Originally Not Designed for Competition
Level 4 is the first official level of mandatory competition in the US Gymnastics competition system. The dome and bar, beam and floor routines of Level 4 are substantially similar to the routines in the previous 8-year mandatory cycle, which ended in 2005. During that cycle, Level 4 was upgraded to official competition status and gymnasts were allowed entry into official USAG Competitions through to the State Championships. . But routines and especially vaults were originally designed only as training devices, not for competition.
Floor 4 Vault Mat
This is most obvious with a Level 4 vault – handrails to a large pile of mats. To add this “iron horse” to the regular competition, a new piece of equipment had to be designed and provided at the competition completely separate from the normal safe horse/table. And unlike any vault on the other levels, gymnasts don’t land on their feet in a Level 4 vault which requires a new approach to grading vaults.
You Don’t Have To Compete Level 4
Another common misconception is that gymnasts are required to compete at Level 4 before they can compete at Level 5. There are no Level 4 competitive requirements before you can compete at Level 5. The only requirement for Level 5 is that the gymnast must pass a skill evaluation from a skill evaluator with minimum score of 75%. You don’t have to compete with Level 4! It is not necessary!
Level 4 Skills Are Almost Never Used in High-Level Competitions
Level 4 skills, especially bar skills are almost never used at higher optional competition levels. There are 12 skills in the Level 4 bar routine and none of them are ever used in the optional bar routine, except for the cast. On beams and floors, the situation is somewhat better. About half of the skills were direct progress to more difficult skills that could be used later, but that also meant that half were not.
Majority of Level 4 Skills Leading Nowhere
Since the vault, all the crossbar skills and about half of the block and floor skills were not used later in the higher competition levels, it was clear that most of the Level 4 skills were not used anymore in the competition.
Level 4 Has Made Easy
During the previous 8-year mandatory cycle, Level 4 gymnasts were allowed to attempt to compete kip on bar. Starting this year, you must be a Level 5 gymnast to kip in competition. Level 4 gymnasts no longer need to do a real cross handstand in a block routine, just a handstand. The handstand holding time requirement when descending from the block is also smaller than in the last mandatory cycle. In short, USA Gymnastics has made Level 4 routines easier.
By now, you must be wondering why Gymnastics USA has made all these Level 4 changes. The answer is quite simple and even justifiable. They are trying to make this sport more available to more gymnasts. By lowering the entry rate to competition, more gymnasts can participate in the US Gymnastics competitive system. This is not necessarily a bad thing for the sport. This increases the financial base of US Gymnastics and the number of gymnasts competing by a very significant percentage. Some of those gymnasts were able to eventually rise to the top of the sport.
What Does It All Mean?
But parents and gymnasts should know that there is another path to becoming a high-level gymnast other than competing at Level 4. In fact, most of the gymnasts you see on TV may not be Level 4 gymnasts. If it is your goal to become an optional high-level gymnast or Elite, then you should be aware of other paths that are more likely to make it happen.
The fitness center and excellent training program create optional gymnasts and high-level Elites in 3 – 5 years of daily training. That’s fewer years than it takes to move from Level 4 to Level 10 (at one level per year) and they work on harder skills more quickly in their careers (which is usually a good thing). For gymnasts on a Level 10/Elite track competing at Level 4 may waste a year of their gymnastics career.
Special Elite Skills and Strength Development Programs Available
Elite and level 10 gymnasts often use programs such as the USA Gymnastics TOP program and the USAIGC (Association of Independent Gymnastics Clubs) STEP programs and competitions or their own versions of these types of programs. The TOP and STEP programs both concentrate first on building strength and flexibility and then teaching high-level optional skill progressions.
TOP and STEP Programs Work for All Gymnasts
The truth is that a program of this type that builds strength and flexibility in gymnastics and works on a high level of skill and development is truly the best training system for all types and levels of gymnasts. However, it is possible to participate in the program and compete at a mandatory level to gain competition experience. But so far, it is more important for the career of the gymnast to develop strength, flexibility, and start practicing the appropriate advancement of high-level skills.
For More Information
For more types of in-depth information about Level 4 in this article and other interesting and informative products.
20 Books and Counts
John Howard is the author of 20 books and e-books on gymnastics, gym design, gymnastic humor and cheerleading. More books are on the way. She has 25 years of experience and has coached State, Regional and National champion gymnasts, international competitors and cheerleaders at the National level in NCAA Division I.
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