Rhythmic Gymnastics

A rhythmic gymnast competes in the ribbon apparatus. (Getty Images)

In rhythmic gymnastics, the athletes perform with equipment instead of on equipment. Gymnasts perform jumps, tosses, leaps and other moves with different types of apparatus, and are judged much more on their grace, dance ability, and coordination than their power or tumbling prowess.

History of Rhythmic Gymnastics

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) officially recognized rhythmic gymnastics in 1962 and held the first World Championships for rhythmics in 1963 in Budapest, Hungary. Rhythmic gymnastics was added as an ​Olympic sport in 1984, and competition was held in the individual all-around. In 1996, group competition was added.

The Participants

Olympic rhythmic gymnastics has only female participants. Girls start at a young age and become age-eligible to compete in the Olympic Games and other major international competitions on January 1st of their 16th year. (For example, a gymnast born Dec. 31, 1996, was age-eligible for the 2012 Olympics).

In some countries, most notably Japan, males are beginning to participate in rhythmic gymnastics. In this hybrid form of gymnastics, the athletes also perform tumbling and martial arts skills.

Athletic Requirements

Top rhythmic gymnasts must have many qualities: balance, flexibility, coordination and strength are some of the most important. They also must possess psychological attributes such as the ability to compete under intense pressure and the discipline and work ethic to practice the same skills over and over again.

Rhythmic Gymnastics Apparatus

Rhythmic gymnasts compete with five different types of apparatus

  1. Rope 
  2. Hoop 
  3. Ball
  4. Clubs
  5. Ribbon 

Floor exercise is also an event in the lower levels of competition.


Olympic competition consists of:

  • Individual All-Around: An athlete competes on four of the five events (every two years, one apparatus is rotated out for that time period) and the total score is added.
  • Group: Five gymnasts compete with two different routines. In one routine, all of the athletes use the same piece of apparatus. In the second routine, the gymnasts use two different pieces of equipment (e.g. three gymnasts will use ball and two gymnasts will use hoop). One score is given for each routine, and the two are combined for a total score in the “group all-around.”


Rhythmic gymnastics has a top score of 20.0 for each event:

  • The Execution Score (E): Starts at a 10.0 and deductions are taken for technical faults (such as catching the apparatus incorrectly or losing the apparatus)
  • The Final Composition Score (A+D divided by 2): The Artistic Score (A) has a maximum of 10.0 and is based on the music and choreography. The Difficulty Score (D) starts at 0 and builds to a maximum of 10.0 depending on the skills performed.

Judge for Yourself

Though the Code of Points can be complicated, spectators can still identify great routines without knowing every nuance of the Code. When watching a routine, be sure to look for:

  • Good Form and Execution: In elements such as leaps and jumps, a gymnast's toes should be pointed, her legs should be straight and she should maintain a tightness in her body. Each skill should look planned.
  • Control of the Apparatus: The gymnast should keep her equipment moving, and should look as if she has complete control of it. Dropping the apparatus is a deduction. If the equipment rolls away or off the floor, more penalties are incurred.
  • Flexibility: Rhythmic gymnasts should achieve a minimum of an 180-degree split on split leaps and jumps, and oftentimes they go much further (see image above). A great rhythmic gymnast will exhibit flexibility in her back, legs, and shoulders.
  • Choreography: The intricacies of movement are very important in rhythmic gymnastics. Each routine should be a performance – and the gymnast’s music should be an important part of the routine, not simply used as background music.
  • The Uniqueness of the Routine: A great gymnast will perform a routine that looks different from the rest. It will have something special about it – risky throws and catches, complicated choreography, extreme flexibility or skills that are simply unique from others performed in the competition.