Unit 9    Gymnastics

Lesson 34      GYMNASTICS

The words "gymnastics" and "gym" come from the Greek language, for it was in Greece that Olympic competitions started. There are also records of gymnastics being performed in China and some other Asian countries. Modern gymnastics began in the nineteenth century. In 1811 an outdoor gymnastics centre for men was opened in Berlin where they could do body-building and exercises on a high bar and other pieces of equipment. At the same time, gymnastics, without equipment, was developed in Sweden as a keep-fit programme for schools.

Dance is an important part of training as it prepares you for the types of movements required in gymnastics. One of the aims is to make the body stronger for jumps and turns and for movements of balance. It also helps your body bend forwards, backwards and sideways, and improves the way you hold your body. In competitions women perform some of their exercises to music, so dance, gymnastics and music are all connected.

To become a top gymnast, it is important to start when very young. In fact, most gymnasts start with simple exercises while they are still at kindergarten. Girls are already performing in competitions by the age of ten, and Olympic medals are often won by fourteen- or fifteen-year-old girls.

Boys develop physically later than girls and so Olympic gymnastics medals are usually won by men between the ages of nineteen and twenty-five. Some pieces of equipment, for example the rings, require great physical strength and boys need to develop their bodies fully before attempting such difficult exercises.

In competitions, gymnasts have to perform on different pieces of equipment. All gymnasts perform on the floor and jump over a "horse" with four legs. Gymnasts have to show that they can move neatly and easily, hold a position steady, keep their balance while doing a handstand, and jump both forwards and backwards.

Only men perform on the rings, on the double bars, on the high bar, and on a type of "horse" with four legs which has two handles fixed to the top surface. Only women perform on the high-and-low bars, one of which is higher than the other, and the "beam" which is a length of wood only four inches wide which is fixed at a height of 1.20 metres above the ground. Both men and women do floor exercises on the mat. 
    There are a few simple safety measures to follow while training. 
    1 It is important always to work with a trainer. Training by yourself in a gym can be highly dangerous.
    2 Make sure you take off any watches, rings or necklaces before you start.
    3 Wear tight clothing without collars or belts so that it doesn't catch on any of the equipment.
    4 Look after your health and do not practise if you are unwell or have any injury.