The Physics of Gymnastics

The physics of gymnastics is a complicated, something that seems nearly impossible to understand When you're watching gymnastics in the Olympics on television, the maneuvers that gymnasts do seem extraordinary. How can a person defy gravity the way gymnasts do? How do the beams and bars support the stress of a gymnast landing on them? Thanks to Sir Isaac Newton, the physics of gymnastics can be broken down into manageable pieces. Here is a simplified explanation of Newton's three Laws of Motion and how they can be applied to gymnastics.

Newton's First Law of Motion states that an object maintains its state of rest unless it is acted upon by an external unbalanced force. This means that an object at rest, such as a gymnast, will stay at rest until another force (such as a swing on the high bar) gives it the force it needs to move. When you see a gymnast rotating on the bars, their own momentum is the force that propels her body.

Newton's Second Law of Motion states that the acceleration of an object depends on the force acting upon the object (directly) and the mass of the object (inversely). As the force acting upon the object increases, the speed of the object increases. This law of physics can be seen constantly in gymnastics. Consider the gymnast's mass (weight). The heavier the gymnast is, the more force that is necessary to make her move.

Newton's Third Law states that there is an equal reaction force in the opposite direction for every action force on an object. One way this applies to gymnastics is the way the balance beam supports the weight of a gymnast as he performs routines. The beam is exerting an equal force against the gymnast. Similarly, when a gymnast lands on the floor after doing a maneuver, the mat is exerting equal force. This keeps her from going through the mat.

Of course, the physics of gymnastics can be quite a bit more complex; this is a great starting point though, and will make watching those difficult gymnastic moves seem a bit more reasonable.

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