The McBryde Guide to Gymnastics
Gymnastics aren’t for the faint of heart. Folks would have you thinking it’s easy because kids do it, but they underestimate the sorts of things that kids are capable of, like bending nearly in half and recovering from tumbles that would leave a wrestler in agony.
Welcome to our Gymnastics Guide. If you missed our McBryde Guide to MMA, you should really check it out. Now, moving on.
A Brief History of Gymnastics
Once upon a time, Ancient Greeks developed what we’d call gymnastics as training for their soldiers. The skills used in this activity were considered to be beneficial on the battlefield, which makes a lot of sense when you consider the strength training and body control that are required.
The version of gymnastics that lead to what we know today developed in the mid-eighteenth century, as did some of the equipment. It was in 1896 that men’s gymnastics were included in the Olympics, but the women’s competition wasn’t added until 1928.
What Can You Learn From Gymnastics?
Most people know at least one gymnast. I don’t just mean professional sorts, either, I mean the kid down the street that goes to gymnastics class every week or the cheerleader at your college. Gymnastics is an intense sport where the people that are practicing it have to be at the top of their game. Flexibility is important. Wanting to try new things and being brave enough not to be worried that maybe that flip isn’t going to go well? Also important.
Gymnastics are cool because even with the absolute bear necessities of gymnastics equipment, someone can do some pretty impressive things. It doesn’t require jazzy uniforms or heavy machinery, and it can sometimes seem like magic the way people flip across the floor and run their routines.
Gymnastics teaches lots of really important skills to people of all ages, aside from the ability to seem like you’re made of rubber and do a lot of flipping in mid-air.
Balance and control are important skills to develop, and gymnasts have it in spades. Whether they’re perched on gymnastics equipment like the balance beam or juggling their gym time with work, sleep, proper nutrition, and recovering from injury, they’re learning this important skill. They’re learning how to control their body’s movements, right down to the most finite, and they’re developing a mastery over their bodies that most people don’t have.
Gymnasts also learn about health and how important it is to eat a healthy diet and take care of their bodies, understanding what they need to keep up their strength and flexibility. If their trainers are doing things right, they’re also learning not to obsess over their size because size does not dictate health and by obsessing over their size, they put their health at risk. This is how eating disorders crop up.
Social skills can be developed in gymnastics, too, as kids and adults alike meet new people and form bonds and friendships. When you’re a gymnast, you’re probably going to be working with the same people for a very long time, working with the same team for years, and that is a great way for people to learn how to interact with one another.
Gymnastics also helps foster a healthy sense of discpline. You’re getting up and going to classes every week, going to training on a regular basis, doing the work and not giving up. That takes a lot of discipline, and gymnasts have lots of it. Sticking with training regimens definitely helps.
Why is gymnastics cool? Why not? You’re learning all sorts of neat moves that are really impressive, and the fact that you’re actually mastering them, or even trying at all, is cool. You’re working on this gymnastics equipment that isn’t used for any other purpose and you know all these secrets that nobody else does. Congratulations, you are cool. Don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise (especially not the debate club, I mean, they’re probably just trying to get you to debate the subject with them anyway).
Gymnastics Mats and Equipment
Gymnastics makes use of multiple types of mat and a handful of pieces of equipment. The balance beam, handstand trainers, high bars, floor bars, metal bars, beams, and inclines are essential for pulling off the gymnast’s techniques.
They can also make use of weights and weight training, as having the physical strength to propel themselves through the air is just as important as knowing those techniques.
There are as many mats for gymnastics as there are techniques and moves. Every single mat has a purpose, and every single one will be used by a gymnast at least once. The main mats that you’re probably familiar with are folding panel mats, incline mats, crash mats, blocks, landing/throw mats, and springboard mats.
Folding panel mats are thin and firm, measuring about twelve feet long and with panels that alternate colors. These are the mats that have velcro strips on the ends and can be folded and stacked, or attached to other mats to make them cover more area. They’re often used to protect gymnasts by acting as a surface for those that are working on a low balance beam, or they’re used for practicing tumbling. It’s not unusual for schools and gyms to replace these after 7 years, if they can afford to do so, and they’re great for protecting people from impacts with a concrete floor. You probably remember them from your school gym.
You’ve probably been really, really happy to have them around if you’re a shorter student (for reaching beams and rings) or just because they help prevent slipping.
Incline mats, a.k.a. cheese mats or wedge mats, are triangle-shaped mats that are really firm and used to train handsprings, rolls, and walkovers. Yes, they’re named because they look like a wedge of cheese.
Crash mats are lifesavers when you’re learning high-impact skills because they’re really thick, and really soft. This is what’s between most students and a nasty concussion, so they have to be soft and thick.
Blocks are exactly what they sound like, though they do come in trapezoid shapes as well as rectangular blocks. They’re great for practicing vaulting, or as step-stools for getting up onto a beam or close to bars. Like the panel mats, they can be attached to one another with their velcro strips and some straps.
Landing/throw mats usually come in two flavors – white or red – so that they’re easy to tell apart from the other mats. They might be referred to as “sting” mats, too, as they help lessen the impact – the “sting” – from beam dismounts, tumbling landings, etc. They’re not often used in competition, which is kind of unfortunate because this sort of thing can be pretty painful.
Springboard mats are used for vaulting and surround a springboard on three of its four sides. The general idea behind them is that a gymnast can push off them if their foot misses the board and, hopefully, avoid a sprain or other nasty injury.
How important are mats for gymnastics?
They’re very important. You can’t practice without them because their purpose is to help prevent serious injury, and many injuries can actually completely destroy a gymnast’s career – breaking a bone can be felt for years and permanently mess up somebody’s leg, for example. Hitting a padded mat is far easier on the body than slamming into concrete or hardwood. You can’t skimp on mats. Either you have all the mats that you need, or you forget about holding gymnastics practice and consider taking up something else, instead. Remember, you can always contact us and get a quote on the pieces that are missing.
Safety always comes first!
Safety in Gymnastics
Kids all over America take up gymnastics for the exercise, because they saw it on tv, because it’s fun, or for other reasons that we haven’t listed here. It’s popular and it’s a lot of fun to watch – and accomplished gymnasts pull off a lot of fantastic moves that look a lot like magic to the untrained eye. With that said, it’s important to practice safely and take care of yourself on and off the gymnastics mats. What are some ways for gymnasts to keep safe, and what are they preventing?
Broken bones, sprained ankles and wrists, foot injuries, torn ligaments, and concussions are common injuries that don’t just happen in competition – they happen in practice, too, because gymnastic mats aren’t enough. They certainly help, and they’re used for good reason! It’s still really important to pay attention to your surroundings, too.
Protect yourself from wrist injuries with wrist straps, wrist guards, and grips. This set of gear is used to prevent blisters when you’re on still rings, the parallel bars, high bar, or uneven bars. Proper footwear is important too, and can provide grip when you’re on surfaces that aren’t the familiar mats – or support for your ankles and toes.
In the practice facility…
Always, always check the equipment. Your equipment must be properly maintained, with gymnastic mats underneath and secured properly. First aid must always be available, and remember that if someone has fallen they should not be moved by someone other than an emergency responder.
If you’re not comfortable with the routine that you’re working on, or with the maneuver that you’re practicing, stop. Tell your coach. Follow your instincts – if you’re not comfortable with something, it’s going to impact your performance and you could get hurt. There’s always a good reason for that gut feeling.
If, while you’re practicing or performing, you feel something hurting, it’s important to tell someone. That pain or discomfort could be the sign of a developing injury – yes, overworking can actually cause problems! – and you need to rest until a doctor has given you the okay to keep going. There are a lot of people that believe in pushing forward despite the pain. Those people are wrong, and that can make things worse. Pain is usually a signal from your body for you to stop doing what you’re doing, or to change something.
Before practice: stretch! Give your muscles a warm-up. This helps prevent strain injuries.
What does rest and healthy eating have to do with preventing injury?
Part of keeping safe is keeping alert. When we’re not eating properly and not getting enough sleep, what tends to happen is that our minds suffer, as do our bodies. It can be difficult to concentrate, and our judgment can be impaired. Not having enough sleep is said to cause symptoms similar to being drunk and nobody can practice or perform in that condition. Not eating properly means you’re not getting the right amount of nutrients, and those nutrients help keep your bones and muscles healthy, too.
Diet and proper rest have everything to do with keeping injury-free!
Most of all: don’t overestimate yourself. When you’re just learning, start simply and gradually progress. It’s not a race. Once you’ve mastered the lowest level, move up to the next, and so on.
Gymnastics classes are usually fairly accessible. Specialized gyms, parks and recreation departments, summer camps, and public schools all offer classes for aspiring gymnasts.
Starting a child off in gymnastics is a great way to get them moving, help them meet new people, and get them started into a schedule of some sort.
For those with the desire to become professional gymnasts, it’s not an easy road. Many hours of training and practice are required, and someone can try for many years to make it to the Olympic team, for example, and not get there. With enough determination and ferocious iron will, anything is possible. It’s a demanding career with a decent payoff, to the tune of an average salary of around $50,000 – with at least 10 years of experience.
Making it to the Olympics increases that number considerably, with previous gold medal winners making $10,000 – $15,000 just on the speech circuit.
How Much Do Gymnastics Classes Cost?
Starting at three months of age until about 12 years, classes can cost anywhere from $13.00 – $20.00 for each session. This depends on location. Professional gymnasts can expect to pay upwards of $300.00 per month for their classes, with the cost increasing as a gymnast adds more training hours. Considering the costs of some other sports, it’s actually fairly reasonable.
If a summer program is more your style, you can expect to pay up to $150.00. These class sets typically last 10 weeks and occur on a weekly basis.
There’s also the summer camp option. For up to $500 per weekly session, the gymnast in your life can spend the entire week learning and practicing their craft.
Finally, adult classes tend to be $20.00 or so, depending on where they’re located.
Next up, the McBryde Guide to Wrestling!
Bonus: Some cuties having fun during their Level 1 gymnastics training.