Nail Every Dismount With 18 Indispensable Gymnastics Terms

There’s plenty of high-flying acrobatics on display in gymnastics. It’s one of the most exciting sports to watch during the Olympics—in no small part thanks to the US women’s gymnastics team and the star of the show, Simone Biles, who is widely considered one of the best of all time, and newly minted Sunisa Lee, who took gold as the individual all-around champion.

If you catch yourself trying to follow along, you’ll likely notice gymnastics seems to have its own language. These are the event names and some trick names to know to help you keep up with the action.

individual all-around competition

The individual all-around competition pits 18 gymnasts against each other in a variety of events that fall under the category of artistic gymnastics (the other two categories are rhythmic gymnastics and trampoline). For men, this includes floor, horizontal bar, parallel bars, pommel horse, rings, and vault. Women compete in four: beam, floor, uneven bars, and vault. The men’s artistic gymnastics competitions have been held since the first modern Olympics in 1896, and the women’s since 1928.

The athletes in this all-encompassing individual event are chosen from the top 18 gymnasts in the team competitions (you’ll see a diversity of countries, however, as only two gymnasts per country can qualify). In the individual all-around competition, each gymnast completes each of the four events (or six for men) again, and the scores from each are combined and the winner is the one with the highest aggregate score.


Keep the Olympic flame alive by learning about other events that take place at the Olympics.

floor exercise 

The floor exercise, as you might guess from the name, lacks a piece of equipment for the gymnast to work with. Both men and women compete in this event. Each athlete is limited to a spring-loaded mat that’s about 40 feet by 40 feet, and completes a routine of up to 90 seconds that’s set to music without lyrics. The men’s competition made it to the Olympics in 1936, while it became an event in the women’s competition in 1952.

It may look like a free-wheeling event to the casual observer, but there’s a list of things that need to be completed. Each routine must have: a flip with at least a 360-degree twist, a double backflip, tumbling both ways, and two successive leaps or hops where one has a 180-degree split.

pommel horse 

There are no horses involved in Olympic gymnastics, only pommel horses. A pommel horse is a padded, cylindrical apparatus that has two pommels (handles) that are used for various tricks and techniques. Only the men compete in the pommel horse. The origin of the pommel horse can be traced back to a wooden horse that the Romans used to teach mounting and dismounting actual horses. Today, gymnasts are doing things on pommel horses that they’d never do on a horse or flimsy wooden horse dummy. Single leg work, travels, turns, swings, and handstands are all typically completed in an Olympic routine.

uneven bars 

Among the events that only women compete in is the uneven bars event. As the name suggests, it involves two bars at different heights that gymnasts swing, spin, twist, and flip between. It’s a skill that takes both finesse and extreme strength. The low bar sits at about 5.4 feet, while the high bar is at about 8 feet, with about 6 feet in between. It takes a lot of precise timing and upper-body strength to master, and the best of the best flow seamlessly between moves as they release from one bar and grab onto the next. A perfectly stuck landing tops a great routine off, of course. Gymnasts often wear what’s called a dowel, grips with a rod on the palm, to keep their hands from blistering or getting injured.


A men’s only event, rings centers around two rings that hang about 9 feet off the ground. An incredible feat of upper-body strength is on display as the gymnasts hold themselves steady and swing into various moves before flipping into a dismount. The rings event was created by the man known as the father of gymnastics, Friedrich Jahn, and it’s had a place at the Olympics since 1896.

balance beam 

This womens-only event is nothing like your average balance beam from grade school. The rail is about 16 feet long, 4 inches wide, and 4 feet high. Athletes complete a number of moves from flips to handsprings to round-offs and more while staying steady on the beam. It’s as if they’re completing moves that they would do on the floor, but with the added difficulty of having to launch into each move and land with as little a wobble as possible on something that’s about as wide as a person’s foot. If they fall, a full point is deducted. Each routine has to be less than 90 seconds and must at least include a 360-degree turn on one foot and a jump with a 180-degree forward split. There also must be dance skills and two flips in a row, with at least one done without hands.


It takes a true champion to master these events. Here are 13 synonyms for the word champion for you to learn.


Both men and women compete in the vault, which is when a gymnast launches themself off a springboard and completes a trick over a vault (similar to a pommel horse but without the handles). It’s a quick, but exciting, event. Athletes run about 82 feet and then, after jumping off the springboard, use a 4-foot tall, 3-foot wide apparatus to complete as many saltos and twists in the air as they can to up the difficulty before sticking the landing. The twists and turns are appropriate from a definition perspective—vault originally comes from the French word volte, or “a turn.”

parallel bars

The parallel bars are the equivalent of the uneven bars, but are a mens-only event instead of a womens-only event. The bars themselves are also parallel and even. The bars are about 6.5 feet high and about 11.5 feet long, and gymnasts complete a number of handstands, swings, and flips using the bars as the only touchpoint. It was created in the 1800s by Friedrich Jahn.

horizontal bar 

Another men’s-only event that includes swinging and flipping over a bar is the horizontal bar. Unlike the parallel bars, there’s only one bar that sits about 9 feet off of the ground. The athlete completes flips and turns both while hanging onto and spinning around the bar and in the air after throwing himself upward. Like the parallel bars and rings, the horizontal bar was created by Friedrich Jahn in the late 19th century and has been included since the first modern Olympics in 1896.


A kip, which is sometimes called a kip-up or kick-up, is a move where someone goes from laying on their back to standing by swinging both legs and pushing with their arms. The word was first recorded in English in 1965–70 and comes from the German kippe, or “edge, arm of a balance.” It’s also called a kip when gymnasts go from a lower position to a higher position on the uneven bars, parallel bars, or high bar.


Amplitude means the greatness of extent, or the breadth or scope of something. In gymnastics, it refers to how difficult a move is or how high an athlete does the move. For example, a gymnast may complete a move that’s higher and bigger than the other gymnasts, and it would have a better amplitude and receive a higher score.


The beam, bars, rings, and every other apparatus have one thing in common: the gymnast must nail the dismount at the end. A dismount is when an athlete finishes the routine and (usually) lands upright on their feet. A difficult twist or salto is often included in the dismount.


A salto is a common move in gymnastics, regardless of what apparatus an athlete is performing on. Even though you may not have heard the word salto before (it’s Italian for “jump, leap,”), you probably know this move as something else: a flip. To complete a salto, an athlete flips their legs over their head without their hands touching the ground or bar, and then lands with both feet solidly on the ground. Alterations to the front, back, or sides are done depending on the routine and equipment. Gymnasts land with their feet in a line after a salto on the balance beam, for example, and get an extra boost from a springboard when completing a salto on vault.

double-double and triple-double 

There are many types of flips and turns in gymnastics. Few are as complicated as the double-double or triple-double. The double-double is when a gymnast does two tucked backflips in the air, each with a twist. It was first done by Romanian Daniela Silivas, and is called the Silivas. The triple-double tacks on another twist to the end for a total of two flips and three sideways turns all before landing back on the ground. Simone Biles was the first woman to complete the move in the 2019 US Gymnastics Championships, and a triple-double is also called the Biles II. It’s the second move named after Simone Biles, as the “II” in the move’s name suggests. The original Biles move is a double layout half out.


In ballet, flicflac is a dance step where the feet strike rapidly together. Flicflac comes from a word that means crack of a whip. A move with the same name is done in gymnastics, most commonly on floor and balance beam routines, though it’s a little different. A gymnast’s flicflac is a back handspring when they jump backwards onto their hands, and then land on their feet.


They make it look effortless, but gymnasts are not freestyling their routines. You can with your language though, by choosing any of these freestyle synonyms in the moment.


In gymnastics, a giant has nothing to do with size. It’s a move done on the bars or rings where the athlete swings in a full 360 degrees with their arms outstretched. Think of it like if a swing made a full circle around the top support bar, but instead of a swing it’s a gymnast going around and around with their body fully extended.


Moves in gymnastics are often named after the first person to complete it in a competition. Take, for example, the double-double (Silivas) and the triple-double (Biles II). Another one is the Gaylord, which is named after US gymnast Mitch Gaylord, the first US gymnast to receive a perfect 10. The move is done high bar and involves doing a front giant (meaning spinning all the way around) followed by a one-and-a-half front flip (or salto) over the bar. The gymnast finishes the move by once again catching the bar after the flip.


Like flicflac, sissonne is a move that is both in ballet and gymnastics. In ballet, it refers to when a dancer jumps and lands on one food with the other extended out. It was first recorded in 1700–10 and is named after the 17th-century French noble who invented it, Comte de Sissonne. In gymnastics, the move is often confused with a split jump. A sissonne involves jumping with two feet and landing on one foot with the legs in a diagonal position in a 180-degree split.

You’ll flip over the complete gymnastics word list, which has flashcards and a spelling quiz, too. Or if you’re feeling like a gold-medal champion, why not compete in the word Olympics? Take our quiz to see how well you’ve trained on remembering these words.

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