Adult Beginning Gymnastics Revealed

>> Thursday, February 18, 2010

The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.

Well...yes and no.

Sometimes what we fear turns out to be OK -- in fact, it turns out to be pretty damned fun. The squadron of peppy cheerleaders turns out to be an extremely quiet guy named Ron and a nice girl named Alison who looks like Hayley Mills (but doesn't know who Hayley Mills is). The gymnastics instructor turns out to be a nice young girl woman who is easy to talk to. And I turn out to be considerably less decrepit than originally feared.

Of the three students (!), I'm definitely the oldest by more than a decade. However, I was surprised (and thrilled) to see how evenly matched we were. Where one student is flexible, the other is strong. What I lack in youth, I make up for in pointy toes and perky presentation. While I'm certainly not as fit as the other students, I am not miles behind in skill. (Maybe just a few blocks away.)

The first class was primarily an assessment of our current capabilities, so we covered the basics: forward rolls, backward rolls, and forward straddle rolls. I was heartened when none of us could perform a forward straddle roll without the young coach coming up behind us and giving our bums a good push. (The straddle and the roll are easily accomplished -- it's the getting up while in straddle position that's nearly impossible.) We also covered basic cartwheels, round-offs, and handstands.

In later lessons (I've attended five so far), we examined each of these maneuvers in more detail, breaking them down into specific parts and focusing on engaging certain muscle groups. Our instructor has the temperament of someone who has spent many hours teaching gymnastics to pre-pubescent girls, as evidenced by her encouraging tone of voice, thorough explanation of technique, and endless patience.

I'm afraid I'm going to fall.

You won't. I'll be here to spot you.

Are you sure? Because I'm afraid I'm going to fall.

It's OK. You won't fall.


Really. You're not going to fall. Just try it.



She was right -- and I don't find her approach condescending at all. It's just what I need, because I really want someone to walk me through everything very carefully and without judgment (or expectations). Although, when she taught us the proper way to perform a handstand, I snickered a little when she placed two giant orange plastic hand prints on the floor (where our hands were supposed to go) and a circle on the floor (for the head). Suffice it to say, none of us used her props and we haven't seen them since.

The class is an intimidating 1.5 hours. Initially I wondered how I could possibly survive such a long class. But the pace is slow(ish) with transition time between activities while the instructor demonstrates. We run, we stretch, we do gymnastics stuff, and then we stretch again. Sometimes we spend 5-10 minutes strengthening certain parts of our bodies (abs, back, arms), which we actually look forward to because we hope it will make us better gymnasts. (I know, bizarre.)

It's good. In fact, it's better than good and here's why. (What I'm about to tell you is very important -- it's the main reason I'm taking gymnastics. Are you ready? Here it comes...)

I don't really notice the time -- and I'm more sore afterwards than I am after my boot camp class.

Let me say that one more time...

I don't notice the time, and I get a tougher workout.

Yes! Whereas boot camp is an hour of torture and clock-watching, gymnastics is 1.5 hours of developing skills and having a pretty good time. (I only say "pretty good", because there are definite downsides which I'll tell you about later.) I run, I stretch, I practice bridges -- and before I know it, class is over. I could do 30 "V-ups" in boot camp, or I could spend 10 minutes attempting to perfect a headstand. I could try to hold a pull-up for 30 seconds, or I could get a better shoulder and ab workout by casting off the uneven bars for 5 minutes.

See, I told you this was practical! I'm sure you've heard this a thousand times, but sometimes practicality must be defined within the context of our illusions. (Feel free to quote me on that if you can say it three times fast...) In other words, as long as I want to play at being a gymnast (no matter how unrealistic or crazy), then taking this class is, indeed, practical.

Well, at least for the time being.

Alas, all is not perfect in my happy gymnastics bubble. There are various pains here and there, stinging palms from open callouses, and an aching back. But there is something else -- something so horrible that it may very well prevent me from further gymnastics pursuits. It is a dark lining -- a very dark, embarrassing lining. Worst of all, this unexpected nemesis lies within.

Coming Up Next: Betrayal on a Trampoline