When I tell people about adult gymnastics, the response I get usually goes something like, “Wow that’s cool, I wish I could do that.” They think of gymnastics as something you HAVE to learn as a kid, but that’s really not true! I have a friend who’d never tried any gymnastics until two years ago, and he’s now doing round-off back-handspring back-tucks on floor. Another friend who’s learning back-handsprings, only started at the beginning of this year.
I want to address some of the questions and concerns you might have about adult gymnastics classes, so here we go...
What is an adult gymnastics class actually like?
This will vary based on the coach and the gym you go to, with some classes run more like an open gym, and some more structured. I think I’ve had 7 different coaches at 5 different gyms, and all but one class started with a floor warm-up - things like running, footwork drills, jumps, etc. Then you’ll probably stretch as a group, and work on some basic tumbling drills and progressions: forward and backward rolls, handstands, cartwheels, and moving on to more advanced skills for the experienced gymnasts. After the warm-up, you’ll be able to use other equipment in the gym, and work on whatever skills you want to learn. There’s always a coach available to help if you just ask! At my gym, we sometimes do a strength workout at the end (“conditioning” in gymnastics terms), either led by the coach or just organized independently.
Don’t I have to be super fit and strong already?
Most gymnastics skills are actually more about body position and skill than they are about strength. It’s a mental workout, and you spend more time learning the right movement than you do building your muscles. Yes, there’s a certain level of strength you'll need to be able to progress, but it might not be as much as you think. It’s also relative strength that counts - the ability to lift your own bodyweight - so it doesn’t really matter how many pounds you can squat or bench-press.
I’m scared of getting injured!
Yes, it’s true that adults are at greater risk for injury (in any sport) due to our larger body size. We also can’t train as often as kids because we need more time to recover. But the skills that tend to cause serious injuries for gymnasts are very advanced ones, especially on beam - skills you won’t be doing for a long time if you’re just starting out! Beginner gymnastics tends to be very safe, as long as you follow the proper progressions and master the basics before moving on. Gymnastics gyms are full of safety mats and trampolines to learn on, and a good coach will know how to design drills and spot you on harder skills so you don’t get hurt.
How long until I can do that awesome trick I saw in the Olympics?
It takes a long time for ANYONE to learn advanced gymnastics skills, regardless of age, and everyone starts from the beginning. The reason gymnasts who started really young are so good is just because they’ve had a long time to learn. There’s no reason you can't also be a great gymnast if you put in the time, just don’t expect to do back flips in your first session! You CAN, however, learn something new every class if you start with the basics and progress to incrementally harder skills.
Still need convincing? Here are some more reasons you should try gymnastics as an adult:
1. A mental workout - Compared to your regular gym workout, gymnastics demands a lot more mental focus and brain power. The body control and balance you need for skills like handstands, for instance, require many more neurons to fire than for simpler strength movements. Challenging yourself to learn complicated motor skills helps you build stronger neural connections in your brain and build up resistance to mental stress.
2. All-around athleticism - Gymnastics will improve your performance in almost any sport by increasing power, agility, coordination, balance, and functional strength - the kind of strength you need to move your own body and live your life.
3. Flexibility - There’s a much greater emphasis on stretching and flexibility than in most other sports or exercise classes. Flexibility is SO important for preventing muscle and joint injuries, because it increases your range of motion and helps your muscles work more efficiently (neuromuscular efficiency).
4. Ninja skills - If you’ve ever wished you could roll and jump and swing around like a badass ninja warrior/assassin/Jedi/Link/martial artist... now’s your chance!
5. Community - This is the kind of class people get hooked on and come back to week after week. If you stick to it, you’re likely to see the same group of people over and over, and might just make some new friends!
6. It’s fun! - The most important benefit of all. In gymnastics, you’re moving your body through space instead of performing mostly stationary exercises, which can make a nice change from regular strength training. Working out shouldn’t be a chore, and you’re much more likely to stick to it over the long term if you’re having fun.
In case you're still not sure about trying an adult class at an actual gymnastics gym, you can always start by adding some gymnastics strength training into your regular workouts. I've been experimenting with these workouts from coach Chris Lofland.