Enjoy this interview with Sara Baer, an adult gymnast and also adult gymnastics instructor. Sara is a brilliant woman of many talents, and we are grateful she took the time to fill us in on her adult gymnastics class. Enjoy!
What is your full-time job.
I’m a professor and chair of a department at Southern Illinois University.
What led you to start an adult class? How long have you taught one?
My long-time passion for gymnastics and my own desire to be in an adult gymnastics led me to start a class. I have practiced with and helped adults at gymnastics for several years, but I’ve only been teaching a formal class for about six months.
Did you have another coach to model after, or did you have to come up with how it would work on your own?
I mostly came up with it on my own, but I observe coaches teaching kids and team regularly.
What makes coaching an adult different than coaching a child.
For one, I am cautious about working a lot of high impact skills. We spend a lot more time warming up. I also view adult gymnastics as an alternative type of work-out, so I focus on activities that you can’t do at regular gym or at home. Many of the activities are aimed at strengthening and toning the whole body, which should enable progression in gymnastics, but a skill might not be the goal.
What is your favorite thing about adult gymnasts?
My favorite aspect of teaching adults is their excitement about being there, challenging them, and experiencing their joy and surprise when they do something they never thought they could do.
What is the hardest thing about coaching adult gymnasts?
The hardest part about teaching adults is balancing time allocated to improving basic skills, increasing flexibility, and conditioning needed to progress in gymnastics with only one practice a week while introducing new skills so that they don’t get bored.
How do you deal with a class of all different levels?
If we are working a skill, I try to have options for all levels of advancement. Back-handspring, for example: beginners use the trainer, I spot on trampoline, others work them on trampoline without spot, tumble track without spot, air-floor, or floor. The nice thing is that adults who have advanced skills are happy to work independently at improving their skills. I can usually give feedback between turns. With more than six adults, it’s probably best to have two coaches and one who can spot tumbling for advanced gymnasts.
Do you feel that adult gymnastics is dangerous?
I frequently recite a statistic I once read: there is an 80% chance of injury running. Anytime you challenge yourself, there is risk. It’s important to be judicious about adult activities. We have to remember that we are not kids. Our joints take longer to warm up and many of our backs are not as flexible. We never work back-walkovers. We do work a lot of tap-swings on strap bar (knowing many of the adults will never giant) because it’s a great, no-impact form of exercise. I am fortunate to coach at a gym with pit that can be used for bar dismounts, tumbling, and vault. There is also a sunken resi-mat under the bars and no shortage of mats in the gym.
What seems like a good length of time for an adult class?
I think an hour and half is the ideal amount time. This allows for 15 minutes of active (yoga-based) warm up, 15 minutes of basics on floor (still warming up), 25 minutes on each of two events, and 10 minutes conditioning. I’ve noticed longer practices result in exhaustion and I become concerned about injury.
What are three benefits someone can gain from coming to adult gymnastics class?
I think number one is that it’s just fun. Second, it’s probably the most exciting way to do weight-bearing exercise (that weight being yourself) and improve flexibility. Lastly, I hope it builds confidence in adults. Even if they don’t accomplish a skill, there can be a lot of pride associated with trying.
Do you have mostly 'regulars' in your class?
I do, but often they can’t come regularly because they have very busy lives and can’t prioritize gymnastics.
If an adult who used to do gymnastics is thinking about trying a class for the first time, any words of advice?
Be patient with yourself. It will come back if you are in shape for it.
If an adult who never tried gymnastics before is thinking about trying a class for the first time, any words of advice?
You should try because it’s a great workout.
If a coach is thinking about starting an adult class, what are 3 tips you have for that person?
1. Think of it as a gymnastics-based workout to encourage adults to come. Many fear signing up.
2. Keep moving while warming up. Do yoga.
3. Ask the adults why they are there and what they want to learn. They are paying more to workout relative to a standard gym or recreation center. You want them to feel like they got their money’s worth.
"Be part of the inspiration."