History of Gymnastics: From Ancient Greece to Modern Times

Did you knew that gymnastics is one of the oldest sports in the world, dating back thousands of years to the ancient Greece?

Gymnastics involves the use of physical strength, flexibility, balance, control, power, agility and coordination that train the body to the excellence, but also work great on the character.

It needs concentration to keep a certain position, perseverance and determination to overcome the daily failures and motivation to keep practicing when it get harder. But the reward worth every effort and sweat.

It’s wonderful to realize that you can do more than you ever imagined, and for the kids it is a lifetime lesson about their strength and what they are capable of with their own power.

But, we promise to talk later about the psychological aspects of training, for now, let’s get back to our fabulous facts about the history of gymnastics.


The word gymnastics comes from the Greek words “gymnos” and “gymnazo” meaning roughly to train, to exercise naked. YES, athletes competed nude, a practice which was said to encourage aesthetic appreciation of the male body, and to be a tribute to the gods.

The training was not at all random, in Ancient Greece, it was professionally held within the Gymnasium. The gymnasium in Ancient Greece functioned as a training facility for competitors in public games. It was also a place for socializing and engaging in intellectual pursuits as it also held lectures and discussions on philosophy, literature, and music, and public libraries were nearby.

Young men over 18 received training in physical exercises under the supervision of gymnasiarchs, who were public officials responsible for the conduct of sports and games at public festivals and who directed the schools and supervised the competitors. The gymnastai were the teachers, coaches, and trainers of the athletes. The Greek gymnasiums also held lectures and discussions on philosophy, literature, and music, and public libraries were nearby.

Since the gymnasia were favorite resorts of youth, they were frequented by teachers, especially philosophers. Plato considered gymnastics to be an important part of education (see Republic iii. and parts of Laws) and according to him it was the sophist Prodicus who first pointed out the connection between gymnastics and health. Having found gymnastic exercises beneficial to his own weak constitution, Prodicus formulated a method that became generally accepted and was subsequently improved by Hippocrates.

The modern gymnastics began in the late 1700s. In 1774, a Prussian, Johann Bernhard Basedow, included physical exercises with other forms of instruction at his school in Dessau, Saxony. But the father of modern gymnastics is consider to be Ludwig Jahn from Germany. He invented several pieces of apparatus, including the side bar, the horizontal bar, the parallel bars, the balance beam, and jumping events. In 1811, Jahn created a school to spread the word about gymnastics. Around this time, Guts Muth introduced more rhythmic and graceful gymnastics in Sweden Dr. Dudley Allen Sargent who invented more than 30 pieces of apparatus is credited with bringing of the sport to United States. He also taught gymnastics in several U.S. universities about the time of the Civil War.

Modern competitions for men's gymnastics was on the schedule with the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, and it has been on the Olympic agenda continually since 1924.

Olympic gymnastic competition for women began in 1936 with an all-around competition, and in 1952 competition for the separate events was added. In the early Olympic competitions the dominant male gymnasts were from Germany, Sweden, Italy, and Switzerland, the countries where the sport first developed. But by the 1950s, Japan, the Soviet Union, and the Eastern European countries began to produce the leading male and female gymnasts.

For the female gymnasts, Comăneci is the first gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10.0 at the Olympic Games, and then, at the same Games (1976, Montreal) she received six more perfect 10s as well as winning three gold medals. She won two more gold medals and attained two more perfect 10s at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.

What are the competition events today?

Modern international competition has six events for men and four events for women.

For men, the competition includes rings, parallel bars, horizontal bar, side or pommel-horse, long or vaulting horse, and floor (or free) exercise. These events emphasize upper body strength and flexibility along with acrobatics.

The women's events are the vaulting horse, balance beam, uneven bars, and floor exercise, which is performed with musical accompaniment. These events combine graceful, dancelike movements with strength and acrobatic skills. In the United States, tumbling and trampoline exercises are also included in many competitions.

How’s organized the team?

Teams for international competitions are made up of six gymnasts. In the team competition each gymnast performs on every piece of equipment, and the team with the highest number of points wins. There is also a separate competition for the all-around title, which goes to the gymnast with the highest point total after performing on each piece of equipment, and a competition to determine the highest score for each individual apparatus.


A new star appeared: rhythmic gymnastics!

Another type of competitive gymnastics for women, rhythmic gymnastics, started to be an Olympic sport since 1984. The rhythmic gymnastic is addressed only to female gymnasts who performs graceful, dance like movements while holding and moving items such as a ball, hoop, rope, ribbon, or Indian clubs, with musical accompaniment. Routines could be performed individually or in group performances for six gymnasts.

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