Sport specialization and fitness and functional task performance among youth competitive gymnasts

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Journal of Athletic Training


Context: Gymnastics trains fundamental movement skills but has high rates of early sport specialization. Early specialization is associated with increased injury risk. Gymnasts devote time to developing technical skill, but whether specialization status influences performance is unknown. Objective: To describe the participation and specialization characteristics of youth club gymnastics participants and determine whether the level of specialization is associated with fitness and functional task performance. Design: Retrospective cross-sectional study. Setting: A single gymnastics facility. Patients or Other Participants: Data on youth gymnasts (n = 131; 84 females, 47 males; age = 10.9 ± 2.9 years, height = 142.14 ± 16.23 cm, mass = 38.15 ± 12.93 kg) were reviewed. Main Outcome Measure(s): Specialization was assessed using a 3-tiered classification. Fitness measurements consisted of the Gymnastics Functional Measurement Tool, Men's Gymnastics Functional Measurement Tool, and core strength. Functional tasks evaluated hop performance, dynamic balance, and jump-landing technique. Separate analyses of covariance, covaried by age, hours of training, and years of gymnastics participation, were used to identify differences in fitness and functional performance among specialization groups. Pearson product correlations were calculated to evaluate the relationships between training hours per week and years in gymnastics with fitness and functional performance. Results: Most gymnasts were classified as moderately (50.4%, n = 66) or highly (35.1%, n = 46) specialized. Only 14.5% (n = 19) were classified as having a low level of specialization. Weak to moderate correlations were present between years in gymnastics and most fitness tasks. Moderate to strong correlations were noted between training hours per week and most fitness tasks. Low-specialization gymnasts scored lower on right lower extremity Y-balance (P = .004), upper left extremity Y-balance (P = .033), and right hop performance (P = .039) tests. Conclusions: Gymnasts reported high proportions of moderate to high specialization, and many exceeded guidelines for hours participating in gymnastics per week. We did not observe clinically meaningful group differences among specialization status and fitness or functional movement tasks, indicating no clear benefit of gymnastics training to the exclusion of other sports for increased performance.

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