So, I want to be a gymnast
July 19, 2007 4:34 PM   Subscribe

I want to be a gymnast! Except I need to get fit first ...

I did gymnastics as a child. Since then, I've grown a lot and spent about 20 years ruining my flexibility behind a desk. I am unfit, overweight, and have a knee injury. I'd like to know how to get from where I am today, to being able to safely pursue gymnastics as a hobby. Basically, I'd like to know how to focus my current exercise regime on this goal. I have very little strength, have poor cardio vascular endurance, am about 10 kgs overweight, in my mid-twenties, and can't touch my toes most days. I do weightlifting twice a week, and yoga once a week. I'd like to be able to sign up for gymnastics in January. Help me, hive mind!
posted by ysabet to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Crossfit includes gymnastics-type movement as a pillar of their fitness regime. The program will get you into gymnastics shape and then you can move on with real gym training.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:54 PM on July 19, 2007

I'm afraid I know little about gymnastics, but in pretty much any athletic endeavor you need to have a solid aerobic base and a lean enough frame to allow sufficient motion. Endurance/cardio exercise (combined with a sensible diet, of course) should take care of this after you start a strong regimen. The weight training will also help to lose that weight, since muscle that's repairing itself burns up calories at a pretty good rate. Keep in mind, though, that gymnasts have to be very strong, and it's the type of strength that doesn't really come from weight training -- if I'm not mistaken, you have to strengthen your core by practicing the actual apparatuses ad nauseam. (The kind of strength on display in some of the Olympic ring routines I've seen is jaw-dropping.)

As for the aerobic exercise: this next part is still open to debate in some circles, but I have found that a solid, gradually increasing routine of cycling or running done at a medium pace, combined with a strong interval workout every two or three days, can get you into decent shape in weeks or months. (I've dabbled in cross country and wrestling, and this sort of stuff is pretty much par for the course.) Also, you need to take a nice looooong time for a thorough and leisurely stretch before each workout. It's pretty much impossible to make your pre-workout stretching too thorough. And a post-workout stretch is advisable too.

After that, I'm afraid I have no idea how a gymnast should really train, but I'm sure one of us mefites has a more precise answer. :)
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 5:04 PM on July 19, 2007

PS: oh shit! I meant this to be the second rings video. I can't decide which of the two is more amazing.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 5:08 PM on July 19, 2007

Do you have a gym in mind where you'd like to start? Why not just start right in with their beginner level adult class? Even though you're not a beginner, the intro level classes will probably be full of people like you (who want to get in shape and do gymnastics) and the instructors will keep it safe and slow. Nothing like doing x to get into better shape for x.
posted by anaelith at 5:29 PM on July 19, 2007

Response by poster: Cool Papa Bell:

Thanks, I've heard of Crossfit previously. It seems a little daunting - I might start out with the linked beginner's workouts.

Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam:

Hm. I know that to reach more than a cursory level in the sport that I'll have to specifically train with the sport. And yeah, amazing stuff in those vids :) Not sure about the cycling/running - my lower back isn't strong enough for the first, and the knee injury really makes the latter hard to work up to. I am planning on doing intervals on the elliptical though, thanks :) Do you have any idea where I can find a good stretching resource?


There are two places that offer adult beginner classes in this city - I'll be going with the one nearby. Thing is, it is *not* safe at my present level of condition to do beginner-level stuff - combination of knee injury and unfitness. If I didn't have the injury, it would be a very different story.
posted by ysabet at 8:10 PM on July 19, 2007

Best answer: Great choice. Gymnastics is a lot of fun and an excellent way to get really fit. You will probably get more out of a class if you start with a certain baseline of strength, but if you're willing to take things a little slower, anaelith is right that you can start right away.

Adult classes are pretty uncommon and usually combine all skill levels. My class works on skills ranging from cartwheels and handstands to back tucks and arabians, so pretty much anyone can join. But I think the more skills you can work on, the more enjoyable the classes are, so there's nothing wrong with getting more in shape first if that's the route you want to go. In particular, things that would help most are getting stronger, getting lighter, and improving flexibility, probably in that order. Traditional aerobic exercise is not going to help all that much.

For flexibility and exercises more specific to gymnastics, take a look at the conditioning section of the website Drills and Skills. Depending on your level of fitness, some of the exercises will be too hard, but work on what you can and just try to make progress with whatever you can do. Also more traditional weight-training will help get you stronger and VMPV's suggestion of intervals will help get the weight off. Crossfit is also a great suggestion (make sure to read the FAQ) for just generally getting in shape and they do try to promote gymnastics moves as well. Also, don't miss the scaled-down workouts which are good to start with. If you dig through the main Crossfit site enough (including the extensive message board) you'll also find a lot of excellent nutrition info.

One last hint: start working on handstand strength by just holding them against a wall. That shoulder strength will help you in almost everything in gymnastics.
posted by Durin's Bane at 8:27 PM on July 19, 2007

Response by poster: Durin's Bane:

Thanks! That gymnastics website is pretty awesome. Although, looking at the 'Basic' skills ... there is practically nothing on that list that I can do, at present. I just don't have the shoulder strength to get up into a handstand, for eg. I am working on improving that, though, as I've already hit a problem in yoga. I also can't start classes yet - the next intake is in January. I figure I may as well get off on the right foot by starting to prepare now.
posted by ysabet at 9:22 PM on July 19, 2007

As an ex-gymnast myself, I find that yoga has a lot in common with some of the warmup exercises we did in gymnastics, and a lot of positions have much to recommend them in terms of strength as well as flexibility. I'd make a concerted effort to do some yoga every day (15-30 minutes, maybe?) as I've heard that less time daily is better than once a week for more time, which is advice I myself could follow.
posted by bijou at 9:58 PM on July 19, 2007

Yeah, 'Basic' level skills are tough. That's pretty much all my class works on. Unless someone does gymnastics their whole childhood, it's hard to progress to the more challenging skills. So don't worry about that, it's what the class will be for. Just concentrate on getting stronger with weights and the conditioning exercises from Drills and Skills. Don't be afraid to lift heavy weights cause that'll help immensely.
posted by Durin's Bane at 6:25 AM on July 20, 2007

Are there any Pilates classes in your area? Pilates exercises were originally designed to be rehabilitation exercises to build strength and flexibility, so they would be suitable for your current physical condition.
posted by needled at 8:40 AM on July 20, 2007

Response by poster: bijou:

Hmm, unfortunately, yoga is availble to me at most twice a week, but I'll try getting to both sessions if I can.


I do pilates classes once in a while - I find they help with core strength a bit. Thanks for the recommendation :)
posted by ysabet at 2:30 AM on July 21, 2007

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