How to Do Gymnastics

Three Parts:Getting StartedTaking It to the Next LevelStaying Safe and Healthy

Gymnastics can be the most fun thing in the world. From kids enjoying rolls and cartwheels to Olympians demonstrating impossible skill, gymnasts challenge their strength, flexibility, and dedication. It's time to warm up and find out what your body can do.

Part 1
Getting Started

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    Research local classes. Gymnastics isn't really a sport you can teach yourself. Reading about it is a good start, but at the end of the day, you need someone who knows what they're doing and can provide you a safe environment. Coaches don't just say, "Okay, now do a backflip!" You'll need to take classes to get started.
    • The most important thing to consider is the safety of your facility. Are there nice, padded walls? Are there wall spotters? What does the gym/school provide you with when it comes to gear?
    • In addition to those things, ask to talk to the coaches. Get a feel for their program. Ask whether they compete, the levels offered, how many hours per week are required, how much the class costs, whether it is a recreational class or a team (a team is much more intense), and what the teacher-to-student ratio is.
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    Get started at your level. If you have a hard time physically getting up in the morning, that may be something your teacher should know before they enroll you in a specific program. On the opposite end, if you've been doing cartwheels and round-offs since you could crawl, that's something to take note of, too. Your program needs to be something you can handle but also challenges you — or you won't stick with it for very long!
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    Learn all the different activities. There are several different types of gymnasts, which focus on different equipment and different forms of fitness. You may want to try several before you choose one to specialize in:[1]
    • Artistic gymnastics is the most popular form. Women in this specialty train on the balance beam, vault, and uneven bars, and practice floor routines as well. Men train in floor routines, vault, parallel bars, high bar, still rings, and pommel horse.
    • Rhythmic gymnasts move and dance to music, using the ball, ribbon, rope, clubs, or hoop. Mostly women train in this form, but men compete in a few countries as well.
    • Aerobic gymnastics or sports aerobics focuses more on aerobic fitness than the other forms. Routines are performed on the floor without equipment, and do not involve balance skills or acrobatics.
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    Work on your flexibility. If there's one thing you can (and should!) do on your own time, it's work on your flexibility. You have no excuse! While you're sitting and watching TV, sit down on the floor, and start touching your toes in just about every position you can. Whatever you're doing, you can fit in a stretch.
    • It's not just your legs, it's your whole body. Even super fit people who start gymnastics often get caught off guard when it comes to this. What's the one area everyone forgets about? The back. Turns out your back and shoulders (and the flexibility of your back) is super important when it comes to gymnastics!
    • If the stretch causes pain, you've gone too far. Stretch gradually and only to the point of mild discomfort to avoid injury.
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    Get strong. Gymnasts may not have the biggest muscles, but they're extremely strong. Most amateur gymnasts train strength using their own body weight, for instance with pull ups and push ups. Weight training is best left for the college level or above, since it takes specific routines to avoid slowing yourself down with unnecessary muscle bulk.[2]
    • If you do begin weight training, your muscles will start enduring rips and tears and will need time to heal themselves. So be sure to take days off! You've deserved it. You can still do cardio and exercise, but lay off on the weights to give your muscles a breather.
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    Take a dance class. Gymnasts need to be fluid and graceful. Those floor routines are a combination of impressive tricks and dance. If you're choppy and can barely manage to do the macarena, a beautiful floor routine will be quite the challenge. Ask your coach if he knows of a good studio that works with gymnasts.

Part 2
Taking It to the Next Level

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    Talk to your coach. As you progress, there's going to be things your coach wants you to do. The beauty of it is if you're not ready or if you'd like to take your skills in a different direction, say so. If you want to nail that backbend before you move onto the next move, say so. If you think you want to get into tumbling instead, say so. That's what they're there for!
    • It's important to be very open with your coaches. This sport challenges you to your physical limits, then throws you in front of a crowd to perform. If you don't feel ready physically or mentally, seek advice from your coaches.
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    Do bends. Bends are among the first moves learned by many gymnasts (in addition to the standard cartwheel and handstand). Bends are the core part of many of the more complicated, impressive tricks. Without a bend, you definitely won't be doing flips. If you're not there yet, wikiHow has some articles to whet your appetite:
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    Practice your jumps. As you get better, you'll progress to jumps. When you combine jumps and bends, you get flips, so this is also moving you on up the skill ladder. Here are a few examples:
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    Do flips. A beginning gymnast's dream: doing flips. This is where you'll really start to feel like you're making progress. Start doing them with a spotter and in your gym, and once you get comfortable you can start busting them out at parties and on the stage. All that hard work is paying off! Take a look at the following articles:
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    Do all sorts of tricks! Once you learn the basic bends, jumps, and flips, you'll be able to combine them into sweet floor routines. You'll work on the speed of your transitions and, most importantly, your confidence. If you've gotten this far, you've more than earned it. Pat yourself on the back!
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    Find your niche. You've got the skills, now what do you want your specialty to be? Do you want to try the uneven bars? Maybe the balance beam? How about the rings? Or even rhythmic gymnastics! There's going to be one that you enjoy more than the others — so get to finding it!
    • Maybe your niche is competing! Ask your coach if you can take this to the next level. She should be able to direct you to organizations and competition that will help you earn more recognition — not to mention trophies.
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    Move up the levels. Gymnasts are typically rated by skill level once they start competing. Find out how to qualify for higher level competitions from your national organization, such as Canada's CanGym or USA Gymnastics.
    • For example, the USAG Junior Olympics system sets competition standards for ten levels. Here's an example of what it takes to reach level six. If you would like to compete in college and beyond, aim for level nine or higher by the end of high school.[3]
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    Work hard! Discipline is key in this sport. It takes time and repetition for your body to learn and remember the moves, so keep working until you get it right. If you get frustrated, sit down for a minute, get a drink, then go back and try again. It may not be easy, but once you get it, you'll know how worth it it really is.
    • Be sure to work on building your strength, including arm, shoulder, and back strength, your core muscles, and your leg muscles. Include pull-ups, push-ups, v-ups, crunches, handstands against a wall in your strength conditioning routine. It's not all flips and fun! And, as always, make sure to stretch first.
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    Begin competing. Once you hit the appropriate level (your coach will know when this happens), you can enter the competing world. It may be harsh, it may be time consuming, but it also can be a lot of fun. However, don't feel obligated to compete -- gymnastics can be for leisure, too!
    • You can compete in your school, then in your area, then regionally, and then throughout the country if you so choose. Competitions can get pretty intense! There's always a panel of judges eyeing your every move and it can be quite stressful. If it's something you want to endure and excel at, go for it! But if it's not, feel free to keep getting better on your own time.

Part 3
Staying Safe and Healthy

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    Stretch. There's not much evidence for the "common knowledge" that stretching prevents injury, and overdoing it could even lead to problems.[4] That said, most gymnasts and sports doctors would likely agree that some stretching is beneficial for increasing your range of motion. Target the muscle groups most at risk for injury in the activity you'll be performing.[5]
    • Warming up and stretching are not the same thing. A warm up is any light exercise that gets your heart rate up and your muscles loose. Stretching increases flexibility. Consider a short warm up, four or five 60-second stretches, then a brief warm up again.
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    Know your own skill level. When your coach says, "Alright, who wants to demonstrate a backflip for me?" and you raise your hand when you just mastered the somersault yesterday, that's not a good idea. You need to know your own skill level so you know what you're capable of and what to expect from yourself. If you bite off more than you can chew, you'll wind up in a cast watching yearningly from the sidelines.
    • On the opposite side of the coin, know what you are capable of! If you've been practicing for months and you're improving, you'll need to take a risk once in a while. Realize all the work you've done and what you can do. It's the only way you'll get better!
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    Work up in increments. Just like how they tell powerlifters to only lift 10% more weight than the session before (even if they feel like lifting more), you need to work up in small increments, too. You can't go from a cartwheel to a front handspring in a day. Rome wasn't built in one, and your skills won't magically develop in one, either. So take baby steps and, above all, be patient.
    • You will fail. Straight up. You will fall on your butt and you will bruise yourself. You will be, at one point or another, laying face down on the floor, willing the gods to make everyone disappear by the time you open your eyes. This happens. This happens to everyone. If you never fell, you'd never know what not to do!
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    Have good eating and sleeping habits. An aspect of gymnastics we haven't really gotten much at yet is how incredibly intense it is. Seriously. People who run marathons walk into a gymnastics class and they are quite literally (and figuratively) floored. What does this mean? It means, if you're to do this, you gotta be healthy. 24/7. Your body is what you're working with. If you don't treat it right, it sure won't be doing you any favors.
    • Always get a good night's rest. If you're tired, you will not perform at 100% of what you're capable of. Simply put. It'd be silly to expect otherwise of your body!
    • It's of utmost importance that you eat healthily. That means lean meats (you need your protein!), lean dairy, whole grains, and definitely loads of fruits and veggies. Little to no processed junk should be in your cupboards!
      • That being said, eating disorders are a huge problem in the gymnastics world. Yes, you need to be lean. Yes, it's easier to flip a smaller body. However, when you don't intake food, you lose your muscle. You become weak. It is impossible to support your own weight when your muscles are literally being eaten away. If or when this issue arises, know that you're not alone and that seeking professional help is a top priority. Remember that your mentors may have been there, too.
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    Wear protective gear. This is especially important if you're working with the rings or the bars — your hands need protecting! And if you're experiencing any pain whatsoever, you'll need to wrap your joints. Always take precautions to prevent injury.


  • Don't give up because you couldn't do the splits in a day. Gymnastics requires lots of time and repetition!
  • For women's gymnastics, consider taking a ballet or yoga class to improve flexibility and the quality of your dance on the floor, as well as your balance on the beam. For men's gymnastics, you may want to take a weight training class to help with your core strength — something men's gymnastics relies on daily.
  • You'll need different equipment for different activities. But the one thing you'll definitely need? Chalk, and in just the right amount. Too little and your hands aren't protected; too much and you risk getting "rips." Ow.
  • Most gymnasts train barefoot to avoid slipping. In some events, gymnasts use socks or special shoes to absorb sweat or brace their ankles. Follow the advice of your coach or experienced gymnasts to avoid injury.


  • "Rips" are a common, yet painful part of gymnastics. Rips are when a part of the outer layer of skin on your palm is "ripped" from the rest of your hand. They occur when too much friction comes between your hand and the bar. There really isn't a way to prevent rips, they're a part of being a gymnast. Rips heal over time and usually become calluses. Although some people may argue that grips can prevent rips, they weren't meant to prevent rips and won't. You don't need grips until you reach a higher level. Chalk is often applied to your hands to help you grip onto the bar, but you don't need too much. An excess of chalk can create a high amount of friction and cause more rips.
  • Gymnastics is a dangerous sport. Broken bones or torn muscles can all happen in gymnastics. Seriously consider whether you think you can handle pain well. As a beginner you probably won't sustain any injury, but it is still important to understand the risk factors.

Things You'll Need

  • Grips for bars (once approved by your coach)
  • Gymnast's chalk
  • Athletic tape (for sprained ankles etc. or "ripped" hands on bars)
  • Free Weights (optional)
  • A leotard or other comfortable clothing you can move in

Article Info

Categories: Gymnastics Levels