What it’s like to try gymnastics for the first time as an adult
It’s one thing to learn flexibility on a yoga mat, but (as it turns out) mixing pliability with power is not as easy as it looks
My journey to gymnastics
For anyone even remotely athletic, there’s no drawback to enjoying some light exercise. And that’s probably a fair description of my athletic prowess... a little remote. For context, I can pick myself up from the sofa and survive a 5-a-side game of football, and I may even swim a few lengths after a heavy breakfast if I’m feeling bold, but I was rather naïve to think I could make it through my first gymnastics class unscathed.
It all began with a fateful (and very modern) encounter with a Romanian gymnast on Instagram. Scrolling through endless and ineffective #fitspo posts on social media hadn’t left me feeling very fit, nor inspired, but a chance comment on a picture led to an offer I couldn’t refuse – an enticing free introductory session in gymnastics. My mind immediately tracked back to my last foray into the sport, which was probably a sloppy forward roll before I’d even reached a double digit age. But what’s the harm in trying, right?
The next thing I knew, I was dragging my 31-year-old 100-kilo frame to an outdoor gym in Dubai Marina, to meet a Romanian gymnastic prodigy five years my junior and with 30kg less gravitational pull. What followed was a pedigree dog show-esque assessment, complete with sprinting, weighing and a lot of stretching. What ensued was an hour of pain, pulling and panting – an assault on my limbs and ligaments in an attempt to see how limber I could become. After what felt like quite some time, it was determined that I wasn’t a lost cause, but there was plenty of work to be done before I could even attempt some sort of roll or tumble.
A closer look at the benefits:
• Gymnastics is an anaerobic exercise, meaning it’s great for cardio
• Gymnasts are some of the strongest and most flexible athletes
• Exercises are quick but explosive, subjecting the gymnast's body to a wide variety of stimuli
• Gymnasts are very good at both static and dynamic balance, which is great for improving posture and core strength
• It’s a reasonably safe sport. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has recorded it to be low on the list of activities likely to send you to the hospital. Source
The road ahead
I may have left the trial session limping from a feeble failure at performing the splits, but it became immediately clear what a great benefit regular gymnastics training would be. Putting all macho sensibilities aside, the idea of training cardio, flexibility and strength in unison is arguably one of the best all-round workouts available. While new-fangled trends like CrossFit are often used to bulk muscle mass with heavy lifting, the idea of gymnastics is to simply to be more athletic, with more mastery over your own body.
To be clear, there are a dozen variants of gymnastics, from the sublime to the ridiculous. If you were picturing ribbons, rings and the peculiarly named “pommel horse”, then you’re sorely mistaken. There wasn’t even a trampoline. This was about partaking in the primary athletic movements associated with the “floor” discipline. Centuries ago, gymnastics formally originated in Ancient Greece where it was originally intended for military training, where it was used by soldiers to get ready for war.
Now in 2016, the simple notion of being able to move better may sound redundant, but the irony is that fully-grown adults need to be even more concerned about joint health and functional muscle strength than the school kids that are typically associated with the sport. It’s an activity of ancient origins that has survived for a reason; so we can better ourselves and see what we’re capable of. In my case, it wasn’t much, but I left feeling as satisfied as I did sore, with the knowledge that I would stretch a little further and move with more precision and power with each and every attempt.
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