Gymnastics is an active sport in which people move their body smoothly and gracefully. It tests a person’s strength, balance, flexibility and coordination. A gymnast needs to be strong, good at stretching their body and have good balance. There are small differences between male and female gymnasts. The first difference between the two genders is the events they compete in and the second difference is their body shape and strengths. A female’s body is small, lean, and strong compared to males. The males who have strong arms can bend and stretch easily.
What is Gymnastics?
Gymnastics is the name for a whole range of different Gymsports, or disciplines. These include those Gymsports you may have seen on television at the Olympic or Commonwealth Games such as Men’s and Women’s Artistic Gymnastics (the one where the men show super human strength on Rings and the women do somersaults on the Beam), Rhythmic Gymnastics (the one where they throw a ball, hoop or clubs in the air while doing a backflip, and catch it), and Trampoline (where they jump as high as the roof).
Gymnastics, the performance of systematic exercises—often with the use of rings, bars, and other apparatus—either as a competitive sport or to improve strength, agility, coordination, and physical conditioning.
Gymnastics is a sports discipline in which systematic sequences of physical exercises are executed where different body skills are developed , such as strength or elasticity. Etymologically the word gymnastics comes from the Greek word γυμναστική and has its translation into Spanish as “athletic sports fan” .
Gymnastics is a practice whose origin dates back thousands of years before Christ, with the Romans. At first the Romans then practiced gymnastics practices , such as horse riding or gait; having as reference and influence the exercises performed by the Greeks in circuses.
Gymnastics teaches participants how to move, roll, jump, swing and turn upside down. Gymnastics is an exciting activity and sport for its unique contribution to general fitness, coordination, agility, strength, balance and speed. Gymnastics provides a sound foundation in movement for boys and girls of all ages. This allows everyone to develop their whole body which is useful in all other sports and activities.
Gymnastics is an excellent activity for both boys and girls. It is ideal for developing a child’s balance, basic motor skills and coordination.
Physical strength, flexibility, agility, coordination, and balance are the sports core components however participation in gymnastics activity also develops confidence, creativity & leadership, not to mention a healthy body and mind.
Gymnastics is all about teaching children the fundamental movement skills and general coordination they need to lead an active and healthy life.
It provides the foundation for future sporting success and lifelong, active and healthy participation in physical activity. It keeps children fit and provides them with the skills of control, flexibility and strength which means they can leap and jump and perform tricks like no other.
Gymnastics also includes Acrobatic and Aerobic Gymnastics, as well as Trampolining and Gymnastics for All – an all-encompassing gymnastics discipline for people of all ages, gender and ability.
A History of Gymnastics
The term gymnastics, derived from a Greek word meaning “to exercise naked,” applied in ancient Greece to all exercises practiced in the gymnasium, the place where male athletes did indeed exercise unclothed. Many of these exercises came to be included in the Olympic Games, until the abandonment of the Games in 393 CE. Some of the competitions grouped under this ancient definition of gymnastics later became separate sports such as athletics (track and field), wrestling, and boxing.
Of the modern events currently considered to be gymnastics, only tumbling and a primitive form of vaulting were known in the ancient world. For instance, Egyptian hieroglyphs show variations of backbends and other stunts being performed with a partner, while a well-known fresco from Crete at the palace at Knossos shows a leaper performing what is either a cartwheel or handspring over a charging bull. Tumbling was an art form in ancient China as well. Stone engravings found in Shandong province that date to the Han period (206 BCE–220 CE) portray acrobatics being performed.
Tumbling continued in the Middle Ages in Europe, where it was practiced by traveling troupes of thespians, dancers, acrobats, and jugglers. The activity was first described in the West in a book published in the 15th century by Archange Tuccaro, Trois dialogues du Sr. Archange Tuccaro (the book contains three essays on jumping and tumbling). Tumbling seems to be an activity that evolved in various forms in many cultures with little cross-cultural influence. For instance, the hoop-diving illustrated in Tuccaro’s book looks very similar to a type of tumbling seen in ancient China. Tumbling and acrobatics of all kinds were eventually incorporated into the circus, and it was circus acrobats who first used primitive trampolines.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s novel Émile; ou, de l’éducation (1762; Emile; or, On Education) is credited by historians as the catalyst of educational reform in Europe that combined both the physical and cognitive training of children. Rousseau’s work inspired educational reformers in Germany, who opened schools known as Philanthropinum in the late 1700s that featured a wide variety of outdoor activities, including gymnastics; children from all economic strata were accepted. The “grandfather” of modern gymnastics, Johann Christoph Friedrich Guts Muths (1759–1839), was a leading teacher at the Philanthropinist school in Schnepfenthal. In his seminal work, Gymnastik für die Jugend (1793; Gymnastics for Youth), Guts Muths envisioned two main divisions of gymnastics: natural gymnastics and artificial gymnastics. These two divisions may be thought of as utilitarian and nonutilitarian gymnastics. The former disciplines emphasize the health of the body, similar to the exercises developed in Sweden and Denmark under Per Henrik Ling (1776–1839) and Neils Bukh (1880–1950), respectively. Modern aerobics also falls into this category; indeed, sports aerobics has recently been added to the disciplines sponsored by the International Gymnastics Federation. In contrast, nonutilitarian gymnastics is characterized by modern artistic gymnastics, the maneuvers of which are geared to beauty and not function. For example, in feudal Europe young men were taught to mount and dismount a horse, useful knowledge during a time when armies rode. Modern “horse” work in artistic gymnastics has evolved to a point where there is no practical connection between gymnastic maneuvers on a horse and horsemanship. Only the language of riding remains, with the terms “mount” and “dismount” still being used in gymnastics.
The prime developer of natural gymnastics was Per Henrik Ling. In 1813 Ling founded a teacher-training centre, the Royal Gymnastics Central Institute, in Stockholm. Ling devised and taught a system of gymnastic exercises designed to produce medical benefits for the athlete. Calisthenics are attributed to him, including free calisthenics—that is, exercises without the use of hand apparatus such as clubs, wands, and dumbbells. Although Ling did not promote competition, free calisthenics have evolved into the competitive sport now known as floor exercise.
The acknowledged “father” of gymnastics, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, founder of the Turnverein movement, is credited with the rapid spread of gymnastics throughout the world. Gymnastic competition can be traced to the outdoor playground (Turnplatz) Jahn opened in a field known as the “Hasenheide” (rabbit field) on the outskirts of Berlin. Ernst Eiselen, Jahn’s assistant and the coauthor of Die Deutsche Turnkunst (1816; The German Gymnastic Art), carefully noted and explained the various exercises developed on the playground. The pommel horse was used for leg-swinging exercises and for vaulting. Jahn invented the parallel bars to increase the upper-body strength of his students, and immense towers were erected to test their courage. Balance beams, horizontal bars, climbing ropes, and climbing poles were also found at the Turnplatz. Primitive pole vaulting was practiced along with other athletic games. The wide variety of challenging apparatus found on the playground attracted young men who were then, in addition, indoctrinated with Jahn’s dream of German unification and his ideas on the defense of the fatherland and ridding Prussia of French influence.
The Prussians and leaders from surrounding countries became wary of nationalist sentiments, and Jahn and his followers were viewed with suspicion after the defeat of Napoleon in 1813. By 1815 student organizations such as the Burschenschaft (“Youth Branch”) were in favour of adopting a constitutional form of government, arming the citizenry, and instituting greater civil freedoms. In 1819, after the murder of the German playwright August von Kotzebue by a Burschenschaft gymnast, the Prussian king Frederick William III closed approximately 100 gymnastics fields and centres in Prussia. Other Germanic states followed suit. Jahn was arrested, jailed as a democratic demagogue, and placed under house arrest for the next five years. He was eventually acquitted but was admonished to relocate far from Berlin to a city or town with neither institutions of higher learning or gymnasia. He was awarded a yearly stipend and settled in Freiburg. The time was a period of personal tragedy for Jahn; two of his three children died while he was under house arrest, and his wife died shortly thereafter. Three of his close followers, Karl Beck, Karl Follen, and Franz Lieber, fearing arrest, fled to North America, bringing gymnastics with them. The Turners remaining in Prussia went underground until the ban on gymnastics was lifted by King Frederick William IV in 1842.
The first German gymnastic festival (Turnfest) was held in Coburg in 1860. The festival attracted affiliated Turnverein clubs and marked the beginning of international competition, as the growing family of Turners outside of Germany were invited to participate. Americans had been introduced to gymnastics by followers of Jahn in the late 1820s, but not until 1848, when large numbers of Germans immigrated, did transplanted Turnverein members organize clubs and establish a national union of Turner societies. (A similar movement, the Sokol, originated and spread in Bohemia and was also transported to the United States.) By 1861 American Turners and Turners from Germanic regions bordering Prussia attended the second Turnfest in Berlin. By the time of the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, eight Turnfests had taken place in Germany with the participation of a growing number of countries.
In 1881 the Fédération Internationale Gymnastique (FIG) was founded to supervise international competition. The 1896 Olympic Games fostered interest in gymnastics, and the FIG World Championships in gymnastics were organized for men in 1903, for women in 1934.
The 1896 Olympic Games marked the advent of true international, open competition in gymnastics. The Games featured typical German, or “heavy apparatus,” events and rope climbing. Gymnastics competitions were not standardized nor free of track-and-field events until the 1928 Olympics, when five of the six events presently held in Olympic gymnastics were contested—pommel horse, rings, vaulting, parallel bars, and horizontal bar, with both compulsory and optional routines required. Women first competed in the Olympics in 1928 in events similar to those of the men except for the addition of the balance beam. Floor exercise events were added in 1932.
In 1774, a Prussian, Johann Bernhard Basedow, included physical exercises with other forms of instruction at his school in Dessau, Saxony. With this action began the modernization of gymnastics, and also thrust the Germanic countries into the forefront in the sport. In the late 1700s, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn of Germany developed the side bar, the horizontal bar, the parallel bars, the balance beam, and jumping events. He, more than anyone else, is considered the “father of modern gymnastics.” Gymnastics flourished in Germany in the 1800s, while in Sweden a more graceful form of the sport, stressing rhythmic movement, was developed by Guts Muth. The opening (1811) of Jahn’s school in Berlin, to promote his version of the sport, was followed by the formation of many clubs in Europe and later in England. The sport was introduced to the United States by Dr. Dudley Allen Sargent, who taught gymnastics in several U.S. universities about the time of the Civil War, and who is credited with inventing more than 30 pieces of apparatus. Most of the growth of gymnastics in the United States centered on the activities of European immigrants, who introduced the sport in their new cities in the 1880s. Clubs were formed as Turnverein and Sokol groups, and gymnasts were often referred to as “turners.” Modern gymnastics excluded some traditional events, such as weight lifting and wrestling, and emphasized form rather than personal rivalry.
Men’s gymnastics was on the schedule of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, and it has been on the Olympic agenda continually since 1924. Olympic gymnastic competition for women began in 1936 with an all-around competition, and in 1952 competition for the separate events was added. In the early Olympic competitions the dominant male gymnasts were from Germany, Sweden, Italy, and Switzerland, the countries where the sport first developed. But by the 1950s, Japan, the Soviet Union, and the Eastern European countries began to produce the leading male and female gymnasts.
Modern gymnastics gained considerable popularity because of the performances of Olga Korbut of the Soviet Union in the 1972 Olympics, and Nadia Comaneci of Romania in the 1976 Olympics. The widespread television coverage of these dramatic performances gave the sport the publicity that it lacked in the past. Many countries other than the traditional mainstays at the time — the USSR, Japan, East and West Germany, and other Eastern European nations — began to promote gymnastics, particularly for women; among these countries were China and the United States.
Modern international competition has six events for men and four events for women. The men’s events are the rings, parallel bars, horizontal bar, side or pommel-horse, long or vaulting horse, and floor (or free) exercise. These events emphasize upper body strength and flexibility along with acrobatics. The women’s events are the vaulting horse, balance beam, uneven bars, and floor exercise, which is performed with musical accompaniment. These events combine graceful, dancelike movements with strength and acrobatic skills. In the United States, tumbling and trampoline exercises are also included in many competitions.
Teams for international competitions are made up of six gymnasts. In the team competition each gymnast performs on every piece of equipment, and the team with the highest number of points wins. There is also a separate competition for the all-around title, which goes to the gymnast with the highest point total after performing on each piece of equipment, and a competition to determine the highest score for each individual apparatus.
Another type of competitive gymnastics for women is called rhythmic gymnastics, an Olympic sport since 1984. Acrobatic skills are not used. The rhythmic gymnast performs graceful, dancelike movements while holding and moving items such as a ball, hoop, rope, ribbon, or Indian clubs, with musical accompaniment. Routines are performed individually or in group performances for six gymnasts.
Types of Gymnastics
Currently, gymnastics is governed and professionally organized by the International Gymnastics Federation . In this way, Gymnastics is composed of different disciplines:
- Rhythmic : It is distinguished from the others, because it incorporates elements of dance and ballet. It has background music and you can use accessories such as ball, ribbon, string, hoop, among others. In a competition they are evaluated in two types of categories, individually or together .
- Acrobatic : It is practiced in a group and in addition to artistic or gymnastic movements, it includes acrobatics in which they are promoted as a group. Therefore it requires strength, coordination , precision and a lot of confidence.
- Aerobic : Its movements come from aerobics, so the execution of the movement pattern includes intensity variations. It is more intense.
- On trampoline : This one runs on trampolines or similar.
- Artistic : It looks like some of the previous ones, since it has choreographies and movements that are performed at high speed. It is an Olympic sport .
What Equipment Is Needed for Gymnastics?
Some equipment that is useful to have when teaching gymnastics includes:
- A balance beam
- Pommel horse
- A trampoline
- Cushioned mats
- PE benches
What Are Some Skills Taught in Gymnastics?
At the beginning of gymnastics lessons, children will become familiar with these gymnastic movements:
Using muscles to hold limbs straight and create complex shapes. You can encourage children to persevere with making and holding shapes with strong body tension. Exercises that develop the core muscles will help children with this.
A challenging gymnastic move that progresses from a crab walk. You have to make sure children are supported when attempting this in the first instance.
Movement in which the gymnast hops forward or sideways onto the balls of one foot then brings the ball of the other foot in to meet it, before hopping again to the ball of the first foot. This move is performed quickly and fluently.
Curl up like an egg with your chin tucked in and roll sideways with your body tense.
The forward roll is a good initial gymnastic move to teach the need for control and momentum. You should make it clear that children will need to move quickly to complete the roll. They’ll also need to plant their hands firmly and in parallel to make sure they come out of the roll in a straight line.
Half turn jump
A jumping movement that in which the gymnast jumps in the air and turns 180 degrees, landing upright and facing the opposite direction.
Jump from two feet, bending knees and pushing upwards. Open arms and legs sideways to create a star shape in the air. Land on the balls of two feet, bending the knees. Bring the arms in front and up to shoulder-height for landing.
The ending position of a skill or movement.
Roll sideways from back to front in a stretched position with legs together and arms stretched above the head.
Movement in which the gymnast rotates on the ball of one foot.
A combination of two or more skills performed, one after the other.
A position in which the body faces forward and the legs are spread out wide to the side.
Jump from two feet to two feet. Bend the knees, hips and ankles for take-off and landing. Jump straight up, keeping the body upright and the head up. Bend the knees when landing and bring the arms in front and up to shoulder-height.
A basic action of movement, e.g. skipping, running or hopping.
Jump from two feet, bending knees and pushing upwards. Bring the knees up towards the chest keeping the body straight and head up. Take the arms over the head for propulsion and bring them in front, at shoulder height for landing. Land on the balls of two feet, bending the knees.