HOW TO BE A SELF-TAUGHT GYMNAST
How to Teach Yourself Gymnastics
Gymnastics is one of the world’s oldest and most revered physical disciplines, requiring extraordinary strength, balance, agility, and coordination. However, gymnastics academies are uncommon in many areas, and formal instruction is often expensive, making it difficult for some to get involved in the sport. Fortunately, it’s possible to get a good grip of the basics on your own, as long as you're smart and careful about training. To learn fundamental gymnastics skills, you only need a place to practice, practical knowledge of correct technique and safety measures like crash mats or a spotter to help you with more difficult skills.
Make sure you’re physically prepared.Before you start flipping, pirouetting and standing on your head, you should work to reach a base level of physical conditioning. Build your muscular strength by performing calisthenics exercises such as push ups, pull ups, air squats, and crunches. Go for a jog or swim laps a couple times a week to get in better cardiovascular shape. Begin stretching thoroughly every day—flexibility plays a critical role in gymnastics.
- As you progress, keep up with your strength and conditioning exercises and increase their intensity.
- If you have a history of serious injury or a condition that makes strenuous exercise difficult or risky, gymnastics may not be for you, but other sports are out there.
Approach each skill as a beginner.Start learning all the most basic skills from the ground up. You may have performed some gymnastics moves as a kid or think you have a pretty good idea of how it’s supposed to be done, but if you want to learn the right way you need to put pride aside and start from square one. Looking at each skill like it’s your first time will help do away with any misconceptions you may have and orient you with the correct technique.
- Any expert will tell you that the most important aspect of getting good at anything is mastering the basics. Spending more time becoming confident with fundamental skills will benefit you in the long run.
- Some good techniques to add to your repertoire when you’re first starting out are backbends, bridges, headstands, handstands, forward and backward somersaults, cartwheels and splits.
Focus on technique.Do every skill the right way or don’t do it at all. Proper form and precision are the two most important components of the sport. If you learn something the wrong way, not only do you run the risk of injury but you might also establish bad habits that affect every skill that builds off that movement.
- Film yourself and compare it to the photo and video tutorials you’re using to review your technique.
Practice religiously.Whenever you get a chance, set aside time to drill the techniques you’ve learned. Only work on skills that it's safe for you to do by yourself or under the supervision of an adult or someone else who can spot you. This will mostly include simple floor movements—flips and other complex skills will be too dangerous to learn on your own. Formal instruction can provide you with useful cues for learning more quickly, but the progress you’re able to make depends almost entirely on how hard you’re willing to study and work.
- Try to set aside at least three hours a week to train.
- Remember, practice doesn’t make perfect: perfect practice makes perfect. You should always put special emphasis on correct form when training and give it your all.
Mastering Basic Skills
Begin with the somersault.One of the simplest skills to learn as a beginner is a somersault. To perform a front somersault, crouch down and place both hands on the ground directly under your shoulders. Tuck your chin and lean forward until your head clears the floor. Then, roll carefully down the length of your spine. Finish by bringing your feet back beneath you and returning to a standing position.
- You'll need to push lightly with your legs to create enough momentum for the roll to propel you all the way over to your feet.
- Curl up as tightly as possible to make the roll one fluid motion.
Move on to backwards rolls.Squat down with your weight over your heels. Lower your weight until your butt touches the ground, using your hands to guide you if you need to. Rock backward, tucking your knees up toward your head. Tilt your neck to one side and roll over your shoulder, pushing through with your hands to assist you. Come to a stop by touching down with one knee at a time, then rise to your feet.
- Because of the amount of control you have over the early stages of the movement, the backward roll can be learned at a more gradual pace than the front somersault, making it easier to master.
Test your flexibility with a bridge.Lie flat on your back with your knees bent, feet on the ground. Bring your arms up and back until your palms are resting on the floor beside your head. Use a coordinated push to hoist your body up into an arched position, bending backward as the name suggests. Make sure you're in a stable stance by keeping your hands and feet planted firmly. Reverse the motion in a slow, controlled manner to return to your back.
- The bridge requires a moderate amount of upper body strength for stabilization, so you may have to work up to it over time.
- Lower yourself slowly to keep from bumping your head.
Try a handstand.From a normal stance, stagger one foot in front of the other. Lean forward at the waist, keeping your torso rigid and straight with your arms extended over your head. Place both hands down on the floor; at the same time, kick up with your back leg to elevate yourself into an inversion. Push through your shoulders, keeping your arms locked. Use small adjustments of your fingers and palms to maintain your balance. When you're ready to come down, lower one leg back to the floor at a time.
- Practice handstands against a wall until you get the hang of kicking up and balancing.
- You'll need to know how to recover safely if you should happen to lose your balance while in an inverted position. Simply bring one or both feet to the floor underneath you if you're falling backward, and turn slightly to one side and step out if you're falling forwards.
Learn to do a cartwheel.Stand at the ready with your hands by your sides. Take one long step with your dominant leg, raising your arms up over your head as you do. Shift your weight forward and teeter your upper body down towards the ground as you shoot your back leg up forcefully behind you. This action is similar to kicking up into a handstand, only this time you'll set one hand down after the other (starting with the same side as your lead leg) while following through with your kicking leg. Let the kick carry you up and over the top, landing on the same leg, then following with the other.
- This skill takes its name from the movement of the spokes on a wheel. Imagining yourself turning over in the same fashion can help you learn the correct hand and foot positioning needed for the technique.
- Cartwheels are tricky because to pull them off successfully, all four limbs must coordinate independently of one another. Start by practicing them at a low angle until you get the timing right, then gradually kick up harder until you're more inverted.
- The cartwheel is an important prerequisite for the one-handed cartwheel, round off and aerial skills.
Wear comfortable clothing.Pick out clothes that allow you to move freely. Competitive athletes work out in team uniforms, usually leotards or tights, but at home, you can wear shorts or sweatpants with a tank top or anything else that feels good to bend, twist and leap in. You also have the option of wearing shoes, which will protect your feet, though they might feel clunky when you're performing skills that require a high level of coordination. Above all, you should be comfortable and uninhibited.
- If you have long hair, pull it back in a tight ponytail or bun to keep it from falling in your face.
- It might be a good idea to bring along a pair of shoes when you're practicing outside, or any place with rough, uneven surfaces.
Find suitable places to practice.Since you won’t have access to an actual gym, you’ll have to exhibit a little creativity in coming up with places to work on your skills. For floor techniques such as cartwheels, backbends, handstands and basic tumbling, a simple grass field might do the trick. In addition, some public playgrounds have equipment that you could use to practice bar skills like swinging, casts, and landings. Always have someone around to help you when you're playing around with difficult or risky maneuvers.
- A low wall could be used as a vault. A tree stump could serve as a pommel horse. Rings can be bought and hung for cheap. The only thing limiting you is your imagination.
- Trampolines and swimming pools can help you get over your fear of new skills that involve unfamiliar movements like flipping and twisting. Just use them sparingly, as they can encourage bad habits if you rely on them too much.
Protect yourself from injury.Be smart about the way you train to avoid getting hurt. Always warm up and stretch thoroughly before pushing your body with high-impact movements. When training outside, scan the ground for rocks, sharp sticks, and other dangerous, unseen obstacles. If you can, put down mats to cushion the impact when attempting new skills for the first time.
- Have a friend spot you if you’re scared to try out a technique on your own.
Start small and work your way up.Be patient and drill the basic techniques repeatedly until you’re competent enough to move on to more difficult skills. Your progress will be very slow and gradual, and that’s okay. Don’t get in too big of a hurry to improve; you’re more likely to make mistakes and hurt yourself if you force yourself to try techniques you’re not yet ready for.
- Once you’re ready for intermediate-level skills, add front and back walkovers, handsprings, aerials and standing flips to your practice sessions.
- When you feel yourself getting impatient, remember that a cartwheel leads to a round-off, a round off leads to a back handspring, a back handspring leads to a back tuck, a back tuck leads to a back full, etc. One thing builds off another.
Be prepared for accidents.When you’re teaching yourself and practicing alone, a lot can go wrong. In all likelihood, there will come a time when you suffer a sprained ankle, a pulled muscle or even a broken bone, just like any other gymnast. Invite a friend along when you practice to be there in case you slip up. Keep a phone on you and have an emergency contact in mind that you can call if something bad were to happen.
- Hospital bills can get very costly. If you don’t have a solid insurance plan, you may want to consider picking up another hobby.
- One of the most unfortunate injuries you can incur is a bruised ego. Setbacks will happen, and they can often be painful and embarrassing, but don’t let them discourage you from reaching your goals.
Utilizing Instructional Resources
Study video tutorials online.Pull up instructional videos on YouTube and similar websites. By running a simple search, you can often find helpful content that breaks down technique, offers detailed explanations of unusual movements and features slow-motion demonstrations. Look to make sure that a given video was produced by an official gymnastics school or coach—otherwise, the information it outlines might not be trustworthy.
- Examine videos of skills you’re in the process of learning to familiarize yourself with the way they’re supposed to look.
- Take notes from the videos you watch so you’ll have them to refer to while you practice.
Read gymnastics publications.Pick up whatever books, magazines and other published works related to gymnastics you can get your hands on. The articles and photos they contain will prove very illustrative and can give you technique tips and ideas for new training exercises. A good place to start would be an instructional guide that provides a comprehensive overview of the sport, such as Gymnastics for Dummies.
- Go over written guides extensively to gain an understanding of how certain techniques work. You’ll have to be willing to do a little more homework since you won’t have the benefit of a coach.
- If you’re lucky, you might even be able to track down copies of old gymnastics training manuals used to teach competitive athletes in past decades.
Attend web seminars.In some cases, you may be able to register for gymnastics instruction over the internet for a small fee. Online education might take the form of e-books, video seminars and/or virtual classrooms led by experienced coaches. These web seminars are typically designed to provide new instructors with practical lessons, but you probably stand to learn a lot yourself if this option is available to you.
- Verify that an online course is being presented by a reputable coach or athlete before signing up.
Seek out qualified advice.Ask for pointers from those who are involved in the sport. If you know someone that does gymnastics, see if they’ll pass on a portion of what they’ve learned to you. Sit in on a gymnastics class if there’s a school nearby and absorb as much of the coaches’ instruction as you can. You might even be able to find a friend or acquaintance willing to work with you one-on-one in their spare time.
- Look into whether your area university, YMCA or rec center has an existing gymnastics program or club. Clubs like these are often free or inexpensive and open to people in the surrounding community.
- Try asking questions online on gymnastics message boards. These can be an excellent resource for getting info from many different knowledgeable parties. If you’re under 18, ask a parent if it’s okay for you to post on internet forums before turning to them for help.
QuestionHow do I get more flexible?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerBegin an intensive stretching regimen. Stretch consistently 3-5 days a week, taking a couple days off to give your muscles, tendons and ligaments a break. During these sessions, try to stretch all of the body's major muscle groups, including the legs, torso, arms, neck and back. Try to go a little further in your stretch each time (stopping when it becomes uncomfortable) until you start to see progress.Thanks!
QuestionCan I start doing self taught gymnastics at age 13+?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerFor sure! There is no age limit in gymnastics. Many gyms now offer classes for older gymnasts too, if you want extra help.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I train to do the splits?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerStretch for at least 10 minutes a day. Do lunges, backwards lunges, over-splits, and just your normal splits. All this can help improve your splits significantly.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I do the front splits?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerKneel down first. Extend your dominant leg in front of you and straighten the other leg behind you. Then, move your hips to the ground, while making sure your legs are in a straight line. It will hurt at first, but the more you practice, the lower you will be able to go, and the less it will hurt.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I do a front walkover?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTake a look at this Wikihow article, which can answer a lot of the questions you may have: http://www.wikihow.com/Do-a-Front-WalkoverThanks!
QuestionHow can I increase flexibility and decrease fear of falling?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerJust stretch and you will become more flexible. Try doing a bridge with your legs straight will help with back flexibility. All you have to do is believe in yourself and laugh when you fall and you will start to feel more comfortable with falling.Thanks!
QuestionWhat stretches should I do to warm up?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerAny stretch is a good stretch. You should be able to feel your muscles stretching, but be careful. You don't want to pull a muscle. If it hurts, stop.Thanks!
QuestionWhich muscles should I focus on in training for gymnastics?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe muscles in your arms, legs, and back are all critical.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I do a handstand without falling?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTry practicing your handstand against a wall, or have someone help you hold your legs up. If you can't do a handstand against a wall, learn how to do a handstand roll-down. It is when you do a handstand and then forward roll out of it. This way, if you kick up too hard, you'll be able to roll out of it.Thanks!
QuestionI've been trying to teach myself skills for over a year and I'm still having trouble. What am I doing wrong?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe only thing you're doing wrong is letting yourself get discouraged. Stay positive and be confident. Practice 3-4 times a week so that you make regular progress without getting burnt out. You may have to conquer your fear a little to commit to learning new skills, but you can do it. Focus on proper technique and watch video demonstrations of the techniques you're trying to learn. Keep training!Thanks!
- Tune in to televised gymnastics competitions for guidance and inspiration.
- Devise your own customized training schedule that allows you to set aside time to work on specific skills.
- Take a day or two off every week (especially when you're feeling sore) to give your body a chance to recover from the rigors of training.
- Consider wearing shoes when practicing outside to reinforce your feet and protect them from rough terrain, debris, etc.
- Eat a balanced diet full of lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats to provide fuel for your body.
- Never be afraid trying out new skills. There is a chance you will get hurt but once you achieve the skill the pain will be all worth it.
- It is always safer to be barefoot when practicing indoors to avoid potential injuries that could be caused by slipping on your socks.
- Always warm up first so you don't get hurt. Pulling a muscle or getting hurt in any other way can set your learning progress back a bit.
- Gymnastics is a potentially dangerous sport, even when performed under the supervision of a professional coach. Always practice safely and be prepared in the event of an accident or emergency. There is a real risk of injury, which only increases when you're attempting to teach yourself difficult skills.
Video: Teach Yourself Gymnastics
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