As a student who is often sitting at her desk or on transit, I’m not exactly flexible. Even reaching my toes is a feat (or feet – ha, you catch the pun?). My back is worse for wear from carrying a heavy backpack, and my only weights were my laptop and notebooks. One thing was for sure: I needed exercise. I’ve always found it hard to stick to a routine by myself. My best memories of exercise are when I’m the least conscious of the fact that I’m ‘working out’, and am achieving a different primary goal. Think: rock climbing, gardening, dancing. I’m wanting to get to the top of the rocks, get the weeds out of the garden, or just have a good time on the dance floor.
But since I wanted to specifically improve my flexibility, I joined gymnastics in an adult beginners class. I have fond memories of being in gymnastics as a young three-year-old, and so I figured, Why not? Maybe I’ll finally be able to do a cartwheel.
If you’ve never taken gymnastics and have wondered what a beginner’s class would entail, just looking at this post alone is not an exhaustive search. Since I started in the beginning of May, and a number of students had started last September, all the students had a different level of gymnastic ability and my instructor likely teaches differently than other instructors who might be starting with a new group of students with no experience. Other classes may have different routines than mine do, and other classes may have a different atmosphere to them than mine do.
I prepared for the class by realizing that I was in need of some new exercise gear. By this I mean a proper sports bra and exercise leggings, since I already had a good workout shirt. Gymnastics involves being upside down at times, so wearing tight-fitting (but stretchy) clothes is ideal. However, if you’re like me and like wearing loose-fitting t-shirts to exercise in, you can still wear these. But you still need coverage (like a sports bra) underneath, in case your shirt rises and your front-side feels as exposed as a new iPhone before its new case.
To prevent this from happening, be prepared to tuck in your baggy shirt into your leggings. And now you have a new look for parties. You’re welcome.
I didn’t own a sports bra. Having a what-I-think-of-as a smaller chest, I wasn’t sure if one was necessary. But of course it is, because lumps of fat on your chest will bounce when you jump, no matter the size. If you’re shopping for one of these bras, look for a snug fit, and try to stretch in it. I may have bruised my elbows from doing just that in the changeroom, but I did it. Also don’t be afraid of bright colours.
As for leggings, the cotton leggings I own don’t give as much coverage as I would need for stretching. Ladies, you know what I mean. You need leggings that can breathe and stretch without becoming see-through. No one needs to see your neon pink floral panties. I’m not saying anyone has them, but if you do… no one needs to see them.
If you’re shopping at an exercise store, be prepared to put more money than you expected. After a trip to the store and an emptying of my wallet, I was ready. Some say you don’t need to get special clothes for gymnastics, but the items I purchased were what I’d need for working out regardless. If you already own workout gear, you’re all set.
I went to the gym and introduced myself to a few students. We waited outside the gym for our time to be called in, and those I met were surprisingly friendly and welcoming to a newcomer. I had envisioned that other students would be professional. Like Olympians, despite the fact that it’s a class for beginners. But instead, I was reassured that everyone is still just learning and having a good time.
Soon, the instructor called us in and we immediately started into our warm-up. This included running around in a circle repeatedly with at least 10 other people and then switching directions. Next, we did a number of various stretches, mainly targeting our hamstrings and quadriceps, including the splits. I did my best interpretation of each exercise.
Next, we did our vaults. The instructor mentioned that it was time for vaults, and also showed us some other exercises that we could do on a running trampoline. Vaulting involves running from a far distance on the firm ground and jumping onto a small trampoline board, in order to propel yourself into a donkey kick. The instructor showed me what to do and I had a practice run.
We moved onto climbing a rope. I made two attempts, and failed. Next, we moved to “floor”. This is where you work on things like tumbling, handstands, cartwheels, or conditioning (note: conditioning is just doing a bunch of cardio exercises your instructor tells you to do so you build muscle). It took me a few attempts at cartwheels and handstands to realize that my upper arm strength was much weaker than I had thought. This is okay.
Then we moved to the bars that you end up swinging from. There’s a higher bar and lower bar, which look like this. You chalk your hands, jump and hold onto the higher bar, and swing. If you’re more advanced, your instructor shows you moves you can do. So far I’ve been completely in awe at my classmates and their abilities.
After this, we would run again, and see how many times we could run back and forth on the floor in 30 seconds, and each week we’d try to beat our score. After this, we’d cool down with stretches.
My instructor has changed as we have started a new year (which starts in July – who knew? Probably everyone but me), and so our order of events have changed. We warm-up, and then walk on beams of various heights and work on our balance and technique. And since I keep falling off my beam (amazing balance, I know), I choose the beam that touches the ground. Enjoy a picture of similar beams here. After this we go to ‘floor’, then bars, and vaulting.
If you’re thinking I’m some amazing gymnast, you’re wrong. I still can’t do a handstand or a cartwheel, or even the most basic skills. Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing there each week. I’m still weak, my back is terrible, I can’t jump very high or far, and each week I leave with enough sweat to water a garden.
But what I can do is try. And each time I jump a little higher, don’t fall as much, or reach just that bit farther – the work is worth it. You make friends with your classmates and you laugh each time you fall. And sooner or later, you don’t keep going just because you’ve signed up for the class, you go because you want to prove that you can. And some day, I’ll be able to do that handstand.