Whilst women’s artistic (sometimes called WAG) gymnasts train and compete on 4 pieces of apparatus, in men’s artistic gymnastics (MAG) there are 6. In this blog post I describe and explain in simple terms each of the six MAG pieces – perfect for new parents to the sport!
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The floor is used by both MAG and WAG gymnasts, although there are some differences between boys’ and girls’ routines. Whereas WAG routines are usually set to music, in men’s artistic this is not required. Because of this, there are also no dance moves for the boys to learn- just combinations of acrobatic moves (cartwheels, rolls, somersaults) and balancing ones (handstands, arabesques, front support).
Boys’ floor routines last for about a minute, and they aim to show both strength and control of the body. At the end of their competition routines, boys do not ‘present’ to the judges with their arms up as girls do; instead they either raise one arm, or simply nod towards the judging table.
The vault is also used by boys and girls. Most gymnastics clubs will have a vaulting table, although some may also still use an older style ‘horse’ vault. When Mr F started to train for higher level competitions, I was surprised to learn that male gymnasts don’t actually use a vault at all for quite a while. Instead, their competition vaults often consist of jumping off a springboard and onto a pile of mats.
The reasoning behind this is to focus on the take off from the springboard, the flight through the air, and the strong landing at the end. The idea is to work on getting a really good grasp of the foundations for a great vault, before introducing the more complicated moves using the vaulting table itself later on.
Perhaps the event that most people think of first when they hear “men’s gymnastics,” the rings are sometimes also known as ‘still rings,’ because the aim is for them to stay as still as possible during a routine. This apparatus requires a lot of upper body strength, and also confidence, as the rings are usually around two metres above the ground- quite a long way up when you’re only five or six years old!
Rings routines involve a lot of swinging moves, and some static ones, which must be held for a certain length of time in order to be counted. Whilst on the ring, boys wear leather ring guards on their hands, which are designed to protect the skin from ripping. Routines end with a dismount, which for younger boys is often simply a back somersault.
Another well-known piece, thanks to the success of British gymnasts Louis Smith and Max Whitlock. The pommel horse has two handles on top, and male gymnasts are required to perform spinning and swinging moves around the handles, as well as the horse itself. But boy gymnasts don’t begin using the horse itself for quite some time.
Younger children and beginners start to learn this piece using a training aid called a ‘mushroom.’ This is a metal stand with a foam-topped semi-circle on the top, which looks a bit like a large mushroom (hence the name). Boys use their hands to spin their body around the mushroom, keeping their body tensed and legs straight out. Although it looks quite simple, the mushroom is notoriously difficult for young gymnasts to master, and it can take a frustratingly long time to get that elusive ‘first circle.’ However, once they’ve mastered doing one full rotation around the mushroom, improvements can often be made quite quickly.
The p-bars are two wooden bars on a metal frame, set parallel both to each other, and to the floor. Although I’ve also seen them used in pre-school gymnastics for toddlers to walk along sideways, with one raised up high and the other low, this piece of equipment is usually used by men’s artistic gymnasts.
The bars are different to other bars in the gym, as they are actually slightly oval in shape, rather than completely round. Boys hold onto the parallel bars and swing in between them, eventually aiming to swing right up into a handstand shape. They also hold some of the same balances that you’ll see them do on the floor, such as pike and straddle shapes. More advanced male gymnasts eventually start to learn release and catch moves on the p-bars, before dismounting with a swing into a somersaulting move.
Horizontal Bar (High Bar)
This piece is probably most well-known because of gymnast Nile Wilson, and his Olympic success. It’s different to the girls’ bars because there is only one bar, rather than two, and it’s made of metal instead of the wooden or fibreglass asymmetric bars.
Older gymnasts wear handguards, which they cover in chalk to prevent them from slipping when using the bar, but younger boys are often attached to the bar using loops and gloves. This stops them from falling off, but it does also mean that their bar routines don’t actually include a dismount until they are older and more advanced.
If you’re new to the world of gymnastics, I hope this guide has given you a little bit of insight into the apparatus your son can expect to use in his gymnastics classes, and later on, in his competitions. If you found it useful, please do consider sharing this post or pinning it on Pinterest, using the buttons at the top and bottom of the post!