What is Tumbling?

Mary McMahon

Tumbling is a form of gymnastics which is performed without the assistance of props; you may also hear it referred to as floor gymnastics. Like other forms of gymnastics, tumbling requires immense physical strength, flexibility, and stamina, and tumblers typically endure grueling training programs to condition themselves. Several forms of tumbling are considered Olympic sports, and these events are often quite popular with spectators.

Tumblers may perform flips and somersaults during a routine.
Tumblers may perform flips and somersaults during a routine.

The history of tumbling is ancient. The Ancient Greeks certainly performed several forms of tumbling, valuing physical fitness and demonstrations of skill, as did the Romans. With the rise of Christianity, tumbling may have faded briefly from the public eye, due to changing views about the human body, but it never vanished entirely.

Tumblers may perform routines that earn them medals at the Olympic games.
Tumblers may perform routines that earn them medals at the Olympic games.

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Medieval tumblers performed during plays, as part of circuses, and on their own, and tumblers were also popular in the courts of many royal figures. Along with clowns and other entertainers, tumblers brightened royal courts, and some even became favored figures at court, bedecked in fine garments and jewelry when they weren't performing. In the 1800s, tumbling experienced a resurgence, along with a variety of other sports, thanks to the natural hygiene movement, and by the time tumbling became an Olympic sport, it had become widely accepted in society.

Cheerleaders may perform tumbling during their routines.
Cheerleaders may perform tumbling during their routines.

Tumblers flip, roll, jump, perform somersaults, and demonstrate handsprings during their routine. Most tumblers have extremely dynamic routines, propelling themselves across the mat with the force of inertia, and routines are commonly coordinated to music to make them into artistic performances as well as demonstrations of physical skill. Tumbling today is typically performed on specially designed mats which provide firm support to the tumblers.

Circus performers may perform tumbling routines.
Circus performers may perform tumbling routines.

People who want to become tumblers typically start early, as the groundwork for physical prowess in gymnastics is laid early. While older people can take up tumbling, they may never be as limber and skilled as younger tumblers. Tumbling performances can be seen at the Olympics and many sports events; cheerleaders often demonstrate tumbling as part of their floor routine, for example.

Tumblers can also be hired for public events, along with other acrobats and people trained in the circus arts. Some people like to include circus arts demonstrations at events to keep them interesting and engaging, and to give attendees something to focus on.

Tumbling is a form of gymnastics.
Tumbling is a form of gymnastics.

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Discussion Comments


When I went to The Epcot Center with my dad a few years ago, we saw some Chinese acrobats doing tumbling tricks and it was utterly amazing. I couldn't believe what they could do with their bodies and how strong they were.

The most amazing were these girls who couldn't have been more than ten years old, but were able to lift each other in the air and balance on a single hand.

I always thought that the Olympics had the most amazing displays of elite tumbling available to the general public, but there are definitely other places out there where you can see something incredible.


@pleonasm - There definitely are classes out there where the kids are encouraged to just do it for fun. It's true that often professional gymnasts will try to keep their weight down, but often they are just naturally small.

And there are different versions of tumbling as well. It's not all based around gymnastics classes. Cheerleading often involves tumbling as well.


I really wanted to do this as a kid. I don't remember why I got so obsessed with it, but I must have seen some tumblers at a circus or something like that. I was always roping my sisters into doing "tricks" where we would climb all over each other and try to stand on our heads and so forth.

It's kind of embarrassing to think about it now. I did ask my parents to let me do some tumbling classes, but my father was really suspicious of gymnastics coaches, because they would often encourage their students to eat badly so that they would stay skinny and light. I think it's a shame there's no middle ground where kids can just do it for fun, rather than competitively, because I would have loved it so much back then.

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