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Why Gymnastics is not for thrill-seekers

Our features editor tries her hand at gymnastics, to come away with a profound lesson.

I have always been game to try out new activities. I coerced my friends to skydive with me in Australia, got another to sit through thrill rides at a US theme park, and dived in Raja Ampat even though I dislike going underwater.

So when a friend asked me to join her at a gymnastics discovery class, I was all for it. Gymnastics has been in the spotlight ever since bodyweight training, which includes the former, has been named one of the top three fitness trends for the last three years, according to the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual worldwide survey. At least seven studios in Singapore offer gymnastics classes for adults.

It appears that I’m not the only big kid who dreams of doing a backflip, or a handspring, or vaulting off the beam. We had to wait a month before we could get a slot.

Those who heard about my upcoming session expressed deep concerns. “What if you break your neck/back/leg/other body parts?” was the common sentiment. I assume that reputable fitness clubs practise safety precautions.

As soon as class began, any hope of scoring my first trick was dashed. The 15 of us were informed that only beginner movements would be taught, so there would be no backflip, tumbling, handspring or skinning the cat (360 degree turns on suspended rings).

Even though I was a tad disappointed, it was easy to see the rationale. Some of us couldn’t touch our toes with our fingertips, while others were panting after doing 10 star jumps. Many of us were wincing as we stretched different body parts and one could hear stiff joints cracking at every twist and turn, as a dozen industrial wall fans whirred away. Which was a curious sight as the other attendees looked like they were in good shape. And that was just the 10-minute warm-up.

For the next hour or so, we were told to hang from stall bars and lift our legs so our toes touched the bar behind us, and to hold the position for 30 seconds. I felt my hands – and misplaced confidence – slowly slipping.

We moved on to rings, where we had to prop ourselves up until the shoulders and rings came into contact – and to hold that for 30 seconds. Gravity won. Then came the parallettes, on which we had to execute pushups with our backs as parallel to the wall as possible. It was okay until you got to the bottom and the arms just refused to cooperate.

By the end of the 90-minute class, we were beat.

I stepped into class thinking that I could boast of executing one fancy trick by the end of it. I should have left my ego at the doorstep when I removed my footwear.

I realised I was looking for a quick fix for restlessness, a rush of adrenalin to disrupt what would otherwise be a routine life, hence the thrill rides and skydiving. It was a timely reminder to remove myself from the world of instant gratification and grind away at areas that need improvement, whether it is physical or mental.

For the past month, I have been working on maintaining a free-standing handstand. I might not be the world’s next best gymnast like Simone Biles – it’s too late anyway, most of them start young – but hope springs eternal, at least for that handstand.

Hey, at least I can go upside down now.