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The Comeback: Adult'nastics

Written by: Coach Kelley

Adult gymnastics is exploding in popularity around the world. From the living legend that is seven-time Olympian, Oksana Chusovitina, to the comeback of fan favorite world and Olympic medalist, Chellsie Memmel, these mature gymnasts are proving they are a force to be reckoned with. Both are also part of a small group of gymnasts to return to international competition after motherhood and they’re not alone.

Gymnastics is no longer a sport just for kids. Elite gymnasts are staying in the game well into their twenties and even thirties. Just check out the number of pages dedicated to adult gymnastics on social media and it's clear gymnastics for grownups is more than just a passing fad.

OK, now where do you start?

Were you a former gymnast who’s now aching (literally) to get back on the beam, or are you a beginner who’s always wanted to learn a cartwheel? With so much online content, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Just watching a Chellsie Challenge is guaranteed to make you sore.

First things first. As with any fitness program, you need to set realistic goals and expectations or you’ll crash and burn before you even start. Be honest with yourself. When was the last time you were upside down? The pros make it look easy, but what about an adult beginner?

As a coach, I love working with adult beginners because they are so enthusiastic. They’re finally taking the time to fulfill what may have been a lifelong dream and they’re hungry. Nothing beats the look of pure joy on an adult gymnast’s face after landing their first cartwheel.

Us former gymnasts often get frustrated trying to get our bodies to remember skills that once came so easily. Fear not, with the proper training you can safely participate in gymnastics for the rest of your life. Building a solid foundation of flexibility, conditioning, and basics will have you tumbling again in no time.

The physical benefits of gymnastics are abundant. Gymnasts practice flexibility, muscular strength, and muscular endurance with each class. Practicing gymnastics will improve performance in any other sport, as well as elevate your overall fitness and functional strength to a level that most people will never attain. It’s anything but boring as there’s always something new to learn. In other words, gymnastics is fun!

Time to put myself to the test!

I love working out, but I realized I had been ignoring my basic gymnastics skills. Sure, I’ll demo a cartwheel, but when was the last time I did a back handspring? Does one really need to do back handsprings? Can I still do a straight arm kip? I was pretty accident prone as a gymnast. Is my boss going to fire me if I get hurt?

Last October, I decided it was time to draw up a lesson plan for myself and just go for it. I wasn’t comfortable training in a class setting due this pesky global pandemic, so I was going to have to coach myself. I’m diligent about working out in general and I still put in time on my aerial apparatus, but would I really be able to force myself to do that extra set of jumping lunges? Can’t I just watch Chellsie do them on Instagram?

This is where technology came in super handy. Being able to watch myself and apply some of the knowledge I’ve gained from thirty years of coaching was super helpful. I recorded my workouts and scrutinized every bent knee and flexed foot. I was able to make corrections with each turn and saved my brain and body a lot of pain and frustration. To stay on task, I made myself a weekly lesson plan and conditioning chart.

As a teenage gymnast, I was always the last one to leave practice and didn’t realize I was often overtraining. This time, I listened to my body and stuck to the numbers and repetitions on the chart. In just few practices I was back in my tumbling groove and I got my straight arm kip! Just remembering how good it felt to move my body in different ways reminded me that gymnastics is fun no matter what your age.

Are you ready to do this?

For adults looking to take their practice to the next level there is a rising interest in adult competitions. Many different programs, including the NAIGC, USAIGC, and USAG offer adult age groups for all levels. During my years as a coach with the USAIGC program, I witnessed adults of all ages enjoying the spotlight at various meets. I’ll never forget when one of my young gymnasts asked me, “Why don’t you compete Coach Kelley? You could do bars.” Hmmm, might be time to dust off that flyaway.

The bottom line is, have you been feeling the urge to flip again? Then it’s time to take that grip bag (you know you still have it) down from the top shelf of your closet and find an adult gymnastics class near you. Hell, put on a new leotard while you’re at it. They’re so much more sparkly than when I was a gymnast. Happy flipping!


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