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How to Put the Gym Back Into Gymnastics

Posted Mar 05 2009 2:59pm 1 Comment
Note: For those of you who get this via e-mail or thru a reader, you will want to click through to my site - there are a lot of videos in this post. Trust me, you don't want to miss these.

A long time ago Reader Lys asked me about doing gymnastics in the gym. A long long time ago Reader Sally asked me for more stories about my days as a gymnast. A long long long time ago everyone who knows in me in real life asked me to never speak of gymnastics again as it is one of those stories that manages to be very boring despite having a lot of gore (broken bones! snapped necks!! team-wide PMS!!!) and shiny costumes. But thanks to the miracle of the Internet I have a collection of hilarious gymnastic pictures and videos that need sharing so badly they're threatening to pop out of my computer like a red thong under white bike shorts (you know who you are) so today's all about the gymnastics.

Sally's question ought to be answered first: There's only one way to say this and so I'll just get it out there. Despite participating in the sport up until I was a sophomore in college and loving it with all my heart and thinking of nothing else every waking moment, I was - how to put this kindly? - a very mediocre gymnast. I'm not just being modest either. I was the Jimmy Fallon of the gymnastics world: all heart but no skill. (What, have you SEEN the clips making the rounds on the 'net from his new show? It's like a youtube knockoff of a Saturday Night Live parody of Leno copying Letterman filling in for the janitor on Carson's set. Justin Timberlake, on the other hand, was brilliant. They should give him the gig.)

My non-brilliance started with my size. Even though I was a twee 5'3" at the time, that's freakishly tall for a gymnast leading judges to give me comments like "I love her long lines... but she lands heavy." and "She's very graceful... except when she falls and gets flustered." and my favorite "She has perfect vault legs." Masters of the backhanded compliments, they were.

The last comment lead into my undoing, however. See, one thing all gymnasts need (besides talent, which we've already established that I did not have) is fearlessness. I was afraid. I was afraid that my butt glue - yes, I'm serious - wouldn't hold and I'd get an atomic wedgie (see pic above) during a competition and everyone knows that you will get points deducted for picking a wedgie during your floor routine. I was afraid of falling straddle on the beam. And forgetting my choreography. And throwing up from nerves. And ripping a toenail off on my bar routine, arcing blood through the air like World Rhythmic Gymnastics production of The Saw. (All of which I did, thank you very much.) But most of all, I was afraid of the vault.

Consider: you are running at sprint speed at a big chunk of leather and metal bolted into the floor. You are supposed to run the exact same number of steps - yep, we count! - and then hit the springboard on the sweet spot which will then allow you to fly at just the right angle, velocity and power to do a death-defying flippy thingy over the massive object in your way. People who watch gymnastics often think vault is the filler apparatus. The bars earn all the high-flying oohs and ahs, the beam is obviously very hard - it's 4-inches wide, like duh - and the floor is everyone's favorite both to compete and to watch (and the only one you get music for!) . But I'm here to tell you that the vault is the true measure of athletic ability. And because of my "athletic thighs" (side note: you can always tell a vault specialist by her thighs - poor child looks like an East German powerlifter who wandered into a midget ballet recital) the vault was the one apparatus I could get some decent scores on. So why the dread? Because if you mess up even one tiny piece of the process this happens:

Despite the title of this video, it is not in the least bit funny.

This one, though, I must admit is as hilarious as it is frightening:

Anyhow, you don't just fall, like on beam or bars, or step out of bounds, like on floor. Oh no, you screw up on vault and you're the middle car in a six-car pile-up on the highway. You crash. I remember watching a girl in my gym miss her vault during practice and literally snap her neck. I heard the pop all the way across the gym. She lived, thankfully, but was in a neck brace for months. By the time it had healed, she'd decided not to return to the team. And so it was in that moment right after I'd signaled to the judges and right before I took that first step that my heart would seize up in my chest. If I made my vault it was total relief that I had survived to compete on something I really enjoyed doing (albeit badly) and if I missed... well, I never had a bad miss.

What I did instead was broke my foot. I snagged my toe on the low bar during a simple transition to the high bar and broke it all the way up my foot. My toe was literally perpendicular
to my foot. And yet I didn't want a cast or anything else incapacitating because then I wouldn't be able to compete. So we had it set and taped it. I rebroke it two weeks later on a hard landing on the beam. Reset. Retape. And then two weeks later did it again. But this time I did it by dropping a container of flour on it while making cookies. My mother, completely fed up by this point, set my foot on the kitchen table. At my next meet, all I could think about on vault was my bones slipping out of gear in my foot and sending me flying to my death. I quit the team.

Gymnastic Inspired Workouts
I did, however, continue to dabble in the sport just for kicks and giggles. So Reader Lys' question is one I have often contemplated myself. When you talk about doing a gymnastics workout, you have two options:

1. Actually doing tricks. This requires apparatus like fiberglass uneven bars and a gymnastics floor with 2 feet of springs and foam padding (you all do know that the Olympic gymastic floor is like one gigantic springboard right??). Unless you actually workout in a gymnastic facility these items are hard to come by. I don't recommend improvising, like say kipping on the chin-up bar. The Y actually removed our chin-up bar and part of me suspects it had a lot to do with me hanging by my knees and cherry dropping off of it.

2. Doing the conditioning portion of the gymnastic workout. It's less fun to watch but every gymnast does daily conditioning as part of their training. This involves tortorous moves like hanging abs, V-ups, handstand walks & push-ups & static holds, pull-ups and other assorted drills. These are easily done in most gym settings, as long as you don't mind getting looked at funny.

For those of you interested in incoporating some gymnastics moves into your strength routines, here are some resources:

- An Olympic hopeful takes Women's Health through a conditioning workout. (I'd start with this one.)

- The Gymnastics Workout of the Day gives you something new every day. (Do note that it's a site for male gymnasts so they say things like "hold parallel for 3 seconds and then press to handstand." Uh huh.

- Beast skills offers guided tutorials of some of the skills (again, men's gymnastics). My fave was the "no-handed one-arm chin-up." Eek.

Other options are doing basic skills like handstands, cartwheels, walkovers (front and back) and other tricks that don't require a spot or a equipment.

I know a lot of you out there are ex-gymnasts - what are your fave gymnastics-inspired workout moves? For you non-gymnasts, you don't have to have done it to appreciate the humor! Here's one last funny video for you:

Comments (1)
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♥ those photos amazed me  ( the first one + the 5th one ) it's great to lean gymnastic it's a dream for many people I know. My dream is a bit related to gymnastic. It is Pop fancing, it requires strengh and stamina and gymnastic could help at some moves in this type of dancing.  

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