Everyman's Gymnastics

Competitive Gymnastics in the Media
When the term "gymnastics" is used in the United States, one immediately visualizes what is seen on television. Television coverage of gymnastics is generally limited to the World Championships, the Olympics or some other international meet, showing the general public the true elites of the sport. The elite include a staggeringly small portion of individuals involved in some form of gymnastics. Most athletes in the sport never compete at all, much less compete at the level that is seen by the general public. So, why participate in gymnastics if not to compete?

Gymnastics as Foundational Fitness
Gymnastics training is tremendously effective as a foundational fitness program for any physical activity. This specific training develops strength, flexibility, body awareness and agility. These benefits cross over extremely well to other physical activities as well. The degree of control and body awareness that is developed through gymnastics training is unrivaled. It develops functional movements that are otherwise neglected, but none the less are useful in every day activities. The kids on any school yard that consistently better their peers in fitness tests (frequently by large margins) are usually gymnasts.

Perception of Gymnastics in the U.S.
There is a perception in the U.S. that gymnastics is a sport for children, specifically little girls. This is an unfortunate result of media coverage of competitive gymnastics. As stated earlier, coverage of gymnastics events in the U.S. is weighted on the side of women, exhibiting the average female elite as a 5 foot tall, 100 pound, 16 to 20 year old. While it is true that gymnastics is a sport in which small size conveys a tremendous advantage in competition, large body size does not preclude individuals from gaining immense benefits from gymnastics training. On the contrary, it is more critical for larger individuals to have substantial body awareness and strength-to-weight ratio.

The bigger you are, the harder you fall. This statement taken literally establishes one key importance in tumbling and gymnastics training for larger individuals. A 280 pound individual is going to hit the ground with far more force than a 100 pound individual. While a larger person's skeletal and muscular structures will be stronger, these strengths do not fully compensate for the additional force, therefore, injury is far more likely. Unfortunately, our natural instincts when falling are often not the best reactions to the situation. Developing skills in tumbling and other apparatus help to reprogram our instinctual reactions to falls. This will allow a trained individual to fall from a higher place, in awkward positions, and reduce or prevent injury. In many cases, these new skills will allow a trained individual to maintain his/her feet, or return to his/her feet quickly in the event of a fall.

Efficiency of Movement
Efficiency of movement is also an important factor in gymnastics training. Not only are skills developed, but constantly drilled to ensure they are being performed in the most efficient way possible. Again, this is of great benefit to a larger individual who can't get away with inefficiencies due to his/her size. Complete awareness of body position, and of how and when to push are trained to increase the efficiency of motion.

Hand Support
Hand support is a key skill that is virtually untrained in all other activities. Few sports or training programs ever require individuals to support themselves on their hands. Gymnastics does this in abundance. From handstands in tumbling to swinging on a pommel horse, hand support is trained extensively. Though larger individuals will initially have more difficulty with hand supported skills, the benefits are the same. Trainees will develop a feel for hand balancing, strength through practicing the required skills and a clear sense of how to maintain support. Having a strong sense of how to maintain support will have positive impact on traversing rough terrain, climbing obstacles and working through tight openings.

There is no question that gymnasts are considered among the strongest athletes in the world. When examining athletes' strength-to-weight ratios, there are few that can compare with elite gymnasts. Most of this strength can be developed using nothing but the gymnast's own bodyweight along with an understanding of positions, loads and conditioning. Gymnasts learn to lift their own bodies in just about every way possible. The ability to lift one's own body quickly, easily and in any situation is immeasurably valuable. Again, this is another arena where it is more important for larger individuals to train themselves how to move around efficiently and easily. Their masses require more force to move around, which requires more efficient movement, and specific strength-to-weight ratio training.

Varied Stimuli
It is well known that repeating the same exercise for long periods of time will reduce its effectiveness. Gymnastics continually introduces new movements and new stimuli to training. This varied stimuli ensure that trainees will never "just get good at training" but the training will truly improve their fitness for all tasks.

Portability of Training Equipment
An additional benefit to gymnastics training is the ability to condition and train with little or no equipment. Since most gymnastics conditioning can be done with nothing other than the individual's own body mass, training equipment is always present. If a pair of rings and parallettes are available, virtually all strengthening moves can be performed with sufficient load to challenge anyone.

By Roger Harrell.