If you have never heard of or still wondering why gymnastics is referred as “the mother of all sports”, you sure haven’t seen an Olympic gymnast performing. The acrobatic feats of gymnasts are a treat to the eye. All the sprinting, jumping, turning, twisting, tumbling, landing and balancing are awe-inspiring to say the least.
Of course, there are other sports that involve a lot of explosive movements, but nothing comes close to the way a trained gymnast does so, especially with the level of grace, balance, coordination and orchestration involved.
“Gymnastics is to sports what the alphabet is to reading.”
The good thing is that you don’t really have to be an Olympian gymnast to exploit the countless benefits associated with this sport. Even simple gymnastic drills with correct form and posture turn out to be significantly helpful with many other sporting activities, nurturing coordination and muscle memory that can help you not only with your sports career, but all through your life.
10 Reasons to Start Practicing Gymnastics
This write-up is all about helping you start your gymnastics journey, introducing you to the basics of this discipline, but first, let’s sum up the important reasons why you should start practicing gymnastics in the first place:
- Flexibility: Hands down, one of the biggest gains of regularly practicing gymnastics. Enhanced flexibility is known to be highly effective in diminishing your chances of injuries, especially the sports-related ones. When you practice gymnastics regularly, you slowly but surely train different regions of your body to bear an increased amount of stress in a better manner, also expanding the range of motion of joints involved in various movements.
- Bone Strength: All weight bearing activities, especially gymnastics, are known to help develop bone strength. This becomes even more important as we age, because research reveals that your bone mass starts deteriorating at a faster rate with your age. Developing strong and healthy bones at an earlier age also does a wonderful job in safeguarding you from issues ranging from simple bone fractures to osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and Paget’s disease.
- Increased Coordination: With gymnastics based on a plethora of well-coordinated movements, your mind and body learn to coordinate effectively with each other, sharpening your response time to an unprecedented level. That’s why gymnasts exhibit well controlled ‘startled response’ to sudden disturbances and imbalances in their surroundings as compared to non-gymnasts. The benefits of improved ‘startle response’ cannot be confined merely to the gymnastics realm, it can help you tremendously in your daily life as well. You become able to better identify, respond and avoid hazardous circumstances.
- Increased Cognitive Function: Physical gains reflect only one dimension of the benefits of gymnastics. It also helps you with improved mental focus and concentration, part of which also comes into action with enhanced body-mind coordination aspect. You start to observe your environment and surrounding with much more attention, while your mind works out how to use various elements in it to your benefit in case of need, all at a subconscious level.
- Disease Prevention: Yet another benefit which helps you live a better life generally. A healthy body plays a key role in keeping you safe against various health conditions like obesity, fluctuations in blood pressure and cholesterol levels, diabetes, asthma and cancer. Regularly practicing gymnastics entails adapting to a healthy lifestyle focused on a balanced diet and regular physical activity, contributing towards generally enhanced state of physical and mental health and wellness.
- Daily Exercise Requirement: As per the recommendations of the American Heart Association, children need 60 minutes of physical activity per day while adults (aged 18 and above) should engage in 30 minutes of physical activity for at least 5 days a week. Practicing gymnastics gives you a fun and interesting way of fulfilling these physical activity requirements.
- Strength Development: Professional gymnasts are known to be, pound-for-pound the fittest and strongest athletes, more importantly, almost exclusively relying on bodyweight exercises to develop exceptionally strong and flexible upper body, lower body and core strength.
- High Self Esteem: There have been countless studies indicating the positive effects on self-esteem of children participating in physical activities like gymnastics; for instance, this one study conducted at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. In fact, the sense of accomplishment inculcated by gradually advancing through the gymnastic drills can be a great source of motivation even for adults.
- Self-Control and Discipline: Gymnastics also helps instil a sense of self-control and self-discipline. Self-control comes from listening to and following the instructions of a coach on how to improve the stance and execution of a particular move, while staying on the task in absence of the coach requires self-discipline.
- Improved Social Skills: Developing social skills is also one of the most notable perks associated with practicing gymnastics whether you’re at it during childhood or adulthood. From listening to the instructor to interacting with fellow gymnasts, you get the opportunity to sharpen your socializing skills, and if you get into gymnastics at a younger age, your chances of refining your social skills improve significantly.
9 Tips on How to Start and Follow Your Gymnastics Routine
Knowing about something vs actually getting knee deep into it is not quite the same. So, here we are with some of the most simple but effective tips aimed at helping you start your gymnastics routine and following it steadfastly.
1) Focus on the ‘Basics’
Be it gymnastics or any other discipline, ‘Basics’ hold a special place and for the right reasons, as they provide you the foundation on which the whole structure is to be erected. With flexibility, strength, balance and agility as the basic pillars of this sport, you cannot progress to advanced acrobatics without mastering the basics.
Exceptional upper body strength is a must for gymnastics and nothing serves better than the basic pushups to help beginners work on it. In fact, there are quite a few variations of the pushups. So, you can start from the very simple and basic pushup variation, increasing the number of reps every week as you start getting stronger.
Similarly, frog-stand is considered to be one of the best ways of developing your balance skills and targeting core muscles. It involves squatting with your hands resting on the floor. With your knees clasping around your elbow joints, lean forward to lift your legs in the air without the knees losing their grip around the elbows. Practice holding this stance for about 30 seconds and progress from thereon.
Handstand and somersault are also among the most basic moves for gymnastics.
2) Stretch Before and After Every Gymnastics Session
Somehow, majority of people fail to realize the difference between stretching for flexibility and stretching for injury prevention, often taking the latter of them for granted. Research suggests otherwise though.
A recent study suggests that stretching is a great way of boosting strength and preventing fatigue resulting from high-intensity workouts. Improved muscle strength and lowered post-workout muscle stiffness was also observed in gymnasts involved in regular stretching for injury prevention. This also helps stay away from frequent muscle tears as well as various knee problems.
3) Learn the Rules
Rules play a vital role in your progression as a gymnast, especially if you want to participate at a competitive level. That’s why it is so critical for gymnasts to thoroughly familiarise themselves with the rules of the game.
Following these rules not only helps gymnasts score higher points in a competitive display, but it also contributes in improving their level of performance. How? You know rhythm and execution are among the central elements in gymnastics and rules are meant to help a practitioner assist in improving in these two areas specifically.
For instance, there are strict time limits for skills like balance beam and floor at a competitive level. If a gymnast is not able to follow those, it leads to deduction in scores. On the other hand, following them religiously not helps earn points, but also makes them look more rhythmic and fluid. Gymnastic rules also cover body positioning and conduct of the practitioner.
4) Follow a Schedule
Strictly following a gymnastics training framework is one of the best ways to succeed as a gymnast. Experts recommend 3 times a week training routine for beginners, aimed at targeting all muscle groups significantly enough. Each training day should focus on a varied training program starting from low-intensity and progressing through medium-intensity all the way to high-intensity sessions.
As long as training programs lack this sort of diversity, building up enhanced physical endurance, flexibility and manoeuvrability becomes a herculean task. This also helps incorporate the much needed day’s rest after every training session for quick recovery.
5) Use Protective Gear
Getting an injury while practicing gymnastics is quite a common occurrence, owed to the explosive and intensive nature of this sports. According to a recent study, floor based gymnastics routines make you the most vulnerable to such injuries. However, amateurs can also get an injury easily performing on gymnastics equipment like balance beams and pommel horses.
In addition to ankle/wrist sprains and strains, some of the most common injuries sustained through gymnastics can include ligament tears, joint dislocations, fractured bones as well as certain back problems.
That’s why it is so imperative to wear protective accessories like hand grips, wrist straps, knee sleeves, ankle sleeves, spotting belts, guards, appropriate footwear and so forth.
6) Consume Healthy Diet
The significance of appropriate diet can never be overstated for gymnasts, as they are involved in one of the most challenging and demanding sports, requiring high calorie intake to overcome physical and mental fatigue and tiredness. Similarly, they also need macronutrients like carbs, proteins and fats in appropriate amounts.
That’s why experts recommend healthy food choices for gymnasts, such as brown rice, oatmeal, whole-grain pasta and vegetables. All these ensure proper protein and fibre absorption. Natural protein sources like lean beef, fish, chicken and eggs are also helpful in boosting gymnast’s energy levels through the training.
7) Ensure Proper Hydration
Consuming sufficient amount of water during the day is highly critical for any high performance activity like gymnastics, especially because it also affects your concentration level and mood during the activity. Dehydration means a drop in blood pressure, spike in heart rate and not having enough fuel to power up your body, which leads to further fatigue and fluid loss.
According to a recent report, dehydration leads to increased health concerns on sports performance, some of which include high heat dissipation, lowered blood flow and augmented sweat rate during exercise. Such elements also contribute in various health issues including immune-related diseases.
8) Sleep Properly
Sleep plays an undeniably important role in health and wellness aspects of athletes in general and gymnasts in particular. Progressive development through your gymnastics training is not possible without appropriate sleeping patterns, more so if you are a beginner. Extra sleep helps reduce stress and strain on your bones in addition to boosting recovery for muscle soreness, which is quite high through the first few sessions.
9) Avoid Stress
Yes, stress is a nuisance not only for common people, but also for athletes including gymnasts, which can affect sports performance in different ways, such as raised blood pressure, shortness of breath, anxiety and fear. In fact, increased anxiety during sports performance can even lead to serious muscle spasm and soreness.
A recent report studying the relationship between anxiety and sports performance revealed that the concentration level of gymnasts is disrupted due to stress, particularly when performing advanced gymnastics moves.
Beginner gymnasts are highly susceptible to the pitfalls of stress, which is often characterised by increased perspiration levels during performance. So, it is quite important for gymnasts to stay calm and relaxed during their performances.
Gymnastics being a highly challenging sport requiring a combination of optimal physical performance and mental coordination achieved through immense practice, needs a high upkeep of the body and mind. That being said, if you are able to practice gymnastics thrice weekly, it is something to look forward to. And if top gymnastics performance inspire you more than anything else, it’s never too late to start, for which we, at Xn8 Sports, wish you all the luck and success.