Progress isn’t linear
Speaking as The Geriatric Gymnast, #progressisntlinear is one of my favorite sayings. Really, it applies to everyone for everything that we work for, but I have had to lean into it as I have spent my time over the last 15 years at the gym.
So many times, I have enjoyed the glory of achieving a skill, mastering it even, only to hit a road bump that stagnates the progress: an injury, a change of season, being tired or weak on any given session. When you miss the skill suddenly, it can throw your whole line of progress into the gutter. Things that I had taken for granted as a learned and solid skill are downgraded to something that the Lizard Brain deems unsafe and subject to vehement censoring.
Case in point: I had finally figured out a back hip circle.
After months of unsuccessful attempts, I made it around the bar. It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but the basics were there. Once I was getting it with regularity, it seemed that it had become a skill that I could call upon at almost any given time.
Of course, once you figure out a skill, you spend some time trying to fine tune and perfect it. One day, I was trying to “improve” my technique by hollowing out, keeping my arms straight, and making it a smoother, prettier move. Instead, it scrambled something in my brain, I started throwing my head back, and nearly have given myself a combination of whiplash and a shaken-head concussion. Suddenly, Mr. Lizard Brain woke up and made subsequent attempts a problem. Now, I have had to take a step back, regroup, and approach it like it is still a skill I have yet to acquire.
To be honest, I have come to terms with this on-again-off-again situation. I don’t love it, but I also do not want to be sidelined by errant injuries. Over the years, I’ve had enough Achilles’ heel, ankle, hip, back and rotator cuff injuries to know that if I push a skill too hard, it messes up everything. Better to step back and re-evaluate. There’s always next week. I’d rather walk away a little frustrated than limping and devastated.
I see this ebb and flow in the students I teach, younger adult people in particular who are so eager to get skills so they can match the abilities of others around them. They get so frustrated with themselves, and I keep trying to tell them to be patient, go back to the basics, and back off when they start to backslide. These are all things that I keep telling myself every time I go to the gym. It’s the more useful self-talk that must replace the self-deprecating nonsense that so often runs on repeat in our minds.
The hardest thing to witness is when people are so dug into getting a skill that they will drill the repetitions, trying to “get it” on one of the errant attempts. What they don’t realize at the time, is that drilling the wrong technique only reinforces the habits that are impeding their progress. Sometimes, it’s about stepping back, looking at the fundamentals, and making slower connections between the elements of that skill. Unfortunately, ego and impatience often gets in the way. On top of that, anxiety also plays a role in the equation, something that can quickly shut down any sort of progress.
The thing I always come back to, for myself and for anyone who I coach, is that the most important thing in adult gymnastics is for us to be able to come back next week and try it again. The last thing any of us wants is to get injured by taking that one extra turn to try to “get it,” only to under-rotate, go askew, or not commit to a move and land on your head. No one needs that kind of stress.
To my extended adult gymnast family: stay safe, have fun, and let’s make sure we can do this crazy hobby well into our older age.
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