August 2nd, 2012

Gymnasts’ bodies: form follows function

The bodies that excel in different sports are not randomly chosen, they are selected by the needs of the activity. One would never mistake a professional basketball player for a jockey (except maybe the highly unusual Spud Webb, and at 5’6″ even he was almost certainly too big to be a jockey).

Even within sports, there are differences. In baseball, playing first base cries out for characteristics that almost inevitably mean that those who play it are much bigger than shortstops.

I’ve been watching the women’s gymnastics competition at the Olympics. As a former dancer, I have a certain special interest in the sport, so different and yet somehow similar. Like ballet, gymnastics requires a certain body type to perform its formidable physical feats, and then the training itself shapes the body even further toward that standard. Like ballet, gymnastics dictates the need for both strength and flexibility as well as leanness. But it’s strength and flexibility of a very different type, and the bodies it calls for and then further develops are very different as well.

The two disciplines didn’t always diverge quite so much. But as the tumbling skills required in gymnastics have increased dramatically, the balletic aspects of the sport have decreased almost to the vanishing point (although here and there one sees a remnant in one athlete or another), and the bodies have changed correspondingly, especially in the hip.

One of the most basic requirements for ballet is what’s called “turn-out.” The prospective dancer must begin at a very early age to reshape the hip joint, especially the ligaments and muscles surrounding it, to achieve the ability to rotate the leg outward in a way that’s the opposite of pigeon-toed. It part of what gives ballet its open, expansive stance, and allows dancers to move freely in almost any direction. Female ballet dancers are thin—often very thin—but their hip shape is nearly always very conventionally feminine, with at least a slight outward curve, because that’s the type of hip formation that can best achieve the desired turnout, and they tend to have better turnout than male dancers, as well.

This shape can more easily be seen when the dancers perform in leotards:

Both dancers and gymnasts tend to be short, and their breasts are relatively undeveloped, although gymnasts tend to be significantly smaller, and dancers tend to look taller on stage than they really are. A more compact body is easier to handle in both endeavors, but for gymnastic tumbling it is absolutely necessary.

It wasn’t always that way. Back when I was a young, the great Russian gymnast Ludmilla Tourischeva had a body that was rather ballet-like, except for the greater musculature in her shoulders and arms and across her upper back. Her style of movement was balletic, too, and she was considerably taller than today’s gymnasts, although I’ve had trouble finding her exact height. But whatever her height, she had a more conventional female body, albeit a finely-honed and exceptionally fit one:

Here’s Tourischeva doing her floor routine in 1972. It would never pass muster today, but I like her grace and flow and long stretched line. The floor was of a completely different type, by the way; nowadays it is much springier:

The passing of the guard occurred in 1976, when Tourischeva was upstaged in popularity by the far more diminutive and girlish fellow-Russian Olga Korbut. Korbut was cutesy and much tinier—with slimmer hips, the better to tumble. But note that her hips still possessed a slight feminine curve, despite her more extreme thinness:

The same was true a few years later of the even-younger Romanian, Nadia Comaneci:

For a while, gymnasts kept getting younger and slighter and more per-pubescent. But America’s Mary Lou Retton represented a new and different body type. Compact, chunky and solid, although not the least bit fat, she was built for strength and speed and explosive tumbling. Note that her hips are not conventionally feminine; the curve has pretty much disappeared:

In the last decades of the twentieth century, a slow revolution came to women’s gymnastics that made the Retton body more commonplace and meant that the teeny tiny pre-pubescent kidlets were far less common. The cause was a series of rule changes that made sixteen the minimum age to enter the Olympics in the sport. That reversed the trend toward lighter and younger girls and helped set up the situation as we see it today, when what one might call the Retton hip type is in the ascendance.

The five US women who won the team gold medal the other day are almost perfect exemplars of this. It is striking to see them together, not a conventional feminine hip among them, although of course they are recognizably teenage girls. But they represent five variations on a single theme: breasts almost non-existent, with shoulders far wider than hips which in turn form nearly a straight line with their waists, above powerfully muscular legs (most notably the thighs):

Here are some closeups of individual members:

These are not men; they are clearly women. But their bodies are as unusual and uncommon as their achievements. The narrow hips are not an accident; unlike ballet, gymnastics is a turned-in sport. Imagine performing insanely difficult tricks on a 4-inch-wide balance beam, and it’s obvious that hips which stick out would be an unbalancing disadvantage; the same with tumbling in floor exercises. Anything that decreases the strength-to-volume ration would detract from a gymnast’s ability to achieve the extremely high levels of difficulty now required, and the upper body and legs bear the brunt.

How high are the levels of difficulty now? This high:

I admire the strength, skill, dedication, hard work, and sheer guts of today’s astounding gymnasts. But I’d still rather watch Tourischeva.

34 Responses to “Gymnasts’ bodies: form follows function”

  1. vanderleun Says:

    Theme song for the team? Hipshake!

    I wanna tell you ’bout a dance
    That’s goin’ around,
    Everybody’s doin’ it
    From the grownups down.

    Don’t move your head,
    Don’t move your hands,
    Don’t move your lips,
    Just shake your hips.

    Do the hip shake, babe,
    Do the hip shake, babe,
    Shake your hip, babe,
    Shake your hip, babe.

  2. Artfldgr Says:

    The Olympics and Feminist-Style Reporting

    What I do know something about, however, are media methods for enhancing Internet traffic and social causes. And the reportage here was partially driven by a desire to attract eyeballs — “woman beats man” is a man-bites-dog story. But I believe there’s another reason. It’s the same reason why we see unrealistically powerful female characters who outshine men on TV, specious science reporting that glorifies women and diminishes men, and the replacement of male figures in history books with women of dubious accomplishment: it’s part of the effort to portray women as the same as men and, when possible and beneficial, as superior.

    With such pressure to perform more than men, they are forced to take hormones to be female versions of men…

    there is more to this than the normal body changes that come from early adoption to any regular activity.

    want to be a prima ballerina? start very early, give up if you havent started early enough…

    cant be a violinist without doing harm to your neck..

    cant be a soccer player without a bit of dain brammage from hitting things with your head (same with boxing)

    but since women are using mens rulers, and not womens rulers, and playing games to be more than equal, there is this huge pressure on young women to be men

    Thus, before continuing, let’s place matters in perspective for the girl-power gascons out there. Ye may be able to beat the boys, but they’d actually have to be boys — and not high-level ones, either. For example, the 400m-IM record for under-18 boys in just one championship, the Junior Worlds (this isn’t even necessarily a world record), is 4:15.64, which is considerably better than Ye’s women’s world record. Or consider that while the women’s world record for the mile is 4:12.56, the boys’ American high-school record is 3:52. With some variation, this gap is reflected across events, and it reveals the silliness of comparing women to men in physical sports. For the best women couldn’t even measure up in a robust junior-boys or high-school environment.

    that’s right.. .the BEST female athletes barely do better than average high school boys..

    is that how people believe it is? after all, this equality bs fakery, has women in the military.

    but if the Olympic level athletes, even with doping cant perform at the level of a high school senior male, what does that say about what 2 of such people in a platoon can do?

    ok… now, compare that to police stations, as each woman added to the force increases the number of civilian shootings. they didnt call the revolver the peace maker for nuttin… ie. women will shoot…

    after all… if an olympic athlete performs at a lesser level than a common high school student, what does an average female cop perform as?

    would you send a 14 year old boy into the police force to be a cop and pretend he is the same as the fill grown man?
    [edited for length by n-n]

  3. vanderleun Says:

    Might be great for a floor exercise routine.

  4. vanderleun Says:

    Not the artfldodgr on his well-worn hobbyhorse, but the Hipshake.

  5. Tesh Says:

    What strikes me about gymnastics is the *lack* of artistry. The poses and artsy “moves” they go through really just feel like they are hitting some mark so they can get on with the jumping, bouncing and twisting. There’s grace to it, but it’s athletic grace, not artistic grace. There’s no lead in or ease-out to speak of, no flow between moves, no sense of narrative or cohesion, just a series of power moves with some weird spasms in between.

    It’s… kinda sad.

  6. M J R Says:

    1972 — forty!!! years ago now, I became an ardent admirer of Ms. Tourischeva. I read then that she enjoyed something of an unofficial prima ballerina status in the (then-) Soviet Union.

    I am pleased that you (neo) share my admiration.

  7. Artfldgr Says:

    for the record I competed in basketball, hockey, and senior year i was the tallest male gymnast in NJ for vault. one of my best friends was olylimpic level… and we competed on the girls team as there was not enough men to have a mens team.

    i remember when the football team made fun of us, and the coach got fed up and challenged them!!!

    the gymnasts would do the football teams warmups, and the football team would do theirs.

    major fail…
    the football players were suckered 🙂

    almost all of them failed and could not do the warm up, but ALL the gymnasts could do theirs easy…

    gymnastics is a belly sport and upper shoulder sport… ergo the shapes your referencing neo

    the part you missed in the images is to look at their stomachs. even today, at 47, i still have a six pack from those high school workouts.

    the peak fun was trying to get the football players to do flying vc’s and other exercises like that.

    we did sit ups… how many? 400 easy..
    we then did flying vcs.. this is where you lay flat, then you lift your legs up and your arms up fast so that your but is the bottom of a v, and your fingers touch your toes.

    after that, you would cross your arms on your chest, raise your body 6 inches and your feet 6 inches off the ground then hold for a few minutes.

    Charlie had the record for sit ups
    i would have kept with him if it wasnt for the fact i had a physics class…

    he used it as a way to avoid classes doing 4 hours of sit ups.


    why? because you can kill yourself…
    you can break down the muscle and cause a kidney failure…

    the gymnastics was harder than football
    it also was much more dangerous..

    more crippling accidents and things happen in gymnastics than any other sport.

    heck, i remember the day that i set up the air board, went to the bathroom, came out… sized it up, took a run and found out the hard way the girls moved the board while i was in the can, then walked away… (ditzy, not mean)

    so when i hit the board and went up to do a half on half off, i missed the horse head first.

    the guy spotting me was chatting up a girl, so didnt spot me

    so basically i came down head first from about 8 feet up in the air… if reflexes didnt kick in, i would be in a wheel chair today.. as it was i shoulder rolled from a bad twisted position (half on, remember?), and rolled several times till i hit the gym wall.

    of all the sports i have participated i and won (ie did good enough to make a show)

    Fencing was the hardest, most strenuous, and taxing… (i taught at the manhatten fencing school in midtown for a short while)

    the idea that someone can fence for a long time is silly… the longest movie fencing scene unbroken is from the four musketeers and is dartagnions dual with the priest he runs through at the pulpit.

    they were not acting as to their exhaustion… its really like that if its not the fast competition runs…

    add to that that one of the pair had an eye patch on and so had no depth perception.

    prior to that is the scene in Scaramouch
    (which i will see tonight again!)

    their are other great scenes. including the scene in the womens dye and wash room. the fencing scene from scaramouche, the scene where they fence on the ice…

    the modern versions with japanese samurai moves and gymastics were farces…

    found it
    D’Artagnan vs. Rochefort – Final Duel (The Four Musketeers) 3.28 seconds

    you can compare it to
    Scaramouche 1952 Tribute

  8. Artfldgr Says:

    sorry the scaramoush is not the duel.. sigh

  9. Bill Jones Says:

    Artfldgr, you are of course correct, Some Swiss guy called Federer observed that any man who plays tennis full time could beat the best of the women, They still get the same money as the men at Wimbledon despite only playing two thirds as many games at a lot lower level because it would sexist to pay for performance.
    Funny how that works.

  10. texexec Says:

    Seems like I read somewhere that the exercises that women athletes do changes their hormones so that they have smaller breasts and more masculine bodies in general.

    Perhaps some of you who are more expert than I can confirm or deny this.

  11. Paul in Boston Says:

    Your observation about girl gymnast’s hips is quite interesting. Notice that despite the selection for narrow hips, that the girls still have quite definite female buttocks. Men’s don’t stick out like that.

  12. Occam's Beard Says:

    Is it me, or does Retton look for all the world like a paper boy? Lose the lipstick, and she could easily pass for a boy.

  13. Mr. Frank Says:

    Neo, you left out the part about eating disorders to delay growth and maturation.

  14. Walter Sobchak Says:

    My daughter had 2 classmates, whom she was very friendly with. They were identical twins. When they were in grade school they both were enthusiastic gymnasts.

    Around age 15 one of them suffered a severe injury, I think a spinal stress fracture, and quit gymnastics. Her sister kept up, made elite level in high school and was recruited by college teams. At high school graduation, the non gymnast was more than inch taller than her twin.

    Extreme exercise, like that required to reach and maintain elite level performance, uses up body fat. In turn that delays menarche, lengthens menstrual periods, and leads to lower levels of secondary sex characteristics (such as hips and breasts). We also note that the later are very largely fatty tissue.

    Small stature is also an advantage in gymnastics because of the physical phenomenon of moment of inertia. The amount of energy required to rotate a rigid body in space is proportional to the square of its length, a six foot long body requires 44% more energy to rotate at a given angular velocity that a five foot long body.

    The Retton prototype is therefore the natural outcome of the emphasis on athleticism and the extreme fitness level of the participants.

  15. Pat Says:

    It’s almost like convergent evolution. The female swimmers are big and carry a bit of blubber, just like seals. The male swimmers are long and muscular with huge upper bodies, like elephant seals.

    Runners range from muscular powerhouses in the sprints to lean, mean running machines in the marathon. Like going from a lion to wolf, except this is one case where humans triumph. When it comes to running for hours on end, humans win.

    Female gymnasts are quite different from male gymnasts. Female events emphasize the power to weight ratio whereas male events focus on upper body strength.

    Pommel horse and rings would never be female events, just as balance beam would never be a male event.

    When we look at events that require extreme human performance we see athletes whose bodies match the requirements. When we look at events that require co-ordination and teamwork, we see athletes who more closely match the rest of us, before we finished college and went to seed.

    Like Clint said, “A man’s got to know his limitations”.

  16. edge of the sandbox Says:

    Fascinating perspective.
    I watch the Olympics and wonder why anybody would want to go into gymnastics or diving and not ballet. If they have the talent for this kind of sport they can probably do dance, but dance offers the prospect of rewarding career spanning decades. They’d be able to perform a few times a week versus a few times a year. In sport nobody cares about the second best; it’s more or less all or nothing. But in ballet even if you are not excellent you’ll be dancing for a provincial company or taking supporting roles. In a totalitarian regime athletes are assigned to sports, but in a free society it’s a quirk. Or at least so it seems.
    I agree about gymnastics not being that fun to watch. It’s fascinating that the girls can get that technical, but there is little aesthetic pleasure. I actually prefer rhythmic gymnastics.
    My big sister was taking rhythmic gymnastics and ballet at the same time. That was in USSR in the 70s and 80s, and the ballet school told her to quit gymnastics because she’s developing wrong muscles.

  17. BradnSA Says:

    I saw an Oprah interview with Retton. She said she was criticized for being fat so much that she refuses to let her kids even say that word.

    And who cares what Occam’s Beard thinks about paperboys. I had a tremendous crush on Mary Lou when I was in 8th grade.

  18. Artfldgr Says:

    Bill Jones
    i respect your opinion as the answer your pointing to is only an aesthetic…

    do female athletes deserve what male athletes get? why not? within their class, there is no reason for the prizes to be the same IF offered by the same agency…

    that is, if X is having a golf tournament, and there is a ladies section and a mens section, i have no problem that they get equal prizes.

    nor do i have a problem if the sponsor wishes to give unequal prizes… (Though the public may be more vociferous given their conditioning)

    I draw the funky line in a different place.

    that is.. allowing women to join male sports and take up the place of a male that peforms better… AND that if they are allowed in the male sport, then allow them in the womens sports.

    after all, there are quite a number of poor male athletes that can use that kind of affirmatice action.

    but unlike an academic study, which can twist reality backwards on itself if no one can call them on it, actual outside reality based stuff tends to reflect that reality whereever you cant hide it.

    so. no woman has passed the army obstical course that is required of all men. men who cant finish, are out.

    if a woman can compete with men on pga golf, then men can compete with women. too bad if this equality pushes all women out of the competition. no?

    the greater point is either they are equal, and take their lumps like everyone else and are out of the sports, or they are not equal and the old patriarchal oppressive was was actually MORE FAIR to everyone as it tried to make competition more competitive by creating unequal divisions.

    after all, in mens boxing, what would happen if the weight classes were removed and all can compete with anyone? you will find that there is only one boxing class. my class. super heavyweights (over 200lbs). the 100lb person may hurt, but they are not going to do as much to me as i can do to them, even with all that boxing skill. (the reason is physics. he punches upwards, i punch downwards. this gives me the weight of my body on the other side of the fulcrum against his muscle strength alone)

    in fact… some men may wish that men didnt do this fairness thing. then women wouldnt be walking aroud pretending reality is not reality.

    you know. like the people who go out there and try to hug polar bears. same ideological basis, same unreal delusion, applied someplace else though.

    ie. how much MORE domestic violence is there now that women think there is a star trek sheild preventing male response to her mouth?

    there used to be a time, if someone went to far, they got clocked. this is different than abuse. to SEE The difference and understanding one only has to watch an old movie where such a mouth was open and a certain famous male actor grabs her by the face and pushes her on her ass for it.

    so this kind of thing increases that which they pretend to want to lseesn. do you think that boys who have no parents because mom works and dad is kicked out end up growing up with any sense of how to handle things and proper action? of course not. stunted they respond like angry children to the acerbic entitled spiteful mouth… and voila.. a statistic is socially engineered.

    so i dont really care what the prizes are, i care more as to the bs games around it.

    for instance. purposefully NOT considering cheer leading a sport. why? because if you do, then there is parity in sports and the system wont attack the boys.. so 40 cheerleaders are not sports people and male wrestling has to go because they need to make the numbers equal and football brings in too much money to cut

  19. Bill Malcolm Says:

    Interesting observations about the evolution of female gymnast body shapes, which I have also noticed but never organized methodically in my mind, let alone write down.

    No, I arrived here after googling Ludmilla Tourischeva. The London Olympics remind me of the five years I spent in that city from 1969 till 1974.

    I’m male, and I have to say that Ludmilla Tourischeva blew me away watching her perform at the 1972 Olympics. She was gorgeous, womanly and uncommonly graceful.

    This was obvious at the time. None of the other female gymnasts were her body type, reminding me more of thin men. They were not, however, tiny school girls either. When Mother Nature Ludmilla performed, the rest looked like rank amateurs to my admittedly biased eyes.

    I watched the video above, and was re-captivated 40 years later. Grace. She had it. Athleticism of an extremely high order — obviously. Since she and other more mature female gymnasts departed the scene after 1976, I’ve had only passing interest in their sport.

    I would be interested to read your take on female figure-skaters over the last 40 years. They have to be far more athletic these days to perform all those double and triple axels, but the rather graceless arm-wavings strike me as being similar to the current batch of teeny gymnasts. Give me the Peggy Flemmings, please!

  20. Richard Aubrey Says:

    neo. Not sure I get it. Are you saying that the hips are formed by the exercise–turn in or turn out– or selected for by the needs of the exercise?

  21. neo-neocon Says:

    Richard Aubrey: they are selected for to begin with. And then the tendency is accentuated and further shaped by the way the muscles and ligaments must function in the activity.

    Narrow hips favor turned-in motions, and wide hip structure favors turn-out. And then the practice further shapes the openness of the hip joint.

  22. Nolanimrod Says:

    If the hipless shape is selected for and then enhanced by exercise one wonders how figure skaters can get away with being your basic hottie. Katerina Witt comes (gloriously) to mind.

    Somewhat related but pertinent to you Neo:

    You will probably enjoy this. Movie dance routines from 40’s – 50’s to Beegees’ Stayin Alive.

  23. neo-neocon Says:

    Nolanimrod: where did you get the idea I said the hipless shape was enhanced by exercise? I made it quite clear that certain types of exercise select and then exaggerate certain shapes.

    Very slender, almost masculine-type hips are selected for and enhanced by modern-day gymnastics. But another exceedingly rigorous type of exercise—ballet—selects for and then enhances slenderness in general but not slender hip shape. Au contraire.

    Figure skaters are somewhat in-between, to the best of my knowledge. Some figure skaters are more balletic in style than others (rely more on turnout to achieve their line). I’ve not studied it, but my guess is that those skaters have hips more like a ballet dancer.

    Katerina Witt was an anomaly in skating, with a much more womanly figure (both hips and breasts) than nearly everyone else and taller, also. I’m not sure how she managed to do it, but I doubt she’d be able to be a world champion today, because the emphasis is more on athletics. She was great, though.

  24. neo-neocon Says:


    Way ahead of you :-).

  25. Army Mom Says:

    Distance runners hips are also much the same as gymnasts. Slim. Elite women marathoners usually have virtually no hips and no breasts. I have this body type and have always lamented that I have no hips. As I got older I managed to put weight on and … WALLAH!…Hips! But now I hate ’em. However since I recently started running again the hips are slowly dissappearing.

    And for once I agree with and understand Artfldgr. Sports competitions between women can pay them whatever they want. But for women to not physically perform the same as a man in the army or as a firefighter means that they cannot do the job and should not be in it. They should not get equal pay for non-equal work ability in physical jobs.

    However, if men and women are doing the same office job then equal pay is in order if the women perform as well as the guys. I work in tech and can run circles around almost all of my male counterparts in the industry. Not sure if I am paid the same as they are but I sure enjoy my job as a consultant and the perks that comes with it.

  26. neo-neocon Says:

    Army Mom: Joan Benoit, woman marathon champ, always seemed as though she had hips. I’m no expert on runners, but it always has seemed to me that elite female sprinters are hipless but the long-distance runners tend to have somewhat more of a curve there.

    If you Google “women marathon” images, you’ll find a real mixture of hip forms, although of course everyone is quite lean. However, if you Google “women 100 meters” you more frequently see the more masculine hip shape, along with much bulkier muscles in general.

  27. Army Mom Says:

    neo – I think you see a bit more curve in marthoners because the upper body does not need to be as developed like gymnasts do so runners do not have the same masculine body profile. The elite marathoners that I know are virtually hipless, chestless and are in single digits with regards to body fat. Sprinters have slim hips but have more developed glutes and thighs than distance runners and do indeed look much like gymnasts in body profile. One other thing is that most elite marathoners are also relatively short. I am 5’8″ and am tall compared to the elites I know. Many sprinters are quite tall.

  28. neo-neocon Says:

    Army Mom: no, it’s not the upper body. I’m looking at the hip area only. Did you follow the link and look at Joan Benoit’s hips? And then did you Google as I mentioned? There is a marked difference in body types as well as the shape of the hip area itself.

    Of course, marathoners and sprinters are very different in a number of ways. You mention the upper body difference, but there’s also a generalized difference in musculature, with sprinters being very mesomorphic and marathoners having much less bulky muscles in general. They also have predominant muscles fibers of different types, fast-twitch for sprinters vs. slow twitch for marathoners. I think the hip thing somehow figures into those things, but I’m not sure how, because both groups certainly have low body fat. The hip difference I’m talking about is not about the amount of fat, it’s about the way the pelvis and the hip joint is shaped.

    And yes, sprinters are taller than marathoners, too.

  29. IGotBupkis -- "Faecies Evenio", Mr. Holder? Says:

    I dunno, neo, I’d say the newer routines are just as impressive. There’s a bit less grace, which I think is what you’re “unhappy” about, but the physical feats (the initial run — bounce bounce bounce — through three different moves, and then the two major stunts ca. :30 and 1:35) are pretty freaking awesome.

    Gymnastics has always impressed me, both men’s and women’s, in terms of what the human body can do, both balance-type stuff and also stuff that’s more feats of strength (rings for men, gymnastics for women), and timing/flexibility (uneven bars).

    I can tell you that, as I understand it, many, if not most of these girls have major problems with bulimia and anorexia and other eating disorders, according to some people familiar with the local college gymnastics program, which often ranks highly in the national collegiate meets…

  30. Robert Says:

    I love the equal pay for true equal work comment by army mom. Nice to see! As far as height, too tall can cause problems just as too short can. Anyone from 5ft to 6ft are optimum height only separated by where tendons attach to the bone. Lever to fulcrum, it’s science.

  31. Robert Says:

    I’ll take narrow hips any day. Most women will get big hips when they get out of shape. They become repulsive like Kim K, yuck.

  32. noelle Says:

    the gymnast body is built like this: lots of upper body strength, narrow hips, non flexible back,and lots of leg strength, and generally short in height.

  33. Ymarsakar Says:

    Reminds me of the Taiji Chuan training regimen. Both use gravity acceleration as part of the buffer and energy transfer system. Unlike spinning into the air, though, Taiji Chuan just transfers that force into a target and let the target eat all of it.

  34. Laura Says:

    Wow just reading all these post about female gymnast. Someone claiming female gymnast have to take hormones to get that way. No not really, do you not think they do drug testing in gymnastics? My daughter was a gymnast and at the age of 10 she looked like a tank. NO Hormones. The reason they bulk up is because they spend literally hours a day in the gym working out. Is their growth stunted, yes and no. The lower levels of fat in their body content can often stunt growth but many of these gymnast are smaller of stature by genetics to begin with. Most gymnast once they stop competing will begin developing and growing more. I know that my daughter grew very quickly after she retired after an injury, grew 2 inches when she was 18. Noelle, The female gymnast body you are correct lots of ‘overall body strength” and yes generally short in height. But their are exceptions like Svetlana Khorkina. But they are generally also flexible in the spine they do a lot of work on flexibility. The reason the body shape has changed from that more like a dancer to what it is today is because the sport has changed. In the earlier days womens gymastics was more dancing and very little tumbling skills. It was actually Bella Karolyi (with Nadia Comeneche) who ushered in the more athletic era of gymnastics, and it has grown in that direction since then. Over those years the shape of the Female gymnast body has changed in accordance. While in the past most gyms employed dance ballet teachers and ballet was a required part of the gymnastics training in many of today’g gyms you will not find a ballet teacher on staff.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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