Sharpening the Axe

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

-Abraham Lincoln


Lincoln spoke to the concept of preparation being vital to the efficient completion of a task or project.  Specifically for athletics, this can be the perfect anecdote for talking to our gymnasts about the value of placing a significant emphasis on physical preparation.  In our program, we have decided that “Sharpening the axe” would be our mantra for the beginning of our offseason.  

The value of “sharpening the axe” or fine-tuning our strength, conditioning, mental focus, etc., can pay off tenfold over the long-term careers of our gymnasts. 

Let’s imagine an athlete that has limited body control and tension.  This athlete wants to learn a double back on floor and constantly punches the floor with a less than ideal body tension.  The consistency of her take-off will be poor, and therefore the results of the skill efforts will vary greatly.  If the workout goal was to make five double-backs, it might take this athlete 12 tries to make 5.  This creates a more considerable load amount per day than optimally desired.  The ideal would be to try five and make 5.  That would clearly be the most efficient workout.  On top of requiring extra attempts and more than ideal loading, this poor body tension at punch will also create unnecessary negative forces acting upon the spine, knees, ankles, etc.  When you add up the extra repetition on bad biomechanics, we see that this is a classic recipe for creating overuse injuries!

Strength and Shaping must be a priority!

If we can get our athletes to focus on the physical preparation and the body tension, control and mastery increases, we should ideally be able to create a situation that is more conducive to long-term health.  Every punch on the floor becomes more efficient and effective, creating a more consistent result.  This ideally lowers the number of repetitions needed for successful performance.  A better bio mechanical take-off position and body tension on punch will protect the athlete’s spine, ankles, knees, etc.  Therefore, we have created a recipe for better long-term health and avoidance of overuse injuries.  

Stack these two examples across four events and you can see how the numbers can be maintained at a moderate level or perhaps get out of hand very fast.  In the learning process, we must understand that mastery does not come easily or quickly.  As coaches, we must always be cognizant of the numbers we are assigning or allowing from our gymnasts.  

Efficiency is more important than overall output!

Which brings us back to Mr Lincoln’s quote…..  Could wiser words have been uttered for us as a gymnastics community?  Sharpening the Axe is the recipe for our ultimate success for the long-term outlook of the athletes in our care.   We cannot allow kids to slide by on conditioning and not place the appropriate amount of focus on the physical preparation side of our sport.  If we do so, we are asking to create a situation and environment where more numbers are required to get the desired result and also poor body positions and movement patterns create a negative effect to every one of those numbers attempted. 

“Sharpening the Axe” is our main priority this summer (all year to be more honest) and we would encourage all of you to do the same!