Sensitivity = Weakness
The trait of being sensitive is frowned upon in the fiercely competitive world of gymnastics. Since gymnasts get yelled at by their coaches on a regular basis, they eventually develop a thick skin and learn to take those demeaning remarks in stride rather than taking them personally.
This, in turn, involves trading a part of their personality or curbing their emotions, for that laud-worthy performance – from an early age.
Rules Are Meant to Be Broken
As per human psychology, banned things are more lucrative than the things that are permissible. For instance, a banned piece of literature, web series, or movie gets a lot more publicity than things that are permitted.
Since gymnasts are prohibited from consuming sugar, they often sneak candies at every possible opportunity they get. This takes us back to our childhood memories of eating sneakily in the middle of a lecture session. Now, who remembers those escapades?
Every Fall Is a Learning Experience
Inventor Thomas Edison, once rightly said about his failures, “I haven’t failed. I just found 1,000 ways that won’t work.” This quote encapsulates the spirit of perseverance and is probably the best way to describe the motto of a gymnast in a single line.
Each fall, for them, is a learning experience – and a pushback to perfect their pose to a T. Having said that, a pro gymnast has probably fallen umpteen times before getting their routine right.
Expect Delayed Periods
If you’re a female gymnast, expect a delay in your monthly cycle. The rigorous training of gymnastics is said to hamper the normal cycle – often delaying it to almost two years. Amenorrhea is the absence of menstrual periods.
It is, in fact, a common occurrence among many A-list female gymnasts. While this, apart from creating a health concern for the gymnasts, also results in them getting period-shamed.
Ice Is Their BFF
A cube of ice for a gymnast is what water is for a fish. It’s their BFF. Rubbing ice on the affected areas of their body helps deal with muscle pain and swelling. The coldness of the ice, as a standalone machine or when combined with heat therapy, gives immense relief in an event of a minor muscle-related injury.
The gymnasts, hence, are often seen with icepacks or giving themselves an ice massage (multiple times a day), in case of an injury.
The Olympics Are Not Always End-Game
Not every gymnast wants to go to the Olympics. The reason for that is fairly simple: In order to be an Olympic gymnast, one has to begin training, from as early as four.
If that’s not all, they have to spend a large portion of their time in the gymnastic training center apart from following a super-strict diet. This sure doesn’t sound like everyone’s cup of tea! Speaking of tea, even that is only allowed in moderation for them.
They Face Body Issues
The gymnasts face severe body issues as they are constantly told what an ideal, or a desirable, gymnast’s body looks like. In short, the different aspects of their bodies are constantly policed – by the coaches, committees, or even peers.
This, in turn, shakes up their confidence and impacts their mental health to a considerable extent. Slim bodies are preferred and advocated in gymnastics so much that it’s almost rare to see a plus-size gymnast in this sport.
Their Costumes Are Embarrassing
The gymnasts have to wear bizarre leotards. Now, anyone, who has worn a leotard before will know for a fact that this outfit can get embarrassing to wear for countless reasons.
A leotard sticks to the body of its wearer like a second skin (or a bad debt). While this can cause a lot of sweating, it can also end up accentuating parts of your body that aren’t necessarily flattering.
Their Diet Is Strict
The gymnasts have to follow a non-negotiable strict diet, rich in proteins and green leafy vegetables (spinach, lettuce, and all.) They usually have to keep their carb intake to a bare minimum (sigh).
This means they can forget all those decadent desserts, cheese, and other dishes that are considered to be ‘mouth-watering.’ In a nutshell, the list of what a gymnast can’t eat is often longer than what they can.
Sports Drinks Are Banned
We often come across many sports drink advertisements that show sportsmen downing several cans so that they get their energy intake. In reality, this is nothing but a false representation of the usage of sports drink among the sportspersons, particularly gymnasts.
Gymnasts have to stay away from sports drink as it contains spoonfuls of sugar and other substances that are normally considered to be harmful to their health. It doesn’t help them win games.
Coaches Can Be Tyrants
Some of the coaches in the gymnastics world can put any dictator to shame. These coaches can be real tyrants. They demand nothing less than a hundred percent (sometimes even 200%) from their students.
While inculcating discipline can be a good thing, these coaches often do more harm than good by knowingly, or unknowingly, creating a culture of fear. That can’t be good, right?
Being Upside Down
As Morticia Addams from the movie The Addams Family, rightfully says, “Normal is an illusion. What is normal to the spider is chaos to the fly.” What’s normal for a gymnast may or may not be normal for other people.
While an ‘upside down’ could mean something to a couch potato who has watched Stranger Things, it could be interpreted as a regular day to an avid gymnast.
Body Full of Bruises
This is no surprise. As gymnasts fall while trying to perfect their routine, they get cuts, bruises, and blisters on a constant basis. These abrasions on their skin often get a lot of attention from those unaware of their art.
Some of the common injuries gymnasts face includes back injuries (spondylolysis), contusions, soreness or muscle pains, sprains, fractures, and tears. The list of injuries can get pretty exhaustive and endless if one takes into account the major injuries they face.
Since gymnasts use their hands a lot to achieve mastery over their movements, their hands are often covered with callouses. These callouses are caused due to the friction between the bars and skin, leading the latter to break off.
Hence, they’re advised to apply a gentle moisturizer or a good quality salve on their palms on a regular basis to keep those nasty rips at bay. Soft hands are probably a distant dream for them.
Stunted Growth Is Common
The stunted growth among gymnasts isn’t some urban legend – it’s very much a reality. As per a 2004 published research study, “rigorous gymnastic training can hamper the musculoskeletal growth and maturation, which normally happens during the onset of puberty.”
Since then, numerous other research papers have explored the direct and indirect co-relation between this sport and growth patterns, reaching the conclusion that gymnastics can lead to stunted growth owing to intense diet regimens and training sessions.
The Balance Beam Can Terrify Them
The balance beam is one of the pain points (quite literally, at that!) for almost every gymnast. Made of wood or leather, this 5-meter-long beam manages to terrify even some of the most experienced gymnasts.
Though most balance beams, today, are coated with leather, it hasn’t exactly been gymnast-friendly in design. In 2017, US gymnast Riley McCusker escaped a major balance beam fall disaster by just a few seconds.
Their Wardrobe Is Policed!
The gymnasts can earn a penalty if their undergarments stick out of their leotards. The judging panel has all the right to deduct points off a gymnast’s score if they consider their wardrobe to be inappropriate.
Therefore, many gymnasts refrain from wearing undergarments beneath their leotards to allow them ease of movement. Many of them also wear thongs instead of regular underwear to help them meet the demands of their movements.
Hair Come the Woes
Getting their hair caught under their hands is another nightmare or day-mare for many gymnasts. Hair mishaps are a common occurrence among gymnasts. In 2019, Russian gymnast Angelina Melnivoka survived one such malfunction in the middle of her jump.
Recounting her experience, she says, “I hoped it wouldn’t get in my eye. But I know how much it can bother you as I was constantly thinking about it.”
They Know Their Results
Every gymnast worth their salt knows how they will fare – even when they’re midair and have not yet completed their routine. Most gymnasts have a strong sense of the success ratio of their landing.
Call it their sixth sense or the superpower, if you may. This means, that what can be a matter of seconds for an ordinary person, can be a deal-maker or deal-breaker for a gymnast.
They Are Perfectionists
Gymnasts and perfectionism go hand-in-hand, though it remains a topic of discussion whether gymnasts are born that way or become that way – as the result of their training. The pursuit and obsession with perfection in gymnastics are so high that it often takes on the form of an unhealthy obsession.
It, therefore, won’t be an exaggeration to say that perfectionism (as opposed to transcendence) is the ultimate need in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for every gymnast.
Hair, as we iterated in one of the points earlier, can make or break a gymnast’s performance. To make their hair stay in place, gymnasts often resort to using copious amounts of hair gels.
Such prolonged use of hair gel leads to hair damage in the long run. It strips the hair of its natural nutrients and nourishing agents. It also makes the hair stand awkwardly, once they remove their scrunchie after a performance.
Giving Up on Life Experiences
Every possibility of a victory in life comes at a cost. This cost is quite high a price to pay for gymnasts. This is usually because they have crazy training schedules and very little free time to do anything else.
This means gymnasts miss out on many things of life and the experiences life brings. This also limits their circle of friends, and the opportunity to connect with people from other fields or walks of life.
The Pain Catches Up to Them
It’s said that the human body is blessed with good memory. Our cells are known, and scientifically proven, to store the tiniest of information for a long period of time. This means, our bodies, are also capable of storing trauma and experiences of those kinds.
Since every gymnast has to undergo strenuous physical training for years, they often face chronic muscle, back pain, and the like, in the latter years of their life.
Their Teammates Are Their Ally
Since gymnasts have totally different life experiences from others, they tend to find it tough to connect with people who are not from their field. Their unique experiences, in a way, become one of the major drawbacks of forging new friendships with people outside their domain.
Having said that, you should know that gymnasts are not loners. They can form lifelong friendships with their teammates or people who have gone through or seen similar experiences.
Gymnastics Can Be Addictive
Gymnastics can be downright addictive. It’s a thrilling, exciting, and adventurous activity – with almost no equivalent substitute (let us know if there is). Though the field of professional gymnastics can be pretty much toxic at times, it’s equally rewarding in terms of mental satisfaction.
This, perhaps, is one of the biggest reasons why most people choose to remain in this highly competitive field – even after enduring so many hassles.
Suffer in Silence
Gymnasts are expected to keep mum – and take all their sufferings with a pinch of salt. The culture of the gymnastic sports world is such that fellow gymnasts are encouraged to observe silence rather than complain about the turmoil they face.
As per an NBC news report, USA gymnasts were silenced badly, when they tried to raise pertinent questions regarding the unfair appointment of their team doctor.
They’re Told to Push the Limits
A lot of gymnasts don’t have the luxury to take time off in case of a muscle-related injury. The gymnasts, at times, are expected to resume training on a war-front level despite their injuries.
In 2018, various media reports threw light on the torturous training camps started by the trainer duo Martha and Bela Karolyi. Once the reports were out, the USA gymnastics distanced itself from the Karolyi-run program in a move to make the training conditions better for its gymnasts.
Gymnasts Are Mistreated
There are coaches who don’t think twice before hurling insults at the gymnasts under their wing. They feel that being a coach entitles them to do so. The Karolyis, for instance, used to hurl such words at the gymnasts they were training and supervising.
This, in turn, not only made the gymnasts prone to fear and insecurities but also gave a bad name to gymnastics as a sport, at large.
Many Have Eating Issues
The diet of a gymnast, as we mentioned before, is not for the faint-hearted. Rather, we would say it takes a will of iron to follow a diet with specific dos and don’ts.
Since a gymnast is not allowed to eat many food items, they develop a host of eating issues and disorders over the course of their sporting career. Jennifer Sey, an ex-US gymnast, has opened up about such disorders in her title Chalk Up.
Privacy, What’s That?
Since gymnasts are not allowed to eat certain food items or products, they often experience strong cravings and withdrawal symptoms. A lot of gymnasts sneak in banned food items in their bags or lockers, at times.
To curb this practice, many coaches resort to the practice of raiding the lockers or bags of their gymnasts to confiscate forbidden snacks. While this might seem like a good move, it’s actually is a violation of private space.
They Binge Eat Sweets
Since gymnasts are not allowed to gorge on sweets or desserts on a daily basis; they make up for the loss by binge-eating desserts at every possible opportunity. Since these opportunities are so rare, the gymnasts make sure to eat sweets till they cannot have anymore.
The US gymnast, Aly Raisman, for one, was seen attacking a plate of sweets after her Olympic performance. And that cannot be a good thing!
They Have to Stay Away From Family
The gymnasts have to stay away from their friends, family, relatives, pets, and loved ones – for an extended period of time. They, at times, are not even allowed to make calls or send emails to them as family and friends are believed to be sources of distractions, by many coaches.
Hence, these gymnasts are left with no options, but to suffer their agony in silence or try to form formidable bonds with the members of their training camps.
Many Become Crippled
You may have seen many gymnasts looking graceful but there’s a scary side to all this that no gymnast wants to actually experience. While sore muscles, cramps, and injuries are common side effects of the intense training curriculum these gymnasts go through – there have been instances, in the past, when a gymnast has become crippled.
As gymnasts thrive on the culture of perfectionism, forced upon them by their coaches, many end up causing permanent damage to their muscles or other parts of the anatomy.
Their Food Is Under Scrutiny
Each and every meal of a gymnast is scrutinized by their hawk-eyed coaches. In other words, it’s the coaches who control what a gymnast is putting in their mouth and their body. Apart from their food, the portions also undergo strict supervision.
They’re met with severe punishments if they breach the aforesaid criteria of eating. The gymnasts, at one of the popular US training centers, were kept to a maximum of 800 calories, a day.
Premature Arthritis Is Reality
If you think premature arthritis is some medical condition that only those falling in the age group 50 and above have to deal with it, think again. Since gymnasts are vulnerable to muscle-related injuries, many of them get premature arthritis before they reach 20.
Certain adolescent gymnasts grapple with the issue of juvenile arthritis due to the grueling demands of this sports form. This sport is almost the opposite of an anti-aging cream.
They Age Faster
Since gymnasts start as young as four years old, they become experienced in their field by the time they are 10. At 20, they achieve the status of a veteran (read: on the verge of retirement). This means, that gymnastics as a sport and as a field, is ageist in its approach.
The gymnastic fraternity is filled with examples of how many careers have gone downhill once they reached a certain age.
Their Feet Take the Hit!
Since gymnastics is a highly physical sport, requiring abilities in body flexibility, gymnasts develop a range of muscle-related medical conditions – sooner or later. While some of these conditions are fleeting in nature, many of them can leave a permanent mark on their body.
One such medical condition they face is permanent damage to the feet. A lot of gymnasts struggle with the issue of permanently bruised feet, even after they have long retired.
They Lose Their Innocence
Gymnasts, as we said in a couple of points above, start as young as four years of age. Since age is a limiting factor in their career and success, a gymnast has to train hard, be on strict diets, and be at the top of their game – from the start.
Add to it the environment that isolates them from their loved ones. The gymnasts lose their innocence, from a very young age, to become able to survive in this cut-throat sport.
They Experience Violence
Apart from the verbal violence, many gymnasts experience physical violence, at the hands of their coaches. In her book, The Price of Gold: Uncomfortable Sincerity, world champion gymnast Maria Olaru, says, “My coach slapped me three times to the beam.”
She further added that he had slapped her in the face before throwing her on the floor. Naturally, she was unable to withhold her tears with a swollen face. Olaru was not even 16 when she faced such violence.
Nearly, every job on this planet comes with its set of occupational hazards. For a gymnast, this involves, ending up having a little (bathroom) accident on stage in the middle of their performances. This can be fairly embarrassing as a lot of cameras are trained on them.
Imagine the possibility of a picture of you with a wet patch in the wrong place making it to the sports pages of widely read media sites. Now, that’s what these gymnasts go through during every performance.