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3 Reasons Why Gymnasts Struggle with Rib Flare and How to Overcome It

Rib flare is a common issue in gymnastics that troubles coaches, gymnasts, and parents alike.

Rib flaring occurs when the back is over-extended or over-arched and forces the ribs to protrude.

It is probably not something the common gymnastics spectator would notice. Still, judges do, and physical therapists do because there is an anomaly with the movements causing the ribs to flare.

Physical therapists have seen rib flare predominantly with gymnasts, but it can also occur (overcompensation) with lower back, elbow, and wrist pain.

It seems at first like they are unrelated, but when you take another look, you see that they have some underlying similarities.

One Reason

One reason rib flaring occurs is inadequate soft tissue flexibility.

Soft tissue problems are often neglected because gymnasts don’t notice them as much as other issues, or their bodies naturally compensate with other tissues, so it is only slightly noticeable.

But eventually, you end up with a rib flare.

Think of the lat muscles and what happens when they are stiff.

The athlete overarches their lower back to compensate.

Silhouette of gymnast on balance beam


Another muscle that can result in rib flare is the teres major which runs from inside the arm to the shoulder blade.

In addition to rib flare, one might observe the shoulder blades spreading like wings when a gymnast does a handstand.

That is another common side-effect of teres major stiffness.

So, how do we reduce the stiffness to get rid of the compensations?

A good physical therapist will use tools like the foam roller and an exercise ball to stretch these areas with specific movements.

They can also have gymnasts perform handstands and help them to correct the issues manually.

Another Reason

Poor function and strength are another reason for rib flare, which is remedied in the same way as addressing the teres major and lats.

If you notice these soft tissue problems, you will want to visit a well-versed physical therapist in common gymnast conditions.

Miami Physical Therapy Group sees athletes like gymnasts regularly and is specifically trained to recognize these issues.

Set up a consultation with them to identify areas that need to be worked on for maximum performance and safety when performing.

Rhythmic gymnastics

Final Reason

Another common area of concern for gymnasts is their cores.

This is the third reason for rib flare. So many movements in gymnastics,  especially when exercising on a gymnastics bar, require a super-strong core.

Physical therapy can help with strength issues from not understanding how to engage their core correctly.

Several basic core exercises and techniques can be implemented to increase power.

gymnast on balance beam

Final Thoughts on Rib Flare and What to Do About It

There are other rib flare causes, such as improper form, lack of experience, being overtired when training, and lack of stamina.

These are a small selection of the possible reasons for rib flare in gymnasts.

The good news is that there are simple solutions to these overcompensation issues that will help to keep a gymnast safe and in proper form and technique.

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