Competitive Gymnastics Vs. Recreational Gymnastics

competitive gymnastics or recreational gymnastics

If you’ve read some of my other articles on gymnastics, you’ll know that I don’t look at gymnastics as only a sport. Gymnastics can be a sport, but is also a recreational activity. The term competitive gymnastics is a loose way to describe the sport of gymnastics, once gymnasts are competing – which they can start at an early level.

But the sport of gymnastics also encompasses recreational gymnastics and many other types of gymnastics. We’ll focus on artistic gymnastics, which is the biggest branch of the sport of gymnastics.

What is Recreational Gymnastics and It’s Levels?

Recreational gymnastics is offered at competitive gyms and local programs. They are generally classes offered for a wide selection of ages.

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Mommy and Me Gymnastics Class

Recreational classes often start as early as 18months old with Mommy and Me classes. Children can actually start gymnastics much younger than toddler gymnastics, but most places don’t start that young. Here’s my post on baby gymnastics and activities you can do at home to get you started. 

Mommy and Me Gymnastics classes often go up to age three. These toddler gymnastics classes are great for exploring and testing boundaries, with a trusted caregiver by their side! Most classes will introduce a few skills, such as rolls, hanging, and different body shapes. They will work on motor skills such as jumping, running, and balancing. Depending on the kids in class, some may go into harder skills, like cartwheels.

Once a child is able to follow directions from a teacher, feel comfortable without their parent in the class, and participate as a group, they may be able to move into the next class.

Preschool Gymnastics Class

Many gyms refer to their preschool gymnastics and kindergarten gymnastics classes as Kindergym. It’s the next age level up from Mommy and Me in the recreational gymnastics program. Ages three to five usually start in the preschool/kindergarten gymnastics program.

Some gyms offer programs for kids that have abilities that are beyond what the beginning classes offer. These are more advanced classes so young kids can still be challenged while not going into a competitive program.

If gyms don’t have advanced levels for pre/k classes, they may be asked to join pre-team gymnastics classes. Information about pre-team gymnastics can be read about in the competitive gymnastics section below!

Preschool gymnastics programs should be fun and upbeat. They give students a chance to learn new gymnastics skills, practice risk-taking and motor development, and whole lot more. Check out the many benefits of gymnastics for kids here.

While most preschool gymnastics classes are fun, some kids are overwhelmed by them. Fortunately, kids can get the benefits of gymnastics at home without needing a class. Sign up for my email list below and I’ll send you info on my Preschool Gymnastics Course and a link to get 25% off! 

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Grade School Recreational Gymnastics Classes

Starting at first grade, kids enter into the grade school recreational gymnastics program at a gym. At this age the classes are usually divided more by skill level than age. Levels one through three are usually non-competitive recreational classes. However, some gyms offer higher levels for recreational students too, though it’s very uncommon after a level four.

These classes are designed for kids that want to learn gymnastics, but not commit to classes several hours a week and compete. Or, the child may not have the ability or desire to learn the skills required at a competition level.

At the grade school level, kids are divided into boys or girls classes. The division is due to the differing equipment (events) men and women’s gymnastics use. While they both have floor and vault, women’s gymnastics also participates in uneven parallel bars and balance beam. Men participate in rings, high bar, parallel bar, and pommel horse.

Adult Gymnastics Classes

Only some gyms offer adult gymnastics class. The classes can be a lot of fun, and a great workout! Many coaches aren’t used to working with adults so it can be challenging to find proper instruction. Look for coaches that are older and have more experience to stay safe. Adult classes are usually centered around acquiring skills more than conditioning, similar to most rec classes. Read this post on gymnastics workouts you can do at home to supplement your class or to learn gymnastics at home without class!

What is Competitive Gymnastics and It’s Levels?

Competitive gymnastics is often called Team gymnastics. Although gymnasts compete individually, they are considered on their gym’s team, hence the name. Children are always divided into gender groups, men’s and women’s and are advanced according to skill level, not age. Only the gym/coach can invite a child onto a competitive team. They will normally do an assessment of their skills, or will invite them from another class after being familiar with their abilities, fitness, and attitude.

The guidelines here are based on the women’s artistic gymnastics, but men’s is very similar. Read more specifics about how the men’s program differs here.

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The Most Common – Junior Olympic Gymnastics Program

The junior olympic gymnastics program is the traditional competitive program consisting of levels one – ten and elite. It is very competitive and involves a lot of commitment to continue. Competitive gymnastics generally begins at level four, though some areas include lower levels in meets, it varies with each gym. The Jr Olympic program is, as it says, the track for athletes that want the possibility of making it to the olympics some day!

Levels four and five are compulsory levels and six through ten are optionals. So, during gymnastics meets (competitions) the compulsory levels will do the same required routines put forth by USA Gymnastics (our country’s governing body). The higher levels will preform their own unique routines that can highlight their individual talents and style.

If a gymnast is still competing past level 10 they are considered elite, competing in more national and internationally. Often, gymnasts have reached college-age by this time and may be on a college team, competing for their school.

What is Xcel Gymnastics?

The Xcel Gymnastics Program is a great alternative to the Jr Olympic program for kids that want to compete, but not devote the amount of energy to the sport that the junior olympic program requires.

Xcel gymnastics programs offer more flexibility, more creativity in creating routines, and less time and money than traditional competitive gymnastics. Not all gyms offer Xcel, so check your local gym or find more info at USAG’s site.

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What is Pre-Team Gymnastics?

Preteam gymnastics programs are offered for kids that are on the track to competitive gymnastics, but not ready or old enough to compete. Gyms will invite students on an individual basis, as coaches see fit. They often have an evaluation by the pre-team coach to check that they are ready to join the pre-team classes. If your child expresses an interest to go further in the sport, inquire at your gym. Often, adding another class or private lessons or home drills can bump them to the level they need to be invited to the pre-team gymnastics program.

Often new gymnasts can even join pre-team gymnastics programs. If they are strong, flexible, and motivated, they may be asked to try out pre-team classes. Pre-team classes teach students more than gymnastics skills. They focus on getting ready for competition and training their bodies and minds to handle the gymnastics load.

Often, skills are learned slower at the pre-team level than they would in a non-competitive class. In this way, recreational gymnastics classes can be more fun. However, teaching skills quicker and faster can lead to incorrect technique, making it unsafe when preforming at a higher level.

Non Artistic Gymnastics Categories

While artistic gymnastics remains the most popular form, there continues to be other types that are recognized as an official sport. Gymnastics is such a versatile activity so creating other programs outside of artistic gymnastics is a way to open it up to more athletes. All of the programs are also a lot of fun to watch!

Just like artistic gymnastics, these other categories are available competitive or non-competitive. However, many gyms do not offer all of these programs and some can be hard to find!

  • Rhythmic Gymnastics
  • Acrobatic Gymnastics
  • Trampoline and Tumbling Gymnastics

Individual gyms may also have their own programs, and more sprout up every day. Be sure to check around to find the best form of gymnastics for your child or yourself!

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