Adult Gymnastics

Published on: February 24th, 2014

Certain words don’t feel right together. For instance: anniversary and Arby’s; chaps and church; grandma and Diamond Cabaret … and most certainly, adults and gymnastics.

Americans are obsessed with gymnastics, so long as you define “obsessed” as “paying slight attention every four years.” It’s a kids’ sport. You hand it in with your My Little Ponies collection. If memory serves me right, the last Olympic gold medal gymnast celebrate her win with a GoGurt.

So, the question is: Do adults and gymnastics go together? And do adult gymnasts wear leotards while they do it? And, my, aren’t sparkles pretty? (By the way, the answer to all three is: Yes.)

This winter, the first-ever gymnastics studio designed specifically for adults opened in Denver, called Awaken Gymnastics. Gyms called Qi and 5280 Gymnastics already offered classes for adults, and these classes are exceedingly popular. No word on when someone will start holding classes for adults on how to ride a Big Wheel.

This is a serious fitness trend, but what impresses outsiders about gymnastics is the tumbling. Awaken has floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the corner of Santa Fe and 8th Avenue. Traffic sometimes jams at that corner because drivers slow down to watch adults tumble like toddlers. Passersby often see the rings and parallel bars through the windows and ask, “Where’s the kids?” But as soon as they hear that it’s gymnastics for adults only, teachers say, the usual reaction is, “Can I come play?”

This is so out of the norm. Adults, of course, are required to engage in exercise activities that are so extremely serious that they look as focused while doing them as a gambler filling out his taxes. (Only misery burns calories.) Lardaceous thighs must be punished angrily. And if you couldn’t burn it, you should flog that cellulite with ankle weights.

But adult gymnastics is flat-out fun, and one more example of the ways in which the Front Range—once home to grizzled ranchers, farmers, and oilmen—is coming to resemble Adult Day Camp. “People are looking for new ways to get in shape,” says Orench Lagman, owner of Awaken. He lists the benefits of this new fitness regimen: strength, resilience, flexibility and confidence.

Derrek Massanari, 38, credits the studio’s reverse flys and ring work with helping him recover after he was hit by a Toyota on his road bike. (His teacher, Crystal Hatch, believes that the flexibility he learned in gymnastics actually made the accident less damaging.) A study in the Journal of Musculoskeletal and Neuronal Interactions found that women who participate in gymnastics have stronger bones later in life. Lagman reports that a 70-year-old man he teaches can do an inversion on the rings, and a 62-year-old woman can do a two-minute handstand. Due to its emphasis on posture, Lagman even says that gymnastics “makes you taller,” which sounds like an odd claim to make for a sport dominated by women who are basically — and I mean this respectfully — sparkly midgets.

The biggest trouble with doing adult gymnastics is that it opens you up to ridicule. I tell my old timey barber that I’m doing gymnastics, and he sniffs, saying, “My granddaughter does that.” Also, I know I’m participating in yet another activity that I cannot tell my dad I’m doing.

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