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Flexy Pretty Gymnast

First off, it's important to note the gymnasts' ages, Miller said. Generations ago, Olympic female gymnasts were in their 20s and 30s, but that changed after 14-year-old Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci won three gold medals (along with one silver and one bronze) at the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, according to Live Strong. [What Exactly Is the Olympic Tradition?]

flexy pretty gymnast

When a wave of younger gymnasts entered subsequent games, the International Federation of Gymnastics increased the age requirements, mainly because of health concerns for the girls, Live Strong said. Nowadays, female gymnasts must be at least 16 years old in the calendar year in which the Olympics are held to compete in the games. But unlike in the old days, most gymnasts are still quite young, usually between the ages of 16 and 22, Miller said.

If a woman becomes pregnant, relaxin helps her soft tissues relax to accommodate the growing baby, Miller said. But it also allows young female gymnasts more agility. "It just allows their bodies to be more limber," Miller told Live Science.

Female gymnasts tend to have smaller, more agile bodies because they exercise at intense levels, which tends to delay puberty. For instance, when she was 13 years old, Jordyn Wieber (a now-retired American gymnast who won a gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics) trained for 30 hours a week, according to an interview she did with

Puberty is delayed in young athletes, in part, because the body needs a certain amount of fat to go through puberty, which these young athletes don't have because they burn so many calories, said Dr. Sabrina Strickland, a sports medicine surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Moreover, many young gymnasts develop eating disorders, which also stunt growth, Live Strong reported.

Puberty in girls leads to a growth spurt and weight gain, both of which are delayed in many gymnasts, Strickland said. She recalled one girl who stopped gymnastics training at age 11, and rapidly grew 3 inches (7.6 centimeters).

But for gymnasts, short stature is an advantage. It gives them a lower center of gravity, which sits at the midpoint of the body. If their center of gravity is lower, that means it's closer their base of support (i.e. the legs), making it easier to balance on beams, according to Live Strong.

Moreover, gymnasts who have a high strength-to-mass ratio (that is, they don't weigh much, but they're strong for their build) excel at whole-body rotations, according to a 2003 study in the journal Sports Biomechanics.

People don't have to be gymnasts to be extremely flexible. Those with generalized ligamentous laxity, which is sometimes known as being "double-jointed," and people with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a condition in which the connective tissue is very flexible, are also quite limber, Miller said. However, these conditions also come with risks. 041b061a72


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