Physics of Gymnastics

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Gymnasts use physics everyday. As a gymnast I never realized how much physics went into every motion, every back handspring, every mistake on the bars. If gymnasts were physicists (or at least knew more about physics) they would be better equipped to handle the difficult aspects of gymnastics. As a gymnast I learned the motions that were necessary to complete the tricks that I was working on, and as a coach I taught others the same. I never truly understood why a particular angle gave me a better back handspring or why the angle that I hit a springboard at really mattered when completing a vault. We are going to explore some of the different apparatuses in gymnastics and a few of the physics laws that are involved in them. We will not even barely scratch the surface of the different ways that physics can explain gymnastics.

Newton's Laws

Newton's Laws can be found in the textbook, Physics for Scientists and Engineers by Serway.

Newton's First Law

An object remains at rest, or in motion, unless an external force acts upon it.

Newton's Second Law

The acceleration of a body or object is directly proportional to the net force acting on the body or object and is inversely

proportional to its mass.

F = ma

Newton's Third Law

For every action force, there is an equal and opposite reaction force.

The Floor

There are many aspects of physics found on the floor. The gymnast performs on a floor that "measures 12 x 12 meters, with an additional safety border of 1 metre. The performance area must have a surface elasticity, to allow for power during take-off and softness for landing." (FIG) The surface elasticity found in the floor mat gives the gymnast extra bounce which increases her momentum.

Let's examine a basic tumbling run. All three of Newton's Laws can be seen in this one tumbling run. We can see Newton's first law before the gymnast takes even one step. Until she takes a step, the gymnast is at rest. When she is ready to tumble the gymnast applies the force. A gymnast takes a running start when approaching a tumbling run, and as she is moving across the floor she is increasing her momentum. This is a demonstration of Newton's second law.

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