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dani4

Proud Parent
Feb 21, 2013
269
I hate to beat this issue after it has already been beaten to death, but I need some advice. My 4 1/2 year old daughter just started in the "pre-team" track at our gym, which is a class for 4-5 year olds that only meets for one hour per week and is open to any girl in that age group (but tends to only attract the more athletic kids).

Anyway I watched most of the first class, and only the tail end of the next two classes (because my younger daughter was in a different gymnastics class in the gym next door), but my husband watched the fourth class. And he gave me a blow-by-blow report, which included back bends. He knows almost nothing about gymnastics so I had to make sure that he really meant back bends and not crab walk or something else (which I have seen them do). It sounds like they really did back bends, though not for a very long time. There were 5 girls in the class- 3 of them did them very well, our daughter struggled but could sort of manage to hold herself up, and one other girl just couldn't even get up off the ground. They did not have their feet raised.

When my husband told me this I was shocked, after reading so much about how bad this can be here on CB. Also, my 2 year old's coach (at the same gym) once approached me to say that I should keep an eye on my 2 yo DD and make sure she doesn't try to do bridges- that she shouldn't attempt them until she's 5, though she will want to because she's very athletic and has a big sister in gym :). She told me that they are not good for developing little spines. So I was surprised that my other daughter was encouraged to do them in her class with a different coach at the same gym!

It's possible that the coach doesn't realize my daughter is not yet 5- I think the other girls are all 5 (I spoke to most of the mothers) and my daughter may be the youngest but she is by far the tallest- in the general population she easily passes for 6, among little gymnasts she probably looks 7 :). But she will not be 5 until February, so I'm pretty sure she needs to wait until then (at least!) to do bridges, no?

I wonder if this is something I should try to talk to the coach about? Maybe there is an explanation, like they really think my daughter is 5, or they figure it's ok for just a few minutes once a week. I'm a little nervous about how to approach the coach, partly because I didn't actually witness the back bends. And she's not that approachable. But I may have to say something. Thankfully my 4 year old is not doing back bends at home. For some reason my 2 year old IS doing them, and I don't even know where she got the idea- I don't tell her not to do them (that would only make her do them more) but I ignore it and don't encourage it at all.
 
When my dd was 4.5, head coach told me it was recommended for them to wait until age 5 for bridges, but he also had them doing them. She was the youngest of the group at the time so I guess he figured close enough? I'm interested to hear the opinions of the coaches on here.
 
Interesting...My DD was doing these since she was 4 on the little preteam/fast track class. She was also the youngest on it...I didn't know that this was not recommended or I would have asked about it.
 
I'm totally new to gymnastics as mommy to a little girl who will be 4 next month...that being said, if by back bend you mean bridge, then I will say that my daughter's teacher doesn't get the girls to do them...BUT, we've discovered that our daughter can lift her head while in a bridge position. She showed her teacher once during open gym, and her teacher didn't tell her not to do them; she told her "good job" and asked if she was able to lift one leg while in that position. She can't do that easily yet. Little A's teacher has mentioned that our little girl is almost ready for pre-team, so I think she is just keeping tabs on Little A's developing skills that she might not get to practice during her 3-4 year old class. I'm interested also to hear other opinions since I'm so out of my league here.

I'm happy to connect with some other moms of preschoolers, though! I've actually been thinking about posting a question of my own for this age group, so I might go work on that!
 
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Mine did them at 4 too. Probably closer to 4 1/2 and up though. Didn't realize it was an issue either. Can see where it wouldn't be a good idea for 2s and 3s.
 
If they just tried to push up for a few seconds and she couldn't get her head off the ground but they didn't pull her, that's probably fine at this point and not a back bend. If someone is pulling her into a bridge that would be different, or doing bridges and back bends and walkovers for 20 minutes or something.
 
Pre-team track may be different but I coach regular (rec) 4-6yo and we have them do tabletops at 4, no bridges or back bends until 5. If the coach didn't ask he or she could have easily mistaken her for older.... It could also be that they consider the girls in pre-team stronger or something, I have no clue. We ask the girls every class at warm ups if they're 4, 5 or 6. Our "pre team" is tops and they don't start there until 5.

Maybe try to take her next time and if you see them have her do bridges, ask politely after class if they realize she's only 4..? As a coach, if I'm approached nicely by a parent I'm always happy to discuss things. Maybe even make a joke about how she looks so tall compared to the rest of the class, hard to believe she's only 4, yada yada... ;)
 
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Thanks everyone.. yes I meant bridges- still learning all the lingo! I'm going to try to observe her whole class on Saturday, and I'll watch and see what they do with the bridges. If they are just letting the kids do them on their own for a few minutes without pulling them up or holding them then I'll just relax about it. If it looks like it might be inappropriate for a 4 year old I will figure out a friendly way to approach the coach and say something about DD being 4. I am actually feeling better about reading these responses so far. They are definitely not working on walkovers or anything crazy like that.

On a positive note, I'm happy that DD is enjoying the pre-team class. She came over from a year in rec and I thought she might not like the more serious nature of the pre-team class. It's still fun but there's a lot more focus on training and fewer games.

I'd love to connect with other preschool gymnast parents! It feels a little obsessive to be on here and reading about the bigger kids when my kids aren't even doing cartwheels, but it's fun and I think I'm not infecting my kids with my mania.
 
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It's not as if a switch gets flipped on their 5th birthday that suddenly transforms them from a jellyfish to the Statue of Liberty. It's likely the kids are developed enough to spend brief amounts of time in a bridge that they push up into on their own..... but not ok is the practice by some coaches of having the kids walk their hands and feet toward each other because that puts them into a tight arch, and that's a bad thing.

What drives me nuts, is there's no sensible reason to have kids working on this position when there are so many other things the kids can do that *are* good for their bodies. Geez really. The best way for kids this age to get ready for the sport is to have them do a lot of climbing up stacks of blocks and mats, jumping over soft obstacles or jumping from safe heights onto a soft landing surface, and probably anything else that kids enjoy.
 
If they just tried to push up for a few seconds and she couldn't get her head off the ground but they didn't pull her, that's probably fine at this point and not a back bend. If someone is pulling her into a bridge that would be different, or doing bridges and back bends and walkovers for 20 minutes or something.

this.
 
this "bridge" and "backbend" thing is as old as my spine. not only is it STOOOOPID to be doing these things with kids that young, it also wastes time that should have been spent having them rope climb, handstand holds, planks on low mats, etc; in order to prepare their young bodies for the rigors and demands of gymnastics. you must make these little bodies strong NOW lest you'll be playing catch up for the rest of their careers if they are fortunate enough to have one.

and yes, i know some of you will come back with the challenges of making it fun for these little kids. and yes, you have a small point. but in the final analysis, if you don't get them strong they will get hurt. if you don't make them strong, they will NEVER be able to do some of the things that you see gymnasts perform, and in a row and especially on uneven bars, still rings, etc; if they don't begin conditioning early. it's cumulative.

kids that age do not enjoy conditioning or flexibility because it causes them pain and discomfort. but back flexibility hurts also and can do damage that is not self evident. so coaches, pick your evil that will benefit their bodies the most. :)
 
About having fun.....

I have never seen kids do that little bouncey-clappy yay-yippeeee!!! thing, they do when they get exited about something, over the over the prospect of doing backbend work.

About the damage..... from years ago

One of the most "total package" kids I ever coached had spent spent 3 years in the optional level and had finished a great year. She topped off that great year by competing at an an invitational where, to her delight, she finished a about 3 spots out of last place. Yeah, I know a few spots out of last isn't all that great.... except this was limited to 16 kids, and included at least 10 senior/junior elites, 2 or 3 national team members and three future olympians.

This seemed to be the meet that swayed her and her parents toward training with a sense of making it into the elite program. Everything was going great through her summer training until mid August when she started having low back pain.......

It seems, according to the ortho her parents took her to, she'd experienced a number of tiny stress fractures that were likely the result of a condition called spondylolsis that leaves the vertebrae vulnerable to trauma and overuse injury. So likely she'd gotten these many years earlier while growing up and taking gymnastics lessons from a coach who took great pride in her student's ability to do arch related things like back walkovers in place.

Even though this kid hadn't done any backbend work beyond bridges and kicking over out of them while in her adolescent years, the die was cast and she'd had some slippage in her low back and the forces placed on her body by big time skills were just too much. She stopped training immediately and a month later left the gym entirely.

It seems you simply can't win an argument with with mother nature.
 
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I getting nervous now...my daughter was doing back bends and walkovers at 4. Is there anything I can do now to repair any damage that might have been caused? I had no idea this was an issue! (Know absolutely nothing about gymnastics and did what coaches said)
 
I getting nervous now...my daughter was doing back bends and walkovers at 4. Is there anything I can do now to repair any damage that might have been caused? I had no idea this was an issue! (Know absolutely nothing about gymnastics and did what coaches said)
Same here... My daughter was doing walkovers at 4 pretty much non stop. She wasn't a gymnast at the time and was tumbling at a cheer gym. I wish I had known.
 
^yup. Same here. Not at her gym necessarily, but playing around. Yikes.
 
Well my kid also went to a gym where she was doing bwo's and bridges at a young age, and many, many of them. She lacked flexibility in her shoulders and used her lower back for it all. She had a very flexible lower back.

If I had known more I never would have let her do BWO's or bridges. Ten years and a spinal fusion later I regret that more than any part of my parenting.

Now second DD is having back issues at 14, it is also good to realise that not all kids are built for gymnastics even though they can get quite good at it. Not all coaches are educated enough to know what is good, bad or downright dangerous.
 
Ha, all the kids I have are obsessed with doing rope climb.

The bottom line is most kids CAN'T push up into a correct bridge at 4 or even 5. Some kids can't at 6. So in that sense 5 is arbitrary. If they can push into a bridge, holding it for 3 seconds isn't the problem. The issue is the proportions of a child at this age. The head is big relative to the arms. If you as an adult lift your arms over head you'll see the elbow is above the top of your head (you can rest your forearm on your head flat). This is not always true for 3-4 year olds. No way to make a proper bridge with correct positions.

The other bottom line is many kids at 6+ don't have proper upper body strength and flexibility for this. That's why various shoulder stretches and upper body strength should be emphasized. The lower back should never be bent showing a "V" shape. But the good news is preschoolers trying to push up to a bridge but can't get up and aren't pulled generally will have a relatively flat back due to their proportions. Pulling them is not a good idea. I can't emphasize this enough. Practicing flat hands and belly up but shoulders still on ground is all right.
 
My dd was also doing bridges, bridge kickovers and walkovers at age 4. At my gym they start trying to do them in the beginners class from age 4 and my dd could push all the way up on her first try. She found it really easy and could straigthen her legs and stretch over her hands. I think she might just have natural flexibility and strenght. Is it only harmfull it they are being forced into a bridge without having the strenght and flexibility? If they found it easy to do would it still be harmfull?
 
Dunno you make me laugh.. but you raise good points and I know that you are an expert. I will definitely pay close attention to what is happening in that class and speak up if I need to. Hm, maybe I will mention something to my other daughter's coach since she is the first person who told me that little kids shouldn't attempt bridges. My impression is that she is one of the senior coaches and has some kind of clout in the gym, though the pecking order is in no way transparent (she offhandedly mentioned to me once that she was the supervisor for my older daughter's previous coach, and was working with her on some things).

My kids are weird and actually like exercise for its own sake- they think it's fun. Then again, my husband and I are exercise geeks so that could be part of it. My kids probably think that all parents sit around critiquing each other's squatting form.
 
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