The joy of gymnastics for fitness
Right now, thousands of perfectly ordinary adults are in online forums airing concerns such as: "Is it necessary to apply the posterior pelvic tilt in the straddled one-arm handstand?" Or: "Pancake stretch: position of the knees?" These are just a couple of the posts by the 32,432 members of the forum on Gymnastic Bodies - an online training programme designed by the former US Olympic gymnastics team coach Christopher Sommer. Profile pictures frequently show off killer abs and favourite (gymnastic) positions, but the tone of the discussions is one of camaraderie and a shared childlike wonder at the cool stuff their bodies are now capable of. Meet the gymnastics geeks.
Gymnastics may sound old-school compared with the high-intensity interval training and Clubbercise classes doing the rounds in gym chains, but many are quietly eschewing the mindless burn in favour of this more progressive approach, using wall bars, rings and ropes, and culminating in a "human flag" (grabbing on to a vertical bar and suspending your body horizontally - the ultimate demonstration of strength).
Before Sommer started writing about his training methods in 2003, "gymnastics training was a closed world", says Gymnastics Bodies' sole European affiliate, Wesley Tan. But interest has grown quickly and, in 2010, another online gymnastics-based programme, Gold Medal Bodies Fitness was launched, and it, too, has now also taught tens of thousands of people in their living rooms. Physical classes are also cropping up - Tan runs them through his company, Forma, and some gyms, such as CrossFit, offer adult gymnastics.
Chris Mills, principal lecturer in sport and exercise science at Portsmouth University, is a fan. "Being an adult gymnast myself - I started at age 26, my wife started at age 44 - I am an advocate of adult gymnastics. It has a number of health benefits, including general fitness. It also facilitates the development of muscular strength, flexibility, coordination and balance. Learning new skills and exercises challenges your neuromuscular system and may help adult gymnasts to focus their attention, and improve confidence and judgment.
"There's some evidence to suggest that regular gymnastics training can improve mobility and posture via improved motor skill coordination," he adds. "Cognitive function is promoted by the learning of new skills, and learning new routines aids memory. As we age, our bone mineral density decreases. However, regular body-weight exercises, such as gymnastics, can help to maintain bone health."