Jargon Watch: The Language Of Gymnastics

Before it became a startup buzzword, ‘pivot’ was something gymnasts did.
gymnast clapping hands together with chalk gymnastics terms

Whether you have fond memories of prancing around on a balance beam in your youth or you’re just trying to follow what you’re hearing on TV, there is a shockingly long list of gymnastics terms to familiarize yourself with once you’re invested in this acrobatic discipline. Fortunately, the moves speak for themselves and generally tend to transcend language barriers. Even if you do decide to get hip to some of the lingo, you don’t have to know every single move to understand what the judges are getting at.

Broadly speaking, gymnastics terms usually describe specific types of movements and positions, but many are named after the gymnasts who first accomplished them. Fun fact: Simone Biles has four signature moves named after her: the Biles, the Biles II, the Biles on Vault, and the Biles on Beam.

Here are a few other gymnastics terms you might need to know.

Gymnastics Terms You May Or May Not Have Heard Before

Aerial — Any move where the gymnast does a full rotation in the air without touching the apparatus with their hands.

Amanar — One of the most difficult types of vaults in women’s gymnastics, named after Romanian gymnast Simona Amanar. An Amanar is a Yurchenko vault followed by a salto (flip) with two and a half twists.

Apparatus — General name for the equipment used in gymnastics.

Arabesque — A pose where one leg is extended toward the back, behind the body. The word arabesque comes from French, and it basically means “Arabic” or “of the Arabic people.” In art and music, arabesque refers to elaborate or ornate compositions and designs.

Arch — A position where the body is curved backwards.

Balance — Any static position where the gymnast holds a shape in place.

Barani — A front flip with a 180-degree turn (or half twist). Named after Italian circus acrobat Alfonso Baroni.

Biles — A double layout with a half twist. Named for U.S. gymnast Simone Biles.

Biles II — A double backflip with three twists. Also named for U.S. gymnast Simone Biles.

Biles on Beam — A dismount from the balance beam that involves a double-twisting double backflip. Named for (you guessed it) U.S. gymnast Simone Biles.

Biles on Vault — A round-off back handspring with a half-turn entry followed by a front stretched salto with two twists. Named for U.S. gymnast Simone Biles (again!).

Composition — The choreography or structure of a gymnastics routine.

Connection value — Gymnasts win extra connection value points when they can successfully complete difficult combinations while transitioning smoothly between them.

Diamidov — A forward swing on parallel bars with a full turn on one arm and a handstand finish. Named for Soviet gymnast Sergei Diamidov.

D-score — Difficulty score, which ranks the total value of the routine’s difficulty. For most types of routines, the D-score is agreed on by two judges.

Dismount — When a gymnast gets off an apparatus at the end of the routine, often with some sort of acrobatic flourish.

Double-double — A backward double salto followed by two twists.

E-score — Execution score. Gymnasts start with a maximum score of 10 points, and errors or missteps lead to deductions.

Flair — A swing on a pommel horse that involves a combination of leg swings and circles.

Gainer — Backward salto where the gymnast starts on one leg.

Giant — A swing on high bar where the body is fully extended and moves through a full rotation around the bar.

Handspring — Jumping from an upright position onto the hands and springing from the ground back to an upright position in one circular motion. Can be either forwards or backwards.

Healy — A handstand followed by a full twist on one arm on uneven and parallel bars. Also known as a reverse Diamidov.

Iron cross — A position on rings where the body is vertical and the arms are stretched fully to the side.

Jaeger — A move on uneven bars where the gymnast moves from a front giant to a front somersault. Named after German gymnast Bernd Jäger.

Kasamatsu — A type of vault that starts with a quarter-turn, a push off the hands and a back salto with a full twist. Named after Japanese gymnast Shigeru Kasamatsu.

Kip — A move on the bars where the gymnast moves from being below the bars to above them.

Layout — A position where the body is straight or extended.

Mount — The opposite of a dismount, which is to say, a move where the gymnast gets on the apparatus.

Pike — A position where the legs are straight and the body is bent forward more than 90 degrees. The word pike comes from the Proto-Germanic pīkaz or pīkō, which means “sharp point” or “peak.”

Pivot — Turning on the ball of the foot.

Planche — A position where the gymnast balances on their hands and holds their body straight and parallel to the ground. Planche is a French word that means “board.”

Regrasp — The catch following the release on the apparatus.

Round-off — A cartwheel that finishes with the feet together on the floor, often used as a means of accelerating into another movement.

Salto — A flip or somersault. The word salto comes from a Latin term that means “to dance” or “to jump.”

Scale — When the gymnast balances on one leg with the other leg raised and the upper body lowered.

Straddle — A middle split position where the legs are split sideways.

Sticking a landing — When a gymnast nails a landing with perfect technique and no extra steps, thus resulting in an ideal score.

Tuck — A position where the knees are bent and drawn toward the chest, with the body folded at the waist. Similar to a fetal position.

Twist — A rotation of the body around its longitudinal axis.

Yurchenko vault — A round-off followed by a handspring onto the vaulting table and a salto off of it. Named after Soviet gymnast Natalia Yurchenko.

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