Like any other sport or exercise, gymnastics isn’t something you can become excellent at overnight.
For some of you, gymnastics might even seem like an unattainable dream or an impossible challenge, but if you’re here that means that something in you is curious and perhaps hopeful.
Well, as a fat person I’m done being hopeful. I want to be confident in what my large and beautiful body is capable of doing.
So, can fat people do gymnastics?
Gymnastics can be challenging for beginners and being out of shape can limit what you can do at the start. But regardless of your weight, with regular exercising, you can improve your physical condition and strengthen your muscles in order to overcome possible difficulties you might face in gymnastics.
Now that you know you can do it, I want to dive deeper and explore the world of gymnastics, its benefits, and share some of my tips to help you get started!
What Exactly Is Gymnastics?
I never imagined that gymnastics would be a sport I’d get into, not because of my size, but because I’ve always thought gymnastics is something you see on television during the Olympics.
So, to my surprise, one of my best friends asked me to join her in some gymnastics classes for adults in our area. I was already doing yoga on and off to help me improve my flexibility so I thought I would give gymnastics a try.
Despite my initial fears, this sport that I had so deeply associated with professional athletes turned out to be extremely inclusive. The classes were open to all genders, for young and old people, as well as able-bodied and disabled.
So, what is gymnastics all about?
With your coach to guide you, you’ll learn and practice floor exercises that usually include two-handed and one-handed cartwheels.
You’ll practice skills like aerials, during which you won’t be using your hands and instead you’ll use the power of your legs.
Roundoff is another move, similar to a cartwheel where you have to land on both feet together on the ground.
Of course, no one expects you to do all these exercises. You’ll need to practice, and strengthen your body before completing all of them.
As you can imagine, the more advanced classes teach you combinations of the same moves, as well as advanced tumbling moves like back handsprings.
Training With Equipment
Not all gymnastics classes will include apparatus training, and most will stick with floor tumbling.
But you might find a stadium or a gymnastics gym, that has equipment like the vault board, pommel horse, steel rings, high bar, parallel and uneven bars, and a balance beam.
Tumbling can also be practiced on a trampoline where you jump repeatedly and perform aerial skills.
Using this equipment is a great way to exercise, but some of us prefer to jump, swing, roll, and turn upside down while staying on the floor.
I know that the floor might also sound scary, but gymnastics is such a unique and fun sport.
Once I got into it I felt like I was a kid again, jumping, rolling, and falling on my butt more times than I can count!
Can Plus Size People Do Gymnastics?
The simple answer is, yes, we absolutely can do gymnastics, but being active especially when you’re on the heavier side presents its own set of challenges.
Sometimes these challenges have nothing to do with your weight, but more so with your fitness level and your individual body and strength.
Either way, we need to take our size into consideration in order to make gymnastics a pleasant and safe experience!
So, let’s take a closer look at some of these nuances. But before we do, if you’re still unsure if this is for you, let’s take a minute to admire the amazing (and athletic) Erika Reichert in this video:
You might be thinking that your weight is going to set you back in gymnastics, but that’s not exactly how sports work.
In professional gymnastics, researchers found that “power speed, isometric and explosive strength, strength endurance, and dynamic and static flexibility” are the most important physical attributes.
Of course, I know that none of us are thinking of starting gymnastics to compete with other professionals, but this study helps us understand attributes that are important during such exercises.
Let’s take strength, for example, fat people are known to be quite strong, partly because we can generate more force.
This is because we are used to carrying extra weight, and due to intramuscular fat, which can increase the size of our muscles and produce more force.
Fat people that are already exercising will be able to generate enough force through their leg and arm muscles to overcome their body weight. This is crucial in gymnastics since that’s how you’ll be capable of throwing yourself around.
And while most of us aren’t as strong as this American Footballer who weighs 336 pounds and stands at 6-foot-2, it’s quite impressive to see such a backflip!
Don’t try this at home guys!
Flexibility also plays a major role in gymnastics. Even though natural body elasticity isn’t dictated by our weight, and it varies from one person to another, our strength gives us an advantage once again.
You see, a study done in 2018 showed that heavier people are better in strength exercises and that they “enjoy strength exercises more than normal-weight people, mediated by fat-free mass and muscle strength.”
Of course, every sport comes with its own set of difficulties, and starting gymnastics when you’re out of shape can be harder for those of us who are plus size.
A lighter athlete can have an initial advantage because they might find it easier to move their body weight, especially during tumbling exercises.
But I do want to emphasize the word “initial” because you will be able to perform these gymnastics moves the more you work on improving your technique, strengthening your muscles, and you keep practicing.
While we can be fit and strong, our weight can have a toll on our knees. During certain floor exercises, it’s easy to put more stress on your joints, when landing hard during front and backflips.
Of course, this means that we have to be more careful and intuitive with our bodies. I tend to overextend myself, especially when I’m having fun, or I want to perform the perfect flip.
Thankfully, my coach is brilliant, and he pushes me to work on my technique and never concentrates on my size.
Such people always remind me to love and care for my body instead of pushing it too hard. I also understand that my weight adds more pressure on my knees, wrists, bones, and joints and if I’m not careful I can injure myself.
Let’s also not forget that an adult body, no matter how much it weighs, is going to need more time to achieve certain gymnastics “goals.”
How To Get Started With Gymnastics When You’re Overweight?
For my fit fat folk, gymnastics is going to be just another mountain peak to conquer. For beginners it can be intimidating stepping into the unknown and believe me I’ve been there and I know how it feels.
That’s why I’ve gathered all my best tips, so you don’t have to make the same mistakes. Not that there’s anything wrong with making them, how else are we supposed to learn!
Find The Right Coach
So, the first thing one does when they want to get into a new sport or any activity is googling a nearby center or gym that offers adult classes.
By taking a moment to look at the different gymnastics gyms and the classes they offer, you can also take a moment to go through their reviews.
I always look for comments that either talk about plus-size experiences, or how polite and kind the clients have found the coaches to be in certain gyms.
Because being in a space that’s not obsessed with weight loss and thinness is a priority for me and my mental health.
I’ve worked hard to not care about strangers judging my body and assuming the worst, but this doesn’t mean I need to tolerate this behavior while I’m rolling, tumbling, and jumping up and down.
So, once, you’ve decided on one or more gyms, I’d suggest visiting them before signing up for any class. When I was still new to exercising I didn’t always have the courage to do that, so I would give them a call instead.
If you’re like me, then make sure to mention your weight, fitness level, and perhaps what you want to achieve by going to gymnastics.
Some of us simply want to try something new, while others need to work on their strength and balance, perhaps even losing some pounds. Either way, it’s always good to be on the same page with your coach.
I would also ask them if they offer a free introduction class, so you can see what to expect. You can even try a few different classes in different gyms, to see which one speaks to you.
During the first training lessons, I try to observe the rest of the class and see if there are other folks like me. Of course, I’m not intimidated by people with smaller bodies, but I do appreciate it when I see fellow fat people.
For me, this usually means that the coach is experienced at dealing with larger bodies. They are more aware of what equipment suits me best, and how my weight can impact sensitive areas on my body, like my knees and ankles.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to change gyms or coaches. Trainers are like psychologists, if they can’t empathize and understand you, they won’t be able to help you and it may remove the fun you ought to be having in a class where you’re jumping!
Get The Basics Right
I’m sure your coach is going to explain all this to you, but I do want to emphasize how important it is to learn and practice basic moves.
When I started skiing I thought I would be going down the tallest slope, but in reality, I had to learn how to fall and get back up first.
Similarly, with gymnastics, one of the basic moves they first showed us was balancing on one foot, and let me tell you, that it was much harder than it sounds.
When you turn up on your first class, your initial expectations might be quite different, but there are a lot of factors that will determine your skill level and what class will work for you.
Your age and fitness will be one of the deciding factors, and your coach will choose the moves that will help you work on your strength and flexibility, as well as balance before you move on to more complicated stuff.
These simple moves made me realize the importance of balancing an area I clearly hadn’t mastered. Perhaps my full figure made it more challenging, but throughout the process, I also realized that I had so much to learn about my body and the control I actually could exert over it.
This might seem obvious, but consistency is important in pretty much everything we do as human beings if we want to improve.
By practicing and going to the classes regularly, you’ll begin to learn new things, improve your old moves, and build the necessary strength and stamina to achieve all that.
Another thing you’re going to be developing throughout these classes is muscle memory. Basically, by repeating a task we are creating a long term muscle-memory specifically for that task, which should make it easier for us to perform it.
But science aside, being consistent and showing up in classes means that you’re pushing through physical challenges, and you’re constantly learning new things. Otherwise, you won’t see any positive results, and you’ll eventually become overwhelmed and might even give up.
Stretching Is A Must!
When I’m excited about a new hobby all I want to do is get right to the fun stuff, but a good warm-up is the key to a good gymnastics session.
WebMD suggests that no matter what exercise or physical activity you take up “make sure you start slow, warm-up, and learn the correct technique for any exercise that you do. Talk to your doctor if you already have knee pain so you don’t choose an activity that makes it worse.”
Since stretching exercises can also improve your flexibility the exercises your trainer will show should help increase the range of motion in your joints, and the blood flow to your muscles.
By preparing your muscles for the upcoming exercise you’re also preparing yourself mentally, and you’re preventing any possible stress and fatigue from being placed on your muscles and heart.
Aside from warming up your body you also need to perform a few cool-down exercises. According to Mayo Clinic, “cooling down after your workout allows for a gradual recovery of pre-exercise heart rate and blood pressure.”
Wear Protective Gear
Before you begin your lessons, it’s important to ask your coach what gear, and sportswear you’ll need, depending on the exercises.
If you’re doing floor moves then the right footwear can help you stay more balanced. Some gyms might be ok if you practice barefoot, but I’m more comfortable in shoes specially made for gymnastics.
Usually, I go for the Women’s Canvas Baller Slippers that you can find on Amazon They have a thin suede leather sole that keeps you from slipping and they’re quite affordable so I’m not afraid if they tear after an intense tumbling exercise, I can simply get another pair!
If you’re doing exercises on the high bar, parallel bars and anything that includes your grip then make sure you have wrist wraps and hand grips on. They’ll prevent blisters and tears on your hands and help you feel more secure in your grip.
If you have certain areas that need support, like your knees, your trainer might suggest a knee sleeve to prevent your knees from future injuries. They also help reduce pain and increase blood flow during and after gymnastics workouts.
When it comes to clothes, no matter what you wear you’re going to sweat, but you can minimize it by putting on comfortable lightweight clothing that absorbs sweat.
Make sure there are no zippers, or buttons on your clothes, and try to go for something more fitting since baggy clothing can get in the way. The same goes for jewelry because the last thing you want to do is lose your pendant while you’re cartwheeling across the gym!
Last but most definitely not least, your gymnastics class is meant to bring you joy.
That doesn’t mean it has to be easy! Gymnastics is a challenging sport, but even through all your efforts and practice, you need to be enjoying yourself.
Gymnastics is a wonderful opportunity to understand your body and its limitations, and of course, explore the strength and flexibility you thought you didn’t have.
I had to learn that being graceful and elegant as a beginner is a fantasy. The reality is that you’ll fall, tumble, roll all the while your face is red from all the effort, your hair bun is a mess, and let’s not forget the sweat.
But I also learned that no one is going to judge you, we all learn at our own pace and everyone is going to fall on their bum sooner or later.
To make sure you’re having fun you should not push yourself, or punish yourself for not achieving certain “goals.” You need to remember to have proper rest, to hydrate your body, and nourish it with yummy and as much as possible healthy food.
You should also learn to speak up when an exercise is too challenging, or when you feel uncomfortable.
Of course, if you find that you’re not interested in an activity or gymnastics altogether there’s no reason to torture yourself over it. Instead look for a hobby that will motivate you, like hiking or riding waves!
When I’m noticing that I’m not being consistent I know that it’s time to take a look within and see whether I’m simply feeling overwhelmed with the challenge and I need to go back to the basics, or I’m actually not passionate about the activity itself.
I know giving up on a sport when you’re a large person can make you feel ten times more defeated and ashamed. But use this as an opportunity instead to understand what your heart and body truly desire.
What Are The Benefits Of Gymnastics For Larger Folks?
It’s true that gymnastics can be somewhat of a challenge, and those of us who are large might be wondering should we also be in charge of this particular sport?
Well, I don’t see a reason why not, but I see plenty of reasons why we should!
1. Improves Coordination and Balance
One of the main reasons why I decided to try gymnastics was to enhance my body awareness and movement.
Carrying extra weight can affect your gait and your center of gravity, which is something I’ve noticed over the years. I knew that gymnastics is one of those activities that can improve the overall control of your body, which is incredibly useful when you want to regain stability.
I can’t say I noticed immediate results, but with time I found that I was able to move quicker, I was less clumsy (more of a character trait in my case), and I could engage my core.
Another thing that gymnastics improved, was my posture. I spend many hours of my day in front of a computer, so I needed an exercise that will help me keep my back straight instead of looking like a question mark.
2. Increases Flexibility
The reason why gymnastics looks so scary especially when you have a bigger body is the speed with which athletes jump, do backflips, and cartwheels. I used to cringe at the sight of a turned wrist and felt bad for their knees during each landing.
But I learned that gymnastics actually helps you work on regaining full control over your movements and develop a greater range of motion to prevent injuries.
In fact, being flexible is what protects you during training and even in your everyday life.
At this point, gymnastics and flexibility might as well be synonyms!
I also want to add that as we grow older our bodies lose some of that elasticity, the Journal of Aging found that “flexibility training interventions in older adults are often effective at increasing joint range of motion in various joints, and various functional outcomes can be improved.”
So, working on your flexibility through gymnastics is basically an investment into your future self.
3. Strengthens Your Body
According to A. Sands, Ph.D., gymnasts are among the strongest, pound for pound, of all the Olympic athletes.
I mean you literally learn how to throw your own body weight during all these flips and aerial exercises, and if you’re hanging off bars, then you can imagine the strength your upper body gains.
Another study showed that adult women who participated in gymnastics weekly had a greater bone density, bone strength, and muscular agility than those who remained relatively sedentary.
Just like flexibility, strengthening your muscles will also help you protect your knees, and joints not only during sports like gymnastics but in day-to-day activities.
4. Burns Calories
There are plenty of reasons to exercise and as you can see losing weight is definitely not at the top of my list.
Of course, I’m never against anyone who wants to or needs to reduce their weight, and gymnastics do offer this perk.
Like any activity, you need to use your muscles to complete certain moves and exercises, and since gymnastics is a whole-body exercise you are going to burn more calories.
But even if you’re not consciously looking to burn calories, gymnastics will help you get fit!
5. It Makes You Feel Good!
While I do try and lead an active life and try different sports to improve my physical health I also do it because it makes me happy.
That wasn’t always the case, and I still get bored from time to time, but gymnastics has this unique ability to bring out my inner child.
It’s an environment where even as an adult I can be free to try new things, make mistakes, jump up and down and use the best sports equipment, the trampoline!
Even science can back me up on this one since it’s proven that exercise can increase the feel-good hormones, help you improve your sleep, and reduce stress.
Furthermore, gymnastics classes offer mental stimulation, something I’m especially aware of when I’m trying to make sure that my movements are well-coordinated and precise
There’s also a social benefit to it.
I’ve made a ton of friends in my gym, and more often than not they’ve helped me push through my fears and frustration. They simply won’t let me give up and they are the reason I can’t wait for the next lesson!
Can Fat People Teach Gymnastics?
You don’t have to be an Olympic gymnast to teach gymnastics, and your weight shouldn’t stand in your way either, but you definitely need to be already engaged with this sport.
You can start by asking the coach at your local gymnastics gym if you can assist them during classes. This way you can learn how to prepare the sessions, how to manage a class, and practice your coaching technique. Part of the job is also learning about concussion procedures, getting a first aid course among other things.
You’ll also have to be physically fit and strong, so you can practice the spotting technique. This involves correctly positioning yourself around landing areas in case you’ll need to catch the athlete.
Once you feel confident in your coaching skills, you’ll need to get certified or get further education as a gymnast instructor.
Gymnastics can be a recreational activity for children, adults, beginners, or advanced athletes or it can be aimed at training children and youths for competitions.
So, having the skills to teach each group and person based on their needs is crucial!
While I want to believe that people’s views over our large bodies are changing, I’m not confident enough to tell you that you won’t have a harder time entering the world of gymnastics as a fat person.
Certain coaches might give you a hard time during the certification process, some clients or parents might avoid you. But being a plus-size gymnastics coach also gives you an advantage. There are also plenty of people like me that will find you relatable and will be happy to learn from someone who understands the nuances of being larger.
One thing is certain, to become a gymnast you’ll need to be prepared for hard work as you develop your skills as a coach, your training technique, and your communication skills.
Because not only will you have to transfer your knowledge to your students, but you’ll also need to uplift them and help them believe that they can do it!
My Final Thoughts
I always try to encourage the people that read my thoughts here, to be confident and I want to help you embark on a journey of loving your curves, dimples, and squishiness.
I also don’t want to be a hypocrite, because preaching positivity can also be toxic and damaging. Embarking on a new journey, especially one so intimidating as gymnastics is definitely a challenge.
Will it be easy all the way?
Is it worth it?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I truly believe it is.
Gymnastics, aerial yoga, or painting, and anything in between, I just hope whatever you set your mind on, you live life big!