What Skills Do You Need to Know to Start Gymnastics at Age 13?

Gymnasts posing upside down
Flexibility is the most immediate skill in gymnastics. (Image: Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

A newcomer to the sport is getting a late start at 13 years old, at least compared to the world-class performers in artistic gymnastics. But a good athlete can learn the basics fairly quickly. "You don't need any particular skills before you start in gymnastics and many of the qualities you do need can be developed through training," British Gymnastics official Jo Prescott said in a Q &A for the Talented Young People website.

Flexibility

Gymnasts work to improve their flexibility from their first day of training. They cannot learn the necessary skills, master each event and perform winning routines without it. Both static and dynamic flexibility are mandatory for all the disciplines. "Rhythmic Gymnastics require extreme flexibility," Prescott noted.

Strength And Power

Competitive gymnastic routines are brief but intense, so strength and power are more important than aerobic endurance. Powerful upper bodies are especially important in men's artistic gymnastics. "The Rings apparatus . . . demands high levels of physical strength," Prescott said. Gymnasts must develop functional strength. Building muscles for show could actually hurt gymnastic performance.

Coordination

A competitive gymnast must move quickly and smoothly from one skill to the next during routines. The bars events are especially challenging. The USA Gymnastics website notes that parallel bars require great "hand-eye coordination, timing and balance." Many of the moves must be coordinated with the flex of the bars. "Losing sight of the bars on the high-level skills makes it difficult to re-grasp the bars and smoothly continue," the site noted.

Bounciness

Competitors in artistic, rhythmic and aerobic gymnastics must be light on their feet. Elements of dance and tumbling are central to many of the events. Many artistic gymnasts train with trampolines while learning the basics before moving to the "spring floor" to train. While gymnasts must be powerful, they must also be nimble. The Australian Institute of Sport notes that today's male gymnasts are smaller than the gymnasts of the 1950s. "Male gymnasts are lean and heavily-muscled, yet possess adequate flexibility and agility to perform the required skills at elite international competition," the AIS reported.

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