The growing fitness trend that’s also loads of fun – adult gymnastics
Once a week, after her children have gone to bed, Abu Dhabi resident Andrea Bridges sneaks out of her Reem Island apartment for a workout that involves somersaults, handstands, trampolining and swinging on bars. It’s all part of the gymnastics sessions for adults that are held at Little Stars Gymnastics Club, a children’s group in Mushrif.
After all, why should the kids have all the fun?
Bridges, 40, from the United Kingdom, says she did gymnastics as a child at competitive level, but gave it up when she was 7 years old.
“Now I can do it for fun and not worry about the competitive element,” she says. “It’s good for strength, flexibility and cardio.”
At a recent Little Stars class, there were 13 eager adults of varying abilities, led by head coach Taya Baydoun from Siberia. “This will be very painful tomorrow,” she warns the newbies. “But it will get easier.”
Baydoun set up Little Stars with her husband Sleiman in 2011, and started offering classes for adults in February. She admits she has different expectations of her adult students, who range from beginners to exercise fanatics, compared with children.
“You can’t always count on them to turn up like you count on children,” she says. “I have to be flexible with them. Children have more stamina, they’re good survivors. But I need to take it easy with the adults – not everything is possible. When children say to me they cannot do it, I say ‘you have to try’, but I never say that to the adults. They come here to have fun.”
Emirati Mohammed Al Tamimi, 32, looks every bit the pro as he swings confidently from the bars. The Etihad pilot owns a “Box” – a Crossfit gym – and arrives with a group of Crossfit enthusiasts after an hour- and-a-half workout at his Box.
“You do get some gymnastics in Crossfit – handstands, muscle ups, pull-ups, these kinds of things – but you get the whole thing here,” he says. “And trying something new is good, whoever you are.”
Jordanian Joud Zuriekatis, 38, is director of Bright Beginnings Nursery in Al Mushrif. It’s only her second class, and she was inspired to give it a go after watching her daughters, ages 9 and 5, in their competitive gymnastics squad. “I was a bit scared at first – it’s not easy, and I’m not high level at all. But I feel it’s a very supportive environment.”
Zuriekatis had to take pictures of herself attending her first class to convince her disbelieving daughters that she really was doing gymnastics. “My friends think I’m a bit crazy, too. Definitely you don’t expect to be doing gymnastics when you’re in your late 30s. But honestly, I’m smiling from the beginning to the end of these classes.”
The fun element is the reason David Haboubi signed up, even though his wife (who initially dragged him along) has given up.
“Gymnastics is more fun than any exercise I’ve done in the past. It’s light-hearted. No one takes it too seriously and you can get fit off the back of it. I also don’t find it as hard on my knees as running or cycling.”
He recalls one particularly lively warm-up activity that involved chasing children from an earlier class around the room. “These 30-odd kids were wearing little belts and we had to try to get these things off them – 10-year-olds can run really fast. It killed me for the whole hour.”
Canadian schoolteacher Jennifer Adinolfi, 33, has recently rediscovered how to do back-end springs (flipping backwards). “I love being upside down and I love walking on my hands,” she says. “I feel like a kid again and I feel strong with it. It definitely translates into other sports that I do.”
Vikki Clegg, 37, had never tried gymnastics as a child. She admits she never imagined she’d end up trying it for the first time as an adult: “Where I’m from in the UK, there wouldn’t have been the opportunity.”
Now she’s discovered she likes tumbling on the floor best of all. “When I was watching gymnastics in the Olympics on TV, that was the move that made me think how much fun it looked. I have these moments when I think: ‘I can’t believe I can actually do this.’ And even though I’m hurting, I go home full of energy with those endorphins absolutely bubbling. You can’t beat a class that makes you happy.”
Updated: May 10, 2015 04:00 AM