Gymnastics is a sport where moves are performed on different kinds of equipment,
such as the balance beam and vault. Gymnastics develops your strength, agility
This sport has been around for a long time. It dates back to ancient Greece
and has been an Olympic event for more than a century -- from 1896, to be
"Obviously, gymnastics is a really good exercise -- it teaches you good
motor skills and tones your body," says Kathy Kelly of Indiana, a longtime
Both men and women do gymnastics. Both use the vaulting horse to leap through
the air and do floor exercises full of tumbles and jumps.
There are some events that differ between male and female gymnasts, however.
This is based on the equipment called "apparatus." Men's gymnastics includes
the rings, parallel bars, and pommel horse. Women's gymnastics includes the
balance beam and the uneven bars.
Women gymnasts also do "rhythmic gymnastics." This is a floor routine that
involves performing graceful dance movements while holding and manipulating
items such as hoops, ropes, balls, ribbons or Indian clubs.
Gymnastics is performed at many levels, from children at community clubs
to elite Olympic-level athletes.
Don't feel intimidated by professional gymnasts you see on television!
"Not everyone can aspire to that level, but it doesn't mean you can't enjoy
the sport," says Kelly. Professional gymnasts are elite athletes with many
years of practice.
|Why is this girl smiling? Because gymnastics is not only great exercise,
it is fun!|
|Courtesy of: International Gymnast|
USA Gymnastics is the governing body of the Olympics in the U.S. -- it
has about 72,000 competitive members alone. This doesn't include all the thousands
of other gymnasts who just do the sport for fun.
Whether you compete or just do it for an hour or so a week, gymnastics
enthusiasts say it's a great way to challenge yourself and keep fit.
"Gymnastics gets you in great shape and also helps you with other sports
in strength, body awareness, flexibility and overcoming fear," says Chris
Ellefson, a gymnast who also competes in wrestling.
It takes time to build flexibility and strength. Don't expect to be doing
any dramatic tumbling routines your first week.
"Do the simple skills well, rather than attempt the difficult ones and
do them badly. Start with a simple front somersault and believe you can do
it. This way you're less likely to hurt yourself, too," says Sherwin Ho, a
gymnastics enthusiast in England.
Gymnastics doesn't have to be a dangerous sport. With common sense and
proper supervision, even difficult maneuvers can be done safely.
"Serious accidents do occur, but they're rare and they usually happen at
a very high level of competition," says Frances Robinson. She is a former
competitive gymnast from England.
"A good coach, a modern well-equipped gym, and an athlete who knows his
or her physical limitations can reduce the risk of serious injury to a small
When it comes to professional gymnastics, smaller is better. Male gymnasts
are rarely over six feet tall and women are rarely over 5'8" tall. On the
other hand, anyone can enjoy recreational gymnastics.
"Depending on the skill level you're aiming for, even elderly people and
those who aren't that fit can do gymnastics. You can do some very basic stuff
and still call it gymnastics," says Ho.
Gymnastics can be a very inexpensive sport to start. You don't even need
leotards to start. If you join a school or community club, costs range from
free to about $50 for lessons. If you decide to become more competitive, coaches
and exclusive clubs can get expensive.
"Indeed, gymnastics must be one of the cheapest sports to try," says Robinson.
Gymnastics is very popular. There are waiting lists to get into some clubs!
Luckily, there are plenty of gymnastics clubs out there.
There are career opportunities for gymnasts who really love this sport.
College coaches can earn good incomes, while world-famous coaches can make
hundreds of thousands per year. These positions are rare, however. Most coaches
aren't in it for the money.
"Most coaches do it for the love of the sport," says Ellefson.
If you really love gymnastics, you might consider a job as a coach or judge,
or getting involved in the administration aspects by running a gym.
There are many different ways to participate in gymnastics. Start by looking
into classes at a community recreation center, YMCA, YWCA or local gym. Ask
if you can stick around and watch.
"Look for clubs which have beginning level classes with people from your
own age group," says Ellefson.
Walk before you run -- make sure you have the basics down before you try
"Once you've mastered the simple skills, you'll have a better base for
the more difficult ones," says Ho.
Look for a coach or instructor with common sense. Make sure your coach
is patient and allows you to progress at your own speed. Be prepared to spend
some time before you see real results. Remember, practice makes perfect.
"Don't expect it to come too easy at first. It takes time to learn. If
you push yourself, you could wind up injured," says Robinson.
Finally, in spite of the atmosphere surrounding gymnastics, it's supposed
to be fun and you should look at it that way.
"You can do gymnastics without fantasies of being an Olympic champion,
or even competing at all," says Robinson.
Ho agrees. "Have fun in what you do and enjoy yourselves. There's no point
in doing it otherwise."
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Women's Gymnastics: A History,
Minot Simons II
Gymnastics: Floor, Vault, Beam and Bar,
Learn the names of different elements
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Club List of USA Gymnastics Programs
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