The trampoline world championships are staged in Sofia this month. But put any notion this isn’t a serious sport firmly to one side for it’s a discipline combining high levels of physical fitness with precision-like accuracy.
Bouncing around on a bed of woven nylon bands has come a long way since George Nissen – inspired by observing trapeze artists – built the first trampoline in his garage in 1936.
Fast forward 30 years and the inaugural world championships were staged in London in 1964 and, although traditionally dominated by Russian and American athletes, Brits have made their mark on this gymnastic discipline at national and international levels as well as on the Olympic stage.
Martin Laws is Chairman of English Gymnastics. He says the sport remains popular and is continuing to grow, thanks in no small part to the exposure received during London 2012 and Rio 2016.
“Participation is still holding up due to people remaining interested as a result of the Olympics. At a competitive level, those events we organise are more popular this year and we’re also seeing artistic gymnasts transferring to the trampoline.
“Young gymnasts are very attracted to the sport, traditionally switching from around the age of 10, as they find it greatly helps their overall development. Most people who come to trampoline tend to do so from a gymnastics background but we are seeing many more adults being involved, attracted by the fact it’s a great, fun route to fitness,” he says.
Gymnastics is, like most sports, having to adapt and look at ways of both attracting and retaining participants, something of which Martin is all too aware.
“It’s a balancing act. We have to maintain and improve standards across all disciplines while dealing with an increase in demand and a need to drive up the standards of officials and judges and, of course, addressing the ever-present challenges of funding.”
Much is still spoken – and occasionally challenged – about the legacy of London 2012. Five years on, how does Martin see it in terms of his sport?
“The effect has been massive and we now have a huge number inspired by what they’ve seen from Team GB in London and then in Rio. These are kids who I’m pretty certain wouldn’t have come to gymnastics without being exposed to those successes. And in Kent, we have youngsters like Peter Buravytskiy and Emily Smith who are achieving great things.”
What's so great about trampolining?
• A 20-minute trampoline session can burn 100 calories.
• A study by NASA found that, with the same cardiovascular effort, trampolining was more effective than running for boosting bone, muscle and connective tissue.
• The trampoline can help strengthen core-stability muscles, resulting in a stronger lower back and a flatter stomach. It can also help increase shoulder mobility (joints that can suffer damage in other fitness activities).
• The University of Konstanz in Germany found the trampoline can increase rapid eye movement sleep (great for aiding learning and problem solving).
• It can strengthen leg muscles without the damage to joints that can result from activities such as high-impact sports and the use of heavy weights.