The United States of America Gymnastics, or the USAG, has ten levels of gymnastics before you can be considered an elite gymnast. You have to master each level before you can pass to the next, with level 10 being considered Olympic material.
In order to be officially considered a level 1 gymnast all you have to do is start training since level 1 is the level you automatically start out at. In this level you are introduced into gymnastics and you get to learn all the basics of the different postures and the forms on the floor, the beam, and the vault and bars.
You can start training in gymnastics at as young as 4 years old on your own or even as young as 18 months if with a parent, though most begin while either in kindergarten or preschool. However, if you already know all the basic positions and have the right form while doing certain things, then sometimes you can skip this level almost entirely.
Sometimes you can master level 1 in a couple of weeks if you are already flexible to start with. And there are various exercises that you can do to prepare as well as a few things you will need to get before you get started in gymnastics.
What Do You Learn In Level 1 Of Gymnastics?
What you learn in level 1 of Gymnastics can be divided into three sections: the vault and bars, the beam, and the floor. You start learning the basics of all of these in level 1. Each of the maneuvers are practiced until they can be done smoothly and with your body aligned correctly every time. Planking is the front support position and is often used to start a maneuver and as a good muscle-building exercise.
On The Floor
While this might seem to be the easiest of the three places, some of the positions can be quite challenging for beginners. For starters you must be able to properly do both forward and backward tucked rolls without hesitating when going into them and without pulling to either one side or the other as you do them.
Cartwheels and bridges can be easier to get proficient at, though in gymnastics a bridge is only correct if your legs and arms are perfectly straight. Leg swings and tuck jumps are somewhat more difficult, but can still be easy to learn. With a tuck jump you must be able to jump and pull in your knees all the way to your chest and still be able to land on your two feet without wobbling.
Coup walks can also prove to be a challenge just at first but is pretty easy on the ground. This involves walking on one foot at a time and stepping forward only after holding two different positions for a moment. First you have your leg bent at the knee so the sole of your foot is vertical next to your other ankle, then you raise that leg horizontally. Then you can put that leg down and repeat the same with the next leg. Arms are held extended for balance, but again you need to not wobble.
But perhaps the most difficult of all for the first level is the candlestick position. For this you have to go from laying flat on your back and then be able to raise your legs so that your feet point straight towards the ceiling. While this might sound like a piece of cake, you have to be able to raise your hips like this so that all of the weight is borne by your shoulders. However, you are allowed to use your arms on the ground to help support yourself with.
On The Beam
The beam is very simple and much of the training for the beam in level 1 is to simply grow comfortable walking back and forth on the beam at first. There are a couple of different ways to turn around on the beam that are pretty simple but that you also have to get comfortable with. A coup walk is needed here too, which is why it is a really good idea to practice this on the floor a lot first.
There is also another kind of walk called a releve walk that has to be worked on as well. You have to be able to walk with only your toes on the beam and your heels off of the side as you sidestep down the beam. Hold your arms up while you do this walk to help with balance.
It is also necessary to be able to mount and dismount the beam using the beginner method. For dismounting this means doing what is called a stretch jump where you simply jump off of the bar leading with one foot and with your arms up high.
The two most difficult things to do here are perhaps the fact that you have to be able to do a candlestick position on the beam and that you also have to be able to hold an arabesque position. The arabesque position is sometimes called the scale position because it does actually look sort of like a scale. Balanced on one foot, the other foot points back while your head and shoulders go forward and your arms stick straight out at your sides.
On The Vault and Bars
While you don’t actually use the vaulting table at this stage, you do need to be able to correctly jump onto a mat that is at least 8” high. It is also good to get comfortable walking around on it and doing various things like handstands.
On the bars you have to be able to get into “cast” position and hold it for a moment. This is done by pulling yourself onto the bar with your arms perfectly straight up to your shoulders, your legs firmly pressed together, your toes pointed down, and your core tightened.
Your hips should be level with the bar and you should be able to swing your legs back and forth until you can get into “cast” position which is where you body is parallel to the floor. Hold this for just a moment before letting yourself fall back into a vertical position while still gripping the bar.
Along with the cast is where you perform a pullover which shows that you can pull your legs completely around the bar, doing a flip around it without having to gain momentum by swinging. There is also the back hip circle which is where you flip yourself “backwards” – feet first – all the way around the bar without letting go.
Like the beam, there is also a proper way to dismount the bars which also must be learned. Depending on age, sometimes some assistance termed a “spot” can be allowed for the bars. This is referred to as the teacher or instructor dong a “spot” or “spotting” for the gymnast who is doing the routine.
Steps To Getting Started With Level 1 Gymnastics
Something you may not be aware of is that a toddler can start learning gymnastics at as young as 18 months old in what are commonly called “mommy and me” programs. Most people who do lots of competitions start training at 3-4 years of old.
All in all, if you are in your teens or older when you are first starting to learn then you should probably stick to gymnastics as a recreational sport. This is in part because people who start learning at a younger age have a huge advantage in competing due to the fact that they have conditioned their body to do the movements correctly from the very beginning while late starters possibly already have bad habits.
The first step you will likely want to do is to set up an appointment with your doctor in order to get what is known as a sports physical. Tell your doctor that you want to start doing gymnastics and have them do a basic exam. They will be able to tell you if you shouldn’t try it due to an old injury or what to watch out for if you have a wrist that might need extra care.
Once you have the green light from your doctor the next step is finding the right gym to learn at. Some schools have gymnastics classes that you can sign up for or even offer it as an alternate form of PE. Colleges can also have gymnastics programs available even if you do not attend.
If your school does not have this option then you will need to search online for all of the gyms near you that offer training for gymnastics. Sometimes there will be a wide variety of classes and these are usually based on age range and experience level, so look at the details of the classes and make sure that you fit into one of them.
It is also important to check each one or call to make sure that they are members of the USAG. This means that they meet all of the minimum requirements and have proper training to teach. Finally, it is a wise idea to go in person to check out the place. The training area should be clean, well-lit, and well-padded with pads that do not look too worn or thin.
With the place that you will be training decided on, sign up for the classes and mark your calendar for when they will be. In the meantime you can start practicing by doing exercises for your push and pull strength and practicing your flexibility.
Get your uniform or what you be wearing for your lessons and be sure to get there early for you classes if you will need to change or pull your hair back before you get started. When you attend your first class, congratulations, you are a level 1 gymnast!
What Items You Will Need To Get Started In Gymnastics
While some items are optional, there are some things that you will have to have if you are going to learn gymnastics. The clothing in particular is very strict to help avoid accidents, though some trainers are more relaxed and allow a little lee-way.
Some places insist that both girls and boys must wear leotards for every practice. Others simply tell you that you must wear a T-shirt or tank top that is not loose or baggy and athletic shorts or pants that have no buttons, zippers, snaps, or anything else that might get caught on anything.
If you have long hair you will also need to have some way of keeping it securely pulled back and out of your face in such a way that it will not pull loose during your training. You will also need gymnastics shoes which are usually worn without socks.
Sports or athletic tape can be a good thing to keep on hand. This will help with blisters as you practice with the bar both in preventing them and in keeping your hands from cracking. This tape can come in a wide variety of colors and many gymnasts specifically get it in their team colors and wear it during events.
If you are using athletic tape to prevent blisters then you should also consider a pre-wrap tape. Pre-wrap tape goes on before the athletic tape and protects your skin in order to prevent the tape from hurting as you pull it off. Gymnastic grips, while not always insisted on, are often needed as well, though it is possible to make gymnastic tape grips.
A gymnastics bag, or some other bag that can fulfill the same functions, will also be needed so that you can have a place for your water, clothes, and everything else that you will need to have handy for your classes.
If you are truly dedicated to becoming a gymnast you can get many of the pieces of equipment and start practicing at home on them. A gymnastics mat is a good place to start and can be easily stored away when not in use. The beam is another piece of equipment that can even be made yourself if you are careful to get the dimensions right.
Bars can also be installed in a home so you can practice that as well. These are perhaps most often installed in a doorway and can be purchased online from places like Amazon for fairly cheap, and they are sometimes referred to as a pull-up bar.
Most of the time the gym you are training at will know where you can get these items and might even be able to sell them directly to you. Whether they can or not it is always a good idea to talk to your trainer about it and get their opinion on what you might need and what would fit in your space at home.
What To Expect During Your First Lesson
The schedule of the first lesson can differ drastically depending on whether it is a school program, a class at a gym, or if you are hiring a private instructor. For most classes however, school or gym, the first day is focused on initiation. The trainer will be seeing what each of his or her students can do and what they need to work on.
Wherever you are taking lessons at you should be wearing no jewelry and have your hair pulled back. You should also be wearing the appropriate clothing for the lesson and come ready to learn. In a large gym there can be a lot of distracting sights and sounds and many people remark that a gymnastics gym can smell very much like a locker room, so come mentally prepared for this.
In a school setting, especially if there is more than one teacher, the first step is to find out which group you should go in. There may be a wide age range depending on the school. Questions are asked and the groups split up and by the end of the first lesson there is often some moving around of the students to put them in the right class.
In a gym setting, on the other hand, the class you start off in is the one with other people of your age range and skill level. This allows you to skip that step here, though the instructor may still ask questions to help gauge your exact skill level.
Introductions are made somewhere in here and you will likely be told what you are supposed to wear and things you might need to bring if you did not have this information already. You will also be given some safety tips, will be told the rules you are to observe with the various gymnastic equipments, and will possibly be allowed to ask a question or two.
Once you are introduced and your instructor has a fair idea of where you are starting at, then the students will be put through various stretches as you warm up. Depending on the instructor, they may give an example of what each of these stretches should look like before having you try to do the same, or they may simply have you go straight into doing it yourself and correct you if you do it wrong.
After you are warmed up you will go into the various exercises and routines, again either being given an example or going directly into it. Either way the teacher will watch and make any necessary corrections while the students do as instructed one or two at a time so that the teacher can really focus on them.
Usually sometime around the end of the class the teacher will tell their students if they need to do any specific exercises, work on their handstands more, or other parting details and instructions. There will also usually be some time either at the end or during practice where questions can be asked to make sure that you are catching on.
By the end of the class you will doubtless have at least a few sore muscles so do not plan on doing anything strenuous after a gymnastics class. You be allowed to change back into your regular clothes if needed, and then you are done!
Exercises For Level 1 Gymnasts
If you are looking to get started in gymnastics and simply haven’t found the right gym yet, then there are still things that you can do to start building up the right muscles that you will need. Even if you are already taking classes, doing these exercises in addition to the ones that have already likely been assigned to you can be very helpful.
Some of the best exercises for gymnastics fall into the push or pull category since these are the muscles you will need to pull yourself up to the bar or push yourself into a vertical position. Push exercises involve simple things like pushups, but also include things like chest presses and lateral raises. Pull exercises can come in the form of back extensions and arm rows. Essentially anything that involves using your arms to pull or push can be turned into an exercise.
Things like sit-ups that build up your torso muscles are also a great idea. It is your torso muscles that enable you to pull yourself around the bar, so if you find this difficult then you should probably work on building your torso muscles up more.
The other kind of exercises that you should work on is ones that involve stretching. Practice doing the splits or start working your way up to the splits if you cannot already do them. Also, do static stretches where you stretch out as far as you comfortably can and then hold it for 30-60 seconds.
Other things that you will want to practice are handstands, cartwheels, and you will need to work on your overall balance. All of these will be perfected by doing gymnastics; however it is always a wise idea to work on these as much as possible before you start.
If you can’t do a handstand yet, then practice this by doing a “spider-man” up against a wall. You start this by placing your back up against a wall and bending over and place your hands on the floor in front of you. Place one foot and then the other on the wall behind you and sort of walk on your hands closer to the wall until you are flat up against it.
When you have gotten that part down, practice seeing how long you can hold it. Gradually move yourself further and further away from the wall and practice holding the handstand without the support of the wall. As you are able, increase the time you do this. Eventually you should be comfortable enough to move your legs around, do a split, bend one knee, or even walk around on your hands while in this position.
Tips For Level 1 Gymnasts
While some aspects of learning gymnastics requires practice to learn, there are some tips that it can be very helpful to know before your first practice session begins. These tips can help you avoid injuries or can simply give you a head start on your first lesson.
When you grab the bar your hands should be the same distance apart as your shoulders and your thumbs should be going the same way around the bar as the rest of your fingers. Wrapping your thumb around the other way might seem more natural but it can potentially lead to broken fingers and should never be done in gymnastics.
It is also vital to eat well and to stay hydrated when you are a gymnast. Being a gymnast requires a lot of muscle work and puts strain on various joints and bones, so if you are not getting the minerals you need your are far more likely to end up with a sprain or even a broken bone.
And, though this might seem like common sense, you do not want to eat right before practice. Cartwheels, handstands, and other positions that have you upside down will not be easy to do on a full stomach or help your food to settle well. On the other hand, neither do you want to be too hungry since this can make your muscles weak and shaky and can lead to an accident or slip.
You should also do your best to get the right amount of sleep since tired muscles will not perform as well. If you are tired you are not going to be as alert or quick to move, which makes you more likely to make a mistake and to end up getting yourself hurt.
Essentially it is always a good idea to use your own common sense. Remember that it takes months if not years to learn gymnastics, so don’t overdue yourself in an effort to learn everything all at once!