Understanding Rhythmic Gymnastics


Rhythmic gymnastics is an Olympic sport that combines ballet, dance, and acrobatics, with expressive movement and apparatus manipulation of the ball, clubs, hoop, ribbon, and rope. This sport is perfectly balanced for developing flexibility, strength, and hand/body-eye coordination. It has been used for years in Europe as part of the physical education regime in schools.


The sport of rhythmic gymnastics grew out of many styles of dance and exercise regimes that shared the common idea of expressive movement as a tool for exercise.


 Early 1900s: The Swedish School of Rhythmic Gymnastics began the first rhythmic gymnastics program.
 1940: The first competitive rhythmic gymnastics program was developed in the Soviet Union.
 1963: The first world championship was held in Budapest, Hungary.
 1967: The group exercise was introduced in Copenhagen, Denmark. The group exercise involved all the components of rhythmic gymnastics, and added  synchronizing movements and tosses between three to five girls on the floor.
 1984: Rhythmic was  introduced into the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, CA. Canadian Lori Fung took home the first gold.
 1996: Group event was added to the Olympics.


Rhythmic 101


  • Individual program consists of four (4) optional routines. The five apparatus are rope, hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon. Every two years one event in rotated out of the program. At early levels, there may be a floor routine.
  • The group program consists of two routines. In the Junior Olympic program the groups perform a floor routine and an apparatus routine according to the apparatus rotation set by USA Gymnastics. Internationally the program consists of one routine with 5 of the same type of apparatus and one routine with two types of apparatus as set by the International Federation.

Individual Program

  • An individual routine consists of a maximum of 12 difficulties
  • Each apparatus event has a special group of elements that are specific to that apparatus. Rope – Jumps/Leaps, Ball – Flexibilities, Clubs – Balances, Ribbon – Pivots, and Hoop is an equal distribution of all special groups.
  • There must be a minimum of 6 special elements, which are named Compulsory Body Group Difficulties (GCOs) in each routine. And no more than 2 from each of the other groups which are called Non-compulsory Body Group Difficulties (non-GCOs).
  • Each gymnast must complete a score form and submit to the judges prior to competition. No gymnast is allowed to compete without the form.
  • The Junior Olympic Program (levels 3-8) is a development curriculum in the United States designed to prepare girls for the international program.

The Score

  • Score is calculated with the following formula: (Difficulty score + Artistry score)/2 + Execution
  • Difficulty: This part of the score is made of the Compulsory and Non-Compulsory groups.
  • Execution: This part of the score includes all penalties or deductions based on “how well” the routine was performed. For example, amplitude, bent knees, pointed toes, wobbles, drops and much more. The exact deductions may be found in the FIG Code of Points.
  • Artistry: This part of the score is the Music and the Choreography of the routine.


  • All routines must be performed with music, only short pauses are allowed.
  • Music can be a single or many instruments as well as voice (without words).
  • Noises like glass breaking, car engines, plane noises are not allowed
  • The musical composition should have a guiding theme
  • The musical themes must relate to each other and not have too many differences as to create a potpourri of music.


  • The choreography must have a main idea that is developed from beginning to end using a variety of body movements and apparatus handlings.
  • In every routine there should be a variety in the way the apparatus is used. In other words different tosses, catches and interesting movements.
  • Also a variety in body movements and means of moving around the floor. The gymnast should not just walk around the floor. Dance is an important factor in the choreography.
  • Every routine should have a balance of work with both the Right and Left hands.
  • Acrobatic elements are limited to walkovers, cartwheels, rolls and movements that do not stop in the vertical position or show any flight.
  • Mastery is the term given to the large tosses and catches of the apparatus.
  • Originality elements are new and interesting work with the apparatus or with the connections between difficulties. All Originality elements are submitted to the International Federation for validation.

Leaps and Jumps

  • All leaps and jumps must include a few basic qualities: good height, clear and fixed shape, good amplitude.
  • All “Ring” shapes must have the foot in contact with the head.
  • All leaps with the back arched must have the head in contact with the leg.
  • Leaps with a turn, the turn must be completed from the take off until the landing.
  • Scissor leaps must have a switch of the legs – either forward or backward
  • Fouette jumps do not have a switch of the legs.


  • All balance difficulties must have a few basic qualities: must be performed on the toes or the knee, to be held clearly and have a good fixed shape. The balance must have amplitude and be coordinated with a minimum of two apparatus movements (Technical Movements).
  • Balances performed on either a straight or bent knee doesn’t change the value of the balance
  • During balances that rotate such as the Tour Lent, it is sufficient to just have the apparatus in motion throughout the balance.


  • All pivot difficulties must have a few basic qualities: be performed on releve, have an exact shape from beginning to the end of the rotation and have good amplitude.
  • The level of difficulty of the pivot is determined by the degrees of rotation.
  • Pivots performed on bent or straight support leg doesn’t change the value of the pivot.
  • The FIG Technical Committee doesn’t approve of pivots on the knee.
  • All “ring’ shapes in pivot must have the foot in contact with the head
  • During Penche pivots, the body must be held at horizontal throughout the entire pivot.
  • As a rule, the pivot combinations must be performed entirely on toes without heel support.

Flexibilities & Waves

  • All flexibilities and waves must have a few basic qualities: be performed on 1 or 2 feet or on another part of the body, have an exact fixed shape ( a long pause in the position) and to have good amplitude.
  • The apparatus must stay in motion throughout all elements that move and if the flexibility is one in which the shape “stops” the apparatus must perform 1 Technical Movement.
More information may be found on the following websites:

www.usagym.org             www.fig-gymnastics.com