Gymnastics Vocabulary

This page covers the vocabulary and language of gymnastics by explaining its history and the events you can see at the Olympic Games.

gymnasticsGymnastics is a sport that tests strength, balance and the ability to bend your body and perform acrobatic movements. Like athletics and wrestling, it originated in ancient Greece as part of military training. By the 19th century physical education for boys in Europe included gymnastics, and several gymnastics events for men were included in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Old-fashioned attitudes kept women and girls out of gymnastics until the 1920s, and the Olympic Games didn’t include events for women until 1928.

Gymnastics is now part of physical education for boys and girls in nearly every country, and gymnastics has become one of the most popular sports at the Olympic Games. The Games feature three competitions; rhythmic gymnastics for women only and artistic gymnastics and trampolining for both men and women.

Rhythmic Gymnastics

rhythmic gymnastics
South Korea's Son Yeon Jae performing with the hoop at the 2012 London Olympics. Photo: Korean Olympic Committee (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Rhythmic gymnastics combines elements of ballet, artistic gymnastics and rhythmic dance performed on a large mat. There are five events and each is performed with a different apparatus:

  • rope
  • hoop
  • ball
  • clubs
  • ribbon

Competitors are judged for leaps, balances, pirouettes (spins), apparatus handling and execution. Even though rhythmic gymnastics is becoming more popular among men and boys, the Olympic Games only includes events for women.

Artistic Gymnastics

artistic gymnastics
Top (left to right): Rings, Pommel Horse, Horizontal Bar. Bottom (left to right): Floor Exercise, Balance Beam, Uneven Bars. Photo: Bundesarchiv Bild (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Artistic gymnastics includes six events for men and four events for women. The six events for men are:

  • floor exercise
  • pommel horse
  • rings
  • vault
  • parallel bars
  • horizontal bar

Floor exercise events are held on a 12m x 12m square mat on which competitors perform handstands and complex tumbling lines with handsprings, somersaults, and mid-air twists. In the pommel horse event, gymnasts mount a pommel horse and perform handstands and support their weight on their arms while swinging their legs. In the rings event, gymnasts are lifted up so they can reach two rings suspended from a wire, and then perform swings, handstands and other difficult positions before doing a spectacular dismount. In the event called vault, competitors hurdle onto a springboard and vault over the vaulting horse and perform mid-air twists or somersaults before landing. In parallel bars and horizontal bar, gymnasts perform a series of acrobatic swings and turns before performing a spectacular dismount. Like all events that include a dismount, a solid landing without losing one's balance is very important.

The four artistic gymnastics events for women are:

  • floor exercise
  • vault
  • uneven bars
  • balance beam

Floor exercise and vault are similar to the men's events of the same name, and uneven bars is similar to the men's parallel bars. The apparatus used in the balance beam is a narrow padded beam on which competitors perform leaps, somersaults, turns and dance steps before finishing with a dismount.


The Olympic Games also includes trampolining events for men and women. Competitors begin with a build-up during which they jump higher and higher on the trampoline, followed by a number of very high bounces during which they perform spectacular mid-air somersaults and twists.

Gymnastics Vocabulary List

word example sentence meaning
acrobatic Gymnasts have to learn acrobatic skills like somersaulting. involving highly-skilled balancing, jumping, somersaulting, etc
apparatus Before a competition begins, all the apparatus has to be set up and tested. equipment, such as horizontal bars, trampolines or the balls and ribbons used in rhythmic gymnastics
balance How do you keep your balance when you're standing on that narrow beam? the ability to keep your body steady and upright
bounce When his bounces are high enough, he can begin his routine. the vertical movement of a trampolinist's body from the trampoline into the air
dismount If she does a perfect dismount, she should win! the act of jumping off an apparatus like the uneven bars at the end of a routine
gymnastics If you want to get fit and strong, you could do gymnastics. exercise routines that develop strength and the ability to bend and balance
handstand Can you do a handstand without falling over? a position with your hands on the ground while your body and legs are upright in the air
landing His work on the rings was good, but his landing wasn't great. the last part of a dismount when your feet hit the ground
pommel horse He fell off the pommel horse, so his score was low. an apparatus that has a thick beam with two handles on top that are used while performing
somersault I love doing somersaults on the trampoline. a movement in which the body forms a ball and rolls forwards or backwards
springboard Make sure you jump from the middle of the springboard. a strong board used in gymnastics and diving that helps you jump higher than usual
trampoline Our kids love playing on the trampoline. a frame with material stretched across that you can bounce on
trampolining I can't believe how high they bounce in the trampolining events. a sport in which acrobatic movements are performed while bouncing on a trampoline
tumbling line My floor routine has four tumbling lines and a couple of handstands. a floor exercise in which you run across the mat and do handsprings or leaps with somersaults and twists
twist How many twists did she do in her dismount? a movement in which part of the body, or the whole body, turns round
vault I have no trouble vaulting, but I'm not very good on the rings yet. to perform an acrobatic jump over a vaulting horse or a vaulting platform

Contributor: Matt Errey creator of Word Up