Gymnastics: A Brief History
Did you know that gymnastics has been around for thousands of years, with roots in ancient Greece and Rome? In these early civilizations, gymnastics was used to train soldiers and athletes, and included activities such as running, jumping, and wrestling.
During the 19th century, gymnastics began to take on a more formalized structure, with the development of specific apparatuses such as the vault, parallel bars, and balance beam. Gymnastics competitions also began to emerge, with the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 featuring both artistic and rhythmic gymnastics events.
Over time, gymnastics continued to evolve, with new apparatuses such as the pommel horse and rings being introduced, and the sport becoming more focused on precision and artistry. The 20th century saw the rise of gymnastics as a highly competitive sport, with gymnasts from around the world competing in major international events such as the Olympic Games and the World Championships.
Today, gymnastics is a widely popular and highly respected sport, with a strong focus on athleticism, discipline, and artistic expression. According to the site Gitnux, it is practiced by 4.67 million people around the world, both as a recreational activity and as a competitive sport at various levels of skill and experience.
Whether you are a gymnast yourself, a coach, or simply a fan of the sport, there are many great books out there that can provide valuable insights and inspiration.
In this article, we will explore some of the best books on gymnastics, from instructional books to memoirs and biographies. We'll cover a wide range of topics, including training techniques, mental preparation, the history of the sport, and the stories of some of the greatest gymnasts of all time.
Why Read A Gymnastics Book?
Before we do that, though, it's important to ask this question. For me, it really comes down to three things.
1. Books on any topic provide perspective. Gymnastics is incredibly difficult and because of that, is never truly mastered. A lot of the people that you'll read more about below have a perspective on the sport that most people just don't have. Whether it's the recollection of a training session or competing at The Olympics, their experiences are different than yours and therefore provide a unique look at the sport.
2. Knowledge. For every one of these books, I learned something. At any age, it's easy to say that we know it all, but wisdom tells us that we don't. Being open to learning and having resources like these are a tremendous gift.
3. Last, I think it's important to have an expectation of enjoyment when you pick up a book. Nobody wants to read a bunch of boring recollections. These authors not only have great stories to tell, but they do so in a way that made me want to read more.
With that, let's take a look at the list.
The Best Books About Gymnastics
Gymnastics Instructional Books
If you are looking to improve your skills, there are many great instructional books out there that can help you hone your technique and develop new abilities. Here are our four favorites:
Gymnastics: Skills, Techniques, Training
This comprehensive guide covers all aspects of gymnastics, from basic skills to advanced techniques. It includes step-by-step instructions and detailed photographs to help readers visualize each movement. The book covers a wide range of apparatuses, including the vault, balance beam, and uneven bars, making it a great resource for gymnasts of all levels.
The Gymnastics Book
This beginner's guide is aimed at young gymnasts who are just starting out. It covers the basics of gymnastics, including body positions, stretching, and conditioning. The book includes clear illustrations and fun exercises to help kids develop their skills and build confidence.
This book is a comprehensive guide to the mental side of gymnastics, covering topics such as confidence, focus, motivation, visualization, goal setting, and dealing with competition pressure. Written by sports psychologist Joe Massimo, who has worked with elite gymnasts and coaches, the book provides practical strategies and exercises for improving mental toughness and performance. It also includes real-life examples and case studies from gymnasts at different levels, making it a valuable resource for coaches, parents, and gymnasts themselves. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned competitor, this book will help you develop the mindset needed to excel in gymnastics. (If you're interested in Sports Psychology more broadly, we have another article here.)
This is a training book focused on developing strength, mobility, and flexibility through bodyweight exercises, such as pull-ups, dips, and handstands, as well as gymnastics-inspired movements like muscle-ups and planches.
The book is divided into several sections, each covering a different aspect of bodyweight training, including programming, progressions, and exercise technique. Low provides detailed instructions and progressions for each exercise, as well as tips on how to modify them to make them easier or harder.
The book also includes sections on injury prevention, recovery, and nutrition, making it a holistic resource for anyone looking to improve their strength and fitness through bodyweight training.
Gymnastics Memoirs and Biographies
If you're looking to read more about some of the best to ever compete, look no further. The eight books below are all excellent and provide a raw (and often sobering) look at what it's like to compete at the highest level.
Courage to Soar
"I always say my biggest competitor is myself because, whenever I step out there on the mat, I'm competing against myself to prove that I can do this and that I am very well trained, prepared for it." - Simone Biles
This is the Simone Biles biography to buy. We love this book and have included it on other lists as well, including Best Sports Books For Teens & Young Adults and 4 of the Best Sports Books For Your Teen Daughter. Biles is talented, smart, and has a wonderful story to tell that has led to tremendous success, as well as being a mental health advocate.
Biles talks more about the book below:
This memoir offers a frank and honest look at the dark side of elite gymnastics. Jennifer Sey, a former gymnast herself, chronicles her experiences with abusive coaches, eating disorders, and intense pressure to succeed. The book provides a sobering reminder of the sacrifices that many gymnasts make in pursuit of their dreams.
In this candid memoir, Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu shares the highs and lows of her gymnastics career. She discusses her experiences with overbearing coaches, injuries, and the intense pressure of competing at the highest level. The book also delves into Moceanu's family life and her struggles to reconcile her personal and professional aspirations.
Life is Short, Don't Wait to Dance
Valorie Kondos Field, also known as "Miss Val," is a legendary coach who led the UCLA women's gymnastics team to seven NCAA championships. In this book, she shares her philosophy on coaching and life, offering insights into the importance of passion, purpose, and positivity. The book includes anecdotes from her own life and career, as well as advice on leadership, teamwork, and personal growth.
I Got This
Laurie Hernandez shares her inspiring journey from a young girl with big dreams to becoming a world-class gymnast.
The book covers Hernandez's early life, including her struggles with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and her introduction to gymnastics. She goes on to describe her experiences training for and competing in the 2016 Rio Olympics, where she won gold in the team event and silver on the balance beam.
Hernandez also shares personal stories and insights into the mental and emotional aspects of being a competitive gymnast, including dealing with pressure, overcoming fear, and the importance of self-confidence and positive thinking. This is a very relatable and uplifting memoir that will inspire readers of all ages to pursue their dreams with passion and determination.
Laurie shares more about herself and her book in this video (She allows reveals that's allergic to spiders!):
What is a Girl Worth?
Rachael was the first victim to publicly accuse Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor who sexually abused hundreds of young athletes. The recipient of Sports Illustrated’s Inspiration of the Year Award and one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2018, Denhollander opens up about her experiences, shining a spotlight on abuse and the courage it takes to speak up.
Letters to a Young Gymnast
This book is structured as a series of letters addressed to a fictional young gymnast, in which Nadia shares her personal anecdotes, triumphs, challenges, and the lessons she learned throughout her gymnastics career. She discusses her early training, the sacrifices she made to achieve success, and the dedication required to reach the pinnacle of the sport. Some would consider her the greatest gymnast ever; her ten Olympic medals are certainly a testament to that.
A significant portion of this book is devoted to Aly's experiences as a member of the U.S. Women's Gymnastics team during the 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio Olympics. She won three medals in London (two gold and one bronze) and added another three medals in Rio (one gold and two silver), solidifying her status as one of the most successful American gymnasts in history.
Beyond her gymnastics achievements, "Fierce" also delves into Aly's advocacy work in addressing sexual abuse in the sports community. In 2018, she revealed that she was one of the many athletes who suffered abuse by Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor. The book sheds light on Aly's courage in speaking out about her own experiences and her determination to support fellow survivors and promote changes to protect athletes from abuse.
For a bit more on Aly's journey, check out the YouTube video below:
Finding My Shine
Nastia Liuken won the gold medal for women's all-around at the 2008 Olympics. Born in Russia and moving to the United States when she was two, Liuken talks about the challenges she faced and the gift/curse of having two parents who were both competitive gymnasts in Russia. After a career-ending fall at the 2012 Olympic Trials, Nastia was forced to re-evaluate her life, and she's gone on to do some pretty incredible things, including appearing on Dancing With The Stars in 2015.
This memoir details Shawn Johnson's journey in gymnastics, from her early years in the sport to her triumphs at the 2008 Beijing Olympics (she won 4 medals). She shares her experiences, struggles, and achievements as a gymnast, offering insights into the dedication, sacrifices, and hard work required to reach the pinnacle of the sport.
Shawn also opens up about her personal life, including the challenges she faced balancing her gymnastics career with her education and social life. She discusses the impact of her family, coaches, and support system on her athletic pursuits.
For more on what Shawn is up to now, check out this article.
I hope you enjoyed the list! We felt the two sections: one for instructional books and the other for memoirs/biographies was a nice way to break up the list. Of course, it doesn't mean that you wouldn't learn something from Simone Biles!
For more sports book recommendations by sports genre, check out our Recommendations page.
I would recommend checking out our Motivational page as well, as there are some awesome books there that would certainly be applicable to gymnasts and their coaches/parents.
For additional articles, check out our Blog, where we discuss the latest in sports news, athletic advice, and book reviews.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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