Gymnastics is a sport that includes a number of individual exercises that require a combination of strength, agility, coordination, balance, and grace. In addition to classical, or “artistic” gymnastics, other forms of the sport have become popular, including rhythmic gymnastics, acrobatic gymnastics, aerobic gymnastics, display gymnastics, trampolining, and tumbling.


Many people who participate in gymnastics (gymnasts) do so for the pure joy of performing exercises and/or improving their physical fitness. Many gymnasts take part in the sport in order to compete with other gymnasts in order to win awards for the best performance in one or more gymnastic categories.

Lilia Akhaimova of Russia competes on vault during the Voronin Cup in Moscow, Russia, December 2016.

Lilia Akhaimova of Russia competes on vault during the Voronin Cup in Moscow, Russia, December 2016. In most gymnastic championships, women compete in four events (vault, floor exercise, uneven bars, and balance beam), and men compete in six (vault, floor exercise, pommel horse, still rings, parallel bars, and high bar).


Virtually any man, woman, or child from the age of five years and up is able to participate in one or more gymnastic activities, provided they are willing to make the commitment needed to attain some level of skill in the sport. Individuals with debilitating physical handicaps are less likely to be able to participate in gymnastics.


The use of formal exercises for improving the fitness of one's body goes back thousands of years. As far back as the fifth millennium BCE Egyptian acrobats entertained audiences with physical stunts vaguely similar to those performed in modern gymnastic competitions. In the third millennium BCE, Chinese men performed formalized physical routines as part of the martial arts program known as wushu, an art still practiced in the modern world. Gymnastics was also popular among the ancient Greeks, who introduced the name of the sport. The term “gymnastics” comes from the Greek word gymnos, which means “naked.” The word was used because men performed the gymnastic sports in the nude. The Greek term also led to the use of the word “gymnasium” to describe any facility in which exercises were performed and, in some parts of the world, to any institution in which learning of any kind takes place. The primary purpose of gymnastic sports in Greece was training in the skills needed in military combat, such as running, throwing, wrestling, and swimming. In 776 BCE, the Greeks introduced an annual competition, the Olympics games, in which men throughout the country vied with each other for honors in each of a number of exercise sports.

The work of GutsMuths and Jahn spread rapidly throughout Europe, with gymnastics rapidly becoming a part of the formal education of most young men. At first, the emphasis was on gymnastics exercises in preparation for military service, but a passion for the sport soon spread to many individuals who had no connection with the sport. In 1881, gymnastics enthusiasts from Belgium, France, and the Netherlands met in Liége, France, to create an international organization, Fédération Européenne de Gymnastique (the European Gymnastics Federation). Forty years later, in 1921, the organization changed its name to F6dération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIE; International Gymnastics Federation), an organization that continues today as the governing body for international gymnastics. Acknowledgment of the sport's historical and current significance came in 1896, when gymnastics were included in the first modern Olympics games, held in Athens, Greece.

By the mid-nineteenth century, gymnastics had also spread to the United States. A major force in bringing the sport to the Americas was the arrival of German educators who brought with them the principles of gymnastics developed by GutsMuths, Jahn, and their colleagues. They established “Turnvereins,” gymnastics clubs, in a number of eastern cities. A strong force in promoting the spread of gymnastics was the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), which installed much of the equipment needed to participate in gymnastics in their own facilities. Control over gymnastics in the United States was assumed by the newly created Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in 1888. The AAU still sponsors a number of regional and national gymnastics events, although the governing board for the sport in the United States is now USA Gymnastics (USGA), created in 1963. USGA's authority comes from the FIE and the U.S. Olympic Committee. The world's reigning male gymnast is Kohei Uchimura, from Japan, who won the All Around Men's World Championship for the past seven years, as of the end of 2016. Uchimura won every major all-around title in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2015, along with winning the 2012 and 2016 Olympic all-around titles. The All Around Women's World Championships were won by Simone Biles, of the United States, in 2013, 2014, and 2015 (the championships were not held in 2016).

The sport of gymnastics is increasingly popular at both the high school and college level. The former is governed by the National High School Gymnastics Association, while college-level gymnastics is under the authority of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The 2017 NCAA gymnastic champion was the University of Oklahoma, at Norman, a team with back–to–back national championships in the last two years, and three in the last four years.


In most championship events, men compete in six different gymnastic events, and women, in four. The two events that both men and women complete are vault and floor exercises. Vault is performed when a competitor sprints down a runway 82 ft. (25 m) in length, jumps onto a spring board, projects himself or herself onto an apparatus called the “vault” behind the spring board, and then continues with another vault to a mat beyond the spring board. The last vault may be a simple jump to the mat, or it can include a variety of acrobatic twists and turns. Points are awarded based on the speed of the run, the lift-off from the spring board, the degree of difficulty and accuracy of performance of the acrobatic turns, and the cleanness of the landing on the mat.

A second common event is floor exercise, a series of activities performed on a mat 39 ft. (12 m) square. A floor exercise lasts no more than 90 seconds for women and 70 seconds for men. It consists, for women, of both acrobatic and dance movements that include tumbling, dancing, leaps, hops, and somersaults (called “saltos”). A man's routine does not contain the dance element, but places greater emphasis on strength and balance routines. Certain elements are required in a performance, and a competitor is scored not only on the skill and quality of the performance, but is penalized for failing to include a required element or for falling out of a position.

The other two events in which women compete are uneven bars and balance beam. Uneven bars are a pair of fiberglass-covered wood beams parallel to each other, but at different heights. Gymnasts swing over, under, and around the bars, passing from one bar to the other. They may also perform handstands and other movements on one or both bars, ending their routine with a leap from the bars that may include an acrobatic action. A balance beam is a single piece of wood, 16.4 ft. (5 m) in length, 4 in. (10 cm) wide, and 4 ft (1.25 m) above the ground. A competitor performs leaps and dances and does acrobatic moves and somersaults on the beam, at the conclusion of which she dismounts, usually with an acrobatic move.

Parallel bars consist of two bars 11.5 ft. (3.5 m) in length and 6.5 ft. (2 m) above the floor. Gymnasts perform a series of movements passing back and forth between the two bars and completing a handstand on one or two hands. The quality of the dismount is also included in the competitor's final score. High bar (also known as horizontal bar) is a steel bar 7.9 ft. (2.4 m) in length, about 8 ft. (2.5 m) above the floor. Essential to a high bar routine is changes in the way one grips the bar (overhanded, underhanded, and mixed, for example) and the skill with which one performs certain standard routines, especially swings around the bar.

A number of variants in classical gymnastics have evolved, including:


Gymnastics is a sport that allows one to demonstrate accomplishment in one or many possible, but highly specialized, skills. Success in the sports depends not only on having the natural talent and the developed skill within a particular type of gymnastics activity, but also the preparatory condition that allows one to perform at maximum efficiency.


In addition to the specialized equipment needed for each gymnastic sport, gymnasts may wear personal equipment designed to improve their performance on specific pieces of equipment. For example, gymnasts who work on bars may wear special gloves to protect their hands and almost always use chalk to improve their grip on the apparatus. Both men and women usually wear tight-fitting clothing that emphasizes the strength and flexibility of their bodies as they perform. Specialized shoes may be used in some types of events, although some events may also be performed in stockings or barefoot. Mats for floor exercises, running approaches, and under-apparatus protection are also essential.


Balance beam—
A piece of gymnastics equipment consisting of a single piece of wood, 16.4 ft. (5 m) in length, 4 in. (10 cm) wide, and 4 ft (1.25 m) above the ground, as well as the set of exercises a woman gymnast performs on the apparatus.
The act of leaving a piece of equipment at the completion of an exercise.
Floor exercise—
A series of gymnastic activities performed by both men and women on a mat 39 ft. (12 m) square.
High bar (horizontal bar)—
A piece of gymnastic equipment 7.9 ft. (2.4 m) in length, about 8 ft. (2.5 m) above the floor, as well as the exercise performed by men on the apparatus.
Parallel bars—
A set of two bars 11.5 ft. (3.5 m) in length and 2 meters above the floor, as well as the exercise performed on the apparatus.
Pommel horse—
A piece of gymnastics equipment with a shape roughly similar to that of a horse, with a padded body 5.2 ft (1.6 m) in length at the top, 14 in. (35 cm) wide atthetop, and heightfrom surfaceto floor of 3.77 ft. (1.15 m), as well as the exercise performed on the apparatus.
A condition where the vertebra disintegrate.
Still rings—
A set of two parallel ropes suspended from a stationary bar on the ceiling, to which are attached two circular rings. The rings have an inner diameter of 7 in. (18 cm) and are separated from each other by a distance of 20 in. (50 cm). Also, the exercise in which that equipment is used.
Uneven bars—
A pair of fiberglass-covered wood beams parallel to each other, but at different heights, on which contestants perform a variety of exercises.
A gymnastic exercise in which a competitor sprints down a runway, jumps onto a spring board, projects himself or herself onto an apparatus called the “vault” behind the spring board, and then continues with another vault to a mat beyond the spring board.

Gymnastics injuries can be classified into one of two general categories: overuse injuries and traumatic injuries. Overuse injuries are those that result from the continuous use of some body part, over and over again, often with inadequate time to allow the body part to rest and heal. Traumatic injuries are those that occur at a single moment, as when an athlete twists a wrist or knee or falls from a piece of apparatus. Among the most common types of injuries in gymnastics are:

Gymnasts are commonly troubled with wrist pain, It affects between 70%–80% of those participating in gymnastics. Such wrist pain is largely due of the significant amount of time that the wrists bear the weight of the upper extremities for such activities as dismounting, mounting, tumbling, and swinging from bars. As reported by Children's Hospital Colorado, other common injuries include elbow injuries (for the same reasons as reported for the wrists), shoulder injuries (rare in females but common in males), back injuries (frequently resulting in the medical condition called spondylolysis, which involves stress fractures in the vertebrae), and knee injuries (especially patellofemoral pain, which is also called anterior knee pain and runner's knee).



See also Calisthenics .



Arakaev, L. I., and N. G. Suchilin. How to Create Champions: The Theory and Methodology of Training Top-class Gymnasts. Oxford: Meyer & Meyer Sport, 2009.

Brown, Heather E. How to Improve at Gymnastics. St. Catharines, ON; New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 2009.

Gutman, Dan. Gymnastics: The Trials, the Triumphs, The Truth. New York: Puffin Books, 1998.

Monem, Jemni, ed. The Science of Gymnastics. Abingdon, UK; New York: Routledge, 2011.

Readhead, Lloyd. Gymnastics Skills—Techniques—Training. Marlborough, UK: Crowood Press, 2011.


Drills and Skills. (accessed January 22, 2017).

“Gymnastics 101.” About Sports. (accessed January 22, 2017).


Fé dé ration Internationale d'Escrime (International Fencing Federation), Maison du Sport International, Ave. de Rhodanie 54, 1007 Lausanne, Switzerland, 41 (21 320 31 15), Fax: 41 (21 320 31 16),, .

USA Gymnastics, 132 E Washington St., Ste. 700, Indianapolis, IN, 46204, (317) 237-5050, (800) 345-4719, Fax: (317) 237-5069, .

David E. Newton, AB, MA, EdD

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.