Can You Start Gymnastics at 13?

The sight of young children performing breathtaking gymnastics skills is both amazing and inspiring yet it will often leave spectators thinking am I too old to start gymnastics? In fact, many older children even from the age of 13 upwards will be thinking the same thing. In most sports 13 is still considered young but not in gymnastics… well not in elite gymnastics at least.

In this article, I look into whether it is possible to start gymnastics at 13 (or even older) and what to expect if you do go for it.

Anyone can do gymnastics… yes anyone!

The most important thing to remember is that anyone can do gymnastics, no matter what age or ability. A good professional gymnastics facility will cater to all levels including beginners, even if you are starting for the first time in your teens or even as an adult. Well-run gyms will make you feel welcome and have an inclusive approach to teaching.

It can be daunting going in for the first time and even older children may feel a bit intimidated, especially if they see younger children training to a really high level. Hopefully, your coach will help calm any nerves and help you build up some confidence. If you are starting off at 13 or older it’s important to set some realistic goals.

It is highly unlikely someone starting at 13 will become an elite gymnast.

It’s not impossible… just very, very unlikely.

Elite gymnastics

Elite gymnasts often start classes somewhere between 4 and 6 years old. Occasionally they may have been a little older when they started but not much older. The reason elite gymnasts start so young is to do with human physiology and the age at which people hit their peak performance age.

Most elite male gymnasts reach their peak in their early to mid-twenties.

Most elite female gymnasts reach their peak in their late teens to early twenties.

After you reach your peak your body will not perform to its highest standard anymore. Gradually you will become more injury-prone, slow down and lose power and strength. There’s nothing we can do to stop this from happening, it’s just human nature. Although we can take steps to extend our peak performance age, eventually the inevitable will happen.

It’s worth noting that the term ‘elite’ refers to gymnasts training at the highest level in college or at national and international competitions. Olympians are the pinnacle of elite gymnasts.

For gymnasts, peak performance age comes around sooner than in other sports by nature of the wide-ranging skills that have to be performed. Artistic gymnasts require strength from every body part, upper, lower and core. They need flexibility and stamina as well as speed. No other sport demands such an all-around level of conditioning.

Because gymnasts peak early (and retire early) they also have to start training at a younger age in order to learn and perfect all of the high-level skills needed to be a successful elite gymnast. If you start at age 13 you will simply run out of time to learn these skills before you peak. Bear in mind some skills take months, if not years to learn correctly and elite gymnasts can be training 40 hours a week.

Can I just learn gymnastics at 13 (without competing)?

Of course! Lots of people are just interested in learning gymnastics skills without the pressure of taking part in competitions. In fact, lots of people that start gymnastics at 13 or older just enjoy the challenge of learning how to flip and cartwheel. They also enjoy the fitness and social aspect of meeting new people.

If you are trying to teach yourself gymnastics at home, I always recommend getting professional guidance at some point and I definitely do not advise learning how to flip without proper coaching. There’s lots of equipment that can be used at home to help such as air tracks, beams and bars.

Can I start competing gymnastics at 13?

Yes! Even if you are not elite and start gymnastics at age 13 (or higher) there are still competitive opportunities available for you. The thing to remember is that competitions are aimed at different levels of gymnasts, right down to regional or club v club events. This means that lots of gymnasts can take part in competitions without being elite.

The FIG (Federation of International Gymnastics) have a huge emphasis on Gymnastics for All (GfA) programme which is basically the recreational side of gymnastics. Many countries around the world will have their own programmes for Gymnastics for All. Here in London, a GfA competition can attract well over 1,000 participants in a single weekend.

That means that if you join a club with a GfA programme you can work towards competing against other people your age and ability. Typically you will be training for between 2 – 4 hours a week which sounds a lot but is nowhere near an elite gymnast training schedule. But if you are competing against other people that are training for roughly the same amount of time each week it will be fairer and more competitive.

What can I achieve if I start gymnastics at 13?

Start by focussing on the skills that you want to learn. These could be skills in any element of gymnastics whether it be:

  • Tumbling
  • Apparatus based
  • Flexibility

You can learn a huge amount of skills in any of these categories- so many I couldn’t list them all! But to give you some examples, I have personally seen teenagers and adults learn for the first time skills such as:

  • Double Somersalts
  • Twisting Somersalts
  • Giants on Bars
  • Tsukahara Vaults
  • Splits
  • Handstand on Parallel Bars

These skills take a lot of time, work and effort to learn but they are definitely possible with the right training, even if you start gymnastics from the age of 13 upwards.

Can adults learn gymnastics?

Yes! Adults can learn gymnastics for all the same great reasons a child can. It helps if you have a basic level of fitness such as being able to jog and do warm-up stretches but even if you are a real couch potato, you can still learn gymnastics as an adult!

We have over 100 adults per week attend sessions at our gym here in London, UK. A handful may have done gymnastics as a child and then look to restart on a recreational level however the vast majority are trying to get into it for the first time.

Many prefer the challenge and thrill of doing gymnastics over the dull repetitiveness of going for a run or pumping weights.

Crossfit has captured this market really well and now have over 13,000 facilities worldwide that combine gymnastics type training with general fitness workouts, mainly for adults.

Final Thoughts

Gymnastics is a sport for everyone and anyone so don’t be put off by the sight of really young children performing high-level gymnastics. We’re not all going to become Olympic athletes but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the amazing sport of gymnastics at a level that is right for you. Most of us can’t sprint as fast as Usain Bolt but that doesn’t stop people for going out for a run!

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