What does it take to perform at the very highest level of your sport? I got to ask Olympic athlete Steven Gluckstein a few questions about the training, nutrition and lifestyle of an elite trampolinist.
Here’s what he had to say.
Why don’t you give us a little bit of your background. Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Steven Gluckstein, a 24-year-old trampolinist from Atlantic Highlands, NJ. I’m also a business student at Rutgers University.
I coach competitive trampoline for around twenty hours a week at Elite Trampoline Academy in Middletown, NJ, where I also train. I enjoy keeping busy and living a fit lifestyle, and I compete in CrossFit when the trampoline season isn’t very busy.
How did you first get involved with trampolining? Was it always something you wanted to try?
Trampoline isn’t something I’d always dreamed about doing. When I was three or four, my mother put me in Taekwondo class and I grew very fond of it. Shortly after earning my black belt when I was nine years old, the school shut down. Since it was the only school in town, my mother said that I had to start a different sport.
I wanted to play basketball like Derek Jeter, or football like Brett Farve, but my mother knew I wasn’t going to be big enough (my father is 5″8′ and my mother is 5″2′). My options were gymnastics, cheerleading, or becoming a jockey. I wasn’t pleased with these options, but I agreed to give gymnastics a try.
The first time I stepped into the gym, I loved it. My coach, Tatiana Kovaleva (1996 World Trampoline Champion), had to move to the USA from Russia. She asked me to join her trampoline team and thankfully I did! Fifteen years later and I’m still with the same coach.
What makes a really great trampolinist? Balance? Coordination? Flexibility?
To be a great trampolinist, you need everything:
- Strength to jump 25-30 feet in the air.
- Core strength to flip and twist multiple times per jump.
- Flexibility to get into the positions required to flip.
- Balance to land at a perfect angle. This is similar to a diver who must enter the water at a perfect angle to create no splash, except if a trampolinist lands wrong they could end up coming off the trampoline and on to the safety mat.
- Patience because training sessions are long and vigorous, and often don’t go the way you want them to. Patience allows you to see the bigger picture and the keep the end goal in mind.
It must take extraordinary body awareness to perform some of the moves and not get “lost”! Does that kind of coordination come naturally, or is it something you train over time?
Both. It does come more naturally to some people, but I think for most people it’s an acquired skill.
Just like with anything else, you acquire and develop the skills through progression and repetitions. You might do 10,000 front flips before you do a double front flip, but by then you’ve been upside-down 10,000 times and have much better spacial awareness.
What does a typical training day look like for an elite trampolinist?
A normal training day would consist of 2-3 hours of training in the morning, followed by a 30-60 minute strength session. Since trampoline isn’t as big as baseball or basketball, very few trampolinists can live off their salary, so after training most trampolinists coach for some extra income. Depending on age, some athletes also have to fit their training around school.
How do you eat to support your performance? Do you have a specific approach to your nutrition?
I don’t have a specific diet, I just try to eat often and as healthily as possible. I try to only eat natural foods and stay away from sugar as much as I can. I also drink almost a gallon of water a day.
I’m constantly burning calories so it’s a little bit of a struggle to keep my weight up, but I increase my calorie and protein intake accordingly.
What’s been the highlight of your athletic career?
Qualifying for the Olympic Games in 2012. Every athlete dreams of competing on the world’s largest stage, and I’m no exception.
The qualification process for trampoline is extremely difficult. You have to win the last trial; if you finish in second place you won’t be on Team USA for the Olympics.
When I walked out onto the competition floor, the sold-out arena had an unbelievable American attendance. There were USA flags waving everywhere and people who had never met me were cheering my name. At that moment, all of the nights sacrificed in the gym, and all of the times I wanted to quit but pushed through, were worth it!
What goes through your mind when you’re performing a competition routine? How do you manage the pressure?
When I’m competing my mind is so focused on the task that I’m not distracted by any other thoughts or pressures. However, I do get nervous in the time leading up to the routine, and the older I get the more nervous I get.
I manage my nerves by controlling my breathing and consciously slowing my heart beat. I also visualize my routine and the way I want to do it. Lastly, I talk to myself and give myself cues, and build confidence by reassuring myself that I’m going to do the routine the way I want to.
You used to practice Taekwondo when you were younger. Are there any other sports you’d like to try your hand at?
Aside from Taekwondo, I played all of the ball sports when I was younger and ran cross-country in high school. I’ve never tried pole-vaulting but since I love flying as high as possible, I think I would enjoy it! I really want to try bobsled as well.
How do you kick back and relax when you’re not training or competing?
When I’m not training I concentrate on recovering from training. Everything revolves around my sport.
I do relax by going to the beach, which is only ten minutes from where I live. When I can find the time, I also love active recovery work such as biking, hiking, kayaking and swimming. I have a close group of friends that I grew up with who also love sports. If we’re not relaxing watching sports, we’re out playing them.