What is artistic gymnastics?
Arguably the most popular form of gymnastics among spectators – and one of the most watched sports at the Olympics – artistic gymnastics is all about short routines on a range of equipment. For women it’s about uneven bars, the balance beam and floor routines. For men there’s the rings, the parallel bars and the pommel horse. Women’s artistic gymnastics became hugely popular in the 70s after breath-taking performances by elfin stars like Olga Corbet and Nadia Comenici.
Seeing an elite gymnast in action is awe-inspiring. Strength, power, grace, agility, flexibility, co-ordination, balance – from the Ancient Greeks to us moderns, gymnastics is one of the great expressions of human physical perfection. But you don’t have to be an elite athlete to reap the extraordinary physical and mental benefits. Here are just a few:
- Flexibility – even for absolute beginners, gymnastics boosts flexibility, increasing your range of movement and reducing risks of injury.
- Increased bone density – weight-bearing exercises are great for your bones – making them stronger and more resistant to fracture. Particularly good for women as they get a little older.
- Calorie burn – gymnastics gives you a workout to remember, burning calories, toning muscles.
- Ward off illness – finding regular slots in your week for some gymnastics can offer lasting health benefits, giving you a cardio boost and reducing risks of developing heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes.
- Discipline – gymnastics is a challenge for mind and body. Commit and you’ll learn mental and physical discipline – plus endurance. Core life skills.
- Strength – gymnasts are strong. They have great power-to-weight. And after just a few sessions you’ll start to notice the difference. You won’t bulk out, but you will start to do things you didn’t think possible.
- Co-ordination – gymnasts use their body intelligently. It’s all about precision and co-ordination. And it’ll carry over into the rest of your life.
- Confidence – strength, flexibility, co-ordination – they’ll all help put a spring in your step. And we all know a healthy body is a big step towards a healthy mind.
So how do I start?
Rather than plunging straight away into core gymnastic moves – particularly if you’re all grown up – there are a bunch of great exercise routines that’ll help you lay the groundwork. Remember it’s about strength and flexibility. So, try the following, and if you’re out of the exercise habit, remember to start slow and gentle:
- Yoga or Pilates – both great exercises for increasing that all important flexibility. Pilates is also particularly good on core strength, critical for holding positions.
- Push ups – gymnasts need shoulder strength, and even the humble push up can really help. Consider putting your hands close together or wide apart. If you’re new to them, you can always start with your head higher than your feet – pushing up from a bed maybe. And remember, it’s all in the reps.
- Pull-ups – pull-ups are great for working your upper body and are a cornerstone of gymnastic strength. Try them with your hands facing forward and backwards.
- The plank – nothing quite like it for strengthening that core. Lie on your front, fists clasped, elbows pushed into your sides, forearms on the floor and toes tucked under. Push up and come to rest on your forearms and feet, in a straight line parallel to the floor. Hold.
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