Difference Between Women's and Men's Gymnastics

Female gymnast chalking hands
John Lund / Getty Images

Most sports—like basketball, soccer, tennis, and golf—are the same, regardless of whether the athletes are male or female. But competitive gymnastics has so many differences between the women's and the men's events that you might as well be watching two different sports.

The major difference between men's gymnastics and women's gymnastics is the apparatus on which the gymnasts compete. They share only two events in common: vault and floor.

Female gymnasts compete in four events: vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise.

Men compete in six events, and they do the events in a different order: floor, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars, and high bar.

The Differences on Floor Exercise

Both men and women gymnasts compete on the same floor exercise mat, but the women compete to music, while the men do not.

There are other rule variations as well. In general, dance moves, such as leaps and jumps, are part of the requirements and scoring on women's floor but not on men's, and men are required to do more tumbling skills overall. Men typically perform tumbling passes that demand more strength.

Women's routines tend to be more artistic and dance-like, sometimes telling a story, whereas a priority for men's routines is to display strength. (The women's score also includes a spot for artistry on the balance beam.)

Women used to be able to perform a lunge at the end of a tumbling pass, but as of the 2012 Code of Points, women are now required to stick tumbling passes. Men have always been required to do this.

The Differences on Vault

Women and men both perform on the same vaulting table, though the men usually have the table at a higher height than the women do.

The vaults performed are similar as well. Men typically perform more difficult vaults than women. The top male vaulters often perform double-flipping vaults, such as the handspring double front and Tsukahara double-back. Fewer women perform these.

Men and women used to compete on a vaulting horse—and men vaulted over it lengthwise while women vaulted over the center of it—but the horse was replaced by the table in 2001, mostly for safety reasons. The table is considered a safer alternative to the horse, with less chance that the gymnast will miss the table (especially during Yurchenko vaults) and suffer a severe injury.

Uneven Bars, Parallel Bars, and the High Bar

The uneven bars (a women's event) and parallel bars and high bar (men's events) are all different from each other.

The uneven bars and parallel bars are usually made out of fiberglass and are bigger in diameter, while the high bar is made out of metal and is smaller in diameter. As a result, gymnasts' hand grips are different for the different type of bars, and it's dangerous to use the wrong type of grip.

The bars are also set up differently. The high bar is a single bar about 9 feet from the floor. The uneven bars are two sets of bars that run about 6 feet apart from each other and stand at about 5 1/2 feet and 8 feet high.

The parallel bars are two bars that are only about a foot and a half apart and about 6 1/2 feet off the floor. All heights are adjustable, though some are standardized in Olympic competition.

The Competition Format

Both men's and women's gymnastics—technically called men's artistic gymnastics and women's artistic gymnastics—have the same basic competition formats in the Olympics. At one time, each team had seven gymnasts. From the 2000 to 2016 Olympics, five gymnasts were on a team—four of them competing on each event in preliminaries and three competing on each event in finals. The team size is now four gymnasts. 

Gymnasts qualify into the individual all-around and event finals based on their qualifying scores, and 24 gymnasts make the all-around, eight into each individual event. But only two per country can qualify for each specific final. These rules are standard across the men's and women's competitions.