platform and conditioning tool.  They can also be all of these things at home, although there is plenty to consider before you buy one.  Trampolines can be expensive and in some cases very expensive. So, is the investment worth it?

The answer to that varies from person to person and is dependent in no small part on your financial situation.  However, as most of us do not have unlimited financial resources, this guide is intended to present you with all the relevant information to make an informed decision that’s right for you.

In this first article out of two, we address the to buy/not to buy question and what a trampoline can be used for in the home environment.  The second article will look at differences between the many types of trampoline out there and which might be best to buy .

Will Buying a Trampoline Benefit My Gymnast?

As with so much in the gymnastics equipment for home category, there is no simple yes or no answer.  The general consensus among professional coaches – certainly for anything below advanced and elite levels – appears to be don’t buy one! A visit to Chalk Bucket (a forum made up of ex-gymnasts, amateur and professional coaches and parents) will quickly make this point clear.  The primary concern is safety and risk of injury, not just by falling off but also with children being tempted to try skills they are simply not ready for.  The other concern voiced by coaches is that bad habits can be developed which means having to undo them in the gym.

All that said, there are numerous benefits if a trampoline is used under appropriate conditions.  As with all home equipment, the general advice is to only use a trampoline for practising and honing to perfection any skills already learned.  For beginners this means the most basic of practices such as jumps and turns and conditioning.  Where ‘appropriate conditions’ are concerned the recommendation for trampolines is that they should always be supervised by an adult who can monitor closely what is being done. If all this is taken into account, trampolines can help a gymnast to develop – something underlined by one gymnast on Chalk Bucket who says:

the trampoline has helped me get better at skills I already do at gymnastics

And there are actually heaps more benefits too. One of the major ticks in the plus column for the trampoline is its low impact nature.  Its bed absorbs 80% of the shock from a rebound.  A lot of gymnastics training and drills need continuous repetitions. Such repetitions – especially relevant here are jumps, leaps and turns – can place undue stress on joints which can lead to injury. A trampoline’s forgiving surface allows for a far greater number of safe repetitions than you might otherwise be able to practise.  This is certainly a factor which needs to be balanced against other risk elements.  This aspect has other longer term positive implications too.  The low impact/slight stress workout element keeps the body protected while placing just enough stress to facilitate the development of stronger bones.

While the nature of bouncing on a trampoline has the benefit of low impact it will simultaneously provide an intense muscle workout, strengthening leg muscles as well as the supporting tendons and ligaments around the joints.  According to Samir Becic – a world renowned health and fitness expert – studies have shown that anyone who uses a trampoline regularly will increase their leg strength by 30%. It isn’t just the legs which benefit either.  According to British Olympic coach John Beer:

your core-stability muscles are almost constantly engaged to keep you stable and balanced, meaning a tauter, stronger stomach and lower back.

All of these are desirable qualities in gymnasts; each essential to prepare them for higher level skills and to enable faster development in a gymnastic career.

The trampoline can also help considerably with developing better balance and co-ordination.  And where cardiovascular fitness is concerned, a study carried out by NASA found that 10 minutes bouncing on a trampoline is a better cardiovascular workout than 33 minutes of running!

Uses for a Home Trampoline

Quite how much use and benefit a trampoline at home can be will depend to some degree on the level of your gymnast. An advanced or elite gymnast will be able to do a greater variety of things than a beginner.  However, a beginner typically has far less time in the gym and may find the extra training, drilling and conditioning hours the trampoline gives them to be of huge benefit.   Additionally, the chance to work harder at perfecting basics can be a valuable root from which all else stems.  The following discusses the types of things a gymnast can use a trampoline for.

Form – A gymnast may have achieved a certain skill but that doesn’t mean it has perfect form.  The difference between completing a move and completing it perfectly is not just about extra points and success in the competition arena but will also dictate how quickly a gymnast can move on to learning new skills.  For example, if a beginner gymnast can master moving from a perfect dish to arch position through straight jumps while in trampoline flight it will be the key to a hundred or more things.

Spatial awareness and balance – Trampolines in general will help to develop and improve spatial awareness.  Additionally the un-solid nature of a trampoline bed means the body is constantly having to adjust its centre of gravity to stay in control. Such training can help considerably with improving balance.

Skills – As discussed previously, a home trampoline is not the place for learning or trying new skills but for perfecting those already achieved.  This ties in closely with the form issue above.  A beginner gymnast will be able to practise little skills-wise beyond jumps and turns but such things can have greater value than you might initially think.  Such body control in flight mastery will aid with learning skills relevant to every piece of equipment.  A more advanced gymnast will be able to work through any number of floor, acrobatic, aerial and tumble practices as well as vault, beam and bars flight elements for girls.  The same is true for boys for floor, vault and high bar especially, and to some lesser degree with rings, parallel bars and pommel too.  Greater time in the air with less effort required allows a gymnast to concentrate on where each part of their body is, to recognise faults and to adjust them accordingly.

Drills and the trampoline as a training aid – Every gymnast knows that completion of full moves is only a small part of any time spent practising and training gymnastics.  Working on drills and progressions to learn or improve elements of a skill and conditioning make up a far greater chunk of training time overall.  There are numerous drills which can be practised on a trampoline such as twisting practices and bounces to handstand (especially beneficial with a bar attachment).  Again, these benefit not just floor work but cover practices and elements of all equipment pieces.

Conditioning – There is an enormous amount of strength and flexibility conditioning you can do on a trampoline.  If you usually train at a larger facility you will no doubt have done some of these on the trampoline there, no matter what level you are at.  The simplest conditioning for older children is achieved by using ankle or wrist weights while running through a series of basic jumps and turns.  YouTube has a wide range of videos offering conditioning ideas if you’re not sure.

Again, and just to reiterate – none of the practices listed above should be done on a home trampoline without first having learned them at your gym with your coach.  Doing otherwise is just not safe. Some conditioning exercises are the exception here but even then you should discuss this with your coach first.

If you have decided to invest in a trampoline, read our Buyers’ Guide to help you navigate the various options on offer, or you can browse our trampoline selection in our shop*

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