How to Become an Olympic Gymnast

Watching the Olympics can be inspiring and you might be thinking—“What would it take for my child to become an Olympic gymnast?” or “I want to become an Olympic gymnast-what do I do?”.

how to become an olympic gymnast

While it’s extremely rare and difficult to become an Olympic gymnast, and I certainly can’t promise that–here are some “must-do”s for becoming a top gymnast. This same logic applies if your goal is a college gymnastics scholarship. In order to become a successful gymnast and maybe even an Olympic gymnast you need to start young, train many hours a week in a gym with the right tools for you to succeed and you must master the basics.

Start Young

Olympic Gymnasts are young and they start hard-core training at a young age. The minimum age that a gymnast can compete in international competitions is 16. This rule is one of the most debated rules in the sport of gymnastics. Smaller, younger girls tend to be better at the difficult skills required at high levels. However, without the minimum age rule there is some concern about the health and well-being of gymnasts. At the 2008 Olympics, there was some controversy about whether one of the gymnasts on the Chinese gymnastics team was old enough to compete. There was speculation that she was only 13, but nothing ever came of this investigation. Gymnasts peaking at a young age is evidenced by the fact that 4 of the 5 girls on the 2012 Olympic gymnastics team were 16 (the minimum age) and Ally Raisman was the oldest at 18 years of age.  This simply proves that starting gymnastics at a young age is one of the most important factors in being successful at a high level. In order to be training at such a high level at 16–girls need to start young.

gymnast trainingTrain Many Hours a Week

In the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, he studies the factors that lead to very high levels of success. (Side Note: This is one of the most interesting, motivating books I’ve ever read and I definitely recommend it.) He studied how the Beatles became one of the most successful bands ever and how Bill Gates was able to start one of the most innovative companies in the world. He deduces that both of these successes (plus many others he studies throughout the book) are due to the 10,000 hour rule. He concludes that you must practice a task for 10,000 hours in order to become an expert. The Beatles performed over 1200 times in Germany between 1960 and 1964 amassing over 10,000 hours of live playing time. When they returned to England–they were “experts” and sounded better than anyone else. Gladwell credits Bill Gates’ success to the fact that he was able to get access to a computer as a kid (which was very uncommon at the time) and spent over 10,000 hours programming on it.




I also know from personal experience the value of practicing more than anyone else. My dad was a phenomenal runner in high-school, college and afterwards for a short time before he got injured. He still holds both high-school and college records that have held for more than 30 years! When he was in high-school he ran twice a day every day of the year. He would wake up in the morning and go for a run before school, and then after school go to track practice. No one else was running that much–and he contributes his success to the fact that he was working out harder than anyone else.

Also, each of the 2012 U.S. Olympic gymnasts trained 30+ hours a week. While I’m sure they haven’t done that since the time they started out–that’s still a lot of hours in the gym. Let’s think this through: imagine you start gymnastics at 4 or 5 and for those two  years you are in the gym 2 hours a week for the year–that’s about 100 hours. Then ages 6-8 you work out 10 hours a week, and in those three years you amass 1,500 hours for a total of 1,600. Ages 9-13 you work out 20 hours a week getting you to a total of 6,600 hours. And 14-16 you work out 35 hours a week getting you over the 10,000 hour mark. (In my math I gave you 2 weeks vacation.) That’s a lot of hours in the gym–but that would give you the best shot at becoming an “expert” in gymnastics. Your dedication to training is going to be one of the key factors that separates you from other gymnasts, and takes your gymnastics to the next level.

gymnastics beam

Gymnastics Equipment at Olympic Trials 2012

Train at a Gym that has the Coaches and Equipment You Need to Excel

Another factor that goes into becoming an elite gymnast is training at a gym that has the coaches and equipment you need to learn. In the beginning years this isn’t very important, but as you advance to higher gymnastics levels this becomes important. My sister (a level 9 gymnast when she went to college) wrote an excerpt for my Parent’s Guide to Gymnastics Ebook on this subject. Basically she said that there was a big difference between the gym she trained at as a level 9 gymnast and the gym she practiced at on her college club team. The second gym didn’t have the safety belts and harnesses needed to learn high level skills, or things like a pit bar, or enough room to learn dismounts off the tumble tramp. She couldn’t imagine learning big skills at the second gym that she had the opportunity to learn at her previous gym. You also need to make sure you have a qualified coach to teach higher level skills. I talk more about these two factors (equipment and coaching) in tips for picking a gymnastics gym.

Master the Basics

The Olympic gymnastics scoring system rewards both excellence in execution and difficulty. Gabby Douglas’s form, height and execution of her skills is amazing and was incredible at both the Olympic Trials and the Olympics. I remember leaning over to my mom at the Olympic Trials and telling her that Gabby was the one to beat after seeing her warm-up. Her execution of skills was stunning due to her height and body position. This comes from mastering the basics and the basic “shapes” (split and handstand). The gymnasts that really stand out from the the rest of the crowd at competitions (and I say this as a gymnastics judge) are the ones that perform basic gymnastics skills exceptionally and have impeccable body form and dynamics. Here are 9 basic gymnastics skills you should master.

Set Goals

In order to maximize the time you have in the gym, and make your gymnastics training intentional it’s important to set goals. If your goal is to get to the Olympics, or to earn a college scholarship that will be your long-term goal. What are all the steps that need to happen in order for you to reach that goal? All of these little steps are the short-term goals you should be setting for yourself. I talk more about the types of goals you should be setting in The Mental Workout All Gymnasts Should be Doing and Other Strategies for Becoming the Best Gymnast You Can Be.

Another way to make sure that you are setting little goals for yourself is to list out the skills you want to learn during the summer when you aren’t competing, or during the next year. You can make your own skill progression charts, or check out GymnasticsHQ’s Skill Progression charts here.

Try Out for TOPS

TOPs (Talent Opportunity Program), from the USA Gymnastics Website, is a “talent search and educational program for female gymnasts age 7-10 and their coaches”. It’s a program that tries to find gymnasts with a “special” talent for gymnastics  with the goal of having a strong national team. Gymnasts in the TOPS program learn skills at a faster pace than the typical JO Program (gymnastics levels 1-10).

All five members of the Fierce Five, the 2012 Gold Medal Winning US OLympic Team, competed in the TOPS program. Excelling in the TOPS program is maybe the best way to become a gymnast that has a shot at being on the Olympic team.

Master Your Mental Workout

Since there are only so many hours per week that you can be in the gym training, one way to really up your gymnastics game is to master a mental workout. By practicing some of the mental techniques I mention in the mental workout article linked above, like visualization, self-talk, watching a personal highlight reel, you will be able to “practice gymnastics” without actually being in the gym.

In the sports psychology book 10-Minute Toughness, Jason Selk references Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, in which he cites a study that says:

“every minute of visualization is worth seven minutes of physical practice”

If every minute of visualization is really worth seven minutes of practice, by mastering a mental workout you will have a huge advantage over gymnasts that don’t do this visualization practice.

While I am definitely not promising anyone an Olympic career, I do think that starting young, training many hours a week and competing in TOPS are things that members of the gymnastics Olympic team have done. They have also mastered the basics and train with great coaches in gyms with the right equipment. I’m sure they also set goals and do a mental workout.

I think if your dream is to be an Olympic gymnast, these can be your guidelines.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts Found
47 comments… add one
  • Gabby Douglas April 11, 2014, 7:13 am

    hi im gabby douglas !!! i want you to know that you have to get a coach and start young . i got into the olmyicas by having a coach train me on my major skills i need to work on

    Reply
    • Margaret November 12, 2014, 2:49 pm

      Hi Gabby. I heard that to be an Olympic gymnast you can’t ever make a mistake. Is that true?

      Reply
    • Melika January 9, 2017, 12:05 am

      Hi Gabby! I am 13 years old girl and i really want to become a gymnast. Do you think it is to late?!

      Reply
      • Olivia February 12, 2017, 10:15 pm

        It’s never to late to start beside like 14.
        I suggest being a cheerleader or something ,already to have flexibility Or a dancer. If not stretch every day and put down you phone and workout out your legs, arms, and abs. If you want to go to the Olympics or college or become an elite you have to work for it, because I am a 13 year old level 4 gymnast and I don’t give 110% in the gym that won’t happen by 2020. I’d have To wait till 2024.

        Reply
      • Elizabeth June 12, 2017, 12:46 am

        I’m 13 and you just got to set goals. One of my goals is to master level 9 in two years, and right now I’m in level 3. I believe that I can make it to the 2020 olympics you just have to be positive and believe. Because I believe in you too!

        Reply
        • Emory September 20, 2017, 4:30 pm

          Wow, that’s a big goal! As long as you are determined and work really hard, it is definitely possible! I believe in you!

          Reply
    • hazel moore January 18, 2017, 9:58 am

      hi im hazel and 11 years of age is it to late to become olympic level gymnast

      Reply
    • Linda April 12, 2017, 6:16 pm

      wow you are totally gabby i totally believe you lol

      Reply
    • Claire April 30, 2017, 11:14 am

      Hi Gabby! I read your book and LOVE it!! I’m almost 13 and pretty good at gymnastics. Do you think I’ll be able to make it to the 2020 Olympics?

      Reply
    • dasia english November 1, 2017, 11:43 am

      luv you

      Reply
  • I'Kela Hall May 21, 2014, 8:17 am

    These are the perfect steps to become an Olympic gold medalist, just like Gabrielle Douglas. I want to be just like her when i grow up. Thank you for such wonderful and brilliant advice. i will definetly use it!! 🙂

    Reply
    • gymnasticshq May 21, 2014, 12:50 pm

      So glad you are such a motivated gymnast! Good luck! 🙂

      Reply
      • Serenity Moore July 10, 2017, 11:17 am

        My granddaughter (REALLY) want to become a gymnast please tell us where to start she’s 7 years old and she’s (VERY) passionate about this, please help us where do we start!

        Reply
  • I'Kela Hall May 21, 2014, 8:17 am

    These are the perfect steps to become an Olympic gold medalist, just like Gabrielle Douglas. I want to be just like her when i grow up. Thank you for such wonderful and brilliant advice. i will definitely use it!! 🙂

    Reply
  • Tayler June 23, 2014, 3:28 pm

    Hi Im Tayler and i started gymnastics when i was 8. Everyone says you have to start really young , so do you think i have a shot at going to the Olympics? By the way right now Im 12.

    Reply
    • Carly July 4, 2014, 8:36 pm

      Yah! I’m 11!
      Just work hard and you might have a shot!!

      Reply
  • Carly July 4, 2014, 8:35 pm

    Do you have the Middle School Gymnastics Team required skills? I need to know them to try out in 4 months! Thanks!

    Reply
    • gymnasticshq July 4, 2014, 8:46 pm

      Hi Carly,
      Every middle schools required skills would be different — there is no standard unless they use a certain gymnastics level requirements. You would have to ask your school. 🙂

      Reply
  • Katie July 11, 2014, 2:42 pm

    I love gymnastics! I am 10 and a level 7. Thanks for this! It is very helpful.

    Reply
  • Katie July 11, 2014, 2:44 pm

    Also, for level 7 can I compete on beam a backwalkover-backwalkover and a backhandspring separately? I want a 10.0 start value! Thanks.

    Reply
  • anna December 7, 2016, 9:31 pm

    hi im anna I love gymnastics and i train 24/7 litterally i cant go 24 hours without doing a cartwheel inside my house. It also helps to do gymnastics in the morning to wake yourself up

    Reply
  • Faith December 12, 2016, 7:40 am

    hi
    my name is Faith am 19 years old but I’ve been doing gymnastics over 10 till now,but I was doing it for my school and I was doing it at home,so all I wanted is to be one of gymnast players,can you please tell me where should I go

    Reply
  • Rye January 2, 2017, 5:48 pm

    Hi I just recently switched gyms I started when I was 7 and now Im 11 the last gym I was at was JOGA and the one Im at now is USAG only Im not on USAG Im on USAIGC only I want to be on USAG because thats how you get the the Olympics right Im a pretty good gymnast I work real hard any tips on how to get onto USAG or ideas or anything I would really reallly really appreciate it please please please someone respond Thank you!

    Reply
    • Rye January 8, 2017, 5:49 pm

      If I ask to do USAG, do you think they would say yes? Also, if I did USAG, what level would I be on? here are the skils I have:
      Vault: Just a front handspring over the table. It a pretty good one.

      Bars: kip, back hip circle, back hip circle underswing-or-whatever-its-called, sole circle, pull-over, long kip, long hang pullover, squat-on, and I almost have a flyaway dismount by myself working on it!

      Beam: cartwheel, back-walkover, tuck jump, wolf jump, split jump, etc, cartwheel back tuck dismount, handstand

      Floor: round-off tw0 backhandsprings, handstand forward roll stag jump, backwalkover-backwalkover, full and a half turn, dive-roll, front handspring

      Reply
  • Margaret C January 7, 2017, 6:13 pm

    Is it okay if you started gymnastics at 16 I’m still learning and i’m part of special Olympics as an athlete and I dream of one day transferring to the USA gymnastics program. There’s very little chance i’d be a pro but a girl can dream but I don’t really talk about dreams since I prefer just to practice for gymnastics do homework community service flute etc. and do school clubs and stuff like that so I have a hectic schedule but I certainly make time for working out at the gym and gymnastics practice and competitions. So I do so much I cannot believe it but I desire to do gymnastics as well as I can eventually competitive but i’m only a level 2 i’m very talented at it I was a level 1 although i’m not talented compared to normal gymnasts since I have modifications so I hope that eventually i’ll be able to be a competive normal gymnast without mods and eventually be in USA instead of special Olympics as athlete so I basically practiced handstands early with a couch propping my core since its weak hopefully i’ll be able to end up doing better. And Gabby douglas you really inspire me although I have trouble downloading your movie i’d probably watch it during next Christmas break when its off or during the summer idk. But i’ll probably do more gymnastic practices during the summer or maybe not this summer but certainly during other summers. I just do not do tons of hours as you do but that’s because i’m only a level 2 I’m seventeen years old was a level 1 at sixteen but technically since i’m really healthy and have a lot of life to live and have basically sup sr. yr in high school, community college and university hopefully if I transfer for my future hopefully it works or just university idk. and certainly have my jr. yr right now and my sr. yr left so hopefully um I have enough time besides a lot of the possible alternates for rio for Russia including that 40 yr old started at sixteen so yeah um maybe there’s a chance. But USA in those games they started young so maybe not it i’m unsure if it really matters um because, I love gymnastics so much but I also love a ton of other stuff as well. So yeah but I would hope that this would be when I’m older but I’m afraid i’d be too old for it that 40 yr old only started at 40 due too many injuries and i’m not reckless like that I use proper form unless I have one of my typical beginners accidents which usually mom’s there watching me but when i’m older that won’t happen and that’s why she’s not doing that anymore hopefully I don’t injure myself on harder moves but I feel it’ll be worth it as long as i’m not crippled as the Russian gymnast. Yeah Good luck Gabby hopefully you become a coach for the Olympics or a judge.

    Reply
  • Margaret C January 7, 2017, 6:15 pm

    BTW i’m not injured yet but I may on harder levels i’m just worried since I almost did when doing a pullover and my mom said she won’t catch me again since I need to be on my own and luckily I’ve not and am doing okay at pullovers

    Reply
  • sharon February 11, 2017, 4:49 pm

    so i am to old to compete in tops but i want to make it to 2020 olympics i train hard i do my best i have become used to pain and sweat but i need to know do you think i can make it

    Reply
    • Vanessa May 21, 2017, 1:27 am

      Yes! If you follow these tips it is possible to make it, nobody can guarantee you an Olympic career but you can do it with hard work and dedication.

      Reply
  • Hannah February 18, 2017, 11:22 am

    Hi Gabby! I read your book and love it!

    Reply
  • makayla March 10, 2017, 2:04 pm

    hi gabby i love your gymnastic skills i watch you all the time on a gymnastics website

    Reply
  • Jazzy April 18, 2017, 4:39 pm

    am I too old to go to the Olympics? I’m 13 and I’m in level 4

    Reply
    • Vanessa May 21, 2017, 1:31 am

      No, oldest female Olympic gymnast is 41 years old! With hard work, dedication, and these tips you can do it too!

      Reply
  • Lily May 9, 2017, 8:47 pm

    I want to get in gymnastics again.I am only 9.I want to get back in gymnastics because it looks fun and the meets give you medals.My parents not right now.That made me upset.

    Reply
  • maddison kocian May 16, 2017, 11:21 pm

    hey guys its maddie i just want to let every one know that is never to late to start <3

    Reply
  • Cheyenne Heinicke June 12, 2017, 12:36 pm

    Hi Gabby! I’m 11 years old, almost 12, and I’m a level 7 gymnast. Do you think I could make the 2020 olympics or do you think I am to young for that?

    Reply
    • Cheyenne Heinicke June 12, 2017, 12:37 pm

      I’m working on level 8-10 skills over the summer

      Reply
    • Hailey July 20, 2017, 10:06 am

      Same I’m 12 and level 7 too

      Reply
  • jill July 20, 2017, 8:06 pm

    Forgot to mention having the right genetics, as this is more important than your training. Natural talent is required for gymnastics, just as with any other pursuit.

    Reply
  • ken August 7, 2017, 4:34 am

    I hope I’m not to late to realize I get passion for gymnastics…. I’m just 17

    Reply
  • molly September 8, 2017, 12:25 pm

    hi gabby i want to go to the olympics when i am older am i too young to start

    Reply
  • Star October 4, 2017, 3:01 pm

    Hi,
    I live in Iowa. My 9 year old daughter is in her 4th year in gymnastics. She was just bumped to the highest class available here, because of her passion and how quickly she learns. She wants More and More. But here she is limited. What can I do to help her achieve her dreams! Thank you!

    Reply
  • Zbk October 12, 2017, 5:33 pm

    I’m 12 and I really want to make it as a pro but I don’t know if it’s too late

    Reply
    • alyssa rice October 25, 2017, 1:27 pm

      I’m 11 and im a really good gymnastic

      Reply
  • destiny lawrence November 1, 2017, 1:06 pm

    true

    Reply
  • Caroline Lees December 9, 2017, 3:36 pm

    Hi I’m a boy gymnast and I want to do womens gymnastics how will I be able to do womens gymnastics it’s my dream

    Reply
  • Caroline Lees December 9, 2017, 3:38 pm

    Mens gymnastics is stupid

    Reply

Leave a Comment