World of Gymnastics – History, Types, Rules & Scoring and Much More

Everything about gymnastics

You know their names – Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, and Simone Biles – you know that they’re Olympic gymnasts, and you may have even watched some of their gold-medal winning routines during the 2016 Olympic Games.

But how much do you really know about the sport?

To begin with, yes, gymnastics is, in fact, a sport. A sport is defined as anything in which athletes train and compete against one another, and gymnastics is highly competitive.

After an intense period of conditioning and perfecting complex routines, gymnasts are judged on a set of strict criteria to determine a winner.

Some of the most well-known gymnastic exercises are the balance beam, the vault, the bars, and the trampoline.

But there’s so much more to the sport than flipping and jumping around – it’s a highly disciplined art form that requires your mind to be as sharp as your body is strong.

It’s about building confidence in your movements and developing an eye for perfection, and it requires incredible strength, stamina, and control.

The History of Gymnastics

The concept of gymnastics – the art of strengthening the body in order to perform precise, complex movements – can be traced back as far as Ancient Greece, or sometime between 800 and 500 B.C.

The word “gymnastic” comes from the Greek “gymnos”, meaning “naked”. That’s because the men who practiced gymnastic exercises did so completely in the buff.

That may sound silly now, but back then serious warriors would use these exercises to train for battle or compete against each other in the ancient Olympic Games, which lasted up until 393 A.D.

Gymnastics as we know it today didn’t really start to take shape until the late 18th century.

Two German physical educators, Johann Friedrich GutsMuths and Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, created and taught the first “modern” gymnastic exercises using apparatuses such as rings and parallel bars.

Often referred to as the fathers of gymnastics, they would help to propel the sport into the mainstream over the next several decades.

A century later in 1896, gymnastics had become popular enough to be included in the first modern Olympic Games.

Women were not allowed to compete in Olympic gymnastics competitions until 1928, and rhythmic gymnastics were not introduced until 1984.

As of 2016, there are 18 different gymnastic events in the Olympics.

Gymnastics: Rules and Scoring

Gymnastic scoring often appears simple at first glance. An athlete performs a routine, and the judges hold up a number between zero and ten based on how well they performed, right?

Not exactly – it’s far more complicated than that. And due to rule changes, the “perfect 10” is a thing of the past – currently, the highest score an Olympic athlete can receive is actually a 16.

The Code of Points

For starters, there’s more than one way to score a gymnastic competition. Every major organization has its own rules, or code of points, that determine how athletes will be scored.

Gymnastics Judges

This is made even more confusing by the fact that point codes are constantly being altered and overhauled.

But no matter how the code of points is changed, all judges are essentially looking for the same four elements in a performance – execution, artistry, technique, and composition.


To ensure accuracy, two different scores are taken and then combined at the end of each performance (this is true for both men’s and women’s gymnastics). The first score is the D-score, or difficulty score.

To calculate a D-score, judges begin at zero and add points throughout the routine for each successful move.

The difficulty rating of a move ranges from A to I, with A-rank moves being the easiest to perform and I-rank moves being the most difficult.

So, an E-rank move, if executed properly, will earn an athlete more points than a B-rank move. Extra points are awarded for good connections, or how quickly and smoothly a gymnast can switch between skills.

The other type of score that’s taken during every gymnastic routine is the E-score, or execution score.

Unlike the D-score that begins at zero and adds points, the E-score begins at ten and is then reduced for every mistake.

Small mistakes receive decimal point deductions, while much larger mistakes, such as falling off the beam, can see an athlete’s score reduced by an entire point.

Other common reasons for point deductions include:

  • Taking steps after landing dismount
  • Swinging arms after landing dismount
  • Bent arms or legs
  • Incomplete splits
  • Toes aren’t pointed
  • Loss of balance

Once the D-score and the E-score have been taken, the two are simply added together to obtain a final mark.

Disqualifications are rare, but can occur if an athlete receives help from a coach during their routine or is later found to have broken a competition rule (being under the age limit, using performance enhancing drugs).

Types of Gymnastics

Olympic gymnastics can be separated into three main categories – artistic, rhythmic, and trampoline.

Outside of the Games, there are several other categories, including tumbling, acrobatic gymnastics, and aesthetic gymnastics.

Artistic Gymnastics

Artistic Gymnastics

Artistic gymnastics are generally more well-known, and what you typically think of when you hear the word “gymnastics”.

With the exception of the floor exercise, all of these events involve the use of an apparatus such as a beam, bars, a vault, or rings.

Artistic gymnastic performances emphasize the technical, high-precision side of the sport, and are generally short in length.

In the Olympics, there are 10 different artistic gymnastic events – four for women and six for men.

Women’s Only Events

  • Uneven bars
  • Balance beam

Men’s Only Events

  • Pommel horse
  • Even bars
  • Still rings
  • High bar

Men and Women’s Events

  • Vault
  • Floor exercise

Rhythmic Gymnastics

Rhythmic gymnastics combines the strength and precision of the sport with the beauty and poise of dance.

Rhythmic gymnasts perform a choreographed routine set to music and often involves the use of ribbons, hoops, or clubs.

Judges place greater emphasis on the artistic elements of the performance than on the technical elements.

While the Olympic event is restricted to women, that doesn’t mean that men do not compete in rhythmic gymnastics competitions in other parts of the world, particularly Japan.

Trampoline and Tumbling

Trampoline gymnastics were only recently added to the Olympic Games in 2000.

It’s exactly what it sounds like – athletes perform high-flying acrobatic stunts by jumping up and down on a trampoline. There are trampoline competitions for both men and women.

Tumbling isn’t an Olympic Sport in and of itself, but tumbling moves such as flips, handstands, and somersaults are used often in floor exercises and rhythmic routines.

While by no means easy, tumbling is one of the more accessible types of gymnastics because it doesn’t require any special equipment – you don’t need to go to a gym to practice.

The most popular tumbling mats for home-use are anywhere between $50 and $100, which is within the boundaries of most budgets.

Acrobatic Gymnastics

Acrobatic gymnastics are performed in groups of two, three, or four.

Like rhythmic gymnastics, emphasis is placed on aesthetics, choreography, and style, but because acrobatic gymnastics are performed in pairs or groups, a sense of unity is also very important.

Also unlike rhythmic routines, no apparatuses – balls, ribbons, or otherwise – are used.

Usually, one athlete serves as the “base” that supports and balances the other “top” to create a sort of human tower. It’s a feat that takes incredible strength on the part of both athletes.

Acrobatic gymnastic routines are commonly performed as entertainment. Cirque du Soleil, for example, is famous for its incredible acrobatic shows.

Aesthetic Gymnastics

Aesthetic gymnastics combines parts of the acrobatic and rhythmic styles. Like acrobatic gymnastics, aesthetics are performed in groups.

But instead of balancing each other like a human totem pole or pyramid, aesthetic gymnastic are more like a group rhythmic routine.

It’s very similar to synchronized swimming, where judges are looking to see if the group moves smoothly and simultaneously.

Popular Gymnastic Exercises

Gymnastics may be one of the most popular sports to watch during the Olympics, but what are the most popular moves?

Top 3 Moves for Women

Back Handspring: A back handspring is basically a back flip, but instead of flipping midair, you use your hands to “spring” up off the ground and flip.

This basic move is used to build momentum and power for more difficult moves.

Roundoff: If you can do a cartwheel, you can do a roundoff. But unlike a cartwheel, a roundoff requires you to land on both feet at the same time, not one after the other, and your body twists to face the direction that you came from.

Splits: A split is an exercise in which both legs are stretched completely horizontal to the ground. Gymnastic splits can be performed on the ground or even in midair.

Top 3 Moves for Men

L-Seat: The L-seat is a common rings move, but you don’t need rings to do it – you can use a bar or parallettes.

In a sitting position, lift your legs off the ground and hold them out straight to build abdominal strength.

Handstand: Handstands are another popular exercise for men that builds the muscles in your abdomen.

To do handstand, plant your hands on the ground and swing your legs up so that your feet are pointed straight up. Beginners can practice by leaning against a wall for support.

Pullovers: Pullovers are an essential bar move for men and women alike. A simple pullover is done by grabbing onto a bar and swinging your legs (kept close together) and body up and over the bar.

Pushups are a great way to train yourself to be able to do a pullover.

Children’s Gymnastics

If you follow the Olympics at all, you’ve probably noticed that most gymnasts are incredibly young – some as young as 16.

But young competitors are nothing unusual. These men and women have been training since they could walk, and their physical ability is at its peak.

Ok, so most children aren’t going to grow up to by Olympic gymnasts, but that doesn’t mean that learning the sport at an early age is a complete waste of time.

Children’s Gymnastics

In fact, it’s incredibly beneficial – tumbling, balancing, and other gymnastic exercises can improve a child’s gross and fine motor skills, stimulate the brain, and improve their ability to focus.

Because the gymnasium is a social environment, young children also learn important listening and communication skills.

The best gymnastics equipment for kids is whatever is safest. That means bars and beams that are relatively low to the ground, and new wrestling mats that are built to absorb as much shock as possible.

Even for the pros, gymnastics can be a dangerous sport, so it’s important to take all the necessary precautions when teaching young children.

Gymnastic Attire

Gymnastics is only second to figure skating when it comes to flashy outfits, but those sparkling leotards aren’t just for show – the tight-fitting fabric allows for maximum flexibility.

Male gymnasts also wear leotards with long or short pants over top of them.

Artistic gymnast’s leotards tend to be more plain and simple than rhythmic gymnast’s leotards, which often adorned with rhinestones, frills, and intricate patterns.

Gymnastic shoes are very similar to ballet shoes in that they’re made of soft, flexible leather, but most athletes choose to simply go barefoot.

Athletes with long hair must keep it tied back in a neat ponytail or bun to keep it out of their face while they practice or perform.

Serious athletes also use chalk to cover their hands and prevent slipping on bars and rings. The chalk absorbs oil and sweat, allowing them to maintain a firm grip throughout their entire routine.

The Growing Popularity of Gymnastics

Athletes like Simone Biles becoming household names is a testament to the growing popularity of gymnastics around the globe.

In the United States alone, over 3 million people are active participants in the sport, and every four years millions more tune in to watch men and women flip, jump, and leap their way to gold in the Olympic Games.

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