So Your Kid Wants to be an Olympic Gymnast?

Seems every new gymnast’s dream is to be an Olympian. There’s no shortage of inspiring role models, proof that hard work, a supportive family, and a dream can get you where you want to be. But the journey begins with that first step – wait…what exactly is the first step?!

Elite athletes, almost without exception, begin training in their sport at a very young age. This doesn’t mean strength training at age two, but it does mean that a very young child must have an interest in being active (and what two year-old doesn’t?) and have a family who is interested in helping the child progress in the sport. For a child geared toward gymnastics, formal training can begin in pre-school.

Tumbling classes abound to help little gymnasts develop gross motor skills as well as balance, self-control, and even discipline. Tumbling activities also introduce the concept of group or team, which is utterly foreign to a toddler who is proficient in the “Me!” category. Participation in group classes will help the young child develop control and confidence as well as help determine the child’s level of interest in pursuing gymnastics beyond a pre-school class.

If an aptitude for gymnastics is discovered early, a child in a good program can be allowed to progress at his or her own pace with comprehensive direction from a trained gymnastics coach. You don’t need a Karolyi at this point, but a coach who is able to encourage and challenge a young child successfully is a true find. The search for this coach should be undertaken with all the seriousness one would apply to seeking a mentor or trainer for any adult vocation. A coach who has trained elite gymnasts before is likely a good candidate for an aspiring child gymnast. Be wary of programs that focus on too much competition for young children; kids need to learn to be part of a team as well as an outstanding individual gymnast and too much competition can train them to turn their focus inward. A coach who teaches the social skills of being a team member as well as training the individual is perfect for the very young but very driven gymnast.

And the rest is history. Or it could be, anyway. Your young child could make history as an Olympic gymnast, but that critical first step is up to you. Begin active play with your child from the moment they’re able to interact, embrace an active lifestyle so your child absorbs your enthusiasm, and as soon as you can, enroll the little guy or gal in a tumbling class. And as soon as you see the light in their eyes when you talk about gymnastics, find a trainer. Then take your place in the stands and be your child’s biggest fan.

Gymnastics Equipment at Home

Looking to extend your gymnast’s practice time? A coached session at the gym is a great start, but if you want to keep the interest level up in the younger gymnast or give the older ones the ability to practice outside the gym, nothing beats a well-equipped area at home for practice.  Continue reading Gymnastics Equipment at Home

Is My Child Too Young for Gymnastics?

Starting children too young in certain activities can prove to be disastrous if their attention spans won’t tolerate it, if they really hate it, or if it’s too taxing on their little bodies. But gymnastics isn’t one of those activities. In fact, gymnastics might just be the best activity you could choose for your toddler or young child. Continue reading Is My Child Too Young for Gymnastics?

Urban Gymnastics

Most gymnasts consider gymnastics an end to itself, but for a growing number of them and other athletes, gymnastics is fantastic training for another activity: parkour. Sometimes called “urban gymnastics,” parkour incorporates more gymnastics skills than just about any other sport. There’s no question that you have to be in shape for parkour, and the training of a gymnast gives an athlete a leg up (so to speak) in becoming an accomplished traceur.

Balance is fundamental to a gymnast. Even in toddler tumbling classes, students are made aware of their bodies, how they interact with different apparatus, and how to control them. For the parkour enthusiast, balance could mean the difference between a great run or an injury. Being aware of your body in time and space is crucial to land on a balance beam, hit a vault accurately, or judge the upcoming space between yourself and your destination. Misread, misjudge, or use the wrong amount of force and you’re out of the game. Good balance is crucial and indispensable in both gymnastics and parkour.

Gymnasts are some of the most flexible and agile athletes on any playing field. This serves them well in the gymnastics arena, but translating it into parkour can be a challenge. Routines are often so programmed that the fluidity needed to successfully navigate in parkour can be evasive. Un-learning the expected form (no judges are watching) and giving in to spontaneity will make a good gymnast an excellent traceur.

You don’t have to be a super-hero to leap tall buildings in a single bound – well, maybe not a single bound – but you do need holistic strength. Body-weight training is the preferred method of training; no bulking-up required. But functional training will help increase muscle strength for jumps, flips, and other traditionally gymnastic skills without adding cumbersome and limiting muscle mass.

If you’re interested in parkour, you might want to consider some gymnastics training. It’s not absolutely necessary, but will definitely come in handy when you’re ready to flip off your first wall.

US Women’s Rhythmic Gymnastics Team Qualifies for Olympics

For only the second time in history, the US Women’s rhythmic gymnastics team qualified the country for the Olympic Games. Team USA secured the spot in the Games at the Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships this week in Stuttgart, Germany.  Continue reading US Women’s Rhythmic Gymnastics Team Qualifies for Olympics

After-School Gymnastics

School bells are ringing all over the country, which means it’s time to switch from a summer schedule to a school schedule. For many kids, this means choosing after-school activities, whether school or club sports, part-time jobs for the older ones, clubs, or other activities. When you’re evaluating your child’s after-school options, keep gymnastics in mind.

It’s true that many kids are over-programmed, being shuttled from one activity to another 5 or 6 days a week. Kids definitely need some down time, but they are also sick and tired of sitting at desks all day long. Even the most engaging classrooms simply can’t give kids the time, space, and structure they need to expend energy and develop physically. This is why gymnastics can be so valuable. A good gymnastics program provides structure in a safe environment, lots of space for uninhibited movement, a positive social setting, and an opportunity to develop both physically and mentally. What more could you ask for from an after-school program?

Kids learn best from playing, and gymnastics has this in spades. Younger kids tumbling around on mats think they’re just having a blast, but they’re really learning muscular control, balance, patience, and how their bodies relate to the world around them. In fact, there are probably a few adults who could benefit from an after-work gymnastics program! After sitting in chairs and on the floor most of the day, children will benefit from a focus on physical activity after school. Gymnastics offers that activity in the form of a structured program designed to progress as the child progresses.

At a good gym, you’ll find experienced instructors who can meet your child where he or she is and help them develop while they’re having fun. Of course, a good gym will also have solid, safe equipment and apparatus for the gymnastics program. Be sure to take a close look at the equipment; it should be in good repair, clean, and in use. These are good indicators that you’re looking at a good program. There should be crash pads everywhere – that’s a good sign that safety is a primary concern. And while the more recognizable apparatus should be visible, look for smaller objects like lower balance beams and bars, skill shapes, and other skill-developing equipment. This tells you that your child will be walked through the learning process at his or her own pace. You may want to consider purchasing some of the practice equipment for use at home, too.

If you find  a gym or club that has all these things, you’ve found a safe, nurturing after-school option that will continue to teach after the school bells have stopped ringing for the day.

Too Late to Start Gymnastics?

It’s no secret that children are naturally more limber than adults, but does that mean gymnastics are off-limits to grown-ups? Absolutely not! There are a number of reasons we old-folks should consider incorporating some gymnastics into our workouts.

First of all, and perhaps most importantly, gymnastics are just fun. Remember vaulting over the back of the couch in the family room when you were young? Maybe using your mattress as a trampoline or tumbling mat? It was called “play” back then. We laughed, took risks that were maybe a little stupid, and had a great time. The active lifestyle of a kid is something we’d do well to emulate today, and that doesn’t mean doing a grueling, unenjoyable workout for an hour everyday – it can mean just playing. And we all know that we’re more likely to stick with something if we enjoy it.

Learning something new later in life is always a good thing simply because of the mental challenge it presents. But learning gymnastics as an adult offers even more. As we age, our joints and muscles become tighter and can lead to a general stiffening of movement. Playful tumbling and intentional stretching for gymnastics prevent that tightening and help prevent injury. Gymnastics also focuses us on balance and control, two things that silently creep away from us as we age. Too many broken hips are the result of unsteadiness and stiffness. A workout (play date?) that focuses on balance and control can help offset those unwelcome injuries years down the road.

If you’ve never done gymnastics before, you’ll find an increase in strength as you begin, too. Tumbling uses muscles you probably didn’t remember you had! Because gymnastics are body-weight driven, you’ll most likely also experience an increase in bone density – an especially excellent benefit for women. But for anyone who chooses to give it a try, balancing and supporting your own body weight in new positions will challenge muscles that have been just hanging out for awhile and give them a reason to loosen and strengthen.

That said, you should begin your new tumbling exercises safely. As adults, we’ve sustained more injuries than kids, and we’re far less resilient. Forget the mattress and couch cushions. Use some supportive, soft tumbling mats to make sure your tumbling routines are safe enough to allow you to practice as long as you’d like. Gymnastics are a great way to add a new dimension to your fitness routine and to let that inner kid in you out to play for awhile.

Tumbling, Cartwheel, and Crash Mats

A good gymnastics program is a treasure to find, but how do you bring it home so the kids can keep practicing? Some good tumbling mats, cartwheel mats, and maybe even a crash pad can be just what you need to keep the young gymnast practicing safely even at home. Continue reading Tumbling, Cartwheel, and Crash Mats

Gymnastics for Boys

When most people think of a gymnast, the first image that comes to mind is of a powerful, athletic, and graceful young woman. It’s certainly true that women’s teams get most of the gymnastics press, but men’s teams are comprised of just as much strength, agility, grace, and discipline. If you’re wondering if it’s a good idea to involve your son in gymnastics, keep reading. Continue reading Gymnastics for Boys

End of a Dynasty

“Unfortunately, any good stuff has to end,” says Martha Karolyi, the coordinator for the USA Gymnastics Women’s national team. After many years of both coaching and coordinating, and leading many, many gymnasts to the gold and silver medals, she and her husband Béla (whom she succeeded in her role) are leaving the sport behind. Continue reading End of a Dynasty