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

The Best Gymnastics Coaches

If you watch competitive gymnastics for any length of time, you begin to notice subtle differences in the athletes and teams. These can be attributed to any number of things, but one of the most pervasive influences on an elite athlete or team is the coaching staff. So why do elite and sometimes amateur athletes seem to coach-hop so frequently? Why did you wait to take that 400-level sociology class until a different professor was available? Same answer: you want the best teacher.

Personalities and teaching styles just have to click, or the best coach and the best athlete will never be able to work together, regardless of the level of their achievement. Discerning subtleties in a coach’s style of instruction is only possible through experience. At the amateur level, word-of-mouth will give you an idea about whether a coach’s style will be compatible with yours, but there’s no substitute for the road test. That said, there are certain qualities every good coach should have, whether teaching tumbling to toddlers or finessing elite performances at the Pan Am Games.

Many top-tier coaches are former gymnasts themselves who understand the importance of a solid foundation from which to build. They have experienced first-hand the progression from balance and control as a young person to strength and grace as an accomplished gymnast. These coaches will teach from that perspective, and it’s important to insist on this in a coach for yourself or your child. Only a coach with a belief in the basics will help a gymnast evolve into an elite athlete.

This same kind of coach values continuing to grow his or her own knowledge base as well. You wouldn’t engage a doctor who earned her degree 30 years ago and hasn’t studied since then – imagine the diagnoses and treatment! A good gymnastics coach is no different: learning how to coach is just as important as learning what to teach, and there is a big difference, though both are equally as important. Insist on a coach who values learning new skills to teach, but also new and improved ways of teaching them.

Few gymnasts respond well to drill sergeants (but some do!). A coach who can inspire and drive an athlete with positive inputs will see greater results than one who is primarily critical. Especially in the younger tumbling classes, a positive attitude in a coach will influence how the child views the sport and whether or not they will desire to continue in it. As the gymnast gets older, a coach can challenge and drive a little more to motivate the competitive spirit. But the best coach will always be an encouraging, supportive, and positive presence in the gymnast’s life.

Insisting on the best teacher means you get the best education, whether in academics, in the business world, or in your gymnastics ventures. Find a learning, growing, progressive, and positive coach and you’ll enjoy years of gymnastics instruction.

Why Should My Child Do Gymnastics?

“Why should my child do gymnastics?” There are a million positive answers to this question, and we’re going to look at a few of them here. The short answer is the same answer given to any parent asking why their child should participate in any sport: because sports are good for children. The longer answer is more complex, but important to understand.

Pre-schools and elementary schools have increasing numbers of obese children in attendance. These obese children grow into obese teens, and then adults, living with life-threatening risks that could have been mitigated in their early years with something as mundane as the introduction of an active lifestyle. And that’s why gymnastics.

We want to prepare our children for their futures. What better way to equip them than to instill in them a love for an active lifestyle? It’s like an immunization against a sedentary and obesity-prone life. Gymnastics is the one sport that even the littlest kids can become involved in, and the sooner the better.

Let’s look at the physical benefits of gymnastics for children. If they begin gymnastics at very young ages, gross and fine motor skills are not developed. Gymnastics and tumbling programs teach children about their bodies: how to control them, what they can do, and how to strengthen them. As they roll and run balance and swing, kids are developing muscular strength in ways that playtime or a physical education class could never impart. And finally, one of the things we all admire about the elite gymnasts is grace and flexibility.  A three year-old isn’t high on anyone’s list of graceful things, but through gymnastics, even children will learn control that can evolve into beauty and grace. Training in flexibility will make all their movements fluid and graceful (eventually!), and will help keep them in condition to do many other sports and activities if they choose. Few other organized sports train participants in flexibility the way gymnastics does, which is a shame, because flexibility informs so much of what were capable of later in life.

The non-physical but equally as important reasons to do gymnastics are similar to those of any organized sport. As a child progresses from tumbling to more complex routines and gymnastics apparatus, he learns self-confidence. In a non-competitive learning program a child is free to progress at her own pace, without a fear of “losing” or of disappointing coaches, teammates, or parents. Within the non-competitive gymnastics field, children learn the art of disciplining their minds as well as their bodies. In a competitive program for older and  more advanced gymnasts, discipline becomes even more important, and stays with the athlete in all aspects of life.

The future is going to happen to our kids. We may or may not be there to see it all for them, but we can equip them with the things they need to be successful in it. Gymnastics is a gift that gives them a healthy lifestyle, the socialization of teamwork, self-discipline, and confidence; all the best tools to becoming a happy, healthy human.

Gymnastics and Special Needs Kids

Children with special needs, like those on the Autism spectrum, are increasingly finding hope and help through physical activities like gymnastics. The sensory stimulation that different apparatus in a gym can offer a child is almost limitless. Fine and gross motor planning can be improved through gymnastic exercises and routines, and the opportunity to socialize in this kind of environment can make transitions in social settings easier and less stressful. No wonder children with special needs have found a home in the gym! Continue reading Gymnastics and Special Needs Kids