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Physics behind gymnastics

  1. Aug 28, 2008 #1
    Will someone please offer their insight behind the physics involved in the Olympic athletes' ability to flip numerous times in the air. I know they've got momentum going for them. I'd like to hear what you guys/gals have to say. Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 29, 2008 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    It's mostly a matter of strength to weight ratio.
  4. Aug 29, 2008 #3


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  5. Aug 29, 2008 #4


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    The physics involved for flips is the bulding up of linear and/or angular momentum and then converting it to vertical motion; the vault is probably the best example of this. Uneven bars for the women changed the most; the bars used to be much closer so the women would swing from the upper bar into the lower bar at hip level, and "hip circles" were a common maneuver. Now the bars are far enough apart that they are the equivlent of two mens highbars. Balance beam switched to using a suede surface (versus varnished wood), and are bouncer. The tumbling floors are very springy. The grips used for uneven bar, high bar, and rings have a small dowel in them near the finger tips, to allow better grip (these came out in the 1970's), and to be able to handle more g forces, although there were a few men gymnasts able to do triple flips off the high bar back in the 1960's.

    Trampoline is now part of the olympics, and both top women and men start off with a few tripple flip tricks and with 20 foot high bounces. Tumbling is no longer a part of gymnastics, and has evolved to use even springier surfaces than floor exercise (mat's over cut off snow ski like fiberglass boards, or springs). Flying rings was discontinued a long time ago, but a few guys did it for fun back in the 1970's, landing on sand. There were only 3 people that did quadruple back flips off the flying rings.

    Video of old film including trampoline, flying rings (including a quadruple back flip), around 1977:



    Video from 1993 tumbling and acrobatics event:


    Olympic 2008 trampoline videos (Nikitins routine from Athens in 2004 was very good):

    Last edited: Aug 29, 2008
  6. Aug 30, 2008 #5
    Great! Thanks.
  7. May 24, 2009 #6
    The Physics of Gymnastics
    Jenn Baker

    I will be doing research on the application of Newton's Laws to gymnastics. In gymnastics almost anything you do can be related to physics, whether performing on the floor, doing a routine on the uneven bars, or vaulting.

    The earliest evidence of gymnastics can be found in the art of ancient Egypt, where female acrobats performed for the Pharoahs and the Egyptian nobility. From Egypt it was also seen in Minoan Crete for bull fighting. Gymnastics was introduced in early Greek civilization to help bodily development with a series of different sports. However, it was the Romans, after the conquest of Greece, who adopted gymnastics on their own, and developed it into a more formal sport (early.html).

    Gymnastics is all about motion. The English physicist and mathematician who gave us the rules for motion on objects was Sir Isaac Newton. Sir Isaac Newton was born in 1642 to a poor farming family in England. As a young man he was sent to Cambridge to study to become a priest. While he was at Cambridge he was greatly influenced by Euclid. Unfortunately for Newton the school was closed down due to the plague. It was believed that during that time he came up with his most significant discoveries, such as his laws for motion (Newton.html). His laws for motion are:

    1. A body continues in a state of rest or to move with a steady velocity in a straight line if it is not acted upon by forces.

    2. When a force acts on body it produces an acceleration which is proportional to the magnitude force.
    3. Any object is given a certain momentum in Q given direction, some other body or bodies will receive an equal momentum in the opposite direction. The equation for momentum is M (momentum) = m (mass) * v (velocity) M = mv
    For this project I will be focusing on both standing back handsprings and back tucks along with round off back handspring series and moves that can be done from a run. Several factors are going to ptay a role in the amount of energy that is exerted while tumbling. A few factors are going to be the type of surface tumbled on such as a gym floor, wrestling mats, and gymnastics mats. Whether I am tumbling with shoes on or without shoes will effect the amount of inertia against the surface. The distance that is run and the impact, with the surface are all going to play an important role in how much erergy will be exerted.
    Today gymnest can use Newton's laws to be able to determine things such os acceleration needed to accomplish a certain force exerted on the floor to achieve height. They can measure the gravity acting upon the gymnast. Gravity is the force that pulls the gymnast down as she is trying to achieve height in the air for her rotation. This is an example of Newton's first law. An example of the third law can be observed when a gymnast starts to tumble her body is exerting a force onto the floor and the floor is putting out the same amount of force being applied. There are many more examples of Newton's Laws in gymnastics, yet I only have given a few at this moment.

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    Last edited: May 24, 2009
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