Skip to main content
Select Source:

gymnastics

gymnastics is the practice of athletic exercises for the development of the body, especially those exercises performed with apparatus such as rings, pommel horse, bars, and balance beam. Although gymnastics was likely practised in ancient Egyptian and Chinese cultures, its roots for Western culture lie in ancient Greece, hence the derivation from the Greek word gymnazein, which literally means ‘to train naked’ (gymnos: naked). The early Greeks practised gymnastics in preparation for war, as jumping, running, discus throwing, wrestling, and boxing helped produce the strong, supple muscles necessary for hand-to-hand combat. Because military training was necessary for the production of Greek citizens, and because the Greeks viewed the training both of the body and the mind as inextricably linked, gymnastics became a central component of ancient education. Gymnasia, the buildings with open-air courts where such training took place, evolved into schools where youths learned gymnastics, rhetoric, music, and mathematics. Gymnastics also provided a way to train for the athletic festivals around Greece, the most famous of which was the Olympic Games, held every four years from 776 bce until 393 ce.

With the end of the Olympic Games, Greek-style gymnastics training declined, not to be revived until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Western Europe. With this revival came a concomitant revival of the corporeal values associated with gymnastics: upper body strength, musculature, elasticity, litheness, flexibility, poise, and equilibrium. Underpinning the re-emergence of gymnastic training is the same assumption held by the Greeks, that a healthy body and a healthy mind are intimately connected.

In the mid 1800s Friedrich Jahn did much to re-introduce gymnastics into German education and became known as the ‘father of gymnastics’. Jahn introduced the horizontal bar, parallel bars, side horse with pommels, balance beam, ladder, and vaulting bucks. His gymnastics program was promoted in Turner societies, clubs established to develop self discipline and physical strength in the name of national unity. In Sweden, Pehr Henrik Ling followed closely behind Jahn, systematizing Swedish pedagogic gymnastics with a strong emphasis on the medical benefits.

In the early nineteenth century, educators in the US imported German and Swedish gymnastics training programs. With the American integration of gymnastics into the general education curriculum, its connections to nationalism and military training re-emerged stronger than ever. By the early twentieth century, the armed services published drill manuals featuring all manner of gymnastic exercises, drills which, according to the US Army Manual of Physical Drill (1910), provided proper instruction for ‘a body of young and active men’ and were thus ‘all important’. The US Navy's Gymnastics and Tumbling, published in 1944, asserts that ‘Gymnastics and tumbling contribute in large measure to the demands of a democracy at war.’ Nonetheless, as military activity moved away from hand-to-hand combat and toward fighter planes and contemporary computer-controlled weapons, gymnastics training as the mind/body connection, so important for the Greek, German, and Swedish educational traditions, began to lose force. As a result, physical and intellectual training in schools are now almost completely separate; although in Germany the term ‘gymnasium’ still persists as the term for a place of secondary education, the gymnasium is more commonly cordoned off for physical training, while the privileged intellectual education takes place in traditional classrooms. The mind/body split is more pervasive than ever.

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw the powerful emergence of a strand of gymnastics, similar in form to gymnastic training for educational and military purposes, but practised for different ends. The first Modern Olympic games in 1896 featured competitive gymnastic events for men, which have been included in every Olympics since. Men's gymnastics events are scored on an individual and team basis, and presently include the floor exercise, horizontal bar, parallel bars, rings, side horse (also called pommel horse), vaulting, and combined exercises (the all-around), which combines the scores of the other six events. Combined exercises for women were first held in 1928, and the 1952 Olympics featured the first full regime of events for women. Women's gymnastic events include balance beam, uneven parallel bars, combined exercises, floor exercises, vaulting, and rhythmic sportive gymnastics. Olga Korbut, Nadia Comaneci, and Mary Lou Retton have helped popularize women's competitive gymnastics, making it one of the most watched Olympic events as they performed difficult manœuvres on some of the very apparatus developed for bodily training by Friedrich Jahn in the eighteenth century.

Debra Hawhee


See also acrobatics; exercise; sport.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"gymnastics." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"gymnastics." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 14, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gymnastics

"gymnastics." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Retrieved December 14, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gymnastics

Gymnastics

Gymnastics


The word gymnastics, the practice of which extends back thousands of years, has been used to refer to activities ranging from simple movements to extraordinary acrobatic feats. Gymnastik für die Jugend (1793), written by Johann Christoph Friedrich GutsMuths, is often cited as laying the foundations for a comprehensive system of exercises and as well as today's competitive sport. Drawing upon Jean-Jacques Rousseau, contemporary physicians, and classical sources, GutMuths (a teacher at the Schnepenthal Philanthropinum) identified three components of physical education: manual arts; social games; gymnastic exercises, which included wrestling, running, swimming, leaping, balancing, and climbing. His ideas had a considerable influence on Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, who in 1810 began meeting pupils in a wooded area near their school. There they engaged in a variety of activities that included exercising on rudimentary apparatus. Jahn's Die Deutsche Turnkunst (1816) included sections devoted to the parallel bars, vaulting, and other movements that became the core of the German system, which made extensive use of equipment. The Swedish system (designed by Per Henrik Ling in the early 1800s) used comparatively little equipment and emphasized posture, sequential progression, proper breathing, and specific exercises for each portion of the body. Its educational and medical branches were adopted, and adapted, in many countries. Debates about which system was better were often intense and continued until sports became dominant in the curriculum.

Nineteenth-century teachers could draw upon small books like James H. Smart's Manual of School Gymnastics to provide classroom calisthenic drills. Turners (members of German gymnastic societies) who arrived in the United States following the 1848 German Revolution campaigned vigorously to make German gymnastics the basis of the curriculum. Outside the schools, Turnvereins (German gymnastic societies) and Sokols (Czech gymnastic associations) organized their own events. Others held that the Swedish system, introduced into the Boston public schools in the 1890s, was more appropriate, especially for children and females. Books like Wilbur Bowen's The Teaching of Elementary School Gymnastics (1909) set forth the strengths of each. In the 1920s Danish gymnastics (which offered more variety) were introduced into the American curriculum. Some attention also was given to stunts and tumbling (such as the forward roll and the handspring).

Competitive gymnastics consists of two forms: Modern Rhythmic Gymnastics, which uses balls, hoops, and similar light equipment; and Artistic (Olympic) Gymnastics. Team competition for women took place at the 1928 Olympics, but it was not until the 1952 Games in Helsinki that individual competition began. Television coverage of the 1960 Rome Olympics resulted in an upsurge of interest in a number of countries. Following the performances of diminutive Olga Korbut in 1972 thousands of young girls in the United States joined the rapidly growing number of private gymnastic clubs and became involved in the Junior Olympic program. Gymnastics requires strength, flexibility, coordination, discipline, and willingness to practice long hours. The nature of the apparatus is such that short stature and a light body is an advantage. Both the age and size of competitive gymnasts has been decreased as the sport became more competitive. Although many youngsters enjoy the challenges, and certainly the thrill of victory, considerable concern has been expressed about the effects of intense training on their bodies and their psyches.

See also: Sports; Title IX and Girls' Sports.

bibliography

Cochrane, Tuovi Sappinen. 1968. International Gymnastics for Girls and Women. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.

Gerber, Ellen. W. 1971. Innovators and Institutions in Physical Education. Philadelphia: Lea and Febiger.

Goodbody, John. 1982. The Illustrated History of Gymnastics. London: Stanley Paul.

Ryan, Joan. 1995. Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters. New York: Doubleday.

internet resource

USA Gymnastics Online. Available from <www.usa-gymnastics.org>.

Roberta Park

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Gymnastics." Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Gymnastics." Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 14, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gymnastics

"Gymnastics." Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. . Retrieved December 14, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gymnastics

gymnastics

gymnastics, exercises for the balanced development of the body (see also aerobics), or the competitive sport derived from these exercises. Although the ancient Greeks (who invented the building called a gymnasium for them) and Romans practiced gymnastics, the modern exercises date from the early 19th cent., when Germany's Frederick Ludwig Jahn popularized what he called the Turnverein, an organization of "turners." Although Jahn's system, which employed more apparatus than modern gymnastics, enjoyed brief popularity at Harvard and in several U.S. cities with numbers of German immigrants, it was not until the 20th cent. that gymnastics became widespread in the America. Their eventual success came after their adoption for military training, their placement on the program (1896) of the revived Olympic games, and the inclusion of physical education in school curricula. Until 1972, gymnastics for men emphasized power and strength, while women performed routines focused on grace of movement. That year, however, Olga Korbut, a 17-year-old Soviet gymnast, captivated a television audience with her innovative and explosive routines. In 1976, Romania's Nadia Comaneci became the first in Olympic gymnastic history to earn perfect scores. The popularity of Korbut and Comaneci launched a gymnastics movement in the United States that began to provide competition for long-established Russian and European programs. Internationally, men compete in rings, pommel horse, parallel bars, horizontal bar, vault, and floor exercises, as well as on the trampoline. Women compete in the vault, floor exercises, balance beam, and uneven parallel bars, as well as in rhythmic gymnastics and on the trampoline.

See J. Goodbody, The Illustrated History of Gymnastics (1983); P. Aykroyd, Modern Gymnastics (1986).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"gymnastics." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"gymnastics." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 14, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gymnastics

"gymnastics." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 14, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gymnastics

gymnastics

gymnastics Multidisciplined sport requiring suppleness, strength and poise in a variety of regulated athletic exercises. Men and women compete separately in individual and team events. Men perform in six events: vault, parallel bars, horizontal bars, pommel horse, rings, and floor exercises. Women perform in four events: vault, balance beam, asymmetrical bars, and floor exercises. Exercises are rated in terms of difficulty, and points awarded for technical skills and artistry. World championships began in 1950, and women's gymnastics became an Olympic sport in 1952.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"gymnastics." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"gymnastics." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 14, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gymnastics

"gymnastics." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 14, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gymnastics

gymnastics

gym·nas·tics / jimˈnastiks/ • pl. n. [also treated as sing.] exercises developing or displaying physical agility and coordination. The modern sport of gymnastics typically involves exercises on uneven bars, balance beam, floor, and vaulting horse (for women), and horizontal and parallel bars, rings, floor, and pommel horse (for men). ∎  other physical or mental agility of a specified kind: these vocal gymnastics make the music unforgettable.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"gymnastics." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"gymnastics." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 14, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/gymnastics

"gymnastics." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved December 14, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/gymnastics