Missouri gymnasts counting on physical and mental strength

Friday, February 8, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST
Missouri assistant coach Jennifer Green congratulates Rachel Updike after her balance beam performance during the Beauty and the Beast wrestling and gymnastics meet Feb. 1 at the Hearnes Center.

COLUMBIA — An array of chalk handprints covers the surface of the vault as the Missouri gymnastics team practices Thursday at the Hearnes Center. These dusty marks indicate the primary tool the gymnasts use to launch themselves into a series of flips and twists — their own strength.

It makes one wonder — just how strong do gymnasts have to be?

Next Meet

Missouri will host No. 8 LSU at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Hearnes Center.

The meet follows the Tigers' 196.725-194.525 loss to Auburn last Friday at the Beauty and the Beast meet. The meet boasted the highest Beauty and the Beast attendance at 6,486.

Missouri has competed against LSU 30 times with a regular season record of 5-14 in the series.

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The average female in the 20 to 29 age group should be able to perform 17 to 33 modified pushups, which are done on the knees instead of the toes, according to the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines. The Missouri gymnasts do two to three sets of at least 20 during strength and conditioning training, assistant coach Jennifer Green said.

"Pound for pound, they can go up against anyone," Green said.

While being careful not to overtrain, the gymnasts go through six-week cycles of conditioning, focusing on strength at the beginning and cardio conditioning at the end. This helps the gymnasts' endurance throughout the meets and builds their confidence, Green said.

Confidence itself is another tool the team uses, and the gymnasts meet with sports psychology consultant Scotta Morton every other Sunday.

"Thinking right is a skill," Morton said, noting that the mind needs training just like the body.

At the sessions, the gymnasts focus on team building activities that promote skills like focus, confidence and positive self-talk, Morton said. For example, the team collaboratively forms an identity by answering the question, "What is Mizzou gymnastics?"

The physical and mental strength will come in handy when Missouri hosts No. 8 LSU on Friday at the Hearnes Center. Despite facing a top 10 conference opponent, both Morton and Green said the team will go in with the same approach as always.

"It's never about the opponent," Green said. "It's about us."

That's a significant feat, especially since LSU is Green's alma mater and she will be coaching Missouri against her former head coach, LSU's coach D-D Breaux.

While she is excited to see Breaux, "I'm a Missouri Tiger at heart," Green said.

Missouri's move to the Southeastern Conference this year makes Green feel at home, she said. The meet will celebrate the move by giving away SEC inaugural season T-shirts to fans at the meet.

After Thursday's workout the team bantered about the dance moves they would use before flinging T-shirts into the crowd at Friday's meet. It's clear that one of the things Morton suggests the gymnasts do to be successful is have fun.

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