Adult Gymnastics Camp

Because there seem to still be spots left, and I’m feeling sad that I have to miss both the winter version of the camp  and the World Masters’ Championships this season, I guess I must be overdue for an endorsement post about Adult Gymnastics Camp!

I first heard about camp on the Gymcastic podcast. It didn’t seem like something I would ever do, but it sounded cool.

When I first met Emily, I knew her as jumping_ginger. Yes, it happened to me: I accidentally met in real life someone that I followed on Instagram. I was at an adult open gym night at the Kitchener-Waterloo Gymnastics Club, and kept glancing across the room at a tall ginger woman who I felt like I recognized. Apparently the recognition was mutual, because a while later she came over and said, “Do we follow each other on Instagram?”

I was lucky, that year at KWGC, to meet a ton of adult gymnastics of all levels. They have three adult classes a week, plus a Coach’s Night, and it was amazing to find myself squarely in the middle in terms of ability—there were plenty of beginners, but also plenty of former competitive athletes and, most exciting of all for me, people who were going buying the gymnastics they had learned as a child. It wasn’t just KWGC, either: there are actually a lot of gymnastics clubs in the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge area, and KWGC, Revolution Gymnastics in North Waterloo, and Cambridge Kips in Cambridge all offer adult open gym. (Supposedly Dynamo Gymnastics also has some sort of registered adult class, which was sold out the time that Emily and I tried to go, but as the head coach there occupies a rarefied position in the hierarchy of Canadian gymnastics and quite a few elites and high-level athletes train there, I would really like to check it out some time!) The same constellation of people show up frequently at all of the open gyms, and I even sometimes found myself spending a few hours coaching at KWGC, then driving over to a different gym to train for the rest of the evening. The gymnastics-adjacent activities are also well-represented in the Tri-Cities; Grand River Rocks is a fabulous rock-climbing gym that also offers yoga and martial arts, and one of my colleagues at KWGC was deeply ensconced in the apparently thriving local parkour scene. Overall, it’s a great place to be a slightly physically reckless so-called adult.

When I attended my second Masters’ Championships, it was as part of a team:




Emily and I both competed level 6, and Laura level... 7 or 8? And Josh in the general Men’s Competitive category that they do for WMGC, and competing a double back on floor—as far as I can recall, the first time I’ve seen one in person.

Shortly after the meet, we started talking about camp. It’s frequently brought up in the Adult Gymnastics Facebook group, and along with another woman from the Tri-City area open gyms, Corina, we decided to bite the bullet and sign up. We drove down together and stayed in a motel 6 where the room key stopped working every time we exited the room.

The camp is in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, from which Maine is just a stroll over a picturesque bridge. The first day, we went to the beach:

And ate a lot of lobster:

Seafood, unsurprisingly, was a culinary theme of the trip. Now that I think about it, probably next time I could go a little easier on the fried fish and lobster in the interest of getting the most out of the Gymnastics portion of the event 😂

The camp was divided into three groups, based on a survey we filled out beforehand. Me, Emily and Corina are all around the same level, with different strengths and weaknesses, but I’m the only one who’s been training all 4 events (including tumbling on the real floor, which many adults skip altogether for obvious reasons) so I assume that’s how I ended up separated from them and in with the top group. Which at first I was going to ask to just be with my friends, but decided not to be a weenie and stick with the group I started with.

(These groups are not strictly enforced, just to be clear. You can pretty much do what you want, since it’s acknowledged that adult gymnasts tend to have less well-rounded skill sets than children who are forced to follow a rotation schedule for their training. Also— for anyone who might be reading this and wondering if camp is for them— yes! The first group is absolutely appropriate for beginners. You should go. Do it.)

It turned out to be a ton of fun squeaking into the top group, because I’ve never been around so many gymnasts of that level before. Plenty were former competitors of the level 8-10 variety, and some had competed in college. My gymnastics background is purely recreational: I started in regular-flavor rec, then “advanced rec” when my gym started offering it, and finally “interclub,” which permits rec kids and broken and/or inadequately enthusiastic former competitive types go to a few invitational competitions a year. So being around athletes with a completely different background was at once inspiring and encouraging. Because I could see real grown-up bodies in the flesh doing things I wanted to be able to do; and because every so often it seemed like the gap between us wasn’t so gaping after all: cast handstands on bars, layout fulls off the tumble track, tsuk drills on vault; there were skills that we were all working on together, albeit as gleaming new, edge-of-my-ability skills for me and basics for them.

The camp itself is run by Gina and Brian Pulhaus. Gina is an adult gymnast and coach who trains with the young’uns and is a huge advocate for adults in competitive gymnastics. She and her husband Brian started the camp a few years ago, at her home gym of Atlantic Gymnastics in Portsmouth.

They’re both incredibly motivated, enthusiastic and bright, and it turned out that they had been watching every single attendee of the camp the whole time so that, at the very end, we could do an “awards ceremony” where everyone got to climb up on a box and present, red-report-card-style, and receive an adorable medal with a title awarded to each athlete personally. (Mine was “hula queen.” Don’t ask.) Then, we had to tell the assembly what we were most proud of from the week.

What I said was: I’m most proud of how amazed my thirteen-year old self would be, at the point that she quit gymnastics and figured she would never achieve what she wanted to in the sport, at the skills that I’m training today.

Two in particular stood out from camp, things that I don’t think I’d even know were like, options, physically.

Giants on strap bars:

70 Likes, 5 Comments - Anna Norris (@nichteilen) on Instagram: "Things My Teenage Self Would Not Have Freaking Believed, part 1 #gymnastics #adultgymnastics #bars"

As I’ve blogged about before, I never got my kip as a kid. So obviously, my hopes and dreams on bars were somewhat stunted, and I’d never imagined that I would be able to start training giants. Of course, I’m still nowhere near being able to do them on the wooden bar, unassisted and unsecured, but they have improved since the first time at camp:

64 Likes, 4 Comments - Anna Norris (@nichteilen) on Instagram: "I have progressed to contributing maybe 50% of the effort to my giants! #havingacoachisgr8 #bars..."

The second is this:

61 Likes, 1 Comments - Anna Norris (@nichteilen) on Instagram: "Things My Teenage Self Would Not Have Freaking Believed, part 2 #gymnastics #adultgymnastics #vault"

Okay, so as a compete-able vault it’s, optimistically, several years away. But like... I don’t think I even knew other vaults existed, as a kid? I mean, I knew that there was a difference between the handspring with a mini-tramp that I was doing, and what I saw on TV. But that was as far as my analysis of the situation went. I’ve made a few more improvements, mainly in putting it on a real vault:

59 Likes, 8 Comments - Anna Norris (@nichteilen) on Instagram: "My last week of training at @kwgymclub, I rang the new skill bell to show this off 😝 #gymnastics..."
34 Likes, 4 Comments - Anna Norris (@nichteilen) on Instagram: "Off the real vault, into the pit (landing located approximately halfway to China) #gymnastics..."

I don’t think I’d have considered trying either of these for a long time if it hadn’t been for camp.

Another amazing moment at camp was a revelation about that humblest of elements, the cartwheel. Even knowing, intellectually, that gymnastics is all about basics, it can still bowl me over the extent to which it is true that the best gymnasts are the ones with the best handstands, cartwheels, and roundoffs, the best applications of the hollow and arch positions in their skills— I remember being maniacally focused, as a kid, on all the stuff I couldn’t do, and all the skills that seemed beyond my reach. When it turns out the important stuff is all right at the beginning, and you just keep learning it over and over again.

Some of the women in my group— who were, needless to say, capable of doing much more difficult elements— were working on cartwheels on a beam rotation. Working really hard, and struggling with something. I asked what was up, and it was explained to me that they were trying to fix their dropping arms. My mind boggled as I realized that I had been missing, for all of the time that I thought I knew how to do a decent cartwheel, a key cue. It’s natural, as you bring your hands towards the ground to begin your cartwheel, to let your first arm drop away from your head, I.e. if your shoulders start glued to your ears— which they should— by the time your first hand touches the ground, the shoulder of that arm will no longer be touching your ear. Whereas really, it should be— your upper body should be a perfect see-saw with your back leg, such that by the time your first hand touches the ground, your back leg should be almost vertical. And your head squeezed between both your arms the entire time.

I had simply never considered that this was a factor in a cartwheel— despite the fact that your head should be squeezed tight between your shoulders during pretty much every single skill in gymnastics that involves your arms going overhead. This whole sport is deducible from first principles... most of us just don’t have the brainpower.

So that’s where the real meat of gymnastics— and of any pursuit worth doing— lies: in the basics. True to that principle, we spent a lot of time at camp on stuff that it would sure be nice to have time to do in the gym, but most of us on he open gym circuit don’t have time for: beam complexes, drills involving complicated arrangements of mats, warming up in a leisurely fashion and not “what is the absolute minimum of warm-up I can do to be able to train safely,” etc.

I really wish I could go back this winter; the problem with the concept of Adult Gymnastics Camp, of course, being that adults tend to have pesky things like jobs. Thanks to my not-really-too-pesky job, I’ll have to miss both the winter camp and the Masters’ meet in March; I’m hoping to line up another meet for slightly later, but hat remains to be seen.

Here is the link to sign up for camp:

Unrelated to gymnastics, as well as eating a stomach-turning amount of fish, I also had the best salad I’ve ever eaten at The Oar House in downtown Portsmouth. It is called grilled romaine salad, and it was the holy grail of restaurant meals that is too good to even attempt to recreate or even like pay homage to at home; better to just let it be a memory.