Have you heard of adult gymnastics? I’ll be the first to admit, I had no idea it was a thing for quite some time. After watching gymnastics on TV, you might think it’s a sport that’s only for young people. 

However, adult gymnastics seems to be getting more press these days. Maybe it’s because of Chellsie Memmel’s chronicles of her adult gymnastics journey on social media. Maybe it’s because there are ever-growing organizations devoted to adult gymnastics. Or it could be that gymnastics is just so much fun, no one wants their career to end when they’re 16. Regardless of the reason, it’s an exciting time to be an adult who wants to take up, or continue, doing gymnastics.

Let’s learn a little bit more about adult gymnastics!

Why adult gymnastics?

There are two types of adult gymnasts: those who have done gymnastics in the past and are continuing as an adult, and those who have never done gymnastics before and want to begin as an adult.

Some adult gymnasts began doing gymnastics in their youth and have never stopped. It’s certainly easiest to do it this way, as taking an extended break from gymnastics makes it difficult to regain skills and conditioning. But many others find they enjoy gymnastics even more after taking a break from training for one reason or another. Perhaps becoming pregnant, working at a demanding job, or playing other sports takes precedence for a while. It’s great that gymnastics is always there to come back to, even after an extended absence.

Still other adults decide, with no previous gymnastics experience, that it’s a sport they’d like to try. Here’s an account from The 12 Minute Athlete about starting gymnastics as an adult. Sure, there’s a bit of a learning curve, but there are many beginning skills that can be picked up quickly. For anyone who has a desire to try something new, enjoys being upside down, or wants to exercise new muscles, it’s a great option.

Gymnastics, regardless of the gymnast’s age, offers a great workout with total body conditioning. It’s always challenging, with new goals to set and new skills to master. It’s a good way to meet new people, or reconnect with old friends. And of course, it’s a lot of fun!

History of adult gymnastics

Historically, gymnastics used to be performed primarily by adults. In the earlier days of the Olympics, many gymnasts competed in their 20’s and even 30’s. The all-around winners at the Olympics were all over 20 years old from 1952-1972, and it wasn’t until the Nadia Comaneci era in 1976 that younger gymnasts started to dominate gymnastics.

Eventually, the FIG decided that female gymnasts were peaking at such young ages that they decided to increase the age limit. Now, there can be no more 14-year-old Olympic champions such as Nadia Comaneci. In 1997, the FIG raised the age limit to 16. This means a gymnast must turn 16 during the same calendar year to compete at senior international competitions. However, I have noticed even older gymnasts competing more now than ever!

Of course, no discussion of adult gymnastics would be complete without a mention of Oksana Chusovitina. Chusovitina is the only female gymnast ever to compete in seven Olympic Games. She competed in her first Olympics in 1992 for the Unified Team, then competed for Uzbekistan from 1996-2004, Germany in 2008 and 2012, and back to Uzbekistan in 2016. She had her son in November 1999, and still managed to get back into shape for the 2000 Olympics – that’s impressive!

Governing bodies

In the United States, the NAIGC is the governing body over collegiate club gymnastics. There is also an alumni division for college club competitions, and there is no age limit. I competed college club gymnastics, and several of my teammates still compete now, twenty years later! The motto of the NAIGC is “For the Love of the Sport”. which truly seems to be the perfect motto for adult gymnastics! Gymnastics is such a demanding sport, and it is more challenging for the body as a gymnast ages. Why would someone push their body to such an extent, as an adult, if they didn’t love the sport?

I had the incredible opportunity to judge at NAIGC Nationals a few years ago. If there is ever a meet where all of the participants really seem to be having fun, cheering for each other, and trying new things, this is that meet. I got to judge men competing on beam and performing floor routines to music. Competitors of all skill levels were able to showcase their skills. Teammates and competitors alike cheered each other on, gave coaching pointers, and celebrated together. It felt like a true celebration of the sport.

As a bonus, several of my former college club teammates are still competing and I was able to reconnect with them at the meet. Check out our awesome crushed velvet leotards from our college days – wow, that really dates me!

adult gymnasts at NAIGC Nationals
Here’s a photo re-creation I did at 2017 NAIGC Nationals with my old teammates!

British Gymnastics has an adult gymnast blog up on their site, featuring a gymnast named Kat and her adult gymnastics journey. I haven’t heard of any governing bodies for adult gymnastics in other countries, but they might be out there! Drop me a comment if you know of one!

How can I get involved?

Check out the Masters Gymnastics website, which links to gymnastics classes for adults in different geographical areas. Many colleges and universities offer gymnastics classes for credit – I know I took a couple of them in my college days! And a lot of gymnastics gyms offer adult gymnastics classes, so see your local gym for their offerings.

If you’d like to get involved with competition, the NAIGC might be a good place to start. You can visit their website to get more information. Alternatively, if you live in the U.S., I know of adult gymnasts who have competed the J.O. and Xcel levels within the USA Gymnastics framework. Outside of the U.S., check with your local governing body to see what options are available.

Adult gymnastics is a great, readily available, option for gymnasts over the age of 18 or those who would like to pursue gymnastics as an adult. I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues to grow as more and more people learn about it!