In this fitness-conscious world, many gymnasts are likely wondering how many calories they might burn in a typical gymnastics workout. This is important information to know for a variety of different reasons, whether you are trying to keep track of your calorie count in order to lose weight or you are trying to come up with a sport that you can participate in that will help you to burn the calories that you need.
On average, a typical gymnast will burn around 1,000 calories during their gymnastics practice. However, this number can vary quite drastically based on body size, body composition, and it can even vary some on what type of gymnastics you do and what level you are in.
While a typical gymnastics set for a beginner gymnast burns less than half as many calories as, say, a brisk jog of the same amount of time – it doesn’t have to be that way. Read on to find out more.
Despite the many books and websites that will give you simple, generic numbers for “how many calories do you burn doing __?” it’s actually much more complicated than that. Every person burns calories differently, depending on their weight and unique body composition. But that doesn’t mean it’s hard to figure out! In fact, there’s a pretty simple calculation you can use to find out how many calories you burn doing various activities. And that applies to gymnastics, too.
How Can I Find Out How Many Calories I Burn Based On My Weight?
The first step in order to figure out how many calories your body burns at any given task is to figure out what your Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR is. This is not to be confused with BMI, which has to do with your body fat composition and which doesn’t actually have a lot to do with fitness.
Your unique BMR tells you how many calories your body burns while it is at rest. Basically, it helps you understand how many calories you would burn on a day where you didn’t do much except putter around the house and maybe read a book. From there, however, it is easy to calculate how much a workout will increase that number.
Due to hormonal differences, the basic calculation for BMR differs between men and women.
BMR for men = 88.362 + (13.397 x weight in kg) + (4.799 x height in cm) – (5.677 x age in years)
BMR for women = 447.593 + (9.247 x weight in kg) + (3.098 x height in cm) – (4.330 x age in years)
You can also search online for a BMR calculator that can do this for you automatically using your age, height, and weight. Similarly, you can also search for specific calculators that will take your BMR and tell you how many calories you will burn doing certain activities, including gymnastics.
When using these calculators it is important to keep in mind that at best these can only offer close estimates. Each person’s body is unique and therefore works slightly different from other people who may be the same exact gender, height, weight, and age as they are.
Does Gymnastics Burn Many Calories Compared To Other Workouts?
Because a traditional gymnastics practice involves a lot of standing, stretching, and waiting to start a routine, it’s not one of the most rigorous workouts in terms of burning calories. While the quick bursts of activity certainly burn a lot, it can’t replace a sustained cardio workout, or strength building exercises that are repeated over longer periods of time.
Part of this is due to the fact that in gymnastics classes the gymnasts have to take turns using the equipment so that their coach or other adult can spot for them. While this is especially true of the lower levels of gymnastics, the higher levels in which this is less needed does tend to burn more calories.
If your aim is to burn calories, you’ll need a room with dedicated equipment so you don’t have to wait too long, and you’ll need to choreograph a routine that focuses on the high-activity parts of the sport. It can be very helpful to get a coach or trainer involved so that they can point you in the right direction.
While gymnasts aren’t typically striving to create a specific body type, they do need to keep their weight and body fat percentage low. This is because any extra weight causes problems in more complicated routines, especially on the takeoff and landing for anything airborne.
In contrast to aerobic workouts, gymnastics is considered an “anaerobic” workout, meaning it consists mostly of short bursts of energy punctuated by periods of rest. While this kind of workout has many benefits, it isn’t focused on cardiovascular health or sustained strength-building. As a result, gymnasts tend to keep their dietary fat consumption quite low, and they typically do non-gymnastics workouts in order to keep their fitness level high.
What Do Professional Gymnasts Eat?
This may come as a surprise to people who’ve read about the lavish meals enjoyed by other Olympic athletes, but most gymnasts will consume no more than 2,000 calories a day, mostly lean meats and complex carbohydrates. The famous high-calorie diets needed for swimmers or runners won’t be found here.
According to interviews, gold medal Olympic gymnast Simone Biles likes to keep her meals clean and simple. For breakfast, she’ll often eat a protein waffle with some fruit. Lunch is usually some chicken with a side of vegetables, and for snacks she’ll turn to plantain chips. Dinner is usually fish with brown rice and vegetables.
As fad diets come and go, gymnasts keep it simple. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains and legumes, lean proteins like chicken breast or fish, and high-fiber veggies are staples of their diet. They avoid refined sugar, and only occasionally indulge in higher-fat treats. When they do, they try to make sure it’s something with other nutritional benefits, like a well-marbled grass-fed steak.
Exactly How Many Calories Does Some Of The Various Gymnastics Activities Burn?
Of course, each activity in gymnastics has its own calorie-burning value. While you’ll need to calculate your BMR in order to know exactly how many calories you can burn during each of these activities, here’s a breakdown of some of the common gymnastics activities, and how many calories they would burn when performed by a 110-pound female athlete.
Sprinting is something that is used a lot when practicing the different vaults, since the gymnast has to sprint down the runway as fast as they can in order to get their momentum going. This burns 150 calories per hour and it is also something that can be used to get a running start for the combination moves on the floor as well, though in any case the gymnast is obviously never sprinting for a whole hour at a time.
Jumps is something that gymnasts can do a lot of since there are all kinds of these including split jumps, ring jumps, wolf jumps, switch jumps, just to name a few. Jumps burn 600 calories an hour with leaps being pretty close to that same amount.
Flips are around this number too, with flips that require more effort taking in general more energy and therefore burning up more calories. This means that a double salto is going to burn more than simple back flip will.
However, effort only plays a small part in burning calories, with the other part of it being movement. This is why cartwheels burn 600 calories in an hour while aerial cartwheels actually only burn 400 calories in an hour, because with a cartwheel the gymnast is moving her arms more in addition to her legs.
As you can see, some of the core gymnastics moves actually burn a lot of calories if you can repeat them over a longer period of time. This is why when a gymnast is competing and doing long routines they burn a lot more calories than they are when they are training. The trick is to choreograph a fun, fast-paced routine for yourself that focuses on the more rigorous parts of gymnastics.
Of course, not everyone has access to a gymnastics space whenever they’d like. In order to build up their strength and agility and to help them burn more calories, gymnasts often do some cardio workouts or some workout routine that will help with this.
Cardio and interval training
This can be done on a stationary bike, treadmill, or track. The main goal is to get your heart rate up and keep it elevated for at least 20 minutes.
Here’s an example of a basic interval workout that a gymnast might use:
-Warm up for 15 minutes (moving at an easy pace)
-Run, bike, or row for 3 minutes at the highest intensity you can
-Take 3 minutes active recovery (keep moving at an easy pace) and then repeat the 3 on/3 off pattern 3 to 4 more times.
-End with a 10 minute cooldown (keep moving at a slow pace).
Try leg lifts, crunches, planches, and handstands. These are exercises that can be done almost anywhere, with limited space and time. These drills will strengthen the core, the crucial muscles in your abdomen and lower back that power your whole body.
Without excellent core strength, gymnastics is almost impossible. Gymnasts need to be able to pull and lift themselves into and out of many different positions using their core strength, so this is very important to develop.
Here’s an example of a basic core workout, the classic lunge:
- Begin standing with your feet 4-6 inches apart and parallel.
- Inhale, step your left foot forward and shift your weight into all four corners of the left foot while raising your right heel.
- Exhale and scissor your legs apart as your torso lowers straight down. Let your left knee glide to just in front of your ankle and align it with first and second toes.
- Inhale and picture your ribs lifting up and off of the pelvis, to return you to standing with two straight legs at the top.
- Exhale and lower into the lunge, picturing your waistline narrowing around your spine and inner thighs resisting away from each other to slow the movement down.
- Inhale, lift your ribs off of your pelvis and think of the inner thighs closing like a pair of scissors to lift to standing.
- Repeat 12 times on each side.
Flexibility and healing
Low-impact activities like restorative yoga can help you stretch, recover, and regain flexibility in muscles that may have seized up during some of the more intense exercises that a gymnast can do. Building muscle strength has two parts: the intense training that creates micro-tears in the muscle fibers, and the recovery period in which muscles grow back much stronger.
Here’s a basic set of restorative yoga poses you can do at home, with a bolster pillow or rolled-up blankets or towels. Make sure the room is warm and quiet, and minimize distractions to get the meditative benefits:
Inclined Bolster Version 1: If your bolster is firm, simply place a block on its flattest setting horizontally across the back of your mat, and tip one of the short ends of your bolster up on it (so that the highest point of the inclined bolster is at the back of the mat). If your bolster is thin and soft, you may want to add a folded blanket on top for additional support in some or all of the poses below.
Inclined Bolster Version 2: If you don’t have a bolster, fold two blankets into long rectangles, and lay one on top of the other to create a makeshift bolster. Two blocks are helpful to prevent the blankets from sagging. Place one block (at its middle setting) horizontally at the very back of your mat. In front of it, place a block on its flattest setting.
Supported Reclining Twist
While still reclining on the bolster, bend your knees and place the soles of your feet on the mat about shoulder-distance apart. Windshield-wiper your legs a few times from side to side, and then relax both knees over to the right. Stay there for a few minutes, and then repeat on the left.
Supported Reclining Side Bend
From a reclining position on your bolster with your legs straight out in front of you, move your right foot a few inches to the right. Cross your left ankle over your right. Keep your arms alongside your body, or interlace your hands behind your head for part or all of your time in this pose. After a few minutes here, repeat on the left side.
Get on all fours facing the front of your mat with your knees close to the bottom of the bolster, and then slowly lower your belly to the floor. Move your shins and feet up the inclined bolster and stack your hands to make a pillow for your forehead.
Can I Use Gymnastics To Lose Weight?
You can definitely use gymnastics workouts to support a healthy weight-loss regimen. As always, the most important part of any weight loss effort is monitoring your calorie intake as well as how many calories you are burning.
Whether you choose to count calories or stick to a specific eating plan, it is very important to be honest with yourself about your eating habits and whether they support your ultimate goals. If you are not used to high-impact workouts – or maybe even any form of workouts at all – then you may find that taking up gymnastics and supporting workouts causes you to feel a lot hungrier.
This is totally normal! After all, you’re burning a lot more calories than you are used to. Be sure to calculate your BMR as shown above so you know exactly how much you should be eating. To ensure that you’re not overeating to compensate for the calories you’ve burned, keep a close eye on yourself.
If you typically snack mindlessly right out of the bag or box, start doling out individual servings instead. If you tend to grab for cookies or ice cream, keep some fruit around instead. Listen to your body, and figure out what it truly needs, versus what it simply craves out of habit.
Have you ever noticed how competitive eaters tend to scarf their food down as quickly as possible, barely even chewing it? That is because it takes at least 20 minutes for your stomach to send your brain “I’m full!” signals, even after eating a large meal.
If you tend to go back for second helpings within that 20 minute window, you might be ignoring your body’s signals without realizing it. After eating a meal, always give yourself some time to process what you’ve eaten. This is a great time to tidy up the kitchen, wash a few dishes, or make yourself a nice cup of tea.
It can also help to brush your teeth with minty toothpaste, or even just rinse out with mouthwash or have an after-dinner mint. With the taste of the food out of your mouth, your body won’t be as likely to send false “I’m starving!!!” signals while you let your meal settle.
In today’s busy world, we quickly run out of the energy to make good eating decisions throughout the day. Make it easy for yourself by taking the time to prepare healthy snacks and meals to grab during busier times.
Some healthy snack ideas that would be appropriate for a gymnast include some hummus with carrots and celery sticks, peanut butter with apple slices is a general favorite, as is almonds or some other nut and a dried fruit.
Even though things like pizza have way too many calories, something like low fat cheese and turkey pepperoni is still a great option or even cherry tomatoes with mozzarella cheese in a ball. Other options include bell pepper slices with guacamole, hard boiled eggs, low-sodium beef jerky, or if you like to drink shakes you could even go with almond milk with protein powder.
While gymnasts tend to stick to a lower-fat diet, don’t forget that healthy fats are very important. In addition to supporting brain health, they also help you feel full. If you find yourself fighting off hunger pangs even after you’ve eaten a good meal, you might need more healthy fats in your diet.
Some healthy fats that could help support you in your gymnastics journey when eaten in moderation are extra-virgin olive oil, grass fed butter, or coconut oil for cooking. Avocados are a great option for a snack as well with free-range eggs with yolk being the most nutritional and the ones that you should go with.
Nut butters can have a lot of good fats in them as long as you check the label and make sure that they are unsweetened with no fillers added to them. Fatty fish like salmon, trout, or sardines are all tasty foods that you can eat, with a full-fat yogurt actually being a healthier option as long as it has no added sugar.
Finally, since you will likely be craving some form of a sweet treat eventually, dark chocolate is the best thing that you could go with for that.
Is It Possible To Do Gymnastics Without Watching Your Calories?
If you’re someone who tends to be naturally fit you might be wondering if it is truly necessary to change your diet in order to do gymnastics. Since gymnastics is physically demanding in ways you likely haven’t experienced before, there is no way to be sure without trying. However, most people will find that eating heavy, processed foods hinders their development in the sport.
You might have read about bodybuilders and weightlifters doing something called “dirty bulking” or just “eating dirty.” Because their primary goal is to put on muscle weight, they are mostly concerned with eating a lot of calories, no matter the source. But this is likely to hold you back in gymnastics, which requires you to be very lithe and acrobatic.
As you’ve probably heard before, muscle is actually a lot denser than fat. This means that a very muscular person with a relatively small frame might actually weigh more than a larger person with extra fat. While body weight isn’t a reliable indicator of health for this reason, it does matter a lot for gymnasts.
When leaping, swinging on a bar, or landing after a high jump, even a few extra ounces can cause a lot of problems. One reason in particular that this could be a problem is that the more you weigh, the more likely that you will twist an ankle or worse if you land the slightest bit incorrectly.
As a result, gymnasts are constantly striking a delicate balance between strength and lightness. They need to develop their crucial muscles, but they cannot bulk to the point where those muscles are adding significant body weight. That is why they tend to avoid intense strength training and “bulking up.”
This is also a major reason why they strive to eat clean. Eating a lot of processed foods not only leads to long-term weight gain in most people, it also tends to cause bloating and water retention. Even though this tends to be something that is only temporary, it is still not something a gymnast wants to deal with.
Just a few extra pounds can mean a serious injury if it throws off balance during a routine. By focusing on whole foods and eating clean, gymnasts can avoid issues like brain fog, bloating, fatigue, and other side effects that can come alongside eating large amounts of processed foods.
Can I Try Gymnastics If I Am Overweight?
You might be wondering, given how demanding it can be, whether gymnastics is appropriate for someone who has extra weight on their frame. While you should always consult a doctor before beginning a new exercise routine, it is definitely possible to work some simple beginner gymnastics into your routine at any fitness level or body type.
With some practice, you can master low jumps, walkovers, handsprings, and handstands. Make sure to be mindful of the pressure that you are putting on your joints when doing these exercises! It is best to work with an experienced coach to help guide you through, and help you understand when it’s appropriate to push past your pain threshold, and when your body is telling you that you need to stop before getting injured.
With time and supported by the other workouts mentioned in this article you should find that your fitness improves to the point where you can start pursuing more advanced gymnastics.
Although competitive gymnastics isn’t designed to be a standalone workout routine, the activities you learn on the mat can certainly be incorporated into your fitness journey. Alongside healthy eating, and supported by strength training, cardio, and active recovery, gymnastics can be a great way to burn calories and raise your overall fitness level. By combining a clean diet with workouts that strengthen your core, increase your endurance, and keep your heart pumping, you can become a skilled gymnast and have fun doing it!