Geriatric Gymnast

Geriatric Gymnastics 11

Tammy Goedken, part 1

Welcome to the first episode of my new series, Conversations With The Geriatric Gymnast! Gymnastics has been an important part of my adult life for 15 years. In the gym, I’ve learned more about my capabilities than I have anywhere else. After all of these years, my flippy friends and I have some things to share with the world.

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Sometime in 2008, maybe a year or so into my Sunday morning gymnastics experience, I took a weeknight evening class. Being a full-time working mom of two small children, it was hard to peel myself away from the family to go take class. Once in a while, I was able to do it and that was where I met Tammy. She was a seasoned gymnast, a few years older than me, who had competed throughout her youth. She was an impressively accomplished gymnast, especially for someone in her early 40s, and I remember being both admiring and jealous of her abilities. She was smart, with an analytical brain that really understood the sport, and possessed the drive to keep improving her skills. Seeing her work, I desperately wanted to improve my skills so I could be more like her.

Of course, you can’t compete with anyone else when it comes to adult gymnastics. You have to be where you are and move forward from there. The things I am most grateful for in my 15 years of playing in the gym are the coaching relationships I made with the veterans. I talk more about that in my first post I am a Gymnastics Addict. Aside from the actual coaches, it’s the women and men who had more experience than I did that helped me to learn and reinforce my own skills safely through the years. One of those people was (and still is) Tammy.

Now, our mission together is to continue to develop our skills as we age, challenge ourselves (and each other), and encourage other adults to do the same. These are just a few of our flippy friends who have discovered the magic that happens at the gym…

Tammy and I love exploring our gymnastics possibilities together.

Photo credit: Frederic Moretto

After one Sunday class, Tammy and I decided it was time to sit down and talk about a bunch of the thoughts that we’d been talking about for years: Is there an “end date” for gymnasts? How do adults learn through the fear? What is the benefit of gymnastics training for the adult brain and body? What is the learning process we must follow to progress safely? We decided to sit down and chat over a Zoom call.

There are a lot of things that I love about Tammy. Not only is she one of the smartest people I know and a fierce gymnast, but she has a dry, straightforward wit that always makes me laugh. I could literally talk to her for hours, which is why it made complete sense for Tammy to be the opening guest for this podcast.

In part one of the opening episode, we discuss everything from the gray hairs that pop out in our ponytails to the frustration of slow progress. Here are a few highlights:

Progress doesn’t happen overnight

Everything is developed through planned, cumulative progression. Year 1 for me was about bouncing on the trampoline just to find my center. Tammy noted, “The people who get frustrated are the ones who try to rush the process. They look too far for the end game and they forget to enjoy the journey and be where they are now.” When we coach the newbies, we work hard to stress the fun, not the end game. Sometimes that helps. Something we always say, and it is my most often-used hashtag: progress isn’t linear. Never has been, never will be.

Gymnastics is like crack

The adrenaline rush from jumping super high and going past your comfort zone is very addicting. Though we don’t do drugs or jump from airplanes, we are now junkies of the adrenaline high. One of my social media hashtags used to be #gymnasticsismycrack. I’m serious. Look it up.

Kids are fearless, adults are fearful

We observe kids learning gymnastics; they freely chuck their bodies so easily, with a willingness to try almost anything. I’m trying to do that more despite the caveat of limitations. Tammy shared her observation, “Kids put all their faith in the adults teaching them.” They don’t understand the full reality of the force of gravity. By virtue of experiencing injuries, adults understand this implicitly. The beauty of what we have learned in our training is that there’s almost always an activity that you will even be able to do, even if you’re injured.

Adult pain

As active movers, we are very aware of our level of pain and how it affects our functioning from day to day. We know that the act of moving, diligently easing through our range of motion when we are stiff or sore, goes a long way to helping us work through the pain. Seems like adults who are not active, who don’t have that experience, think that their pain makes them unable to move, leading to being more sedentary, resulting in more stiffness and soreness. When Tammy and I go to the gym, we don’t always feel 100% mobile and lithe. But when we start to jump on the trampoline, stretch the muscles and do our conditioning, we start to shake off the joint and muscle soreness that we feel.

A lot of times, the best my body feels is when I’m finished, after I’m thoroughly stretched out, warm and have been moving and active for an hour and a half, I feel great.

Tammy Goedken

Train smarter, not harder

This is one of my daily mantras. Full disclosure: that moment of feeling great after a workout doesn’t necessarily last. Invariably, we stiffen up again after we sit and cool down for a while, but there’s an important lesson in trusting the process of full-body movement to help ease some of the pain. Another good point Tammy made (since we know that the cool down stiffness is coming) was, “once I start, I don’t wanna stop.” Something we also have to remember as adults is to mitigate just how hard we push ourselves in any workout. That idea of not wanting to stop, especially when we are motivated to work on new/challenging skills, can lead us to the next few days of more pain than we bargained for.

Looking at gymnastics with a critical eye

Adults are more prone to injury and heal much slower than our younger counterparts. From her training as a physical therapist, “if you’re looking at gymnastics with a critical eye (which is what PT teaches you to do), you will notice in every skill that there’s certain joint ranges of motion that you need to have, there’s certain amounts of strength that you need to have, and when you put it all together, where does the body go in any particular moment in time. You can then say, can my body do that?” That’s where the progressive training comes in. You must understand how much your body is capable of moving in any direction in order to know if you are ready for the range-of-motion demands of a gymnastics skill. Chucking a skill without that understanding sets you up for failure or injury.

Injuries happen when you push your body into a range where you either don’t have the full-range of motion or you’re weak through it.

Tammy Goedken

Part of successful training is to continue to work your strength in your end-range of motion. Handstands are a great example. If you don’t have the shoulder flexibility to hold your straight arms beside your ears, then adding the stress of resistance whilst inverted is not possible. That means holding a handstand, even for a moment, is unlikely. That’s why we do progressions and drills: downward dogs, handstand taps, “doggie up the wall,” handstand against the wall, handstand rolls, shoulder stretches, etc, to develop this flexibility and strength. And it always takes more time that adults seem to have patience for.

As you can see, we have a lot to say about the subject. Episode one is split into several parts. Enjoy one or hopefully all of them. Make comments, share with friends, subscribe to this blog and The Geriatric Gymnast YouTube channel.

In case you’re interested, I here’s a little background about Tammy:

  • Tammy is a Doctor of Physical Therapy who has worked in rehabilitation of spinal cord injuries, serious injury and illness. She now works in a New York school district in implementing assistive technology solutions for students with disabilities.
  • She started gymnastics at 7, started competing at 9, and prematurely retired in her senior year due to a broken foot.
  • Returning to the sport after college, she trained for about 5 years until the gym stopped training adults. She entered PT school, graduated in 2001, and finally came back to her gymnastics training in 2008.

Tune in for part 2 of my chat with Tammy on Conversations With The Geriatric Gymnast!

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