What do Talayna Fortunato, Emily Bridgers, and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet have in common? Aside from the fact that they are incredible CrossFit athletes, all three of them also have a background in competitive gymnastics. Even Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, tumbled his way through his teenage years. As a retired gymnast myself, and someone who has been doing CrossFit for just over a year, I can say without a doubt that my experience with CrossFit would be completely different if I didn’t have twelve years of gymnastics under my belt. It doesn’t matter that I’m ten years out from competitive gymnastics or that I am unable to do a lot of what I used to do, I truly believe that my transition into CrossFit was made easier by the fact that I spent a good chunk of my life upside down. Here are a few reasons why:
Starting with the basics, there are some movements in CrossFit that are just easier for those with a gymnastics background. For example, handstands. I don’t know a ton of people without any gymnastics background that can control their body in a handstand, let alone enough to do handstand push-ups or handstand walks. It’s not just about skill, either, but also about comfort. It makes sense that someone who isn’t used to being upside down would be somewhat intimidated by the idea of having to do handstands in their workout. The hollow body position and shoulder movements involved in kipping are also found frequently in gymnastics, which made it easier for me to understand the concept even before I was strong enough to do a muscle-up or pull-up. The familiarity with those body positions has helped me immensely.
Proprioception and Kinesthetic Awareness
Say what? Basically we’re talking about one’s sense of where their body parts are in relation to each other and their location in space. High levels of both are found in gymnasts (think flipping on a four-inch wide piece of wood, four feet off the ground), which is definitely an advantage with all the precise movements demanded in CrossFit skills. In CrossFit, this translates to knowing which parts of your body are moving at a given time, your awareness when they are not moving in the right sequence, and your ability to make changes to correct the movement. You know when you complete a lift and think “that didn’t feel right?” That’s your proprioception and kinesthetic awareness kicking in and telling you that your parts weren’t all on the same page.
I recognize that this isn’t just a “gymnast” thing, but something common to most athletes and even some non-athletes. The premise of most sports is competition, and CrossFit is no exception. Whether you’re competing against your “box rival” in an everyday WOD or participating in the CrossFit Games, each day is a competition. At the end of each WOD you can compare your performance to others’. Don’t like competing against others? You can always compete against yourself. I love benchmark workouts because they are an objective way to see how far you’ve come or to challenge yourself to do better. Did you do ten rounds of Cindy last time? Great, this time your goal is 12. You basically end up with a score at the end of every workout, and if you’re feeling really competitive you can post your score online and see how you compare to others around the world.
CrossFit is the first form of exercise I’ve found that has pushed me to my limits since gymnastics. It forces me to be strong in all areas and to face my weaknesses head-on. I leave the gym each day knowing I got a good workout in, and can feel proud of myself for my accomplishments. I can honestly say that first muscle-up was the most excited I’ve been about an accomplishment in the gym since my gymnastics days! It’s exhilarating to feel that way again and even more thrilling to know that the feeling will continue as long as I stay in this sport. I never thought I would find a sport that gave me the same satisfaction as gymnastics; discovering CrossFit proved me wrong, and I couldn’t be happier about it!
Jess Brady: Jess graduated from college in 2009 with a Bachelors in Psychology and a minor in Athletic Coaching. She went on to get her Masters in Community Counseling in 2011 and currently works as a mental health counselor at a university in South Carolina. Jess was a competitive gymnast for 12 years, and completed both a half- and full marathon before making the transition to CrossFit in June 2014. So far she is loving the sport and is looking forward to getting her Level 1 certification later this year. Outside of work and CrossFit, Jess can be found posting pictures of her cat, Bella, on Instagram or visiting her soldier at Fort Bragg.